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Mychajliw vs. Shenk for Chief Budget Nerd

The race for Erie County Comptroller is something we all know about, but understand little. Including one of the candidates for the office.

The Comptroller is our chief budgetary nerd. He keeps an eye on where the money’s coming from, how much there is, and where it’s going. He makes sure that the money is being spent the way it’s supposed to be spent, and he conducts audits from time to time to examine just that. Because budgets are prospective, it’s important to know throughout the year how we’re doing with its predictions, and in the end, how we did – did we overspend? Is there a surplus? Did we hit it just right? So many variables can skew the numbers in a given year. 

It’s not an inherently political position, although it’s an elected one. The comptroller should be independent of the legislature and the County Executive. The comptroller should conduct monitoring, auditing, and borrowing without regard to the political expediency of any of it, and instead act in what he believes is the best fiscal interests of county taxpayers. He should be a watchdog, and not anyone’s lapdog. 

That’s why Mark Poloncarz and Chris Collins didn’t get along; Collins was not used to, and didn’t like, having his decisions subject to careful review and monitoring, so he clashed with the Comptroller’s office almost constantly. 

Now, we have David Shenk, the interim Comptroller appointed to complete Poloncarz’s second term running against former journalist and current public relations specialist Stefan Mychajliw. Mychajliw, you’ll recall, was Collins’ campaign spokesman in 2011. 

Mychajliw is running on his youthful vigor, his easy way of connecting with voters, his pledge to be independent, his immigrant bona fides, his personal thriftiness, and his experience as a Channel 2 “redcoat” TV journalist, who asks “tough questions” of politicians. Shenk is running on his record as Boston Town Clerk and having had his mettle tested in the military. It’s been a relatively quiet campaign until this week. 

First, Mychajliw ran an ad pledging that the first “audit” he would conduct would look into the “friends and family” hiring practices in county government. That’s fantastic, but completely outside of the job description of a Comptroller. Hiring “friends and family” through patronage or nepotism may be something we don’t like because it is, or seems, unfair, but it doesn’t affect county finances unless you’re creating a new job for the person. Presumably, the underlying position and its related costs would already be accounted-for in the budget, and the decision on hiring is not reviewable or subject somehow to audit. 

Auditing is about money – not politics. 

Pledging to audit hiring practices is silly, but how exactly will he have the power to “end it”? He doesn’t have legislative powers, or even executive power with respect to changing that. And if a “friend” or “family” is qualified for the job, what objective harm is being done to the county coffers? 

This is WBEN / Red Coat stuff. That’s why Shenk replies with this: 

But more importantly – what qualifications does Mychajliw have to be Comptroller? Remember how Poloncarz’s detractors said he was unqualified because he didn’t have a CPA? Well, he didn’t, but his staff did, and Poloncarz has a JD and had extensive experience in corporate finance law. Mychajliw, on the other hand, has no such experience, no such advanced degree, no qualifications whatsoever to be chief budget nerd of Erie County. His LinkedIn page reveals undergraduate degrees in political science and broadcast journalism. That’s it.  Shenk has an undergraduate degree in management, and has been Boston Town Clerk and tax collector for 20 years

But when you examine the two candidates, who has an understanding of what’s going on? Here’s a telling exchange from a recent debate between Mychajliw and Shenk:

Not an exciting race by any measure, but it seems as if one candidate – Shenk – has a better grasp of not only the facts, but the terminology. 


  • clay_blasdel

    Why on earth would anyone vote for a County Controller with no apparent qualifications nor experience?   How can an inexperienced person conduct or supervise audits if he’s never done an audit?   This is no time for on the job training.  The Republican party should be ashamed for running a candidate without a shred of qualifications.   The Buffalo News should be ashamed of endorsing  a candidate with zero experience.

    • russrod56

      Any elected official is a first timer at some point.Mr. Shenk seems like a nice younr man,that being said i know some indiviuals who have handled larger household budgets then the town of boston pushes threw the clerks office.was it a full time job??or was tax collector abone to make it that way?Just asking…anyone out there know?

  • George_Jefferson

    I personally like having the comptroller be affiliated with a different party than that of the County Executive. It provides a nice check to the Executive’s power.

  • This entire election to basically fill a Comptroller’s position for a one year term is happening only because the Democrats orchestrated a hyper political process to ram in a placeholder comptroller who would be totally compliant and subservient to the new administration. After listening to the former Comptroller shouting from the rooftop for years and years how the that individual needs to be independent and needs to be a counterweight to the legislative and executive branches of government, the now County Executive apparently no longer believes that independence matters.

    So now we have an unelected appointed Comptroller who might be nerdy and might be able to read charts and graphs at public forums to score points with the voters, but at the end of the day still takes his directives and marching orders from the 16th floor.Should the public be concerned? Think red/green budget. Yeah, be VERY concerned.As for “Stefan Mychajliw. The video he doesn’t want you to see.” Au contraire. Click on and view away. In the video Mychajliw extrapolates the same message he has delivered throughout this campaign at people’s doors and at candidate forums, and he does it well. The sensationalist headline is the creation of my good friend Marc Odien, who is a paid consultant doing video production for the Shenk campaign via WNYMedia. His passion for the candidates he works for is laudable, but this video clip doesn’t scratch the surface as a “smoking gun”.This article, which really is critical of the candidacy of Stefan Mychajliw, could have been written almost word for word and published in 1975. Back then, a person ran for Erie County Comptroller who had zero financial experience and no accounting background, and only stints on the school board and common council to present as credentials for the position. Yet she had the audacity to go to the voters and suggest that she could actually serve as an effective fiscal watchdog for the people.That person’s name? Alfreda Slominski.

