Updated: 3:00 PM ET September 27
Max Out as Cheektowaga Chair?

Jeremy Zellner got the last laugh on Frank Max Saturday at the reorganization meeting of the Town of Cheektowaga Democratic Committee. Zellner, in cahoots with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, blindsided Max with the candidacy of Town Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner and knocked the powerful chairman, Zellner's longtime rival, out of the leadership post. Wegner is now the chairman of the largest town committee in Erie County. 

This is a dramatic turn of events in the ongoing saga of Erie County Democrat infighting. Max, alilgned with former chairman Steve Pigeon, has been at odds with party leadership since the days of former chair Len Lenihan. A vengeful push last week to replace Zellner with activist Mark Manna was held off, as Zellner and his allies defeated his challengers by an even larger margin than when they tried to knock him out in 2012. 

Is this a sign Zellner is consolidating control of the divided Erie County Democrats? That would certainly be sad news for county Republicans, who have romped in recent elections as the Dems squabbled. 

Updated: 12:00 AM ET September 23
Board of Elections Goes to Keane?

With the resignation of Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward to accept his cross-endorsement for New York State Supreme Court Judge, Democrats are seeking to fill his position. The rumors that the position would be filled by Champ Eve are over - insiders say there's a better offer.

In return for endorsing Jeremy Zellner for Democratic Party Chair, Congressman Brian Higgins was given the choice for Board Commissioner. The popular pol has chosen Michael Keane,  son of former Assemblyman Richard Keane and husband of Orchard Park Town Judge Lynn Wessel Keane.

Champ Eve was given the bragging rights to securing the cross-endorsement for Jeanette Ogden for New York State Supreme Court Judge. He is also expected to receive a raise at the Board of Elections for not mounting a challenge to his new boss. 

Updated: 12:00 AM ET September 21
NYS Supreme Court Cross Endorsements In

With five New York State Supreme Court seats up for election, insiders have expected a cross endorsement deal to be announced for two to four candidates. As expected, the news came today: The Erie County Republican and Democratic parties will cross endorse State Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Siwek, Buffalo City Judge E. Jeannette Ogden, GOP attorney Paul B. Wojtaszek, and Democrat election commissioner Dennis Ward. Wearing the label of both major parties, the four are highly likely to be elected.

This leaves a fifth seat up for grabs, and plenty of qualified candidates to fill it. With a six figure-plus cost attached to running a competitive State Supreme Court race, it's a big investment for slim pickings.  

Updated: 7:00 AM ET September 15
Zellner in for a Rough Week

Political insiders expect a very long week for Erie County Democratic Committee chair Jeremy Zellner. According to reliable sources, Cuomo representatives at the NYS Democratic Committee were working overtime this weekend burning up phone lines to derail Zellner's control of the 8th Supreme Court Judicial Convention on September 22nd.  

Zellner, who is up for re-election on Saturday, is known to be pushing hard for a cross endorsement for Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward - this despite many highly qualified candidates actually campaigning for the office. Rumor has it Zellner aspires to succeed Ward as Commissioner while serving as County Chairman.  
 
NYS Democrat officials are alleging misuse of funds Zellner solicited from judicial candidates in last week's Independence Party Primary, saying Zellner either kept the money for Party coffers or diverted it to the campaign of failed senate candidate Betty Jean Grant.  
 
Team Cuomo wants no cross endorsements with Republicans for Supreme Court. As always, they take no prisoners and get what they want. If insiders are correct, this week is going to be a very bumpy ride for Chairman Zellner.
Updated: 1:00 PM ET September 12
McCracken Fired from Water Authority

Sources say former Erie County Legislator Terry McCracken was fired yesterday from his job at the Erie County Water Authority as Director of Employee Relations. 

Just three weeks ago, Democrat McCracken resigned his patronage position as the Recreation Director in the Town of Lancaster to accept the $96,700 per year gig at the Water Authority - a big jump in pay. It is unclear whether or not his prior job remains available and if he will return. Sources say the town is in talks with Peter Jerebko, the current ECC Athletic Director, to assume the Recreation Director position.

