Democratic Party infighting has long thwarted efforts to take the Count Sheriff’s office, held by Republican Tim Howard since 2005, when he succeeded the newly elected Senator Patrick Gallivan, the Republican who held the office since 1998. After 18 years of Republican control in a majority-Democrat county has squabbling prominent operatives left embarrassed.
It is very likely that party infighting will thwart a Democratic win again in 2017. But if the party can coalesce behind a single candidate, the consensus seems to be that Howard could be easily defeated. There are a number of compelling candidates to consider.
Bernie Tolbert, former FBI Special Agent in Charge
As the Special Agent in Charge, Bernie Tolbert directed the Buffalo field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the private sector, he served in executive security roles at Coke and the National Basketball Association. His professional resume in law enforcement is unmatched in Erie County, and he brings a depth and breadth of experience that would help to professionalize the Erie County Sheriff’s office.
The Erie County Holding Center, which is run by the Sheriff’s office, has been the subject of civil rights complaints for nearly the last decade. The county jail has shockingly high rates of inmate suicide that are five times the national average. If a professional of national caliber were put in charge, he could literally save lives.
When the Ferguson riots erupted earlier this year, Chief of Police David Zack ordered his Department to undergo mandatory racial sensitivity training that was designed to prevent police biases from unjustly escalating otherwise innocuous interactions. Zack was widely and deservedly applauded for taking steps to proactively prevent a situation like Ferguson from erupting in his hometown of Cheektowaga.
That’s when rumors began that Zack might be considering a campaign to take the Assembly seat currently held by Angela Wozniak. Zack has worked for the Cheektowaga Police Department for nearly 29 years and, I’m told, has been privately asked to run for Sheriff twice.
Denise O’Donnell, former US Attorney for the Western District of New York
As the Director of Justice Assistance at the US Department of Justice, Denise O’Donnell is a senior figure in the Obama Administration with deep political connections in Western New York. She formerly served as the New York State Commissioner of Criminal Justice Services in the cabinet of Governor David Paterson.
In the mid-1990s she was appointed by Bill Clinton to serve as the US Attorney for the Western District of New York.
She is the wife of State Supreme Court Justice John O’Donnell. Her son, Jack, is an Albany lobbyist.