Just a few months ago, South Buffalo residents weren't sure who would represent them on the Common Council.
Michael P. Kearns had left the office following a March special election to an Assembly seat, and the remaining Council members couldn't seem to agree on his successor.
Since then, Christopher P. Scanlon, 31, has been appointed to the seat and to the top post on the Council's Finance Committee. He also has put together a roster of endorsements that is somewhat unusual in politically fractious South Buffalo.
But not everyone is thrilled with Scanlon's appointment, and three other men are vying in a Democratic primary Sept. 13. to finish the last three years of Kearns' term in the South District. Patrick B. Burke, 28, Kevin M. Lafferty, 32, and Anthony "AJ" Verel, 42, were all passed over for the seat by the Council prior to Scanlon's appointment in May.
"We've been given representation we did not ask for," Verel said.
Two of the candidates said they were asked during the interview process whether they would vote with the Council majority, which is friendly to the mayor.
Scanlon, a political newcomer whose father was a well-known figure in the administration of former Mayor James D. Griffin, has said he will be independent. He has endorsements from Kearns, Rep. Brian Higgins, City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder and developer Carl P. Paladino.
"His father was one of the hardest-working people I met in my life," Paladino said last week. "He comes from a great gene pool."
Mayor Byron W. Brown stood beside Scanlon to announce improvements to a popular South Buffalo ice rink this summer and called him "an amazing advocate for his Council district."
Brown said later that he had nothing to do with Scanlon's appointment to the Council.
Asked about the timing of the ice rink announcement, three weeks before the primary, Brown said that he does events every week all over the city.
Scanlon, who was a bartender and assistant manager for Western New York Pub Group before he was appointed, is concerned about housing, specifically absentee landlords and bank-owned properties that are not maintained. His office, with help from the Old First Ward Community Center, submitted a state grant application to improve the look of Abbott Road.
In addition, Scanlon supported legislation to help golfers who had purchased motorized carts before the city courses had carts, but then were banned from using them after the courses started offering them. The legislation passed and is valid this season, he said. A long-term solution will need to be worked out in the winter.
Scanlon has been characterized as someone who has had things handed to him, a criticism he rejects, saying that his nine-member family lived in a three-bedroom house and that his dad worked for the city.
"I had a fortunate life - I have a tremendous family," said Scanlon, who is married.
His opponents noted that he did not circulate any of his own petitions.
"I didn't want to go out and collect petitions and have these people think this is the only time they were going to see me, so I decided not to," he said, adding that he has since been going door-to-door and to events to introduce himself to people.
In a resume he submitted to the Council when he applied for the vacancy, Scanlon stated he would finish work on a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University at Buffalo in August 2013. In recent interviews, he said that he won't be able to finish by then and did not return to UB after obtaining an associate degree from Erie Community College in August 2011, but that he plans to.
Burke, who is married and has three children, is running because he needs a job and because he is opposed to the way Scanlon was appointed, he said.
He said he was asked during meetings before his interview whether he would vote with the majority. He would not agree to that, he said.
"I can't stand blatant, corrupt, dirty stuff that's going on," he said.
Burke questioned Scanlon's hiring of Matthew J. Fisher, a longtime aide to Kearns who applied for the seat and was thought to be a tough rival. Following his hiring by Scanlon's office, Fisher said he wouldn't campaign for the seat.
Scanlon said he hired Fisher because of his experience working in the office and Fisher's support from community groups.
Burke founded a nonprofit organization when he was 21, Seneca Rising, and has since been an AmeriCorps volunteer and worked at United Way. He is a bartender at the Buffalo Irish Center. He has a bachelor's in political science from Buffalo State College.
Burke is in favor of creating municipal authorities for energy and broadband and establishing a municipal bank, which would leverage city assets to lend to small businesses.
Lafferty, who ran for the Board of Education in 2004 and lost, is a contract detention officer at a federal facility in Batavia and worked for two years as a city parking enforcement officer.
He has a bachelor's in political science from St. Bonventure University.
"I wanted to return independence back to South Buffalo, especially after the selection of Scanlon," he said. Lafferty, who is married, is concerned with "neighborhood sustainability," and said outlying areas need better maintenance.
Lafferty wants a law that says bank-owned properties have to be kept up, and wants the city to respond to resident concerns about problem trees, he said.
"It's a common problem throughout the city," Lafferty said. "How do you make your neighborhood economically viable and how do you make it sustainable to live?"
Verel, who is single and was a world champion kickboxer, said the Council wanted someone who would support the mayor.
"I found this disheartening and disconcerting," he said.
Verel is a human resources consultant and has worked on legislation to regulate the martial arts industry, he said. He has been a consultant with Strategic Management Associates, which has operated under various names, since 2005, he said. If elected, he would leave that position, he said.
Verel said he is also chairman for the Martial Arts Hall of Fame and Museum, which is in negotiations for a permanent location.
He said he is concerned with vacant properties and bringing businesses into South Buffalo. He thinks his experience in the private sector will help.
"I will fight for private-sector industry and unionized jobs," Verel said.
The primary is not the last word in this race, but it is seen as essential for maintaining a viable candidacy. On the November ballot, Verel has the Republican line, and Scanlon has the Conservative line.