The recent announcement that the Erie County Democratic Committee has nominated Buffalo lawyer and smaller government activist, Kevin Gaughan as their candidate for Erie County Comptroller has turned some heads. Here's three reasons that Kevin Gaughan was an excellent pick.
Name Recognition - Stefan Mychajliw won the Comptroller's Race last time around on two things. First his name. Everyone knows Stefan, after a career that put him in the public spotlight for years. And secondly, his campaign work ethic. Stefan campaigns the hell out of it. He knocks doors, shakes hands, kisses babies, and makes impressions every chance he gets, even during his lunch hours. Overcoming that is going to take some serious built-in name recognition. In political circles, Kevin Gaughan has that. He gained a lot of positive traction when he calculated the cost of all the layers of government here in Western New York. His activist campaign resulted in several local governments downsizing their boards. Kevin got a lot of news coverage during that time, and he has campaigned in the past. People know who Kevin Gaughan is. If Mychajliw has an advantage in this area, it is minimal.
Experience - While this clearly isn't important to Erie County voters as they elected Mychajliw with no experience, Gaughan clearly has an advantage here. A practicing lawyer who graduated from Harvard University and Georgetown Law and studied at the London School of Economics, Gaughan spent the past decade and a half knee deep in studying government balance sheets trying to figure out how to make government more efficient. He knows government. He's routed out waste. He understands the law.
Mychajliw's lack of experience has bubbled to the surface when he blamed the Poloncarz administration for sales tax projections that his own Deputy, Greg Gach, had made when he worked for Chris Collins. In trying desperately to discredit County Executive Poloncarz, Mychajliw's office deceived county employees to obtain documents illegally, opening the county up to lawsuits and credit downgrades. All of these are symptoms of Mychajliw's lack of experience. The advantage definitely goes to Gaughan in the experience column.
Independence - One of Mychajliw's pat phrases is how he is an independent Comptroller. I don't buy it. He may be independent of the County Executive, but he certainly isn't independent. He is as loyal a partisan as ever I have seen. It seems as if his only motivation is to discredit the County Executive, perhaps setting himself up for a run for that office someday. As Mychajliw attacks, attacks, attacks, it certainly doesn't seem as if his motivation is for the taxpayer as much as it is to his own future and the future of the Erie County GOP.
If a Democrat is going to win, they are going to have to be a truly independent Comptroller. Gaughan just spent a few years challenging the boards of local towns and villages. He didn't care if they we were Republicans or Democrats. He cared about the taxpayers. As the county's taxpayer watchdog, you can count on Gaughan to be independent, if nothing else. He's already proven his taxpayer first loyalty. I haven't seen independence from Mychajliw. I've only seen a foil. Not the same thing, nor is it useful to rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.
It ought to be an interesting race. The hardest part will be that you have two genuinely likable guys. While Szalkowski was the candidate, I was pretty sure that Stefan would out campaign her, if nothing else. I am no longer convinced it will be a run away. I thought long about who was a candidate that could go head to head with a well-known, likable incumbent. Kevin Gaughan was a good choice to give Stefan a run for his money. If Sergio Rodriguez candidacy for Mayor of Buffalo energizes both bases, there is no telling what will happen on the Comptroller's line. One thing is for certain, Kevin Gaughan as candidate makes it interesting.