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SEP 29 - OCT 06, 2015

Black Robes and Smoke-Filled Rooms

By Deborah Eddel

SEP 22, 2015

He can't lose. Soon to be judge Emilio Colaiacovo
Dem Party Boss Jeremy Zellner: Judge Maker. Although the office of state supreme court justice is supposed to be an elected position, political bosses have disenfranchised voters by making their own "cross endorsement" deals - which is you don't run anybody against my guy and I won't run anybody against yours.

Monday night, two of the most important government jobs in Western New York were filled—and the public didn’t even really get a say.

Republicans and Democrats gathered at different ends of Buffalo and held judicial “conventions” to fill two state Supreme Court seats.  We’re told that, at least among Western New York Republicans—who were willing to open their convention to the press, unlike their Democrat counterparts, who met behind locked doors—the atmosphere was cordial, and the hors d’oeuvres were plentiful.  But the public at large had no say.

Frank Sedita—the Erie County district attorney —and Emilio Colaiacovo, a GOP insider close to GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy—are the nominees of both major political parties this morning, and you never had a chance to vote on them as candidates.

The Conservative, Independence, and Working Families parties are all likely to follow suit.

New York’s arcane laws are bad enough: at the Supreme Court level, instead of a primary system, local party members-in-good-standing circulate petitions. Most never even face a primary challenge.

To make matters worse, though, is the notion of the “cross-endorsement.” Here, Republican and Democratic leaders—usually the Erie County political bosses—decided to avoid a drawn-out political contest in closely-divided Western New York, and nominate an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

You, the voters, are left out.

Former Erie County Republican chief Jim Domagalski called these Supreme Court judges “really powerful” in remarks nominating this year’s slate of candidates. And indeed, he is right.

While the Republican Langworthy said Sedita “has his detractors,” we are told that Democrats actually faced a failed rebellion on the floor of their closed convention where a group of dissatisfied insurgents attempted to nominate, instead, Buffalo Judge James A.W. McLeod, an uprising apparently triggered by the cross-endorsement process.

For something as important as one of the most powerful judgeships in Western New York, letting the voters have more of a say in picking the candidates would seem a desirable end.

It’s time that the cross-endorsements stop and a real public debate about judicial temperament and interpretation of the law begins. But so long as party bosses like Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner and GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy get away with passing out black robes in smoke-filled rooms, we probably won’t see that happen.






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