A Buffalo teacher is going to Albany as a new member of the New York State Assembly. Erik Bohen beat Erie County Legislator Pat Burke for the seat vacated when Mickey Kearns was elected Erie County Clerk.
Western New Yorkers have seen this story before: Republican County Chairman Nick Langworthy running a Democrat for a State Assembly seat and winning. Six years ago, it was Kearns. Tuesday night, it was Bohen.
In a special election anchored in the traditional low-voter turnout, Bohen won a solid victory and will be meeting with campaign aides Wednesday morning to plan for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Burke said he will run again for the seat in November, in what political pundits say will be a Democratic year.
Bohen supporters gathered at Ironworkers Local 6 for a loud and joyous victory party.
"Tonight is a tremendous victory for Erik Bohen in this special election," said Langworthy. "We are proud to stand with him. He's a true independent and that's what we were looking for at the outset. We wanted to send an independent voice in the same spirit as Mickey Kearns and someone that could stand up to Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Assembly and that's, I think, exactly what we have here. The voters have spoken. They have spoken loud and clear."
This was a frequently nasty race, with a fair amount of money spent and unions supporting both sides, especially the Buffalo Teachers Federation backing Bohen, a city special education teacher with deep family ties to Ironworkers Local 6. Bohen said he was able to split away many teachers to vote for him.
"The people spoke. The teachers spoke. The teachers know me. People I've worked with know me," said Bohen. "Like the chairman said earlier, we had a select few of teachers in the union that wanted to attack me. The teachers that know me came out for me and the people in this district that I have worked very hard for came out for me today."
He probably also benefited from strong backing from developer Carl Paladino, an icon in South Buffalo and a member of another group of intertwined political families. Bohen certainly benefited from the ballot Conservative line.
Burke said it came down to turnout: Bohen turned out more people in a special election.
"They've become sort of a parochial affair and it becomes tribal. My family and tribe is a little bit smaller than his family and tribe," said Burke, "and then, we also have the fact that he's running as a Republican/Democrat, so he could go to Republicans and pull their support and then go to Democrats and say he's still a Democrat."
Bohen will take a leave of absence from his city teaching job to head off to Albany, while Burke will head back to Old County Hall, for a County Legislature meeting Wednesday.