It’s Primary Day – and while the big Democratic contest for Buffalo mayor pitting challenger Bernard A. Tolbert against incumbent Byron W. Brown draws the most attention, it has proven downright friendly compared with the brawl for Erie County sheriff.
That match-up between endorsed Democrat Bert D. Dunn Jr. and challenger Richard E. Dobson Sr., along with the races for Family Court, are the only ones facing all Erie County Democrats at the voting machines today. Meanwhile, Democrats will decide four county legislative races marked by equally intense disputes in which well- organized and well-financed candidates are attempting to upend some of the favorites of Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner.
The mayoral faceoff will lead all news reports tonight and Wednesday as Brown and Tolbert battle for the right to face Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez in November and the ultimate job of leading New York’s second- biggest city.
The latest Siena College poll conducted for The Buffalo News and WGRZ/Channel 2 shows Brown with a comfortable lead (63 to 30 percent), dampening some of the “horse race” interest in the contest.
Still, Tolbert has proved a serious candidate with enough money to widely disseminate his brand of a “better choice,” while emphasizing his main topics of the need to improve education in Buffalo Public Schools and to better fight crime. Brown has embraced a “progress” slogan evident in all his advertising and public pronouncements.
If the results of past mayoral primaries serve as a guide to turnout in today’s contest, it will probably be light. Erie County Board of Elections records show a 29 percent turnout in the 2001 race between challenger Beverly A. Gray and incumbent Anthony M. Masiello; 26 percent among Brown, Kevin P. Gaughan and Steven A. Calvaneso in 2005, and 37 percent between Brown and challenger Michael P. Kearns in 2009.
An interesting sidelight to the main Democratic battle remains Republican Rodriguez’s effort to win the Conservative line. Party leaders have endorsed Brown, but Rodriguez (a former Medaille College administrator) is trying to win the line as a write-in candidate.
Conservative leaders have been furiously attempting to fend off the Rodriguez attempt, perhaps mindful of Republican Kevin J. Helfer’s successful write-in campaign to gain the line in 2005 after Brown was endorsed by the party for his first run. The party has distributed to the relatively few registered Conservatives in Buffalo a glossy flier depicting “holes” in the Second Amendment they claim Rodriguez will inflict by his support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new and strict gun- control law.
Rodriguez said during a recent televised debate that he supported a ban on assault weapons and other aspects of Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act, vehemently opposed by the Conservative Party, while Brown has consistently avoided commenting on some aspects of the law.
It all prompted an angry response Monday from Rodriguez.
“The current mayor has still not given a clear response on where he stands on the SAFE Act,” Rodriguez said. “In the most recent debate I’ve made it clear where I stand on the SAFE Act. If the Second Amendment is such an important issue for the Erie County Conservative Party, they should probably ask their endorsed candidate where he stands.”
In the sheriff’s race, Dobson, a retired Sheriff’s Office lieutenant, and Dunn, a current sheriff’s lieutenant, have ferociously attacked each other. The campaign has largely revolved around a text message sent earlier this year by Dunn to a friend in which he revealed his conservative leanings and no real admiration for either President Obama or Cuomo.
It was also later revealed that Dunn has registered as a Republican, then Democrat, then Republican, then Democrat.
Not to be outdone, the Dunn forces have aimed at Dobson for registering as a Republican, then blank, then Democrat.
Dobson has received support from several Zellner opponents, including the forces of Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank C. Max Jr., who is expected to challenge for the county chairmanship next year. And James J. Eagan, who is secretary of the Democratic State Committee controlled by Cuomo (whose political organization also has never supported Zellner), is active in the Dobson campaign and has contributed $10,000.
Dunn has largely self-financed his effort and is strongly backed by Zellner and his headquarters organization.
The winner faces Republican incumbent Timothy B. Howard in November.
Major legislative primaries – all Democrats – include:
• Incumbent Timothy R. Hogues vs. challenger Barbara Miller-Williams, former Legislature chairwoman, in District 3. Hogues is backed by headquarters Democrats.
• Incumbent Betty Jean Grant vs. Joyce Nixon in District 3. Grant is backed by headquarters Democrats.
• Lynn M. Dearmyer vs. Richard A. Zydel and Patrick B. Burke in District 7. Dearmyer is backed by headquarters Democrats.
• Wesley S. Moore vs. Wynnie L. Fisher in District 8. Fisher is backed by headquarters Democrats.
Democrats and one Republican, meanwhile, are all competing in the primary for Erie County Family Court. Democrats Mary Giullanza Carney, Joseph T. Jarzembek and Paul V. Crapsi Jr. are competing in the Democratic primary, along with Republican Deanne M. Tripi (members of the opposite party are allowed to cross-file for county court). Carney and Tripi are competing in the GOP primary.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m in Erie County. All other polling places in upstate New York are open from noon to 9 p.m.