Support for the frontrunner was a foregone conclusion. Skeptics of a Democratic Party resurgence in Western New York have good reasons not to believe the hype. After all, Republican Joel Giambra was easily re-elected last fall, despite the fraud and corruption scandal at the county's Aurora garage. The editorial staff of The Buffalo News continues to support the Republican initiatives of Gov. George Pataki despite paying lip service to the Democrats in the form of an endorsement of Kerry for president. Perhaps the greatest cause for despair is the fact that the Republican-inspired Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority is poised to do what public authorities have done so effectively in New York State since the days of Robert Moses, namely, to appoint itself as immortal and intercept all of the money and power coming into the city, for its own ends. The “control board” is not accountable to voters and, as such, will be free to prosecute the vicious anti-union campaigns laid out by M&T Bank Chairman Bob Wilmers until the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association, the Police Benevolent Association, and the Buffalo Teachers Federation are as much a part of Buffalo's past as the Erie Canal.

Destroying the City of Buffalo's public employee unions is clearly job No. 1 for Oberburgermeister Wilmers and his crew. This strategy will probably not bring back the vast amounts of capital squandered in Buffalo's savings & loan crisis in the eighties or the money squandered through HUD in the eighties and nineties or the millions of dollars wasted by Western New York's balkanized and inept economic development agencies in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. It will keep the local Democratic Party pregnant and barefoot, so to speak.

“Preach all of the old time religion you want,” Republicans seem to be saying to Democrats, “but remember the check book is in our back pocket.”

The Hobbit and The Return of The King

With so much damage already done, and with such powerful forces arrayed against it locally, can there be any hope for the local Democratic Party?

As the extremism of George Bush became clear nationally and as Joel began his campaign to hire as many relatives as possible locally, the tattered Democratic Party aligned behind a man who, if only a couple inches shorter, would resemble a hobbit. Len Lenihan was chosen as a peacemaker and healer, not because of his charisma.

Under his quiet leadership, however, some significant steps have been taken. When Judge Robert Whalen went his own way, Lenihan succeeded in pulling the party's endorsement, proving that he was intent on re-establishing Party discipline. Despite going down to defeat in the race for county executive, Democratic candidate Dan Ward made a surprisingly strong showing. Despite being outspent by a ten to one margin by Giambra cronies, Ward made the race much closer than it should have been. Furthermore, Ward was able to pinpoint several chinks in Giambra's armor, which over the course of Giambra's next term, are bound to become glaring weaknesses. From the aforementioned Aurora garage scandal, to Giambra's faux regionalism, to the under funding of Medicare and ECMC, Ward was able to mount a campaign that will continue to resonate with voters.

Also, the party was able to reestablish control of the Erie County Legislature. The tide of defections in the party's ranks seems to have been stemmed, but the man who should deserve credit for that, Lenihan, has not grabbed the spotlight. Instead, he is continuing his efforts to “herds the cats.”

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Kerry's rally under this new big top tent of the Democratic Party was the absence of Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello. Read into this what you will, but keep in mind that one of the introductory speakers was New York State Senator Byron Brown.

Brown, of course, has made no secret of his plans to run for mayor, with the support of former Democratic Party Chairman Steve Pigeon and Pigeon's brand new power coalition centered on former Independence Party candidate for Governor, B. Thomas Golisano. By attaching himself to the new billionaire owner of the Buffalo Sabres, Pigeon has executed a highly improbable comeback. Virtually run out of town by The Buffalo News, Pigeon has returned. Because of his lack of direct affiliation and his behind-the-scenes profile, he's probably just as powerful as ever. It just goes to show that the old political maxim still holds true: if you're going to kill the king, make sure that you kill the king. What's It All About, Ralphie?

As the Democratic Party strives to unite the divisions that led to defeat in the election of 2000, the ghost of Ralph Nader hovers over the proceedings. In taking mostly predicable and scripted questions from the floor in his appearance here, John Kerry addressed Nader's decision to throw his hat in the ring once again. He stated that the party would need to reach out to its progressive elements and he stressed his concern about jobs, fat cat corporations, and the ill effects of free trade. Interestingly, the ovation that followed his reply was among the weakest of the evening. What does that say about the party regulars?

Can the Democratic Party energize the base of young voters who supported Nader in the 2000 election? Can they bring in new blood who will redirect their anger at George W. Bush toward the local Republican power base that keeps major Bush aide-de-camp Rep. Tom Reynolds in Washington?

The jury is still out, but local Democrats believe that they have the right stuff to make 2004 the year of the “big payback.”

Commentary By John McMahon

On Sunday, Feb. 29, Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry came to the Ellicott Square Building in downtown Buffalo to rally the party faithful two days before his resounding victory in the New York primary on super Tuesday.