December is a time of reflection, as another year draws to a close. It is also the beginning of the movie awards season. In the spirit of this convergence, I have decided to announce my own year-end local political awards.
My first challenge was to come up with a name for the award, something that captures the appropriate prestige, enthusiasm and interest level for such a meaningless honor. Because "Daytime Emmy Award" was already taken, I have settled on calling them the “Lenny Awards.” As is obvious to anyone who follows Erie County politics, the name refers to Lenny Small from “Of Mice and Men.” As Lenny once reflected [with my edits in brackets]: “Guys like us, that work [in politics], are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place... They ain't got nothing to look ahead to.”
That is, until now. So without further ado, I present to you the First Annual Lenny Awards.
Biggest Surprise No One Saw Coming: Patrick Burke Elected to the Erie County Legislature. Where did this guy come from? Well, South Buffalo, obviously. But he seemed to enter the race to stir things up, maybe frustrated with the Frank Max camp supporting Rick Zydel and the Downtown Headquarters camp supporting Lynn Dearmyer. He professes his independence - and ended up winning. Was the Irish Center bartender’s election a fluke - or was it part of a bigger plan? Time will tell. One thing is for sure: we may have been surprised he was elected, but Burke seemed to know it was coming all along.
Biggest Surprise Everyone Saw Coming: A Republican Majority Elected to the Erie County Legislature. For the first time in 36 years, a Republican-endorsed slate was elected to the majority in the Erie County Legislature. This, in a county where registered Democrats nearly outnumber all other registered voters combined. The interesting thing is, a couple of years ago, Democrats didn’t “nearly outnumber” all others, they did outnumber. Things are trending poorly for the Democrats and they need to figure out why that is. Here is a clue – no matter how you spin it, taxes at all levels are too high in Erie County.
Republican of the Year: Jeremy Zellner. Erie County Republicans had an outstanding year. While holding their own in the town races, they also retained County Comptroller, Sheriff and won the legislature. It may be more accurate to say Democrats lost these races: The candidate selection process for Sheriff, Comptroller and a couple of legislature races were botched. Some candidates were nearly left off of the ballot entirely after a last-minute race to the post office went bad. The candidates ultimately chosen were weak and ran with messages that did not resonate with voters. This all falls on the shoulders of the party chairman. Take note Chairman Langworthy, you have a formidable candidate for your Lincoln Leadership Award this year.
Democrat(s) of the Year: Jack Quinn, Tom Reynolds and Amo Houghton. In a year dominated at the national level by the disastrous roll-out of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, local Republicans have found a way to stick it to a vocal supporter of the plan - hold a fundraiser and net six figures for Democrat Congressman Brian Higgins. Of course, no Republican can beat Higgins in his district, so some argue that these three former Congressman aren’t really hurting Republicans. That is, until Higgins is again unchallenged and donates much of his newfound money to defeat Republicans in other districts. Why not hold this fundraiser for a local Republican instead, like Chris Collins? Ideals sometimes get trumped by politics, I suppose.
Third Party of the Year: Schroedercrats. Much has been written about the rift between the Frank Max/Steve Pigeon Democrats and the Downtown Headquarters Democrats. They each blame each other for the Democrats’ lousy year. In the meantime, Mark Schroeder has steered clear of the bickering and is growing his political base. He scored a huge victory with Patrick Burke. Can he be the one to bring the factions together? Perhaps, but probably not. It will be interesting to see how he navigates the anticipated primary between one time friend Senator Timothy Kennedy and new friend (via Patrick Burke) Legislator Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant.
Party Chair of the Year: Democratic Chairman Paul Tarapacki of Lancaster. Tarapacki had the misfortune of being a Democrat in a battleground town between competing County Democratic factions. As such, he had to sell a stale slate to voters on a ticket topped by Kevin Gaughan, Richard Dobson and Winnie Fisher. Tarapacki’s efforts were helped by a weak slate offered by town Republicans, but it was still a tough sell. Not only did Tarapacki fend off an aggressive write-in campaign to steal the Conservative line, he also waged a surgical campaign to steal the Independence line for his slate. It may be a bad time to live in Lancaster, but it is a good time to be Paul Tarapacki.
Quote of the Year: Gayle Syposs supporting Jeremy Zellner to Town Chairs Jeremy Zellner. “Since Chairman Zellner has taken the helm of the Erie County Democratic Committee, our towns and two cities have seen unprecedented support for their efforts in supplying printed materials, research, mailings, design of materials, petition assistance and canvasing support.” There are three cities in Erie County. So which city doesn’t he support? Could it be Buffalo? Feel free to weigh in, Mayor Brown.
UPDATE: Based on an email received seeking clarification, the Quote of the Year Lenny for Syposs has been reconsidered. She made the "two cities" comment in support of Mr. Zellner, who apparently needed a statement of support, at a meeting to which the City of Buffalo was not even invited. Even though the City of Buffalo is home to the largest bloc of Democrats in Erie County. That says a lot. Reluctantly, the award is rescinded.
Ad of the Year: Judge Mark Montour's Paladino radio ad. Sometimes an ad is so creative, it upsets the paradigm of an election. This year in western New York, the Ad of the Year was not all that creative - it's not easy to do on radio. But Judge Montour's radio spot touting his candidacy for New York State Supreme Court was intelligent in other ways: Ralph Lorigo, chairman of the Erie County Conservative Party, convinced Carl Paladino to voice 20 seconds of the one minute radio spot calling Montour the real conservative candidate. Everyone agrees this ad helped turn the tide for Montour over equally conservative Paul Wojtaszek of Niagara County.
Blunder of the Year: Amherst tries to Upsize Board. The people of Amherst voted to downsize their town board from six to five members. A five member board has been shown to function well, unlike the problems seen on three member boards. Further, it is easier to accomplish things with a five member board than a six member board (for a five member board, 3/5 or 60% of votes are needed to approve an item; for a six member board, it is 4/6 or 66%). In an effort to preserve political jobs, Amherst Republicans spearheaded an effort to keep the board at six members. They lost in court. Further, voters remembered this political nonsense in November.
I haven’t decided what the trophy for the Lenny Awards will look like. Therefore, award winners will have to settle for bragging rights this year. Further, although all decisions are final, I would be happy to hear your input or other nominations.
It may seem odd to seek input only afted final decisions have been made, but this is the process the Erie County Legislature used to pass the recent hydrofracking ban, so I am sure it is the preferred method.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also known to make nonsensical comments on Twitter @PRLivingston.