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Setting the stage for 2012

Andy Ouriel • Nov 4, 2011 at 10:00 AM

The 2011 election is peppered with battles between dozens of local candidates — fiscal officers, city commissioners, mayors and more.

It’s an exciting election season indeed.

But in 2012, political mayhem is certain to erupt, as almost every single Erie County elected official’s term ends.

A political whirlwind would upset the status quo and significantly alter the landscape come next November.

Of Erie County’s 11 elected officials, only auditor Rick Jeffrey and commissioner Bill Monaghan are spared from campaigning for reelection next year.

In the coming weeks, the Register will interview each of the Erie County officials who are up for reelection in 2012.

We’ll ask them about their plans in the months ahead, and attempt to pin them down on the obvious question: Do they intend to run for re-election?

Who might their challengers be? What are the positives and negatives the incumbents and challengers bring to the table?

As of late last month, county clerk of courts Barb Johnson has prematurely resigned from office, leaving her seat up for grabs to a newcomer.

Those with terms ending in 2012 include:

•Brian Baxter (R), coroner, first elected 2004;

•Kevin Baxter (D), prosecutor, first elected 1988;

•Jo Dee Fantozz (D), treasurer, first elected 2000;

•Jack Farschman (D), engineer, first elected 2000;

•Tom Ferrell (D), commissioner, first elected 1988;

•Barb Johnson (D), clerk of courts, first elected 1988;

•Terry Lyons (D), sheriff, first elected 2000;

•Barb Sessler (D), recorder, first elected 2004;

•Pat Shenigo (D), commissioner, first elected 2008.

Six of these nine officials ran unopposed in the 2008 election, while Johnson, Ferrell and Shenigo all had competition that year.

More people — especially Republicans — need to step up and challenge the candidates who previously ran unopposed, Erie County Republican Party chairman Matt Old said.

Democrats are dominating Erie County’s political landscape.

Equal representation is needed to ensure no single party is calling all the shots, Old said.

“It’s tremendously unbalanced,” Old said. “We would like to see more Republicans in office.”

Then again, maybe Democrats who run for office in this county are just the superior choice, Erie County Democratic chairwoman Amy Grubbe said.

“If (Republicans) feel it’s unbalanced, then there is only one way to change it: Have credible candidates for the voters to vote for,” Grubbe said.

Unlike elected positions in cities, townships and villages, Erie County’s offices generally pay higher salaries.

The elected officials’ salaries are regulated by the state based on the county’s population and budget.

Kevin Baxter, the top-paid elected official in Erie County, received $115,400 in gross income in 2010.

Close behind him was Farschman at $89,900, then Lyons at $69,200.

But there is also another interesting component to the 2012 election. The primaries start in March, as opposed to May.

All interested candidates seeking to run must submit a petition to Erie County’s board of elections by Dec. 7.

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