One Buffalo and the Resentment Industry

onebuffalo

When I moved to this area in 2001, WNY was economically and politically in peak “old Buffalo” malaise, treading water while the world largely passed it by. Since then, the region’s journey forward has been pretty epic. Old, intractable problems still persist, but the region has made amazing strides in terms of finding its way into the 21st century.

Except for the Peace Bridge. For some reason, we remain stuck on the question of improving access to our well-to-do neighbor.

At the beginning of the aughts, the city of Buffalo was the region’s financial basket case, lumbering towards an inevitable control board’s oversight while suburbia touted the seemingly miraculous financial stability of then-Erie County Executive Joel Giambra’s county government. He cut taxes and maintained services, even taking over the maintenance of city parks from the hurting city.

The 2005 red/green county budget fiasco blew up the county’s charade, revealing that our perception of its comparative fiscal stability was artifice, built with finite tobacco settlement windfalls. The county soon found itself with its own control board, and a region that really couldn’t afford the hit found itself brought to its knees.

Since then, both the city and county have righted their financial ships and things are looking up. Neither Buffalo nor Erie County hold an exclusive monopoly on prudent governance. The specter of 2005 still looms – no one is eager to repeat it.

Regionalism as an idea was killed due to politics – chauvinism, patronage, and racism. We hit rock bottom with two control boards before we could right ourselves, but the state recognized that a strong region is anchored by a strong city.

Erie County remains a segregated place where poverty and minorities are concentrated within distinct parts of the city of Buffalo. There remains a tendency to focus on what divides us, rather than what unites us. Racism still plays a huge role in our political reality, logic gets turned on its head as well-to-do white people play victim, and craven politicians exploit that.  It’s us vs. them; we pay our taxes while they get their Obamaphones and welfare and Medicaid and HEAP and SNAP and WIC. It’s downstate’s fault, so they demand secession.

Blame the poor, blame the immigrants, blame African-Americans, blame the city they live in. Here in Erie County, the artificial divide between city and suburb is best used to further inflame already toxic arguments about who pays, and where it goes. Proud city folks denounce the suburbs as homogeneous or racist repositories of boredom whose sprawl is killing everyone. While largely apathetic, suburban voters can easily become inflamed by rhetoric about socialism and redistributive financial policies.

It’s easy to hate the people you think are taking advantage of you. It’s easy to hate the “other” – people who don’t look or live like you. The easy way out is secession. Separation. It’s why we’ll never have a unified countywide school district or a metropolitan form of government to replace our current, corrupt menagerie of taxing districts.

I guess it makes political or strategic sense to divide and conquer, but it’s not leadership. Leadership is taking what divides us and finding common ground. Leadership is about listening to the people and implementing policies that will help as many as possible while doing as little harm as necessary. Leadership is rejecting the easy way out or divisive rhetoric and understanding that a County Executive, for instance, must serve the whole county; not just the ones that will vote for him. Leadership means finding solutions to intractable problems and not blaming the victims.

In a way, that’s what’s so brilliant about Ray Walter’s “fair share tax” plan, which would seek to abolish a 1977 agreement on how the 3% permanent county sales tax is shared. Campaign issues don’t get more obscure or wonkier than this. The pitch is that Erie County’s cities receive more in sales tax revenue per capita than the suburbs. The agreement can be modified wth consent of the parties, or canceled unilaterally with one year’s notice. Mark Poloncarz says that subsequent state control board legislation forbids the county from canceling the contract; Walter disagrees.

If you’re most people, you never even heard of this before. You have no idea who’s right. Nobody cares.

The whole thing has to be dumbed down literally to capture anyone’s attention, but suffice it to say that it makes sense that the county’s three cities receive a larger share of the sales tax revenue because the need is greater. If you want to parse and analyze Walter’s plan to redistribute the cities’ share to the suburbs, re-read Bruce Fisher’s piece from mid-September. There, Fisher noted,

…neither the Erie County executive nor the executive plus the legislature has the power to change the sales tax distribution. All the recipients would have to agree. Then the State of New York would have to agree.

