Pigeon Promotes Pizazz, Prejudice

I wrote this linked-to post during Wednesday and Thursday, with the intention of posting it first thing Monday morning. When I learned that the Buffalo News’ political columnist Bob McCarthy would be covering similar points, I accelerated publishing my own thoughts to Friday so they wouldn’t be seen as reactive. I’ll be bumping it to the top on Monday morning anyway, but this morning we have McCarthy’s transcription services to fisk. (Fisk definition).  

President Obama took Erie County in a landslide Election Day, but you might not have recognized that victory by some of the long faces at Democratic Party headquarters in Ellicott Square Tuesday might.

That’s because Erie County Democrats suffered through a dismal Election Night, losing three major offices.

On the flip side, the frowns and disappointment at Mitt Romney’s Boston headquarters never made their way to Buffalo. In fact, the local GOP appeared downright giddy after picking off a congressional seat and county comptroller’s office, while staving off an attempt to dethrone State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti.

Their successes gave a sense of accomplishment to local GOP leaders in a county where registered Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans and Obama garnered 220,506 votes to Romney’s 160,337.

“We went with our traditional recipe of having great candidates, the right message, and the revenues to get out that message,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. “The taxpayers are buying what we are selling because our issues are right.”

I don’t know if I’d go as far as that. I don’t know what Mr. Mychajliw’s “issues” are, nor am I too familiar with what Mr. Grisanti’s “issues” are. A big issue, for instance, is hydrofracking. Mr. Grisanti has been silent or indecisive on that. UB 2020 didn’t pass – SUNY 2020 did.  Under UB 2020, UB would have $4 billion to play with to transform itself from a socialistically redistributive public university into a quasi-private business incubator. Under SUNY 2020, all SUNY schools need to compete for a $35 million pot for capital improvements, administered by the Empire State Development Corporation. Mr. Collins’ issues? Obamapelosi and a promise to do whatever Speaker Boehner tells him to do. 

But it’s a far different story this post-election weekend for Democrats, and the bickering that marks the local party leadership has been revived.

Yes, it has. I addressed it here in a plea for everyone to act like grownups and re-assess how the Erie County Democratic Committee conducts itself. Whose opinions, pray, does Mr. McCarthy transcribe? 

“The Democrats ought to take a close look at what happened,” said former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon. “We should have had three wins, and we had three losses.”

Specifically, he blamed former county chairman Leonard R. Lenihan and the new chairman Jeremy J. Zellner.

“They put in a lackey who got [Lenihan’s] coffee,” Pigeon said of Zellner. “You can’t unify the party as long as Len Jr. is in the chairman’s seat.

“It’s a joke,” he added. “To have this little, junior, mid-level staffer as chairman of Erie County is an embarrassment. Zellner ought to step down.”

It’s funny, at first. It’s funny at first to read the petulant venom from a loser calling someone else a loser. It’s funny to see someone who hasn’t played a constructive role in WNY Democratic politics in forever lecture Len Lenihan and Jeremy Zellner. When you demand that someone resign a post that they just won in an election because you hate them, you display a remarkably childish arrogance underscored by the fact that none of Pigeon‘s own picks won anything this round. 

I know a lot of people don’t like Zellner any more than they liked Lenihan, but to insult him as having been Lenihan’s coffee boy is so ignorant and blind. First of all, even if Zellner had done nothing more in the last decade than get Lenihan’s coffee, that task would have been infinitely more productive for Erie County Democrats than what Pigeon‘s been doing during that same period of time. After all, being a coffee boy doesn’t actively do harm to Democratic candidacies. But, of course, Zellner was the executive director, not the coffee boy. That might be how Pigeon treated his ED when he was chairman, but Zellner was quite active in every Democratic race – won or lost – for a decade. 

Party unity? You can’t unify the party where “unity” is defined by at least one faction as being “taking control” and “getting everything I want.” But more on the whole notion of party unity below. 

Zellner laughed heartily at Pigeon’s suggestion about stepping aside before addressing the criticism.

He said he inherited a treasury with just $700 but got to work raising money and spending it on the local candidates.

“I’ve raised $200,000 and spent at least half of that on the election,” Zellner said. “I won’t be criticized by people from the past who are irrelevant anyway.”

