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Erie County Democrats on Wednesday evening officially endorsed Kevin P. Gaughan, who is widely known in Western New York for leading efforts to downsize local government, in the race for Erie County comptroller.

In a closed-door vote at the Larkin Center of Commerce, members of the Democratic committee interviewed Gaughan and ultimately approved him as the party’s choice to challenge Republican incumbent Stefan I. Mychajliw. Gaughan’s potential candidacy surfaced last week, when Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner announced he had asked the longtime political activist to consider running after original nominee Lynn M. Szalkowski withdrew from the race for “health reasons.”

Gaughan cited his history as a finance attorney with expertise in securities, his reputation for political independence and his considerable knowledge of Erie County’s local governments as reasons he would make a better comptroller than Mychajliw, a former television reporter and public relations man.

“I know this business, and I don’t enter into this race lightly,” Gaughan said. “I have much respect for my worthy competitor, but I feel that I’m much more qualified and able to be a very effective taxpayer advocate.”

Gaughan led efforts to downsize town governments in West Seneca, Orchard Park, Alden, Evans, Hamburg and Amherst; the Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua county governments; and the village government in Lancaster. He said that he has saved taxpayers $5.2 million annually and that he has put more proposals before voters than anyone in the history of the state.

Gaughan called the comptroller’s office one of Western New York’s “most serious and vital” positions and, referring to himself as a “factivist,” said the post is perhaps the best political fit with his work as a private citizen.

Zellner, citing Gaughan’s independence, said the vote “wasn’t easy” for the committee, indicating that some have been adversely affected in the political arena by Gaughan’s activism.

“We didn’t reach to find what would run that was best for our organization,” Zellner said. “We found a candidate that can run who is best for Erie County and who taxpayers can trust to be their watchdog.”

Zellner called Mychajliw “the most political comptroller we’ve ever had.”

Short-lived opposition to the Gaughan candidacy within the party began Wednesday morning, when Zone 4 Chairman Gregory B. Olma said he would nominate at the meeting retiring Legislator Thomas J. Mazur of Cheektowaga to oppose Gaughan.

“To come up with Kevin Gaughan is a desperate move that will only backfire,” Olma said Wednesday morning. “I will speak against him and offer an alternative candidate.”

But Mazur said Wednesday afternoon he would not oppose Gaughan, adding he had told Democratic officials he would accept the nomination rather than leave the ballot line vacant against Mychajliw.

A Democratic committee member said after the meeting that the “overwhelming majority” of the committee supported Gaughan.

email: lhammill@buffnews.com and rmccarthy@buffnews.com