Two years ago, we lost our mother way too soon. Her death devastated my family. My brothers and sisters and I rallied around my father, who was struck numb.
I tried explaining to my young daughter that her Baba was gone. In hindsight, I don’t know if I got it right.
We marked that fresh wound last weekend; it hasn’t gotten any easier. But the sad anniversary gave me the kind of crisp clarity my mother always brought to my most difficult life decisions. She helped me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that now is not time for me to run what would be my third countywide campaign in just four years.
My passion for public service drove my departure from the private sector to run for Erie County Comptroller. We released my tax returns publicly to let residents know I chose a significant pay cut to serve as your independent, "Taxpayer Watchdog." I have never regretted the decision; I love coming to the office every single morning. My daily mission: to save taxpayers millions of dollars, hold politicians accountable and serve the people of Erie County with every fiber of my being.
But the most vital title I will ever hold is Father. It’s my duty to assure our daughter grows into a loving, confident and independent woman. As we remembered my mother this weekend, my daughter was very sick and the importance of that job really struck me. It was a message from Baba.
We Ukrainians are a tight knit bunch; family is incredibly important to us all. As one of seven brothers and sisters, that takes time – especially since I’m the youngest of our crazy clan. And add to that mix something joyous: I’m engaged to be married to a wonderful woman. Those plans fill the plates at our family table, too.
This weekend, it struck me: The Erie County Republican Party is my family, too. I learned that on the campaign trail and, in some respects, I was looking forward to yet another election. I love the camaraderie, the long hours and miles of parades. This is something county Democrats don’t know: the way Republicans come together and work as a team, undivided and resolute in our purpose, like we’re rallying around a family member in need.
I also relish the electoral challenge: People counted me out before - even Republicans - when I decided to throw my hat into the ring for Comptroller. It was 2012, President Barack Obama’s re-election year, and Democratic voters were expected to flood the polls.
Republican stalwarts sat me down and told me I couldn't win in a year where Democrat turnout would be huge. But my closest supporters – including my mother – told me if I worked harder than anyone else on the campaign trail and reached out to people in all parties to stress my independence, I would win.
Well we did win, and big. Our team was the first Republican candidacy to win a competitive countywide race in a presidential year in more than 40 years. And now that I have served as your “Taxpayer Watchdog,” you know I am not just a Republican Comptroller. I am not a Democratic Comptroller, nor a Conservative Comptroller. I’m your Comptroller.
But in recent weeks, there has been talk of a GOP primary for County Executive with me in the middle of it. Make no mistake, Mark Poloncarz will not be easy to beat. I liked my chances, but I did not like the thought of turning family members against each other in a divisive primary. That camaraderie would become competition. Those long hours would grow longer; those parades wouldn't be as fun. And in the end, the victor would limp into an uphill general election battle against a strong incumbent in a Democrat-dominated county.
So I worked hard to gauge my decision. Republican Party leaders, donors and activists called me and were optimistic in their support. But they urged me to make a decision sooner rather than later: Get in the race yourself now, or move quickly to unite the party. This family needed to line up behind one candidate, and fast.
One senior Republican said something that really struck me: Sometimes, leadership means deciding not to run a race, stepping aside for someone else and bringing the family together to rally around that candidate. You know what? She’s right.
In a way, I am also in the construction business. My political mission is to build up our party, not tear it down with a divisive and bitter primary. We all read stories in the Buffalo News that my friend Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs was also unafraid of a Republican Party primary and was moving full steam ahead in his quest to become our next Erie County Executive. I can see why: Chris is a solid Republican, he has an uncanny feel for what our residents endure, he has done a terrific job as our clerk, and he has the resources to run and win.
And as someone who knocked on hundreds of doors, side-by-side with him across the county, I can tell you with full confidence that Chris Jacobs is a great guy.
So, after deep reflection about my families - my own, and the GOP - I am declining to run so we can clear the Republican field in the race for Erie County Executive. And I am wholeheartedly committed to uniting our party behind County Clerk Chris Jacobs for the top job in Erie County government.
Our party now has a clear front-runner, a consensus candidate, in Chris. He will be a remarkable standard bearer in the race for Erie County Executive. And I make this solemn pledge to my Republican family: you can count on me to campaign hard for him and speak loudly on his behalf. You want a boxer to throw the punches that help him lead us to victory? I’m right here.
I am the people's Comptroller. The taxpayers are my boss, and they will be my boss for the next year as the Erie County Comptroller. And, with my family as my touchstone, I look forward to facing the challenges of Erie County government head-on and working with my partners in public service to make our beloved Buffalo and Erie County a better place for all of us.
And take it from the youngest brother in this crazy clan: We Republicans can win if we rally together, take care of each other and march behind Chris Jacobs for County Executive.
Stefan Mychajliw, 41, is the Republican Erie County Comptroller and a former local network television newscaster.