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Should Judicial Races Be Decided by Party Bosses? Long-Time Practice Being Challenged This Year

Gov. Andrew Cuomo with Steve Pigeon and his nephew Landon

This year in Western New York's eight counties, voters will vote for five State Supreme Court justices.

If all goes well for two party bosses, the voters will have their choices decided for them, just as is done in communist countries.

The two bosses, Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner, 35, and Erie County Republican Party Chairman Nicolas Langworthy, 32, will try to get together in a shady back room and decide which candidates will be "guaranteed" judgeships, through a process called cross-endorsement.

In essence, two men in a room from Erie County will decide the election for 1.6 million people in eight WNY counties.

A lawyer who wants to become a State Supreme Court justice cannot simply run in a party primary. In New York State, a justice candidate must be selected by "judicial convention delegates" who are "elected" in primaries by each party. The people don't vote for the candidates, they vote for the delegates who, in turn, decide which candidates will run in the general election.

Aspirants for candidacy in the 8th Judicial District traditionally need the approval of the bosses who have most of the delegates "in their pockets." Since Erie County's population outweighs the rest of the seven counties in the 8th District, it is the Erie County bosses who predominantly control the election.

Cross endorsements are like trading baseball cards.

"I'll cross endorse Mr. A, if you endorse Mr. B."

While there is still a vote, if a candidate is on both the Republican and Democratic lines, it is unlikely he will lose.

This year there may be a challenge to the practice of cross-endorsement. One of the bosses, Democrat Zellner, has been weakened by intra-party fighting. He may not be able to deliver the delegates. While a strong chairman picks his judicial convention delegates unopposed, Democrats in Cheektowaga, West Seneca, Buffalo, Hamburg and Tonawanda have started an insurrection, supporting Frank Max, Dick Palladino, former Democratic Party Chairman G. Steven Pigeon and others in getting delegates to run against the Zellner slate of delegates.

Pigeon, who during his time as Democratic Party chairman regularly cross-endorsed justice candidates,, is now calling on his supporters to reject cross-endorsements for all five open State Supreme Court positions.

Pigeon may be motivated, in part, by his support of political ally Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Pigeon said he believes that if all five judicial races are contested, more Democrats will have reason to get out and vote for Cuomo and other Democrats.

"There is a wealth of tremendously qualified Democratic candidates," Pigeon said in an open letter to Democrats last week. "There are no incumbent Democratic judges up for re-election. We have a strong governor leading our ticket and we need to run five good candidates, and reject cross-endorsements."



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Mar 11, 2014