On the day he returned from President Obama's inauguration, Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner released a statement announcing that County Judge Deborah Chimes ruled against the challenge to the 2012 reorganization meeting that saw him elected chair.
In the statement, he focuses on the positive, listing the accomplishments of Democrats on the national, state and local level. Nowhere does Zellner gloat about the victory. Instead he reaches out twice to Democrats to unite and move forward.
Among those party loyalists are those who want to appeal Chimes' decision. It will take time and effort to heal. So, now that Zellner is firmly holding the reins, what does he need to do to move forward? These three things:
1. The Chairman must remake the committee in his own image. Many of his detractors say he is just a continuation of the Lenihan years. There are a few important differences, most of all Zellner's young age. At 34, Zellner is firmly in a demographic that is the new face of the Democratic party. Young and tech savvy activists helped President Obama win two historic elections. Energy, new ideas and exploiting new technologies can win elections in Erie County as well.
2. Zellner needs to build bridges and he knows this. He told me recently he is willing to work with anyone who wants to elect quality Democrats. He'll have to build relationships aggressively with the people that didn't want him to win. I've personally heard rumors about potential primaries against sitting Dems, in particular is Erie County Legislator Terry McCracken. There's no reason to primary McCracken - he's qualified, smart and dedicated. A primary against him is a waste of resources in a time that the Dems need to be focusing on working against Republicans to defend our majority in the Legislature. Zellner needs to build those bridges that bring Dems together. (Easier said than done.)
3. Zellner needs to win elections. This, of course, is obvious and the Chairman certainly doesn't need to hear that from me. In our first meeting, he talked of keeping and growing the majority in the Erie County Legislature. The redistricting that took the legislature to 11 seats made that a little harder. If anyone is vulnerable, it's Sheriff Tim Howard. The jails are a disaster under his watch and a money pit for taxpayers in the form of lawsuits. In his district, Senator Grisanti, who has voted with Dems on two huge issues, is either vulnerable or has potential to switch parties. It's too early to tell whether Stefan Mychajliw will be vulnerable. As a veteran of the media, he has done a great job of getting the word out about the things he is doing. He absolutely outworked David Shenk to win the office, and he is working hard now. It probably won't be an easy go for whoever the challenger is, but with a vast majority of Democrats in the county Zellner can surely field a capable candidate.
Jeremy Zellner has his work cut out for him. For years, the Democrats of Western New York have been a fractured lot. It would almost be funny if it wasn't so embarrassingly damaging to the Democratic brand. There should be mortification that Governor Cuomo felt the need to sneak in and try to make back deals to make this all better. That's adult supervision.
It's going to take real local leadership to get these factions to pull together and the court assured Zellner gets the nod for that job now. It's also going to take help from outside the Chairman's office. Egos will have to be shelved with the realization that the organization is greater than the sum of its parts. Or Erie County local Dems can continue to look like feuding Hatfields and the McCoys - and lose voters, members and elections.