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Lenihan retirement expected to alter Democratic Party structure

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Democratic Erie County Elections Commissioner Len Lenihan is stepping down next month. He's expected to be replaced by Democratic County Chairman Jeremy Zellner.

Lenihan has spent four decades in public office, starting as a county legislator and working his way up to Legislature chairman. He also has served the county personnel commissioner and now as one of the two elections commissioner.

"The one department in county government that the county executive does not control is the Board of Elections," Lenihan pointed out.

"Because of the New York State Election Law, the parties basically pick the commissioners and the employees that work here. That's designed by state law so they can run the elections in a bipartisan manner."

Zellner's ascendancy to the Commissioner's position is expected to be on the agenda for the February 23 meeting of the  Erie County Legislature. Zellner would like to keep his current post atop the Erie County Democratic Party.

"Roughly since 2004, I think, there have been about 15 chairs who are also commissioners throughout the state. So, it's happening across the state, it's happening in rural, it's happening in urban counties," Zellner said.

In Erie County, the last person to hold both roles was Republican Ray Lawley, who served as county party chairman and elections commissioner some four decades ago.  In Chautauqua County, Democrat Norm Green currently holds both titles. 

As for Lenihan, a face of county politics for so long, he appears ready for the change.

"There've been a number of occasions (vacations) I had to cut short because of the requirements of public service and politics. So, now we don't have to worry about that, any more."