One of the biggest surprises in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries was the three-way contest for the Erie County Legislature’s 7th District seat.
Conventional wisdom had it that Patrick B. Burke, the neophyte candidate from South Buffalo, would be an also-ran in the pitched battle with two Cheektowaga residents – Lynn M. Dearmyer and Richard A. Zydel – representing different wings of the fractured Democratic Party.
After all, roughly two-thirds of the district’s voters reside in Cheektowaga, with the remainder in South Buffalo or the city’s Kaisertown section.
All along, the 29-year-old bartender at the Buffalo Irish Center was convinced he had a good shot, after factoring in the effect that the Democratic mayoral primary in Buffalo would have on the 7th District primary race.
Burke believed that mayoral contest was bound to result in a relatively higher turnout among voters from the Buffalo precincts in his district, which, in the process, offered a boost to his own candidacy.
“People didn’t believe me, but we looked at the numbers from the Cheektowaga Town Council primary in 2007 and the numbers for the City of Buffalo mayoral primary race in 2009, and we felt that they correlated with the two races in Tuesday’s primary,” Burke said Wednesday.
As of Tuesday night, Burke held a lead of 1,627 to 1,552 over Dearmyer, while Zydel posted 1,117. There are 279 absentee ballots still to be counted, and a winner has not yet been declared.
Turnout in the 7th District – which has 29,571 registered Democrats, according the Erie County Board of Elections – was abysmally low: less than 7 percent.
But Burke said he still did relatively well against his opponents among voters in the Cheektowaga precincts. Lacking the funds to pay for glossy mailers, Burke said his campaign relied on old-fashioned shoe leather to get out his message.
“I walked in Cheektowaga for months. I went through over 9,000 pieces of literature – all handouts – and most of that was done door-to-door. I probably did around 4,500 myself. Most of that was accomplished by walking door-to-door in Cheektowaga, under the belief that I already had some name recognition in Buffalo,” Burke said.
The married father of three children ages 6, 4 and 2 had only a slight trepidation about running with practically no party leaders backing him.
Dearmyer had the party establishment’s support in running for the seat being vacated by fellow Democrat Thomas J. Mazur, the majority leader.
Zydel enjoyed support from a rival wing of the party, led by Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank C. Max Jr.
“Zydel has a good reputation. People like him, so it was certain he was going to get a good portion of the vote,” Burke said. “Both of my opponents had well-funded campaigns. But Dearmyer, to her credit, did a lot of walking herself.”
It wasn’t the first time Burke, a 2005 graduate of Buffalo State College with a degree in political science, tried a run for office. He lost in a Buffalo Democratic primary in 2012 when a special election was held to replace Michael P. Kearns as the South District member of the Common Council after Kearns moved to the Assembly.
“It was a big sacrifice to jump into another race after last year, but I looked at things and felt I could win this time. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I really thought that I could be a good legislator and actually help people,” Burke said.
With guidance from former County Legislator Gregory B. Olma and assistance from about 20 volunteers – mostly family and friends – Burke hit the ground running in a campaign he said focused on fairness and equity in county government.
“Some of the things I think about are like cutting government waste in the county highway system,” Burke said.
He added that he would like to revisit former County Executive Dennis T. Gorski’s Excel plan, which was a proposal to expand the county’s road reconstruction fund by $5 million a year through a $5 surcharge on auto registrations and $10 on trucks, and an overall revamping of the county highway system.
Burke still faces at least nominal challenges from Zydel – running on both the Conservative and Working Families lines – and Elias A. Farah – a Republican and Independence Party candidate – in the Nov. 5 general election, although the winner of the Democratic primary in the district is usually considered the de facto winner in November.
“No one really helped me from either wing of the party,” Burke said, “so I’m not beholden to anyone, and I’m open to working with everyone.”