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Erie County Legislature reorganizes for new year

Mike Desmond

It was a mix of generational change and backroom politics Thursday, as the Erie County Legislature reorganized after an election that put Democrats in charge.

By the time the weeks of backroom maneuvering had finished and the votes were counted, two senior legislators had been bypassed. Orchard Park Republican John Mills went from chairman to ordinary member, while West Seneca Conservative Joseph Lorigo went from majority leader to minority leader.

On the other side of the aisle, things were more complicated. Buffalo Democrat Peter Savage went from member to chairman and rookie legislator April Baskin became majority leader on the day she was sworn into office. Amherst Democrat Thomas Loughran also fell, from minority leader to member.

"I was disappointed. I was the senior member here. I've been here for 12 years and the process, the chairman of the Democratic Party, Jeremy Zellner, picked Peter Savage for chairman," Loughran said. "He picked me for majority leader. I didn't want to sign up for machine politics."

That means both Democratic leaders live in Buffalo. The new chairman was a close aide to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, the state Democratic chairman.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
First-term county legislator April Baskin has full schedule ahead as Majority Leader.

Buffalo legislator Barbara Miller-Williams attacked the way Savage and Baskin were chosen.

"To share concerns about the process upon which we came to this particular decision, I think that the Erie County Legislature should have every opportunity, above and beyond, to make a determination on who the leadership should be, from within," Miller-Williams said. "I have some concerns about how we got to the place we are today."

Loughran said the Democrats never met as a group. He said he received a call from Zellner saying Savage would be chairman and Loughran could be majority leader, but he turned it down.

Savage said he made a lot of phone calls seeking the chairman job. It actually took some Republican votes to elect Savage, since Loughran voted against him. Savage said a lot of things will not change.

"We will maintain the Thursday legislative schedule, as has been traditional in the past," Savage said. "We will also be getting out the scheduled times for this Thursday's meeting shortly, along with the constitution of those committees, working with both caucuses."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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