Will Tuesday's election change party control of Erie County Legislature?

Nov 4, 2019

Every two years, control of the Erie County Legislature is on the election ballot, seat by seat. However, two former county executives say it may not matter.

Over the years, the size of the old Board of Supervisors and the current County Legislature has changed, mostly cutting their sizes, reflecting a U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering one-person, one-vote.

Currently, 11 legislators are members and they will be voted on Tuesday, with two seats vacant: one in the southtowns left behind by Lynne Dixon to run for county executive and the other left open when Tom Loughran decided not to seek another term.

Former County Executive Joel Giambra said state and federal mandates mean legislators don't have the power of many governments.          

Erie County legislature members.
Credit Erie County

"I don't really see a whole lot of change occurring this election cycle and I'm not sure it really matters," said Giambra, who was county executive  2000-2007, "because you have a system of governance that's heavily weighted toward the executive branch, being the full-time position that it is, and the Legislature has traditionally been a part-time position and the executive has a lot more say over the day-to-day operation."

Former County Executive Dennis Gorski said which party controls does not matter.

"Not really, for a number of reasons," said Gorski, who was county executive from 1988-1999. "The principal reasons is: One, almost 90% of all of the functions of county government are functions of mandates by the state or federal government. So, philosophical bent, either liberal or conservative or independent really wouldn't have much of a play."

Gorski said the rest goes for budget lines like roads and bridges, parks and culturals.
"Artistic functions also have so much support in the community that any legislator, whether he be liberal or conservative or have a different philosphical bent, really wouldn't have very much strength of character to change the funding for, for example, the Philharmonic," he said.

Democrats currently control the Legislature, 7-4. What had been a tight 6-5 Democratic majority shifted when Tonawanda Legislator Kevin Hardwick crossed the aisle to increase the majority. He is on the ballot this year seeking another term.

Gorski said one power legislators have is to drive the county executive crazy.