Machinations may expose Dixon to primary after all
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.