It appears that Tonawanda Town Attorney John Flynn is the likely choice for endorsement by the Erie County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee for the job of district attorney over three other candidates, including acting DA Michael Flaherty.
Political sources confirm that Flynn will likely receive the party’s endorsement sometime in the next two weeks even though Flaherty already has a campaign account that insiders say will soon reach $400,000. An endorsement of Flynn had been expected as early as Saturday but sources say Chairman Jeremy Zellner has opted to move the endorsement back a little after the committee heard from all four candidates Monday night.
Flynn, a former Tonawanda Town judge, jumped into the race early last month after County Judge Tim Franczyk decided not to leave the bench and run for district attorney, a move that he had been expected to make for some time. Francyk had been seen as the party favorite for the endorsement over Flaherty who had been former DA Frank Sedita’s first assistant for the last several years and moved up to acting DA on Jan. 1 after Sedita left to become a judge. Sedita never enjoyed a close relationship with party regulars during his time as district attorney.
One political insider said Flynn is “optimistic” he will receive the endorsement from headquarters over Flaherty and two other candidates, former assistant district attorney Mark Sacha and newcomer to the race MollyMusarra who has at least one thing in common with Sacha as both were fired by Sedita. Sacha, a former assistant district attorney, is known for his criticisms of Sedita and former DA Frank Clark for not pursuing criminal cases against Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon in election law case. Musarra is a relative unknown.
While Flynn has not put together his campaign team just yet or raised any money, sources say Flynn will likely tap Kathy Callan to play a key role in his campaign, a further sign that he has the support of the party. Callan and current Chairman Zellner were top aides to former Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan, now the Democratic election commissioner and a powerful figure at Democratic headquarters. And Callan is the wife of Tim Callan who works as deputy budget director for County Executive Mark Poloncarz, another sign of Flynn’s close ties to party leaders.
All four district attorney candidates were interviewed by the Democratic Executive Committee on Monday night (Feb. 1), and sources say Flynn was well received by the members while Flaherty was the target of tough questioning about his role in the office as Sedita’s first assistant.
Flaherty’s challenge is to convince the committee and others that he is not just an extension of the much-criticized Sedita. Flaherty says he has taken a number of steps since becoming acting DA to show that he is his own man, including establishing the office’s first public integrity unit, and not just an extension of his former boss who while winning cross-endorsement for State Supreme Court and getting more votes than any other judicial candidate in the state, was not a party insider and had come under fire in some quarters for not being aggressive enough in pursuing difficult cases although many veteran attorneys have praised Sedita for not indicting weak cases where the evidence was seen as insufficient. But Flaherty clearly will have to establish his own identify going forward to be successful against the party’s endorsed candidate.
Flynn, a longtime Democratic leader in the Town of Tonawanda, has served as town judge and as an acting Buffalo City Court judge in addition to serving as a reservist in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps since 2001. He resigned from the town court bench to become town attorney, a position he still holds.
Clearly, the party’s endorsement will be a huge advantage for Flynn but Flaherty’s early fund-raising success and his incumbency are advantages for him, setting up a real political donnybrook that has all the makings of being the county’s marquee race with so much at stake given the power and the jobs controlled by the district attorney. All four candidates are also courting the Conservative Party’s support and are expected to be regulars at Ralph Lorigo’s Saturday morning breakfast gatherings at Daisies Café in Lackawanna.
Meanwhile, Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy has tapped highly respected former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco to lead a search committee to find a GOP candidate for district attorney, not an easy task in a presidential year with Democrats holding a strong majority in the county.