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Prominent Democrats ousted, progressives make some gains in races for ECDC

This picture shows the front door of the Erie County Democratic Committee. The door is made of glass and is reflecting the parking lot and cloudy skies across the street. The front of the door reads "Erie County Democratic Committee. Chairman Jeremy Zellner."
Grant Ashley
Several new committee members will be going to the Erie County Democratic Committee on Seneca Street after winning races in Tuesday's primary elections.

Democratic primary voters elected progressives and ousted several party stalwarts in races for the Erie County Democratic Committee (ECDC) in Tuesday’s primaries.

Progressive candidates won election or re-election to the committee in five of the nine contested races in the City of Buffalo, election results from the Erie County Board of Elections show. They likely won’t be able to make any sweeping changes — the committee is composed of hundreds of members from across Erie County — but some progressive candidates said they were hopeful that they could continue to expand their numbers by getting more of their neighbors involved in the political process.

“One of the things I know — I’ve just heard it so much — is that people feel disconnected. They feel they can’t change anything,” Stephanie Adams, an attorney who won a committee seat in the Niagara District’s 13th Election District, said in an interview before the election. “But more people can activate and get involved, and… maybe get further involved in the process, or, again, just influence who those candidates are going to be long term. I do think it’s a long-range project, like almost anything in politics.”

Voters ousted several established Democrats — one of them a sitting elected official — from the committee, including:

  • Former Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen, who decided not to run for re-election to the council last year
  • Assemblymember Jonathan River, who represents the 149th Assembly District
  • Ivory Payne, the committee’s sergeant-at-arms
  • Former State Senator Marc Panepinto, who plead guilty to a federal corruption charge in 2018
  • Phyllis Yarborough, an aide to Common Councilmember Mitch Nowakowski

The outsiders who won seats in the process include:

  • Matt Dearing, a former Buffalo Common Council candidate in Ellicott District and former staffer in the State Legislature
  • Michael Gainer, founder of Buffalo ReUseAction
  • Taj Richardson and Jeffrey Carballada, both members of the East Side Parkways Coalition
  • Former Erie County Legislator and former County Deputy Parks Commissioner Gregory Olma
  • Keelan Erhard, the director of finance and operations at the Partnership for Public Good.
  • Kevin Deese, a U.S. navy reserve officer

But some long-time ECDC members fended off challengers — with ease, in many cases.
In the North District’s 21st Election District, two more establishment-leaning newcomers — Shannon Fracos and Jason Howe — won election to two vacant, blocking bids by school teacher and former Buffalo Common Council North District candidate Eve Shippens and her running mate, David Caligiuri. Howe and Fracos won a combined 67.44% of the vote. Shippens told WBFO before the election that she “would not be surprised” if she lost because “the people backing the opposition are very entrenched in this neighborhood.”

And North District Common Councilmember Joseph Golombek and his running mate — Sarita Lanzo Lopez, an assistant in the City Clerk’s Office — routed two challengers in the North District’s 13th Election District. Golombek and Lanzo Lopez won with 42.67% and 32% of the vote, respectively, compared to their opponents’ 25.33%.

“A lot of people — whether it’s old guard or whether it’s progressive — they feel that they know what’s best for the community, and they don’t talk to the community. That’s why I’ve been a committee member since 1984,” Golombek said in an interview before Election Day. “I think that that’s very important, that you talk to residents, and you find out what residents want.”

All of the races were decided by just a few dozen voters. According to the county Board of Elections, 185 votes were cast in Ellicott’s First Election District, the most of any race for an ECDC in the county. In the race with the lowest turnout, Niagara’s 13th Election District, just 29 votes were cast.

“If 10 people even go and vote in this, it’ll be amazing,” Shippens quipped of her own race. (A total of 43 votes were cast in her district. Voters were able to vote for two candidates, so the number of voters who turned out is even lower.)

Committee members are elected solely by members of their party, so they won’t need to run in November’s general election. You can read more about what county party committees do — and how they influence local politics — here.