When last we left the poor, pitiable Democrats of Erie County, they were wandering through the political desert in search of a messiah – someone to lead them to the Promised Land.
"Clueless" described their process in selecting a successor to Len Lenihan after his semi-ouster as party chairman. And while at least four prominent Democrats had emerged to claim the corner office in Ellicott Square, the party was still unorganized and nowhere near determining its future.
But there are signs that local Dems are looking to end their wanderlust. Former Mayor Tony Masiello came off the sidelines last week, making phone calls to party leaders and gauging support for a possible chairmanship bid.
By all accounts, the former mayor is a reluctant entrant to the crowded field for chairman. As partner in a successful lobbying business with former Deputy County Executive Carl Calabrese and former Town of Tonawanda GOP Chairman Vic Martucci, Masiello has made it clear that's where he wants to be these days.
Masiello, however, has a strong supporter 280 miles down the Thruway. His name is Andrew Cuomo and he's the governor of New York. And when the governor of New York strongly suggests he wants Tony Masiello as Erie County Democratic chairman, Tony Masiello listens.
Indeed, Lenihan never gained entrance to Cuomo's back porch, let alone the inner sanctum. For more than a year, the governor's top political operatives made it clear it was time for him to go.
And in July, Lenihan announced his retirement.
Cuomo's people engineered Lenihan's departure partly to achieve unity and partly to mollify Mayor Byron Brown – an official Lenihan foe. So it's important to note that Masiello would prove acceptable to City Hall, even if the mayor and his forces are not centrally involved in the process.
"I think he's a guy who can bring people together," said Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, Brown's political point man. "We would welcome a conversation with him."
It only makes sense that Cuomo's choice for chairman should be involved in a process Cuomo's people started. And make no mistake that the governor and former mayor are close. Masiello consistently makes big-time contributions to Cuomo 2014 from his leftover campaign funds – $15,000 in the last reporting period alone.
Still, Masiello must make many more phone calls before achieving the elusive goal of consensus. Some Democratic town leaders are still seething over Albany's "interference" in Erie County affairs, and others are less than keen on a "city guy" like Masiello.
Other negatives include his multiple candidacies on the Republican line, his support of Republican George Pataki for governor and the recent fund-raiser he helped throw for Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti (which some say wouldn't irk Cuomo that much anyway).
And then there's County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a longtime Lenihan ally. He said last week he has not yet made up his mind, yet he has told top Democrats that he likes Jeremy Zellner, the Legislature chief of staff who once served as Lenihan's right-hand man.
The county executive has publicly stated he prefers a younger person to assume the party helm, with one knowledgeable source reporting he has told that to the 65-year-old Masiello.
The Albany reaction to Zellner? The word another source used – "unacceptable" – seemed to sum it up.
"What he represents is Lenny, Lenny, Lenny," the source said, summarizing the reaction of Cuomo's inner circle.
So now it appears the next move in the more than yearlong chess game belongs to Poloncarz. He knows where Cuomo and Brown stand, and could probably bring the party together (as much as possible) by supporting Masiello.
But then again, Poloncarz might want to send his own message about his independence.
His pending decision will tell us a lot about the new county executive.