BUFFALO, N.Y. – No county executive in Erie County's history has ever served four terms.
Up until late last year, Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz had no plans to become the first, but in a term where he's faced historical challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a mass shooting and natural disasters, he believes he has unfinished business.
"It all got really pushed to the side because we had to react and we had to address the real issues, which was the crisis of our life, the global pandemic and then everything that's happened since then," Poloncarz said.
Republican candidate Chrissy Casilio sees Poloncarz's nearly two decades of services in county government, following a career as an attorney, as a problem, not a solution. The mother of three – a communications specialist and business owner – says she sees firsthand the issues facing residents.
"We have somebody that's currently in office that's become out of touch with the people of Erie County, and decisions are being made not with the best interest of Erie County residents," Casilio said. "But instead, decisions are being made of what will progress his political career and his political ambitions."
Both candidates say the economy and inflation are among the biggest concerns for voters this year. The county has responded by agreeing to cut the total amount of property taxes it collects and waiving home heating sales tax for December, January and February.
However, Casilio said a 9% increase in spending means more relief was available.
"Even though the rates might be going down a little bit, they are taking more of our money than ever before, and they are doing this at a time when affordability is a major issue in our county," she said.
Poloncarz said Casilio is oversimplifying a complicated issue.
"When you have inflation that's affecting everyone, it affects the county just as well and the vast majority of the increase is associated with (unfunded) state mandates," he said.
The more than 500 migrants from New York City who have come to Erie County under the administration have also been a major election talking point.
"It's a very micro-issue. It's affecting a very small group of individuals," Poloncarz said. "When I go around the county, I almost never hear it because most people aren't dealing with it. They're not dealing with it on the daily basis."
The administration said NYC continues to pay for services, but Casilio's campaign questions the vetting process, the true cost to taxpayers and if the initial decision to welcome asylum seekers was prudent.
"We've had an increase in violence, a decrease in our resources being used for our taxpaying citizens and our schools are dealing with major issues, both financially and logistically, in taking care of kids that don't speak our language," she said.
Both campaigns are regularly airing somewhat negative campaign ads at this point in the race, with Democrats focusing on tweets Casilio posted promoting January 6 and COVID-19 conspiracy theories before deleting them when she became a candidate, and Republicans drawing attention to a domestic incident between Poloncarz and a former girlfriend in which police responded and filed a report, but no charges were pressed.
Poloncarz said he can say definitively if he wins this election, it will be his last term as county executive. He said he would consider "national" opportunities if he felt he could better serve the public, but is running with the intent to serve out the term.