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By Mike Hudson

OK. Here we go. I'll tell you a funny story about a character named Brian Grear who I've come to believe is somewhat of a flake.

Maybe the name rings a bell. Last week he announced he's running for the 62nd District state Senate seat currently held by George Maziarz, who will most certainly get around 70 percent of the vote in November. The flaky thing here is that he's running as a Democrat. It's flaky because, as recently as April, Grear was telling people he was going run against Ernie Palmer in the primary for Niagara County sheriff. But then he was going to run as a Republican!

Three years ago Grear ran against Sheriff Tom Beilein as a Republican, and had his hat handed to him by a 25-point margin, managing just 19,311 votes to Beilein's 31,793. In order to accomplish this incredible bit of nothing, he spent around $80,000, mostly his own money.

It was in that race that the enmity between Maziarz and Grear first developed. Grear thought that, rather than spending his own money, he'd rather spend other people's money in his hopeless quest to become sheriff. So he approached the senator and county Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek to try and get some of the GOP money they control.

Now, Maziarz and Wojtaszek don't just go around handing out money to every nutjob Republican who comes knocking. There are simply way too many of them. And if you take the party's money, you generally have to conduct your campaign along party lines.

The upshot was that Maziarz and Wojtaszek offered some suggestions on the sort of campaign tactics that have given the Republicans an insurmountable lock on the county, and Grear thought he knew more about it than they did, so they didn't give him any money and he went away mad.

And lost the election and lost his money and told everyone it was all George Maziarz's fault.

Flash forward to 2008, when Ernie Palmer began putting out feelers about running for sheriff on the Republican ticket. The election of Eliot Spitzer made it a cinch that Tom Beilein -- a longtime supporter -- would get some cushy job in Albany, and the job of Niagara County's top law enforcement official would be up for grabs.

Palmer seemed made for the job. The former police chief of Niagara Falls and Youngstown, he now serves as chief of detectives in the city and has run twice, successfully, for the Lewiston Town Board. Impeccable credentials as a lawman combined with a winning record as a politician. A no-brainer, right?

Not to Grear, who was putting out his own feelers. Maziarz and Wojtaszek got behind Palmer as the best man for the job, and Grear, still miffed to the max about the '05 sheriff's race, got mad all over again.

In an effort to maintain party unity, Palmer met with Grear and told him he was definitely running and that he'd like Grear's support. Grear told him he wanted Palmer to promise him the job of undersheriff, which Palmer refused, in part because he thought that making such a promise might be illegal.

It all turned out to be moot, because Beilein's retirement announcement came too late to allow for primaries anyway, and the party heads were left to pick the candidates. Wojtaszek picked Palmer, and Democratic Chairman Dan Rivera chose chief sheriff's deputy James Voutour, and Grear was left out in the cold. For around 15 minutes.

The crafty Rivera and the cunning Grear had a secret plan, it seems. Grear announced he was switching party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and running against Maziarz. In return for Grear backing Voutour, Rivera would back him!

Together, they believe they can get even more anti-Maziarz votes than the last Democratic candidate fielded by Rivera, part-time dishwasher Chris Srock, who managed to lose by an unbelievable 45 points when he ran against the senator in 2006. It was brutal, it really was.

Brutal as well has been the complete disintegration of the Democratic Party in Niagara County under Rivera's regime.

In the county Legislature, only five of 19 members vote Democrat.

Members of the party of Lincoln hold the offices of county clerk, county treasurer and district attorney. After this year's election, they will add county sheriff to the list.

And even when he wins, Rivera loses. In Niagara Falls, endorsed mayoral candidate Babe Rotella came up short against Paul Dyster in the Democratic Primary, while endorsed City Council candidate Nick Ligammari finished dead last in a four-way race for two open seats.

Enthusiasm for Rivera and his special brand of leadership is such that just 18 people paid to attend a recent party fund-raiser at the Red Coach Inn here, despite the fact that the food at the restaurant is a cut above the normal fare provided at party shindigs. Attendees, in fact, were outnumbered 2-1 by Democrats picketing outside the Red Coach in protest of Rivera's boorishness.

The comical candidacy of Brian Grear will serve as yet another hallmark of a failed Democratic leadership that seems to believe that spite is a swell reason for someone to run for elected office.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 29 2008