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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said Tuesday that he will not run for the chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Party. He had been Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's choice to lead upstate New York's largest concentration of Democrats.
The former mayor had emerged in the past several months as a quiet candidate to replace outgoing Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan and had openly declared his candidacy to Amherst Democrats last week.
But since Masiello is president of the lobbying firm of Masiello, Martoche, Calabrese and Associates, questions had risen about potential conflicts of interest generated by his lobbying Republican lawmakers while also recruiting candidates to run against them.
Masiello said he reached his decision after weekend consultations with his family, friends and supporters.
"This decision is in the best interests of my family and our firm," he said. "Our firm has a growing list of clients, and this decision will allow me to continue to deliver the results our clients need."
He said he was grateful to Cuomo for "his understanding and acceptance of my decision."
Masiello had emerged as a major contender for the position because Cuomo's top political operatives had engineered Lenihan's departure in the first place. The outgoing chairman had never been close to the new governor, and party officials had worked hard as far back as early 2011 to replace him with someone able to unite the often-warring factions of the party.
But while Masiello was favored by Cuomo, the governor was encountering stiff opposition, especially from suburban town chairmen, who bristled at his "interference." In addition, The Buffalo News reported last month that County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who has indicated his desire to weigh in on the process, had told Masiello he preferred a younger candidate.
Poloncarz said Tuesday while attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte that he will announce his choice next week. Many sources say he favors Jeremy J. Zellner, chief of staff of the County Legislature and a former top aide to Lenihan. But the county executive has not officially weighed in on the subject.
Other announced contenders include Frank C. Max Jr., party chairman in Cheektowaga; James J. Eagan, a financial executive and a commissioner of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority; and Marc C. Panepinto, a Buffalo attorney.
But delegates attending the convention here say they still would not be surprised to see another candidate enter the competition, with several indicating the possible interest of lobbyist Jack O'Donnell, an Erie County Water Authority commissioner.
While Masiello had encountered opposition in some quarters, he was still considered a top contender by virtue of the governor's support. But close associates say the former mayor has expressed disappointment that the local Democrats have not honored the wishes of the governor.
Mixing his political and professional duties was also seen as a problem among some, including at least one NFTA commissioner, Henry M. Sloma, who publicly questioned the move.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com