Pigeon’s criticism against party leaders centered on fielding poor candidates and failing to do enough for Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, who barely lost the 27th Congressional District to Republican Chris Collins.

Pigeon may have been most frustrated with the State Senate race.

He was instrumental in recruiting former County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick to run in the Democratic primary for State Senate and also securing Conservative Party backing for him in the general election. But Swanick lost the primary to Michael L. Amodeo, who had the backing of the local party leaders, and then Grisanti won easily Tuesday.

In addition to blaming Lenihan and Zellner, Pigeon also took aim at County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward.

A strong Democratic enrollment advantage should have been enough to defeat Grisanti, Pigeon said.

Pigeon remains incensed over the party’s rejection of the Swanick candidacy, maintaining that if Lenihan and Poloncarz had agreed, a united Democratic front backed by Albany could have knocked off Grisanti.

“We would have had the Democratic, Conservative and Working Families lines, and instead Poloncarz gets Amodeo the [Democratic] line,” Pigeon said. “He searched high and low for another candidate because he perceived that Swanick would be close to me.”

Amodeo was a weak candidate who had previously lost an Assembly primary, Pigeon said, while Swanick was a moderate Democrat from the suburbs with a long history of success. 

And he blamed Poloncarz for insisting David J. Shenk be the comptroller candidate, when he felt others would have proven stronger candidates.

Swanick is a conservative Democrat-in-enrollment-only (is he, even?) whose entire candidacy was predicated on an anti-same-sex-marriage position he sold to Ralph Lorigo and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Lorigo was eager to punish incumbent Republican Mark Grisanti, who Lorigo believed had deceived him with respect to allowing gay couples to marry. Practically all of Swanick’s funding came from NOM or from “loans” that this retired railroad engineer is supposed to have made to his own campaign in the amount of $35,000. Did Democrats flock to his candidacy during the primary? Nope. Despite Al Coppola’s perennial presence on the primary ballot to siphon off Italian votes from Amodeo, Swanick only managed 26% of the vote (Al Coppola actually outperformed Swanick in the City of Buffalo).  That number is the homophobe dead-ender vote. Swanick had no business running as a Democrat in a race, regardless of who’s behind you or who has endorsed you. 

Democrats in Erie County shouldn’t sell out their principles to Ralph Lorigo just to get a “W”. 

But being conclusively rejected by Democrats wasn’t enough. Swanick – whose record of failure in the County legislature remains relatively fresh in people’s minds – stayed in the race and fared poorly (12%) in the general election, too. 

What’s Pigeon’s track record? Consider, when Byron Brown fired Pigeon in 2004 in advance of his run for Mayor, he said of Pigeon

“Unfortunately, he has been unable to move beyond his attitudes toward those whom he believes have wronged him politically in the past…It was painfully obvious he just wasn’t a positive influence on my staff.”

Nor was he a positive influence as Democratic county chairman. His profligate spending drove the party into debt, and his heavy hand fomented internecine wars that made politics rather than policy the focus of local government for most of his tenure. That’s why Brown had to separate himself from Pigeon if he wanted to become mayor; major funders around here made it clear that Brown was welcome to the second floor of City Hall but Pigeon was not.

Now? That same Steve Pigeon whines that the Erie County Democratic Committee refused to back a candidate who ran on a homophobe platform and couldn’t secure more than 20% of the vote from anyone, anywhere. Chuck Swanick was the last great hope to defeat Mark Grisanti, who had enough money to spend $20,000 per day in the campaigns waning days and had broad bipartisan support based on equality and inclusion? Everyone, everywhere rejected Chuck Swanick, and Pigeon is having a tantrum because he didn’t get a chance to be more widely rejected? That’s astonishing. 

As for McCarthy, it’s irresponsible for him to transcribe these sneering accusations without challenge in his “opinion column”. 

Instead, Republican Stefan Mychajliw snared the post – considered a major coup in a Democratic county with strong turnout in a presidential year.

“He puts in a guy who is not prepared, has no resume or base, and with no pizazz as a candidate,” Pigeon said. “In a presidential year, we lose a countywide race because of the pettiness of Poloncarz, Lenihan and Ward.”

