Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo let it be known more than a year ago that Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan should step aside and let the party’s warring factions here mend fences. Lenihan himself wasn’t an antagonist, but he was unpalatable to some party heavyweights – chiefly Mayor Byron W. Brown and Deputy Mayor Steven Casey.
So after a year’s hesitation, Lenihan recently announced his resignation so the party might select his successor. But – no surprises here – the party factions famous for their stubborn ways are feuding over his replacement, and it’s only getting worse.
It was supposed to look like a democratic process: Nearly 2,000 committee people, selected by party voters in September’s primary, electing a county chairman at a reorganization meeting soon after. But certain party heavyweights are trying to grease the way for their respective choices now, turning this supposedly democratic election on its ear.
Ordinarily, this page wouldn’t pass judgment on one party’s internal rancor. But petty squabbles among Erie County Democrats have been kicking up dust at this end of the state for decades. They give Buffalo a bad rap and make it more difficult for Democratic candidates from outside the established camps to secure a ballot line, denying voters a choice. ?Further, the reorganization meeting includes the selection of a Democratic elections commissioner for the next four years, and we would not be sad to see Dennis M. Ward replaced.
Ward, you might recall, dusted off an arcane shred of state election law in 2010 to argue that voters should be denied the right to decide whether to shrink the County Legislature from 15 lawmakers to 11. He and Republican Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr were soundly thumped on that in court, and voters did manage to shrink the Legislature.
The vote for chairman will already be complicated by a weighted voting system that attempts to apportion the importance of a committee person’s vote according to how many Democrats he or she represents, and the extent to which their election districts favored the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. Further, some districts have been redrawn to account for population shifts in the recent census.
In short, the weights are confounding, and one zone chairman, Peter A. Reese of Buffalo, says he’s considering taking the system to court because, to him, it abandons the principle of one man, one vote. But further confusing the chairman’s selection is the abundance of potential candidates, some in the field not because they actually want the job but because some faction of the party, or some party heavyweight, finds them less objectionable than the others.
Perhaps the puppet masters should take a seat and let those candidates who really want to be party chairman start an honest campaign, in which they tout their skills, their vision for the party, why they are better than the rest of the field. Perhaps they can address a large gathering of the committee and be compared side by side. In other words, they can run on their merits.
Sounds idealistic, or naive, right? Well, without an honest process, the Democratic factions will continue their sniping and warring ways. Someone will feel victimized. Various party crews will continue kicking up dust. Party leaders elsewhere will go on believing that Erie County’s Democratic Party is dysfunctional.
Voters will end up paying the price because ballot lines will go to candidates connected to the party’s current elite, and not necessarily to those with better ideas about how to govern.