    • Except Alfreda, like Poloncarz, was an attorney. 

      I don’t understand why Stefan had to do the “friends and family” ad. It really dumbs down the race and plays to low-information voters. I expected more, better. 

      • MichaelRCaputo

        I talked to Stefan for a long time about this. He really believes in his heart that this “patronage pit” problem we have in Erie County is a measurable source of waste, fraud and abuse and that it’s real money. An example: some of these jobs could be cut through attrition to achieve real savings, but instead they are filled with favorites. I respect him for that view – and he’s probably right. Regardless, I’d like some fresh eyes on this.

        And by the way, you and I will probably disagree on a law degree being a preeminent qualification for just about any job. (Present company excluded, of course.) Alfreda brought so much more to the table than a lawerly view of the world – as does Poloncarz and Mychajliw.

      • “The patronage pit”, however, is something that could easily be halted with concerted legislative and executive action. It’s well outside the Comptroller’s wheelhouse, pursuant to the Charter. 

        And then, when you identify the patronage people, you would have to determine whether they perform their duties adequately and whether they’re qualified, and whether the job is necessary. Again, I’m not so sure that’s what we hire a Comptroller to do. 

      • MichaelRCaputo

        I get that, Alan, I really do. But where’s that legislative or executive action? (Insert crickets here.)

        You have to admit that the Comptroller’s job description is broad and if, once elected, a new Comptroller wanted to step into the breach and lead from the bully pulpit, he most certainly could. I can recount many examples of that kind of leadership inspiring – or forcing through carefully cultivating public outcry – legislative and executive action. Alas, I can’t come up with any examples of this in Erie County for this post. They may exist, but none come to mind as I type this.

        I’ve seen the polls: Stefan has remarkable name ID, the taxpayers trust him and he is well positioned for a unique foray into cleaning up this and other messes. If he is careful with his political capital he can do remarkable things. With all due respect, I do not think Shenk brings any of that to the table. Michael Dukakis was competent, too.

        If Stefan wants to take patronage and other problems on, bring them to light and drive the train to solutions – well, I say more power to him. Meanwhile, there’s all the daily vital activities of the Comptroller’s Office and I’m confident he can handle them with aplomb. It’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people. Stefan is an independent and authentic fellow and I think he’s ripe for the challenge.

        On a personal note, I’m also very impressed with his spiritual growth in recent years. He’s been through a lot and has turned to the Catholic Church for guidance and inspiration. It has done wonders for him, it drives him nowadays and I even find that inspiring for my own life.

        I just really like the guy. I think voters do, too. And I think he’ll make all of us proud.

        I also get it that you are ever the skeptic, so my suggestion is to watch him closely. I think you’ll be surprised.

      • Mike_Chmiel

        “Spiritual growth”?  He just lost my vote!

      • MichaelRCaputo

        Yeah, spiritual growth. Some people dig yoga. Others believe they grow through meditation. I’ve met plenty who dance fervently and sell flowers in the street for their peace. I’ve even know a few who gain comfort by handling snakes. Me, I’m into Catholicism. It’s just my thing – and apparently Stefan’s too. You want I should go with the reptiles?

      • jameshorn

        ” …..has turned to the Catholic Church for guidance and inspiration.”  His bookkeeper bona fides includes chimerical thinking? 

    • MichaelRCaputo

       BOOM! And there you have it. Kudos to Kulyk.

    • You make the comment that Mr. Shenk ‘takes his orders from the 16th floor’. Is there any evidence that Shenk has taken any action during his time as comptroller that reflects that? 

      This is not trolling. It’s an honest question. 

  • NorthernIcequeen

    Why would Erie County want to elect an individual with no experience when we have a very qualified individual already in the position?  Makes no sense to me that the Republicans would run a candidate with absolutely no experience against the guy doing the job, doing it well and willing to continue doing it.  I am sure that both candidates are really great guys but I don’t want a “great guy” in the Comptroller’s position….I want the qualified guy there.  Shenk is qualified and we know it…Stefan should have waited for a position more suited for his qualifications.

  • catherinew88

    I think the video above (the one Stefan doesn’t want you to see) is a strong argument for David Shenk. Through this clip and by way of the experience he has as being a town clerk/tax receiver it’s obvious he clearly possesses the knowledge and capabilities to serve as our Erie County Comptroller.

  • WNY_Guy

    Doesn’t the fact that Stefan repeatedly referred to Mark Poloncarz as “Long Shot Candidate Mark Poloncarz” last year seriously call into question his math skills?

    Also I am not sure how “20 years” as an investigative journalist really includes time he spent in college, and the time he spent out the mouthpiece of Buffalo Schools and Chris Collins.

    And point almost 4, how can we trust a guy to monitor county finances when he sends out a press release calling $870,000 almost one million dollars?