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Succeeding Lenihan: Musical Chairs

Candidates to succeed Erie County Democratic Party chairman Len Lenihan have been burning up the phone lines in the last week. (Some speculation on possible successors in this week’s 7 Days column.) And now the letters to Democratic committee members and candidates are flying, too.

Here’s letter posted today by Cheektowaga town chairman Frank Max, who has long had his eyes on the count chairmanship:

Dear Democratic Committee-member/Candidate:

As I’m sure you are aware, Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan has decided not to seek reelection as Erie County Democratic Chairman.  Democratic Party rules state that a re-organizational meeting of the entire elected Erie County Democratic Committee must take place within thirty days, of the September 13, 2012, Primary Election for the purpose of electing a new Chairperson.

Many rumors have begun to circulate, and my goal is to keep all Town Chair’s, Zone Leader’s, and “Rank-and-File” Committee-members informed so you don’t feel left out of this process.  Our Party needs to elect a leader that can put an end to secrecy and exclusion.  The new Chairperson should be someone that is willing to take on the task of working on Democratic Party issues on a full time basis.   We cannot afford a Chairman who will not give maximum effort to make this Party as strong as it could and should be.  More importantly we need a Chair who will deliver results and be open to communication with all Democrats in order to bring peace to our party, and overcome the divisive fractures within the party.

President John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”. Understanding the present day significance of this great quote, I will make every effort to make peace within our Erie County Democratic Committee as the next Chairman.  I am ready to take on the challenge of bringing our party members back together through cooperation and understanding diverse viewpoints.    I have devoted all of my time to this effort and if you honor me with your support, I promise you that I will not let you down!  Let’s come together as Democrats and send a message to Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy and the rest of the Erie County Republicans that we are ready, united, and strong.

As Chairman of the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee I have a proven record which demonstrates that I have the ability to bring different factions to the table and work with them in order to make peace.  When I took over as Chairman of the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee some of these very same issues plagued the Town’s party structure.  I was able to negotiate a cease fire between warring factions; now we no longer fight one another, we fight the GOP!

I’ve started to assemble a team of Democrats from throughout Erie County, who are going to be coordinating my Campaign in all of the various Cities, Town’s, and Villages.

It would be an honor to have your help, if you would like to be part of this team please contact me.   

 And here’s a letter that went out by email today from Jeremy Zellner, who recently left his post as the county party’s executive director to become chief of staff for the Erie County Legislature:

Dear Candidate for Democratic Committee:

After speaking with many of you, I have been encouraged to seek the office of Erie County Democratic Chair. It is my belief that my election is the best way to continue the party’s successes while strengthening and uniting us for the future. Given my track record and dedication to the party, I believe I am the right person to lead the Democratic Committee at this crucial time.

Just over eight years ago, I walked through the door of Democratic Headquarters for the first time. I was immediately put to work as a volunteer on the Dan Ward for County Executive campaign. I spent nights, weekends and every free hour outside of work supporting that campaign across the county. The following year, Chairman Lenihan asked me to join the staff. After four years as a HQ staffer, I was fortunate enough to become the Executive Director of the Erie County Democratic Committee where I served for three years, from 2009 through 2011.

During that period, we constructed and maintained the most technologically-advanced printing and mail house operation ever offered to candidates in Democratic HQ’s history. I have worked closely with elected officials, Town and Zone Chairs on all aspects of party business including campaign strategy and fundraising for local, state and national figures. I have deep connections with party donors as I have gained their confidence over the years. This was evidenced by my ability to raise nearly $60,000 for my own race for Erie County Legislator in 2011.

My relationship with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is long standing, having been part of his leadership circle since his 2005 underdog election victory for County Comptroller. In 2009, in what turned out to be a difficult year for Democratic incumbents across New York State, I coordinated countywide efforts for Mark’s re-election. In 2011, I was instrumental in recruiting and building the campaign team that carried Mark to victory as County Executive.

Having been a volunteer, a staffer, a candidate for public office, and having had the privilege to serve as a committee member in both the great City of Buffalo and a first-ring suburb, I’ve witnessed amazing successes and lived to learn tough lessons in losing. Through it all, I’ve been a loyal Democrat – one who always maintains the party’s best interests at heart. My passion for the Democratic Party is as strong as it was the first day I walked into HQ. The key to our Party’s continued success is combining the insight and experience of dedicated party veterans with the enthusiasm and talent of our future Democratic leaders.

We have a lot of work to do this year to re-elect President Barack Obama. It is my hope that you will consider my candidacy for Democratic Party Chair as I seek to serve the party we all love in a new role. I look forward to speaking with you soon so that I can humbly ask for your support at September’s reorganization meeting.

