Bal­lot ma­neu­vers give Dixon clear path for In­de­pen­dence Party nom­i­na­tion

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Robert J. McCarthy

Rachel L. Obe­nauer never ut­tered a word about her In­de­pen­dence Party cam­paign for county ex­ec­u­tive.

The 23-year-old Wil­liamsville res­i­dent did not re­turn phone calls af­ter her des­ig­nat­ing pe­ti­tions for the In­de­pen­dence line were sub­mit­ted last week by Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives. Nor did she even ac­knowl­edge her pri­mary chal­lenge to Lynne M. Dixon, an­other In­de­pen­dence mem­ber run­ning on the Repub­li­can line against Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Mark C. Polon­carz this fall.

Adding to the ques­tion marks, Obe­nauer’s short-lived and un­ex­plained can­di­dacy abruptly ended Mon­day when she de­clined the In­de­pen­dence nom­i­na­tion, prompt­ing Re­pub­li­cans aligned with Dixon to re­new their com­plaints of Democrats gam­ing the sys­tem. They even noted the sig­na­ture of Board of Elec­tions em­ployee Robb Polon­carz, the county ex­ec­u­tive’s brother, as a wit­ness on the Obe­nauer pe­ti­tions.

“It fur­ther demon­strates the hypocrisy the Polon­carz ma­chine is mak­ing of this elec­tion,” Erie County Repub­li­can Chair­man Nicholas A. Lang­wor­thy said Mon­day. “They say they hate fu­sion vot­ing, but got caught red-handed putting up a mi­nor-party can­di­date with the can­di­date’s own brother cir­cu­lat­ing pe­ti­tions.”

Though it ranks as a rel­a­tively mi­nor devel­op­ment in an an­tic­i­pated long cam­paign for county ex­ec­u­tive this year, Obe­nauer’s with­drawal un­der­scores the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing New York’s unique “fu­sion” vot­ing sys­tem in which mi­nor-party mem­bers can be nom­i­nated by ma­jor par­ties and vice versa. In all but seven other states, can­di­dates must be en­rolled in a party to ap­pear on its line.

It all en­abled Obe­nauer to ap­pear out of nowhere last week as an In­de­pen­dence can­di­date. She is an en­rolled mem­ber of the party who the GOP says was try­ing to wreak havoc for Dixon, en­dorsed by the Repub­li­can and In­de­pen­dence par­ties.

Now the ef­fort to run against Dixon in a mi­nor-party pri­mary, caus­ing the can­di­date to spend time and en­ergy, ap­pears to have ended.

“The Polon­carz-Demo­crat ma­chin­ery is play­ing games,” Lang­wor­thy said, not­ing the past crit­i­cism Polon­carz and Erie County Demo­cratic Chair­man Jeremy J. Zell­ner have lev­eled at fu­sion vot­ing.

Now an In­de­pen­dence Com­mit­tee on Va­can­cies has the op­tion of nam­ing a re­place­ment for Obe­nauer af­ter she de­clined, prompt­ing Lang­wor­thy to of­fer more po­lit­i­cal spec­u­la­tion.

“I would not be ter­ri­bly sur­prised if they put up a new, fraud­u­lent can­di­date that would go against the wishes of the In­de­pen­dence Party sup­port­ing Lynne Dixon for county ex­ec­u­tive,” he said.

Jen­nifer L. Hi­bit, Polon­carz chief of staff, noted last week that In­de­pen­dence can­di­dates are of­ten GOP al­lies, and that nei­ther she nor the county ex­ec­u­tive have ever even met Obe­nauer.

“This, un­for­tu­nately, is the game that is fu­sion vot­ing,” she said then. “Don’t hate the player; hate the game.”

On Mon­day she dis­tanced her­self even fur­ther from any mi­nor-party ac­tiv­ity in the county ex­ec­u­tive con­test. “We’re pay­ing at­ten­tion to our own race, not Rachel Obe­nauer,” Hi­bit said.

Also Mon­day, the ex­ec­u­tive race sim­pli­fied even fur­ther when Gre­gory M. Vi­nal Jr. de­clined his can­di­dacy for the post on the Green Party line.

Other sig­nif­i­cant de­cli­na­tions in­volved Leg­is­la­ture races, in­clud­ing Michelle J. Schoen­e­man on the Demo­cratic and Work­ing Fam­i­lies lines in Dis­trict 10; Lack­awanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szy­man­ski from the Demo­cratic line in Dis­trict 9; Scott J. Ackerman from the Green line in Dis­trict 8; and Demo­crat Jerome T. Janik in Dis­trict 11.

Lynn Dixon no longer has a ri­val for the In­de­pen­dence Party nom­i­na­tion.

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