BY TONY FARINA
A spirited Democratic primary fight for the office of Erie County district attorney is now taking shape although it won’t be acting DA Mike Flaherty against headquarters’ favorite Tim Franczyk who shocked political observers last month when he announced he wouldn’t leave the County Court bench to run for DA, a move that had been expected for some time although never officially announced.
Instead, Tonawanda Town Attorney John Flynn confirmed there will be a contest when he told me last Saturday at Ralph Lorigo’s political breakfast in Lackawanna that “I’m in it,” meaning he is at work to try to win the Democratic Party endorsement that was expected to go to Franczyk before he dropped out.
Flynn is a well-known figure in Tonawanda where he has served as a councilman and town judge and he even worked for two years as an acting Buffalo City Court judge from 2008 – 2010. The UB Law School graduate also served two years as an assistant district attorney and has served as a reservist in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps since 2001.
Flaherty, the longtime first assistant to former DA Frank Sedita, III, who left the office in January to become a State Supreme Court judge, has already taken over as acting DA and has announced a series of changes in the office in what appears to be an attempt to distance himself from Sedita who came in for sharp criticism in some quarters for not being aggressive enough in pursuing difficult cases. Justified or not, Flaherty must now try to establish himself as his own man and has already said he would reopen the probe into a hit-run case in Evans that Sedita declined to pursue. Sources say unless Flaherty can come up with something new, it will be a difficult to criminally prosecute.
No Republican has surfaced as yet and observers say a serious GOP candidate, like former Attorney General Dennis Vacco, is a long shot given that this is a presidential year and would likely mean a strong Democratic turnout, especially in Buffalo. That is especially true in a Democratic primary where the endorsement could be the difference in the city and carry the day.
Political observers see Flynn as the early favorite for the endorsement and the Democratic Party’s Executive Committee under Chairman Jeremy Zellner is expected to meet next week and the district attorney’s race is likely to be among the issues up for discussion.
Flaherty originally had been expected to go with Sedita to Supreme Court as his legal clerk, sources say, but decided to stay behind and make a run for the office himself. He has done well in two early fundraisers with plenty of support from the office, but the challenge will now be to get the party endorsement that had been earmarked for Franczyk before he decided not to run.
Another Democrat, Mark Sacha, who made headlines criticizing Sedita and his predecessor Frank Clark for not pursuing Steve Pigeon in election law cases, has also expressed interest in running but insiders say he has virtually no chance to be a factor.
So it could likely boil down to Flynn, the popular Tonawanda Democrat and former town judge, against Flaherty, the acting DA who hopes his early moves will win him support in party circles although he could be hurt by his ties to Sedita who was not a party insider. Both men are well respected in legal circles and both will certainly be courting the important support of the Erie County Conservative Party under Chairman Lorigo who is scheduled to meet with Zellner in the near future.