Next Elections Commissioner should be a woman, activists say

Many female activists in the local Democratic Party organization are disappointed that Chairman Jeremy Zellner has nominated Len Lenihan, the former Chairman, for the position of Elections Commissioner.

They were hoping that the next Commissioner would be a woman — something that has never happened in the local Party’s entire history. They were disappointed a few years ago when Zellner was selected as Chairman. It was briefly thought at the time that a woman could be appointed to that position — for the first time ever. That did not happen.

“It’s the same good old boys’ club,” says one female activist. “No wonder our politics is so disgusting: we put mudslingers in charge of the Board of Elections!”

A number of party operatives were promoting Gayle Syposs, the Chair of the City of Tonawanda Democratic Committee and a longtime party stalwart, in behind the scenes talks over the course of the last three weeks.

Syposs served as Deputy Commissioner of the Board of Elections from 1997 to 2006, and is thought know the Department deeply.

Champ Eve, the current Deputy Commissioner, was vying for the position, which comes with a $105,000 annual salary and with no requirements to hold regular office hours.

Chairman Jeremy Zellner had previously been supporting Eve to reciprocate political loyalty. But party factions pushed back hard on Zellner’s pick.

Many Democrats — even those in factions of the party that one would expect to be loyal to party headquarters — thought that Zellner was going to make a fool of himself if he nominated Eve for the top party post. Others think that passing over Eve will lose Headquarters the support of the Unity Coalition, the second largest political organization on the East Side of Buffalo.

Syposs with former State Senate candidate Laura Palisano Hackathorn.
Syposs with former State Senate candidate Laura Palisano Hackathorn.
Operatives are of course whispering about Eve’s work ethic. Some are saying that Eve doesn’t regularly show up for work at the Board, claiming that he is at the Board’s warehouse in the Tri-Main Center. Outgoing Commissioner Dennis Ward recently raised his salary to $93,000.
“Champ has been loyal as hell to Zellner and Lenihan. They gave him a good paying job and he doesn’t have to be accountable. Just brings votes and support to the table,” explained one Democrat operative. “Gayle at least knows the Department inside and out and could have straightened things out over there.”
Syposs with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Syposs with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
While Syposs is understood to be close to the ‘headquarters faction’ of the party, she is widely known to be independent minded, firm in her political views, and “a tough operator,” as one party insider put it.
Many feminists in the party think that it’s long past time for a woman to hold the a senior party leadership position.
“We think of the role of party boss as such a masculine, iron-fist, brute role — which is probably a source of all the dysfunction in our local politics,” says one young woman who is active with the party committee. “It would be great to see a woman in that role, because I think it could change the tone and the culture of how we conduct local politics.”
“Who knows, it could be powerful,” she says.
The Buffalo News published an article claiming that Congressman Brian Higgins is supporting Micheal Keane, a local attorney who party insiders say could probably do a good job. But sources tell me that BN is mistaken and, that while Higgins and Keane are friends, that Higgins is not actively pushing or maneuvering to install him as the next commissioner.
The Democratic caucus of the Erie County Legislature will make the final decision later this month. There are only two women in that caucus: Betty Jean Grant, and Barbara Miller Williams. Though Patrick Burke is thought to be independent of party headquarters, since he ran against and soundly defeated two machine-backed candidates. The three could determine who the next Elections Commissioner will be, and they could find themselves inclined to reject the young Chairman’s recommendation.”Why is it that only the men seem to get a turn at the trough,” wonders a young Democrat.

Syposs made this comment:

Although I would agree that a women should be considered in the future I am in fyll support of the Executive Committee’s endorsement of Len Lenihan and know he will do an outstanding job.

A number of national organizations, including The League of Women Voters and Emily’s List say that women candidates are often discouraged from running for office and seeking party leadership positions because of the bullying behavior of their male counterparts.

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