Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner is taking heat for several failed races this election cycle. Many activists are calling the young chairman ‘ineffective’ and insisting that he step aside, for the good of the party. Zellner was first appointed for his subservient relationship to Len Lenihan, the former chairman and current Board of Elections Commissioner, and has been resisting calls for his resignation.
His critics point to the 27th congressional district where Nate McMurray lost to the indicted Chris Collins; the 60th state senate district where Carima El-Behairy lost to Chris Jacobs in an overwhelmingly Democrat-enrolled district; and Angela Marinucci lost to Mickey Kearns for county clerk.
Scores of past Democrat candidates for public office have complained that Zellner’s organization isn’t postured to support candidates, lacks fundraising prowess, and doesn’t make strategic calculations beyond immediate patronage considerations. Many of the party’s foot soldiers say that Zellner runs the party with “intimidation, vengeance, and bile.”
Jennifer Stergion, a University at Buffalo Law School professor and former candidate for Attorney General, is chief among those being floated to replace Zellner. Stergion is widely seen as an incisive policy wonk with a (strategically valuable) charisma and presence that the current chairman lacks. Her supporters argue that she is tough enough to manage the party’s patronage considerations while also rebranding it around mobilizing policy objectives.
Dan Ward, the longtime Town of Amherst elected official; Betty Jean Grant, the former chairwoman of the county legislature; and Diane Benczkowski, the Town of Cheektowaga Supervisor; have also been named as potential county chairmen.