“This shows you Poloncarz’s leadership of the Democratic Party is abysmal,” Pigeon said.

Consider that for a moment. 

Poloncarz is the County Executive. Shenk was running for County Comptroller. The County Comptroller is supposed to be independent from the County Executive. If he isn’t, the post is meaningless and could lead to bad government.

Just ask Nancy Naples and Joel Giambra. 

If Poloncarz had become involved in the Comptroller race, a tremendous volume of feces would have sprayed all over him and Shenk, from having hit the fan. 

And whom would Pigeon have put in place as Comptroller? George Hasiotis, he who proposes now a $1.5 billion Dubai-like waterfront stadium for a failing team in a shrinking city? We’re entertaining a tantrum because Erie County voters lost out on Hasiotis’ “pizazz”? 

Hey, Bob, let’s ask the worst political person imaginable and a breakfast-hosting fusion pimp what he thinks!

Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo contended a united front behind Swanick would have worked.

“One candidate would have been extremely viable and probably be successful,” he said.

Translation: I backed this homophobe because he was as opposed to queer marriage as I was, and you Democrats screwed it up by nominating some queer-lover. 

“Looking back a year ago, there were stories about the death of the Republican Party in Erie County,” Poloncarz said. “It’s fair to say the people spoke on Tuesday, and you have to respect that.”

Meanwhile, Langworthy and his GOP are experiencing none of the flak aimed at Democratic leaders. The Grisanti and Mychajliw victories rank as especially significant because they occurred in a presidential year with high Democratic turnout, he said.

I think Democrats locally have a lot of soul-searching to do. I’ve laid it out here. But I think part of it is to ignore the sour grapes from a set of tainted, malignant has-beens who promote prejudiced, failed, or “pizazz”-free candidacies. 

Being a Democrat means more than just winning elections. It also means standing on principle. Sometimes we win, sometimes we won’t; but winning while selling out critical parts of our fundamental party coalition isn’t really “winning.” Winning an election by selling out our principles isn’t winning. We may not have defeated Mark Grisanti, but we didn’t whore ourselves out, either. We may not have defeated Stefan Mychajliw, but it speaks to an undesirable job with an exceedingly shallow bench, and it underscores that selling out our principles for political expediency results in cynicism and people deciding not be active in the party. 

When that happens, all you’ll have left is a bunch of transactional hacks looking for jobs


  • “We went with our traditional recipe of having great candidates, the right message, and the revenues to get out that message,” ROFLMAO   I guess even the Traditional Recipe Blind Pig……

  • Is our local Roy Cohn bitter cuz he couldn’t get a State Senator elected so he could extort and blackmailthe State Senate once again?  You bet he is.  Steve Pigeon is a fascinating study on so many levels.  Twoyears ago he was hobnobbing with HRC to elect Tim Kennedy.  This year without a blink he’s going overNOM for Chuck Swanick.  Can you follow that one boys and girls? 

    It’s real easy actually cuz Steve Pigeon is the head of the local P&P Democrats who don’t give a ringy rat’srectal cavity about any issue or any community concerns.   It’s P&P for this crowd, plunder and power.It’s easy to do that, just be concerned with feathering your own nest.   If you have no pride, it’s easy.Just ask some local gays who supported Chuck Swanick in the Democratic primary.When the Erie County Democrats rose in righteous anger to throw out whom Alan Bedenko calls the local scheissmeister of our area, he left the ECDC in a $200,000.00 dollar plus hole.   Where’d the money goSteve?   The fleshpots, the casinos, Swiss bank accounts, tell us Steve, we’d all like to know.

    As Democrats purportedly we stand for the poor and working class and disenfranchised and discriminatedagainst minorities.   What does our local Roy Cohn give us this year, Chuckles Swanick.  He wonders whyhe couldn’t win a Democratic primary?  Of course if want to see the other side of the looking glass go read what another P&P wrote, one AndrewKulyk.  When last reported, he was working for Stefan Mychiliw.  Gotta get back on that public tit, don’tyou Andrew?  No matter which party puts you there.  The last one that had you there was Barbara Miller-Williams, another P&P.   She sold her own community out sustaining Chris Collins with his budget vetoes.   As was said about Yorick, where be her gibes now?

