Tomorrow: University District Primary
by Geoff Kelly - posted 2:45 pm, September 12, 2011
In last Thursday’s paper, we wrote that University District Councilwoman Bonnie Russell enjoyed a tremendous advantage in tomorrow’s Democratic primary: Her husband, Judge Robert Russell, is also on the ballot tomorrow. Judge Russell was the lead vote-getter among city court judges when he ran in 2001, pulling 13,432 votes citywide, including 2,416 votes in the University District. The last time Bonnie Russell faced a primary, in 2003, she needed just 1,814 votes to beat Betty Jean Grant. (Russell had no primary in 2007.) Assuming the judge remains popular, and that most University District residents who vote for him will vote for his wife, too, Russell should be fine.
Still, peculiar things can happen in three-way Democratic primaries when turnout is light, as most folks expect it will be tomorrow. One of Russell’s opponents is Pamela Cahill, who resigned her seat on Buffalo’s school board in April to protest its dysfunction—and, perhaps, to prepare to challenge Russell.
Cahill is well known and well regarded in the African-American community (she has the endorsement of Erie County legislator Betty Jean Grant) and has political experience, though winning a couple school board races with 700-odd votes is a much smaller lift than winning a council seat. Still, she has the support of Democratic Party headquarters, while Russell has been largely obedient to Mayor Byron Brown.
If Judge Russell’s coattails are shorter than one might expect, and if Russell and Cahill divide the
African-American vote, and if turnout is quite light, then the third challenger, 19-year-old Rochelle Ricchiazzi, might surprise the field. Ricchiazzi has no relevant experience but there are some seasoned political operatives helping her campaign.
The platforms of the three candidates are not especially distinctive: Russell says she has helped block clubs, and defends her relationship with the mayor by claiming that it has helped her gain support for her district; Cahill argues that the district has not benefited from that relationship and that Russell has had her chance to make a difference in the community; Ricchiazzi echoes Cahill’s argument, says she will make reducing crime her first priority, and thinks hydrofracking should be a crime. None of the candidates would fully reject any of the the others’ positions. The differences between them are political. (Like the Russells? Like Byron Brown? Vote for Bonnie. Don’t like Byron Brown? Vote for Pam. Don’t like either? Vote for Ricchiazzi.) Russell has the edge granted by incumbency—hers and her husband’s—but stranger things have happened.