Yesterday, like many of you, I read on this site that Erie County Legislator Lynn Marinelli was approached to challenge sitting Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. Lynn would be a formidable candidate. She has countywide experience as chair of the Legislature out of the red/green fiasco, she is well versed on county issues and a fierce campaigner. Most importantly, she is a woman. Her resume would impress the voters and her candidacy could scare Republicans, but it likely will never happen.
The biggest problem with this scenario is Legislator Marinelli has too much to lose and an unsuccessful run at the Comptroller's office would leave her in the same position as every loyal Democrat who took one for the team by falling on the sword: unemployed.
Although she may be a good candidate, she would never possess the independence of Republican incumbent Stefan Mychajliw, especially when dealing with the County Executive. Stefan built his career questioning politicians and challenging their decision making. That resume, along with his strong work ethic and some humility got him elected and will probably get him re-elected, even with yesterday's headlines about his departing staff chief.
With that said, Democrat Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner is still working very hard to find an opponent for Mychajliw. Some sources say he is even considering using the seat to mend the party in a veiled attempt to also protect himself. As the Legislature's Chief of Staff, Mr. Zellner is very concerned his power base in the legislature may be under assault by his counterpart GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, who has all but declared victory in the next legislative race.
Langworthy will ensure his candidates are better funded, more organized and the party structure is unified. This has been a Republican recipe for success for years, and it's what keeps a party down 2 to 1 in enrollment still competitive. Zellner knows this and can't afford - personally and politically - any missteps in Democratic legislative races. This means he must bury the hatchet with City Hall to prevent primary races that will distract his donors and further divide his troops.
So how does Zellner accomplish that? One inside source says he convinces Senator Tim Kennedy to run for the office, as a favor to the party in a year that doesn't risk his Senate seat. Senator Kennedy agrees to run, with the blessing of Mayor Brown and Deputy Mayor Casey, and Stefan now has a real challenge in swing-towns like Cheektowaga and West Seneca, which delivered him the race last year.
This is a half win/win for Zellner/Brown. Zellner has a better chance at keeping his job at the legislature because the Mayor agrees to not primary any of his establishment Dems and it can potentially prevent another awkward Grant/Kennedy primary in 2014. Meanwhile, Mayor Brown gets his guy in a countywide seat and the heir apparent to be the next democratic candidate to take the keys to County Hall after Poloncarz - Mychajliw - moves on.
This is a risky play for Zellner. That's why I think it may be based more in fantasy than reality. Every pundit would agree that if the new Chair takes this gamble and wins, it is only a short-term win. Eventually the power base of the party will shift back to the Mayor once Kennedy establishes himself as a county-wide figure. As that is taking place, adversaries like Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max will smell blood in the water and continue to divide and conquer where possible.
If Zellner takes the Kennedy gamble but is foiled by Langworthy and loses the legislature, he may as well kiss his Chairmanship - and his day job - goodbye.