Machi­na­tions may ex­pose Dixon to pri­mary af­ter all

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

Af­ter a mi­nor party can­di­date ex­ited the county ex­ec­u­tive con­test on Mon­day, most ob­servers thought Repub­li­can­backed Lynne M. Dixon was spared the ex­pense and ef­fort of wag­ing a pri­mary for her own In­de­pen­dence line.

But not in New York State, where the unique – and in­creas­ingly con­tro­ver­sial – fu­sion vot­ing sys­tem may now pro­duce an In­de­pen­dence pri­mary af­ter all.

In­deed, no­body con­nected with the In­de­pen­dence Party was mak­ing ar­range­ments for a sub­sti­tute can­di­date. Erie County Demo­cratic Chair­man Jeremy J. Zell­ner, how­ever, pre­dicted Tues­day that an­other In­de­pen­dence mem­ber will emerge by Fri­day to chal­lenge Dixon on the line.

“I strongly be­lieve their com­mit­tee on va­can­cies will sub­sti­tute some­one,” Zell­ner said, “and we’re happy to help be­cause fu­sion vot­ing is bro­ken and the In­de­pen­dence Party is cor­rupt.”

That means Democrats, he said, will pre­pare the pa­per­work and ad­vise a new can­di­date. And it means that Repub­li­cans will be cry­ing foul, de­spite their his­tory of ma­nip­u­lat­ing mi­nor par­ties, too.

It’s all part of un­prece­dented lo­cal machi­na­tions for the mi­nor line now sur­round­ing Dixon, an In­de­pen­dence mem­ber backed by Repub­li­cans. Af­ter an­other In­de­pen­dence Party mem­ber – Rachel L. Obe­nauer – sub­mit­ted and then with­drew pe­ti­tions to chal­lenge Dixon, the ma­jor party hon­chos are now trad­ing charges and coun­ter­charges over the mi­nor line.

“This is the games­man­ship that fu­sion vot­ing brings,” said Zell­ner, a vo­cal critic of the sys­tem that al­lows ma­jor party can­di­dates to run on mi­nor lines and vice versa. “We ex­pect an In­de­pen­dence Party mem­ber to run against a bought and paid for can­di­date like Lynne Dixon.”

He was coun­ter­ing charges levied by his Repub­li­can coun­ter­part – Ni­cholas A. Lang­wor­thy – who last week said Demo­cratic crit­i­cism amounted to hypocrisy.

“The Polon­carz-Demo­crat ma­chin­ery is play­ing games,” Lang­wor­thy said then, not­ing Polon­carz and Zell­ner’s past crit­i­cism of fu­sion vot­ing. “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.”

Obe­nauer, 23, ran for Assem­bly on the In­de­pen­dence line against Repub­li­can Ray­mond W. Wal­ter in 2016. She has not re­turned phone calls seek­ing com­ment. Her exit now al­lows an In­de­pen­dence com­mit­tee on va­can­cies to name an­other can­di­date by a Fri­day dead­line, even though the party has no or­ga­nized struc­ture in Erie County and usu­ally de­fers to state of­fi­cials based on Long Is­land.

While a mi­nor pri­mary pales in com­par­i­son to sim­i­lar ef­forts on the Repub­li­can or Demo­cratic lines, it could con­ceiv­ably re­move Dixon as the can­di­date of her own In­de­pen­dence Party. A pri­mary could also force her to raise and spend money for a line that of­ten pro­vides the dif­fer­ence in close elec­tions, which she says she has weath­ered and sur­vived in the past.

Dixon noted that Jen­nifer L. Hi­bit, who is Polon­carz’s chief of staff, last week said the county ex­ec­u­tive was un­con­cerned about Obe­nauer, but his as­sis­tants and Demo­cratic Board of Elec­tions em­ploy­ees were cir­cu­lat­ing the for­mer can­di­date’s pe­ti­tions.

“The odd thing is that the county ex­ec­u­tive’s of­fice is say­ing Rachel Obe­nauer is ‘not our con­cern,’ ” Dixon said Tues­day, when staff on the Rath County Of­fice Build­ing’s 16th floor cir­cu­lated pe­ti­tions.

Zell­ner and Polon­carz have joined state Democrats in re­cent weeks call­ing for an end of fu­sion in New York, one of only seven states al­low­ing the sys­tem. The Demo­cratic State Com­mit­tee voted last month to end fu­sion, and such pro­pos­als have been se­ri­ously dis­cussed in Al­bany ever since Democrats as­sumed con­trol of the Leg­is­la­ture in Jan­uary.

No such mea­sures were in­cluded in the re­cently adopted bud­get. How­ever, Capi­tol ob­servers say it could still be ad­dressed in the near fu­ture.

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