    And with all that P&P accumulated all these years, don’t you think that you folks could have put a collection together?   They’re doing remarkable things in medicine and psychiatry, c’mon get togetherand get Peter Reese a personality transplant.

  • Years ago I called into the Larry King radio show  and asked William F. Buckley, Jr. why he used such tortured language? I told him  that most people have no idea what he’s talking about, and that if the point of being a columnist is to communicate to a wide audience, then why not write (and speak) clearly?

    I can say the same about this column.  Its 500 words too long and I refuse to consult a dictionary or have the code words decoded.  Why not write clearly? What are you trying to say?

  • Again, Kudos, Alan! Tell me- where does all vitriol come from and why? And where does it take us? Down the rat hole from Bruce Kogan’s rat! Thanks for Bruce’s input,as well. 
    When do we grow up and act like men and women who care about the Democratic Party right here in Erie County? When do we put principles above personalities? Or do we? 
    Sad and pitiful, isn’t it?  

    • In an age when our president came out for marriage equality, we get people offering us ChuckSwanick as a candidate.   Totally in opposition to where the Democratic Party has come to standnationally.  By the way if you combine the Grisanti vote with the Amodeo vote in the generalelection you get an 85% approval of same sex marriage. 

      I’m tired of a county chair who got run out on a rail 10 years ago still running a counterinsurgency.    I’m sure Tom Golisano has enough for him to do nationally, why doesn’tour local Roy Cohn go down to Florida and get more money running Golisano’s quixotic politicalschemes and just leave us alone here.  Half the problems of the local Democratic Party would melt away in an instant. The other half would go away if Byron Brown would as mayor act like the State Senator he waswhen he voted for SONDA.   Would you have believed then he would be backing Chuckles Swanick,the candidate from NOM?   Only the latest of things that have disillusioned and disgusted the LGBT community with him.  One of the great regrets I have is that I supported him for Mayor.C’mon Byron, Sam Hoyt is GONE, he’s not in the Assembly any more so you don’t even have apretense to keep up a war, but I guess it’s a way of life for you and Steve Casey.

      You see it wouldn’t take much to unify the Erie County Democrats. 

  • I know its off topic from the EC Democratic Party infighting, but your recent shabby treatment of Grisanti bugs me because it is emblamatic of what is wrong with our “party first” election system. Don’t take this personally, of course, because you aren’t unique and you are accurately representing the Dem Party position. But the reason so few politicians take unpopular, risky positions is because popular (or oppositional party) support barely lasts until the ink is dry on the bill they are crossing party lines for. You wrote glowing reviews of Grisanti when he cast the deciding gay marriage vote. No you don’t know his issues and wonder if he in untrustworthy? Your criticism of him is tame and soft-ball, I know, but a little principled loyalty from his lauders at the time would be cool. If prolonged support happened more, I think we’d have more politicians willing to take a risk to do the right thing.

    • Decisions are not made in a bubble. In this legislative session, we have dozens of issues waiting to be decided and Democrats might want someone who will stand with them. I thanked Mark Grisanti for his marriage vote, I sent him some money and a note after he made his decision to thank him.

      However, his stance on hydrofracking and many other issues run contrary to mine. I did not vote for him, and I won’t vote for him next time as he doesn’t share my legislative values. His reward for his marriage equality vote should have been doing the right thing, not re-election.

      • The push-pull of re-elections is a balance between support for one did in the last term and a vision of what they will do in the next. I don’t blame Grisanti for not having a hydrofracking position because all of NY doesn’t have a hydrofracking position, most importantly, the governor. They are in bed with each other, so you can put me on record predicting he will vote for whatever Cuomo comes out in favor of.

        But putting that aside, just as a philosophy, I would offer that re-election is the only sufficient reward for doing the right thing. Money and thank you notes and feelings of goodwill aside, re-election is the only thing that sticks and matters in the end, to a politician. As I said before, political courage is rare enough that to throw it away for whomever your party nominates next seems wasteful. But now we’re veering into a discussion of the intellectual dishonesty of party adherence….

