BY TONY FARINA
Just in case you are a newcomer to these parts, we’d like to remind you that St. Patrick’s Day next Thursday (March17) is more than a celebration of Irish and Irish American culture, it is the starting point of the political season and that’s particularly true this year with DA candidates Mike Flaherty and Johnny Flynn who will celebrate their Irish heritage and headline the annual civic luncheon on Friday (March 18) at the Irish Center on Abbott Rd. where politics is the main course.
“I will be at the hall with some friends and colleagues,” said Flaherty, the acting district attorney who will be facing Tonawanda attorney Flynn in the Democratic primary for district attorney. Flynn is the endorsed Democratic candidate and he will join Flaherty and all the elected officials and political insiders at the luncheon working a room that after lunch soon becomes a very tight fit, and there’s rarely an opening at the bar.
But rest assured that Flaherty and Flynn and their folks will find a way to work through the crowd to tout their chances in perhaps one of the top local races this year, not withstanding the expected challenge from Republicans to Democratic State Sen. Marc Panepinto in the all-important 60th District that could decide control of the Senate. Chris Jacobs and Kevin Stocker may meet in a GOP primary to see who takes on Panepinto, who will likely face a primary challenge of his own but as the endorsed candidate with lots of financial support he has little to fear from a newcomer.
“St. Patrick’s Day has always been an important holiday in my family,” said Flaherty this week. “My brother is named Patrick, and my father used to start the day by playing Irish music on the piano. My wife and I will host the family for dinner this year, and we are looking forward to being with family.”
Asked about his campaign, the acting DA says he has been too busy doing government work to focus on politics at this early stage, but he did note that his package of recommendations last month to strengthen the county code of ethics has gotten some reaction, first from Flynn who criticized his proposals as being too little and too late, and from County Executive Mark Poloncarz who jumped on the ethics bandwagon on Tuesday with his own plan that calls for strengthening the powers of the Board of Ethics.
“I’m pleased I kindled the discussion of ethics reform in Erie County,” said Flaherty on Tuesday after hearing about Poloncarz rolling out his recommendations to toughen the code. It would appear that politicians have found “ethics” reform is a popular message but like Albany, talk is cheap, and we’ll see if the legislature is ready to take on ethics reform, something Albany’s lawmakers have found a difficult challenge despite the culture of corruption that has ruled for so long.
Flynn, like Flaherty, is proud of his Irish heritage and calls St. Patrick’s Day “a very special day. I’m 100 percent Irish, and I’m proud of our ancestors who came over here to build a new life and give us the opportunity that we now have.”
As for the campaign, Flynn says he has been getting around to town committees and zone leaders and visiting churches on the East Side, saying he has been very well received as he carries his message of taking politics out of the DA’s office and not shying away from tough cases.
Flynn has scheduled a kick-off fundraiser for attorneys for Wednesday, April 6, at Templeton Landing.
Mark Sacha, a former assistant district attorney under Frank Sedita III and a strong critic of Sedita and his first assistant, Flaherty, is also a Democratic candidate for DA although he’s not seen as someone who could defeat Flaherty or Flynn in a primary, and is generally regarded as a spoiler at best.
Republicans have made no endorsement yet in the race for DA, and the only name that has emerged so far in the GOP camp is little-known civil attorney Mark Arcara who has not officially announced he is a candidate. Republican County Chairman Nick Langworthy and Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo have so far remained tightlipped about the DA’s race although Langworthy has said he is looking for a candidate who can run on the GOP line and win, not ruling out anybody so far. The GOP search committee is headed by former Attorney General Dennis Vacco.
But next week, starting with the Irish breakfast and mass on Thursday at the Irish Center and culminating with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday on Delaware Ave. starting at 2 p. m., the air will be filled with Irish culture and music and lots of politics with Sunday’s parade a showcase for elected officials.
For Mike Flaherty and John Flynn, it is a special holiday for both and they will celebrate with their friends and family and use the occasion to officially launch their campaigns to win a four-year term as Erie County’s top prosecutor, a powerful position that boasts a staff of more than 100, mostly lawyers. The stakes are high, and the campaign will be spirited.