Standing in front of a stretch of Old Lakeshore Road in Lakeview with long strips of patched asphalt between blocks of cracked road, Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter outlined the need to repair county infrastructure. The press event came as he enters the final week of his campaign to unseat the incumbent Erie county executive, Democrat Mark Poloncarz. 

Walter said that while Poloncarz has spent more money than previous administrations on infrastructure, it is not being spent wisely, with many town officials and residents saying county roads, bridges and water systems, especially in the more rural areas of the region, are still in desperate need of improvement.

“Erie county taxpayers deserve much better than this,” Walter said. “Mark (Poloncarz) likes to take credit for everything, but, really, blame for nothing.”

Poloncarz, reached by phone after the press conference, defended his record on infrastructure, pointing to the average $10 million a year his administration has spent on projects over his predecessor, current U.S. Rep. Chris Collins. Poloncarz included $2.5 million more than last year for roadwork in his proposed budget, submitted to the Legislature last week.

In addition, Poloncarz said Walter was being “hypocritical,” as the former county legislator had stood by as Collins’ administration refused to spend tens of millions in federal stimulus dollars that could have put people to work fixing county roads.

“He’s saying whatever it takes to get votes at this late stage in the campaign,” Poloncarz said.

Walter’s attack was the latest in a series of moves in recent weeks questioning Poloncarz’s ability to lead and trying to poke holes in the idea that the city’s economic turnaround can be attributed, in part, to the county executive’s office.

Meanwhile, Poloncarz has continued to run on his record, responding to criticisms from Walter’s camp as they come.

The incumbent has enjoyed a sizable lead in terms of campaign funds. He spent $282,000 in the 20-day period between filings with the state Board of Elections, supported by a large number of individual donors, unions, law firms and other political campaigns. His fund has $362,000 remaining, according to the latest campaign finance filing.

Walter spent less than half as much over the same time period, a total of $122,000. His donations have come largely from the Erie County GOP, which contributed $80,000 to the effort in recent weeks, though he too has seen many smaller donations from individuals. The campaign has $47,000 left on hand, according to the filings.

In recent weeks, Walter has grabbed headlines with his new sales tax reform plan. Under the plan, sales tax would be redistributed so that municipalities across the county would receive an equal amount of sales tax revenue for each resident. As it stands now, the county’s three cities receive a higher percentage of the revenue per resident than the rest of the county’s towns and villages. 

Last week, Poloncarz pushed back on that plan, telling City & State that it has remained in place for 40 years, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, because it benefits the entire region. It doesn’t make sense, he said, to take money from the cities – Buffalo consistently ranks among the poorest in the nation – and shift it to municipalities where the county’s wealthier residents live. 

“You can’t have a strong county and have a weak center, a weak core,” Poloncarz said. “We have this great new awakening in our community, a new Buffalo, a new Erie County, in which we finally put aside the city-suburban divide that had existed for decades.”

But Walter argues that with the city’s budget stabilized, it no longer needs the extra help. And with the county providing social services, he says, the change would not affect the city’s poor.

“Do you think in 1977, when they created this sales tax-sharing agreement, that they thought it would never be changed, for almost 40 years?” Walter said. “That doesn’t make any sense. It has to adjust with the times.”

As the campaign draws to a close, Walter is continuing to work at portraying Poloncarz as county executive who has benefitted from the rebound in the national economy – touting low unemployment numbers, an upgrade in the county’s bond rating and an economic development boom – but has failed to fully capitalize on the situation.

Walter offered the patchwork Old Lakeshore Road as a symbol of Poloncarz’s work in his first term.

“This is what passes as progress in his administration,” Walter said.