Insiders say the Erie County Department of Personnel notified Water Authority leadership that McCracken did not meet the civil service requirements for the job. There are competing rumors for why the Water Authority really let McCracken go. One version says he lied on his resume and claimed false academic credentials. Another: he was Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner's point man for town committee races on Primary night, and he lost them all to the Pigeon/Max faction, tipping the scales of power away from Zellner. 

With the party re-organizational meeting around the corner, this is not good news for Zellner or County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Such bad news, in fact, that the Water Authority is only giving the press release announcing McCracken's termination to reporters who ask for it.

Updated: 2:00 PM ET July 27
Cuomo Fears WNY Protestors Monday

Governor Andrew Cuomo's Western New York point person, Sam Hoyt, has been calling around this weekend trying to ascertain whether, and to what degree, the Governor may face protests at his Monday morning Buffalo announcement. Also, one invitee we heard from still hasn't received confirmation and details on the announcement, raising the question of whether a last-minute change of venue or timing, perhaps to throw off protesters, might be in the works.

Clearly, the Governor is not above such maneuvers, having famously ducked anti-fracking protesters at last year's state fair by un-cancelling his appearance after protesters cancelled their protest in the wake of his cancellation (got that?). And the Governor's people must be well aware that statewide media will be unusually focused on his Buffalo announcement, given his days of silence in the wake of the New York Times' devastating expose of his interference with his own "independent" corruption commission.

Stay tuned.

Updated: 12:00 PM ET July 21
Stocker a WFP-GOPer?

Because of the Democrat tilt to Western New York's 60th State Senate district, Senator Mark Grisanti's seat is a target for a Democratic pick up. In fact, he's got a challenger on the Republican line as well in Kevin Stocker. Stocker, who has challenged Grisanti before, is a tireless campaigner but has little support among the WNY Republican establishement - despite Grisanti's lack of support in the same crowd.

But if you were thinking of voting for Stocker in the GOP primary because Grisanti is too liberal for you - as most gun enthusiasts believe - you might think again. Candidate Stocker has filed opportunity to ballot petitions on the Working Family Party (WFP) [HERE] and [HERE].. By far the most liberal of all the minor parties, the WFP backs gay marriage and gun confiscation, the two issues that got Grisanti in hot conservative water in the first place. 

Stocker has gained some ground among the Republican Party's right wing activists. These conservatives are surely scratching their heads at the apparent hypocrisy: Stocker says Grisanti is too liberal, but now he's courting the most liberal line on the ballot.

Running to the left AND the right of an incumbent is a feat few have mastered. Stocker won't likely master it, either.

Updated: 12:00 AM ET July 21
Petition scandal afoot?

Fur always flies during petition season in Western New York and 2014 is no exception. Leaders of the Erie County Democratic Committee (ECDC) are in a pitched battle with the rival Democrat faction led by Cuomo insider Steve Pigeon, Cheektowaga chair Frank Max and Mayor Byron Brown and the war is spilling into the petition process. Word has it that Pigeon-Max-Brown are primarying hundreds of ECDC members and judicial delegates loyal to chairman Jeremy Zellner. For his part, Zellner is trying to knock off many PMB loyalists, too.

Enter Mike Deely, regional staff director of the New York State United Teachers Union. He's one of the largest donors to the ECDC over the years and a longtime member of the party's executive board. Deely recently joined PMB forces, upset with the direction headquarters has taken in the last year. Needless to say, this doesn't sit well with Zellner loyalists. In fact, the animosity may have gotten a little out of hand at the Erie County Board of Elections (BoE) last week.

Insiders say that when Deely's petitions came into the BoE last week, Democrat Election Board leader Dennis Ward and other loyalists go a bit upset. It's not clear which election board official did it, but Deely's petitions were allegedly torn up and thrown out. The second committeeman on that petition ended up on another petition with another committeeman instead of Deely - one loyal to Zellner. Those petitions have been filed.