Please feel free to contact me to share your thoughts about our party’s future.



  • There is a paragraph missing from Mr. Zellner’s letter and it should go something like this:

    “In January I was named Chief of Staff to EC Legislature, where I am responsible for the direction of policy analysis and moving the people’s business and legislation forward, supervision of central staff, budget oversight and lead person in day to day intergovernmental relations.”

    Oh wait, Mr. Zellner was yanked from that position and title in recent weeks. EC Legislature Clerk Bob Graber now does the nominal Chief of Staff stuff. As for Mr. Zellner, that’s what happens when you stage a political caucus on government property, berate and bully the very staff you’re in charge of directing and motivating, make off color racial slurs and otherwise act like a total douche.

    Incredibly, Mr. Zellner remains on the public payroll earning upwards of 70K and then some, most likely at the behest and insistence of EC Dems headquarters. It’s your money, taxpayers. You should be outraged. He’s been given some new title like “Liaison to the Bills Lease” negotiation team or something like that. If the day comes in 2015 and the Los Angeles Bills debut at their new stadium, Farmers Field in downtown LA, and you wonder what the hell happened, well… just connect the dots.

    I am interested in seeing who else might emerge in this race for EC Dems Chair. If this contest boils down to these two individuals, then Frank Max gets the nod, head and shoulders. I worked under Frank as his Vice Chair in Cheektowaga for almost 4 years before moving into downtown Buffalo in 2010. Yeah he has a few burrs on him, but he also brings a lot to the table, and could actually be effective if he surrounds himself with the right people and reaches out to all corners of the EC Dems family.

    But Chairman Zellner? Total. Epic. Catastrophe. 

  • NotforJeremy

    Jeremy Zellner has made it his life work to put his nose into the Conservative, Republican and Independents Party.  He has circulated petitions as a commissioner of deeds, for close friends and family against long time party members.  He runs rogue candidates against longstanding members of these parties. He should be running for the chair of the Conservative or Independents Party, not the Democratic Party.

  • WNY_Guy

    ECDC Chairmanship Power Poll

    Real Contenders

    1. Jeremy Zellner
    With the backing of Lenihan and Poloncarz (behind the scenes for now) Zellner will be very tough to beat. He brings the advantage of experience of running party mechanics for the last couple of years and is much more in touch modern campaign techniques than most other potential candidates. Zellner has an obvious issue not being able to work his current job while Chairman, isn’t the glad handing type, and won’t bring around any of the “HQ coalition”‘s dectactors.

    2. John Crange
    Much like Lenihan was 10 years ago, he is a candidate pretty much everyone can live with but no one is in love with. If there is a serious call for unity, Crangle has a real opportunity. He has had success turning Tonawanda into a Democratic town. On the other hand, a lot of people wonder if he is decisive enough to be a County chairman, can raise the money and is prepared to run 21st century campaigns.

    3. Jim Eagan
    He is a serious fundraiser with ties to lots of important elected officials and has the chance to emerge as a consensus candidate. He does have a tendency to rub people the wrong way, no one is really sure if he is actually on their side and he lacks a natural constituency.

    Too Much Baggage

    4. Frank Max
    Max can raise a lot of money and he did an impressive job taking of the Cheektowaga Town Committee. He has close ties to some of the other Town committees and had some support last fall as a protest candidate against Cuomo’s heavy hand. Between his checkered past, his liberal use of a town phone, his support of scandal plagued Paul Clark and the real question of whether his style would translate Countywide, Max has a lot of hurdles to overcome.

    5. Jack O’Donnell
    Could potential enter with the Support of Brown, Higgins and strong money behind the scene. He is no doubt a smart operative with connections throughout the state. Unfortunately for him, everyone knows he is Steve Pigeon’s guy, add that in with his conspiring with the Republicans to get himself an appointment to the Water Authority, and his political committee that dances the line with violations, and he has a very tough road to hoe.

    6. Marc Panepinto
    He would enter with the support of the Hoyt faction and would look to labor to deliver support. Labor support would be hard to come by if Poloncarz is backing someone else, the Hoyt faction’s involvement in last years debacle has won them no friends in the towns and of course the petition fraud issue, make him an unlikely contender.

    Just ain’t going to happen

    7. Tony Masiello
    When “some Democrats” discussed him as Chairman, they meant him and Cuomo. Cuomo has little love amongst the Committee members and Masiello is a compromise no one wants to make. Add in that he is a lobbyist and just hosted a fundraiser for a Republican State Senator and kiss his chances good bye.

    8. Peter Reese
    The phrase “tilting at windmills” comes to mind.