CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — Throughout the Erie County executive race, Republicans focused on incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz’s decision to initially welcome more than 500 asylum seekers from New York City to the region.
Claiming victory with a roughly 18-point lead over challenger Chrissy Casilio Tuesday night, Poloncarz framed the win as an affirmation of Democratic values and rebuke of divisive politics.
“This is what a compassionate, caring government should always do. It should be aspirational in nature, a manifestation of our better angels, always striving towards the goal of strengthening the lives of our citizens, even those who may not have been born here,” Poloncarz said.
However, University at Buffalo political scientist Jacob Neiheisel said the result does not necessarily mean the migrant issue was a negative one for the GOP.
“They’re going to use a landslide like we saw last night as a mandate for everything that they wanna do regardless if it’s the actual lesson, but I think for them, it doesn’t really matter in large part because we’re not going to be able to tell,” Neiheisel said.
He said the willingness of Poloncarz and other Democrats running to represent Cheektowaga, where migrants were initially placed and many still live in hotels, could indicate they didn’t believe it would hurt their chances.
“On the other hand, some of their actions suggest that they were really caught off guard by some of the initial backlash to this. There was quite a bit of backpedaling. It went from this is the morally right thing to do to we’re basically being told to do this so get behind it,” Neiheisel said.
County legislator Tim Meyers, whose district represents a large portion of the town, also won handily. However, the town supervisor race was much closer with Democrat Brian Nowak claiming victory on election night despite holding an unofficial lead of less than 50 votes.
“That’s an interesting thing to kind of look at that and suss out what were the different strategies the campaigns were using and how much of this was candidate specific,” Neiheisel said.
The political scientist said ultimately, without specific internal and exit polling available, its hard to say, how much of voters’ decisions can be attributed to the migrant issue, to other issues in the race like the economy, or to the likeability of the candidates themselves. He said it may be in the interest of party leaders across the state to examine it before next year.
“I don’t think there’s any way the national GOP doesn’t make this an issue in the campaign so Democrats up and down the ballot, up and down the ticket, are going to have contend with it at some level,” he said.