Destroying nominating petitions is illegal. This story will unfold more clearly in the days ahead - watch this space!

Updated: 9:00 AM ET July 15
Nesbitt for Senate?

Western New York pols are gabbing today about the abrupt retirement of Senator George Maziarz - not about the Senator, but about his replacement. While North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt is said to have the inside track to be hand-picked to stand for election in Maziarz place, another name has popped up and caught fire: Charlie Nesbitt.

In fact, an inside source says the deciding panel - the official committee on vacancies listed on Maziarz's Republican petitions - is considering Nesbitt as the new designated Republican Senate candidate. If you haven't heard of Nesbitt, you're new to New York State politics. But this is a perfect opportunity to learn the story of a bona fide American hero.

Nesbitt served in the Assembly from 1992 to 2005 and was elected Minority Leader. Long before politics, he was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.

On Nov. 14, 1968, Nesbitt and his crew members were told an American soldier was stranded in enemy territory in the jungles of Laos, across the border from Vietnam. Another helicopter had been hit with a rocket, crashed and the crew needed to be rescued. Nesbitt flew a helicopter in and got everyone out, except one gunman who was separated from his crew. Nesbitt took the recovered crew members back to safety, and then returned to enemy territory to find the missing man. It took him more than nine hours, but Nesbitt finally was able to get him.

Veterans across Western New York are pleased to know that the two leading candidates for the designation are both veterans - Ortt enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in October 2001 after the 9-11 attacks. He is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where he served in the infantry in Kandahar City.

Updated: 5:12 PM ET July 13
Maziarz out??

Forget Twitter and Facebook when it comes to real Western New York political news. The old fashioned grapevine was buzzing all weekend with word that Sen. George Maziarz may step down. According to insiders, the longtime legislator was under pressure for alleged campaign finance violations dug up by the defunct Moreland Commisstion. Politics NY.net was able to confirm that the Senator will decline the nomination of the Republican party for re-election. Instead, according to law, the petitioning committee on vacancies will hand pick a replacement. Sources say North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt will be his replacement on the ballot in the Republican-leaning district.

This is a mortal wound for the Niagara County Republican organization, long controlled by Mazaiarz and his loyalists. It would also be an abrupt end to a long Senate career that took Maziarz to the right hand of power in Albany. The trees started shaking early last week when longtime Maziarz aides Alisa Colatarci (17 years in service) and Marcus Hall (12 years) abruptly resigned, rumored to be under pressure from law enforcement authorities investigating allegations of improper campaign spending on the Maziarz campaign.

UPDATE: A Buffalo News article published hours after PoliticsNY.net broke the Maziarz retirement story notes that the veteran legislator has been considering retirement for several years and, after discussions with his wife, he decided to bow out. The News article also registers the Senator's confidence the campaign finance allegations will be disproven.

A veteran GOP operative also told PoliticsNY.net that Colatarci and Hall were "civilians" - what pols call apolitical professional staff. "Who knows why they resigned?" he said. "You don't expect a civilian to stick around and take the heat anyway."

Updated: 12:00 AM ET July 10
Savage Safe... for now.

Peter Savage, the Erie County legislator appointed to fill the remainder of departing legislator Lynn Marinelli's term, appears to be safe in his special election bid to complete the term this November.  Savage, a Mayor Brown confidante, was appointed after Erie County Democratic Committee chairman Jeremy Zellner was unable to sway enough support for someone more friendly to establishment interests.

Newcomer Anthony Johnson filed petitions with the Board of Elections Thursday evening that fell short of the numbers needed to force a primary on the Democratic and Working Family lines.  With the deadline now past for filing petitions, it appears Savage will run unopposed this November.

Of course, Zellner has in the past filed petitions postmarked after the last official day for filing and has gotten away with it, so it may not be a done deal for Savage. We will wait and see.


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