More than 40 years ago, when reporter George Borrelli first penned the Politics Column for The Buffalo Evening News, conventional wisdom held even then that makeup of the Erie County Water Authority pretty much reflected the state of politics around these parts.
In 1972 the column focused on different names, but not much has changed since then. Today the Politics Column still reports on who’s in and who’s out at the Water Authority, and it all still paints an accurate picture of the local power structure.
Take last week’s move to install Amherst Democratic Chairman Jerry Schad on the three-person board governing the huge entity that delivers H20 to more than 540,000 customers throughout Erie County. The post is one of the most coveted perks in local government, with its $22,500 annual stipend, not to mention the chance to influence one of the most patronage-rich institutions in local government.
Schad is the attorney for the for-now Democratic-controlled Erie County Legislature, and that means he’s a loyal soldier for Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, who is also the majority’s chief of staff. Schad replaces Chris O’Brien, an Amherst attorney who sources say longed to get involved in local politics but made the mistake of choosing the authority as his starting point. Those same sources say O’Brien didn’t like what he saw, and bailed out.
Enter Schad, whose replacement of O’Brien for a term expiring in 2016 was engineered by Legislature Democrats to zip through as quickly as possible because Democrats will control County Hall for only five more weeks before the new GOP-led majority takes over. So legislators pulled off a nifty moved at lightning speed, interviewing a host of applicants and providing them all an equal shot at the post (hardy har har) before settling on Schad.
Now, the makeup of the Water Authority board indeed reflects the power structure of the moment – but only of the moment. This moment will continue at the authority’s Ellicott Square headquarters for a while – until the new GOP power structure can flex its own muscles.
Some other interesting developments gathered along this week’s campaign trail:
• Speaking of Zellner, you might think the chairman of upstate’s largest Democratic organization would occupy a prominent spotlight at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s big fundraising shindig in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo last Tuesday. But by all accounts, though the chairman was there, he joined all the rest of the paying customers while many of the governor’s closest supporters retired to an adjoining inner sanctum.
Cuomo picked up about $400,000 at his Hyatt soiree, by the way, just in case the $28 million he reported in July isn’t enough to run for re-election next year.
• Still on Zellner, Tuesday’s scheduled meeting of the Democratic Town Chairs Association at Curley’s Restaurant in Lackawanna should prove entertaining even for those always fightin’ and scrappin’ Dems. Veteran Aurora Chairwoman Mary Alice Grant says she will introduce a motion of “no confidence” directed at Zellner, who remains out of favor with everyone from Cuomo to small-town party leaders following a tough Election Night earlier this month.
Nobody is predicting Grant’s motion will succeed, but it is expected to garner considerable support from some major town chairmen. And it all reflects the fact that Democratic disarray continues.
Will a white knight come charging in to unite the party? Hmmm.
• Over in Republicanland, 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino continues to demand on a platter the heads of Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb as a condition for staying out of the 2014 contest – this time as a candidate of the Conservative Party.
Nobody in Albany’s power structure expects the GOP to dump two of its main players. So unless Paladino is bluffing, his stronger-by-the-day hints that he will run again must apparently be taken seriously.