WWJD? It's Time to Ask Ourselves: What Would Jeremy Do? By Peter Livingston

I recently received an anonymous letter discussing the operations of the Erie County Democratic Committee. It described a group of Democrats, including Cheektowaga Town Chair Frank Max, political commentator Kristy Mazurek and former Water Authority Commissioner Jack O'Donnell, as 'renegades.' This internal fight has consumed the Democrat Party in recent years.

(Oddly, the list did not include irritants to the current party regime Senator Tim Kennedy or Mayor Byron Brown. I suppose being elected disqualifies one from wearing the renegade badge.)

If you are a Democrat Party operative, there is a good chance you have seen this letter. In case you haven't seen the letter, I will try to briefly summarize it for you. The author, who assumed a false identity, alleges there are a few operatives in the Democrat Party who are disruptive, but not destructive, because they never win any elections anyway. Regardless, they should be ignored so that they will go away. The letter is nicely written and remarkable for being devoid of expletives. At least not in the traditional sense - the word 'Republican' is used a few times, which is as good as an expletive to many Democrat Party insiders.

The problem: it's not just a few renegades causing the local Democrat elected leadership heartburn. If it were just a few people, the renegades would not even be noteworthy. The fact that they are being discussed at all is indicative of a problem for the Democratic Party machine. Each of these renegades has the support of many people. Frank Max is a town chairman and leads a significant active organization. He and his like-minded supporters do not agree with the machine on many issues. It's a fact: what Frank Max and his supporters say and do matters.

Which leads to an interesting hypothetical. Well, it is hypothetical at this point. It could become very real, very soon. In fact, it has already started. Wes Moore has announced his intention to run for the Erie County Legislature seat currently held by Terry McCracken. McCracken is close to Erie County Democrat chair Jeremy Zellner, who also serves as the Chief of Staff of the Legislature. So, Zellner has been tasked with getting Democrats elected to the Legislature while also coordinating the efforts of the Legislature's Democrat Caucus, who hires him. Does he endorse Moore, who may be the better candidate considering McCracken's negative press regarding his vote to raise taxes, the several government paychecks coming to his household or his seeking to move to Tonawanda to take a higher paying, taxpayer-funded job? Or does he stick with McCracken, who does as he is told by the party boss? The answer to that question is pretty easy: he goes with McCracken, who, unlike the party renegades, wouldn't dare offer an independent thought (even if he had one).

The next question is more difficult. What if Moore wins the primary? Max, who wants to replace Zellner as party chair, supports Moore. There is no benefit to Zellner if Moore is in the legislature. Moore might even like to see Zellner replaced as Chief of Staff, just as Max would like to replace Zellner as chair. However, Moore would only be one vote toward that end, so he alone would not have much influence to remove Zellner. Zellner might offer some support to Moore, in the name of party unity.

The hypothetical gets murkier if there are more candidates. There may also be a primary challenge to Legislator Tom Mazur, the Majority Leader of the Legislature. He has also been known to be close to Max but he has recently disagreed with him on many issues, including ousting Pigeon ally O'Donnell from the Water Authority commision. He also works very closely with Zellner and has voted for every item at the legislature as instructed by Mr. Zellner. In addition, there are also rumored primary challenges to legislators Betty Jean Grant and Tim Hogues. If Legislator Marinelli decides to run again after all, she may also face a primary opponent. In fact, the only Democrat who may not have a primary is Tom Loughran, the legislator that angered Zellner by voting against a tax increase and in favor of repealing the NY SAFE Act.

Now the hypothetical gets really difficult. What if, after the primary, some of the candidates are Zellner's handpicked choices and some are renegades. What would Jeremy do? In order to keep his job as Chief of Staff, a job which the Erie County Comptroller recently observed pays him over $100,000 in salary and benefits, he must have a majority of the caucus pick a Chair or Leader friendly to him. Knowing this, does he support only candidates who will allow him to keep his high paying job at the risk of losing the majority in the legislature? Or does he work hard to keep the majority and maybe get fired as Chief of Staff and cede power at the Rath Building to those who wish to unseat him as party Chair?

I'm sure Zellner could get a job in Mayor Brown's administration. (Oh wait, Hizzoner is an unnamed renegade. Scratch that.)

So what will Jeremy do? Does he choose the best candidates, knowing some may vote to remove him from as Chief of Staff and it could lead to his replacement as party chair? Or does he protect his salary at the expense of the Democrat Party? I suppose we will know in November after the process plays itself out. In the meantime, grab some popcorn, relax and enjoy the show.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com.

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