  • This is precious.  I think if Steve Pigeon thought he would cause this many heads to collectively explode he would have tipped off window washers in Erie County to expect an uptick in business in advance.  The fact still remains Alan, Jeremy Zellner as the Chairman of ECDC lost every single competitive race in Erie County, that is just what the facts are.  If their weren’t enough bridges built, then that is his problem as the Chair and not the people whom he apparently has alienated.  It’s amusing that instead of taking responsibility, the other side of the Democratic coin simply shrieks at anyone from a faction that they oppose or has an alternate viewpoint that is at all critical of Len Lenihan or Jeremy Zellner.

    Also, the Kathy Hochul race is very much at ECDC’s feet, they wasted money and time in the Amodeo race that should have gone to Kathy Hochul.  Despite all of that money and effort, Justin Rooney (who only was able to spend a fraction of what Amodeo did and had no real help) did only one point worse.  That is terrible. Had it not been for that colossal error in judgement Kathy Hochul may be headed back to Washington.It’s pretty amusing that the first response of people who vitriolically attack others using adjectives loaded with spite have a screaming and shrill response to professional criticism, even of the slightly heated kind, of those they adore.  It comes out here and does nearly every time there is any negative connotation about those they like.  Hypocrisy, anyone? 

    Steve Pigeon spoke a harsh truth about poor leadership, but it was true none the less. The response is somewhere between sad and hilarious. Onto 2013!

    • The idea that Kathy Hochul’s loss is because of ECDC is fairly absurd. When all is said and done, this race probably saw spending in excess of 8 million dollars. Marginal spending of $100,000 would not have changed this race. Persuading 2,000 voters who were already saturated with campaign communication for multiple sources would have been exceedingly difficult. Mobilizing 4,000 voters would have been even more difficult. Kathy lost, it sucks, but the composition of the district is to blame not any party action. Unity party, divided party, it didn’t matter, the race was fought as hard as it could have been, marginal activity would not have mattered.

      Grisanti was unlikely to be defeated. The Siena Poll gave him a 59% favorability and a 56% re-elect, among Democrats it was 59% and 52% respectively. No amount of unity would have brought Chuck Swanick to victory. The same poll gives Swanick a a 30% fav, 39% unfav, among Democrats 27% fav, 44% unfav. Swanick was unelectable, period. But Swanick with the Conservative line guaranteed two Democrats in the race and could have kept candidates who may have potentially made it a race like Lisa Chimera out of the race. Even with a strong candidate this would have been a tough road to hoe, but if anyone deserves blame it is Steve Pigeon.

      The Comptroller’s race might be one you can put on the feet of ECDC. It is a difficult race at any level though. It is difficult to raise money for an office with no natural constituency. It is hard to run with little name recognition in a year where other races are saturating the airwaves. Many of the Republicans bigger wins on the County level have followed followed a similar pattern though, get a media personality with name recognition and capitalize. Steve Pigeon should be careful criticizing ECDC on this since he was backing Mychaljiw behind the scenes.

      Considering Steve Pigeon’s absymal record as Chair of the party, he has no room to cast stones. Bob McCarthy clearly lacks journalistic integrity for publishing this article. And in the end, people should heed Frank Max’s speech about unity at the reorg, rather than trying to grind axes because they aren’t in power.

      • I don’t respond to people who use anonymous screenames.  Although, you have been respectful in exchanges.  I understand that some people can’t use their real names in online discussions for professional reasons, I’ve been there before, but I don’t engage with them as a general rule.

    • Generally, when someone comments that something I wrote is “precious”, it means I hit a nerve. The Pigeon Spin on what happened in Election 2012 won’t stick. He’s enough of a pro that I’d have expected better than what you’re selling here. Tell him to go back to the drawing board, as people aren’t buying it. 

  • Being a Democrat means standing on principles? Which are those, nepotism and patronage? 

    Some Democrats are principled. I find Kathy Hochul to be honest and reasonable. But the party? How doesn’t the Democratic party whore itself out? 

  • McCarthy has taken his bush league “journalism” to a new level.  Getting the insights of Steve Pigeon on this topic is like trying to get a character reference from an ex-wife after a nasty divorce.  Think there might just be an ax to grind?

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