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Sherman Says: Race for Erie County comptroller is going largely unnoticed

HAMBURG — Election day is fewer than five weeks away and voters will decide the outcome in several county-wide races. Among them is the race for Erie County comptroller, which is drawing virtually no attention.

Incumbent Republican Stefan Mychajliw is pitted against Democrat Kevin Gaughan, who has been scrambling for attention for more years than I care to count. He has had limited success in selling the idea of downsizing local governments throughout the region.

Gaughan has called himself “a leader of a citizens’ movement to reform government and revive Western New York’s economy.”

Mychajliw, a former TV news reporter and public relations officer who notched an upset victory last November, has painted himself as a non-politician.

“Taxpayers are sick and tired of elected officials acting in a hyper-partisan way, caring more about themselves, rather than the people they are supposed to serve,” he said, after taking the oath of office. “We deserve better from our political leaders. I will lead by example, fighting for you, the taxpayer.”

When Gaughan ran an unsuccessful race for the state Assembly last year, he acknowledged two personal judgments totaling more than $1,100. Erie County Republicans snapped to attention and verified he had additional financial issues.

“Troubling new questions emerged today for Erie County comptroller candidate Kevin Gaughan, as it was revealed that he is in debt to the IRS for more than $5,000 in back taxes,” said a Sept. 25 release from the Erie County Republican Committee. “These revelations come on the heels of published reports last week that Gaughan has a history of failing to make tax payments on time.”

While we have a scent of scandal wafting over the race, it is getting no more attention from the 919,000 residents of Erie County than an update about Honey Boo Boo.

Gaughan’s most prominent stance in the campaign took place on Aug. 20, when he announced that he had “discovered” that there existed no independent review of the process by which New York state shares sales tax revenue with Erie County. He proposed a law to permit county comptrollers to examine the state’s books, to ensure that Erie County receives its fair share of sales tax revenue. The irony here is painful at best.

Gaughan’s earliest campaign pledge was to serve his four-year term in its entirety and, if he wins next month, that he will not run for any other elected position, while serving as county comptroller.

Some would say they would vote for him just to keep him off the campaign trail, but the real question would be how well he would work alongside fellow Democrat, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. The aggressive Gaughan would have to be reined in, so as not to upset the Democratic Party’s midterm apple cart. To that end, Poloncarz might be careful what he wishes for, when he enters the voting booth on Nov. 5.

For those of us who follow politics as spectators, it seems that Gaughan never met an elective office he did not like. He is in his glory, whether he is pounding the pavement for downsizing in small villages such as Farnham or calling for members of Congress to not be paid for two weeks, as a result of the federal sequester last March.

“The people hired me to be their fiscal watchdog and I take that responsibility very seriously,” Mychajliw said, in August. When he announced his candidacy in June, he said, “It’s a perfect skill set. I’m a business owner.”

Also from June, “Because of my time as an independent watchdog, I also understand how county government operates.”

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner had high praise for Gaughan. “There could not be a better taxpayer watchdog than Kevin,” he said.

Hopefully other races, including those for sheriff and all 11 seats in the Legislature, will inspire voters to seek out the best candidate for comptroller. There can be only one watchdog in Erie County’s government. Which “non-politician” do you prefer? Lassie or Cujo?

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at

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