During the debate between Poloncarz and Walter, there was some back-and-forth about Walter’s plan, and far from acknowledging that the scheme is anti-city, Walter would have us believe that cities would benefit.  Yet in one breath, Walter argues that the cities are making out like bandits, getting twice per capita what towns get from the 3% sales tax, but in the next, his plan “spreads prosperity to every corner of the county and does not pit communities against one another.”

Re-formulating the sales tax sharing plan isn’t conservatism; figuring out a way to abolish the sales tax altogether would be conservatism. This is just double hypocrisy: 1. Walter says Poloncarz only helps the communities that vote for him, yet Walter’s signature policy propsal does exactly that; and 2. Walter wants to avoid pitting suburb vs. city by robbing the cities to throw more cash at the suburbs. That’s not going to work. It will accomplish the opposite, and he’s stoking these divisions.

Put it this way: if Walter’s tax plan was fair, the mayors of the three Erie County cities would have lined up to support it. Their silence and absence is deafening. When I asked a Walter partisan on Twitter about this, here is the response:

Ultimatum. Hostage-taking. How does that meet the goal of “not pit[ting] communities against one another”, as Walter claims? It doesn’t. It’s a noxious idea borne out of a base desire to exploit suburban prejudices and anxieties; to punish the “takers”, who are the most vulnerable and needy in our shared community.

A conservative way to tackle tax equity and poverty and lifting all boats probably exists, but you won’t get it from this Walter campaign. This is the stuff that fuels the local suburban talk radio resentment industry. Setting up a re-do of Empire Zones to spur investment in blighted communities isn’t the problem – access to jobs and credit are the root problems.

By the time the debate was over, the two campaigns’ themes had become quite clear, and the difference between them couldn’t be more stark. Poloncarz was advocating for One Buffalo – the notion that we’re all in this together; that a strong city helps the whole region, and vice-versa. That we can do great things when we work together towards a common goal of making Erie County a better place to live and work. In the last 15 years, we’ve made incredible strides towards that goal – progress that would have seemed unthinkable to you in 2001.

On the other hand, we had a campaign that threatens the cities with ultimata over dramatically reducing their share of the sales tax despite the need for that revenue. Walter’s campaign wants no part of “One Buffalo”, instead very clearly delineating a pure vision of suburban “real” Buffalo versus the crime, blight, and poverty of the inner city. The aspiration isn’t unity, but division. It’s not too dissimilar from how, in the aughts, the suburbs condescended to poor, beleagured Buffalo, while burning through budget-balancing tobacco settlement one-shots.

We can do better in this community than to pit white against black, rich against poor, city against suburb. WNY’s resentment industry is perhaps bigger even than the Medical Campus and SolarCity combined. It’s time it shrank.

Waltergate

scandal

On Tuesday – on the eve of the WNED debate between incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz and his Republican challenger Ray Walter, City & State published this article:

That was it. Multiple sources were telling City & State that there was an ongoing investigation involving your typical western New York brand of petty corruption – bid rigging for road work projects. The article as it first appeared – reproduced above – didn’t go into many details, except to pre-emptively exonerate Poloncarz and his administration of any misdeeds.

The Republicans, however, pounced so quickly and so heartily, you’d almost suspect they knew it was coming.

Frantically trying to gin this up a bit more? Yep. But also giddy. They were giddy. Can you blame them? Whether you like or hate Poloncarz, his honesty as a political leader is his stock in trade. If he’s not likeable, he’s competent, and to poke holes in that perception would certainly help the Republican candidate, who is running to be County Executive of WBEN’s listenership (which is, on a good day, around 10% of all people listening to the radio at any given time). 

Literally within minutes of the City & State story being published, Ray Walter’s campaign was busy readying the hay, complete with an allusion to Watergate!

Ringing alarm bells isn’t serious leadership. It’s grasping for headlines and an effort to manufacture controversy and relevance. The meme was carefully crafted within moments of the City and State article’s appearance. Poloncarz is a crook! Poloncarz’s administration is under investigation! Why is Poloncarz covering up this investigation into his administration? Why won’t Poloncarz speak publicly about an investigation being conducted by the Attorney General’s office? Why all the secrecy? Why the cover-up? What is he hiding? 

City and State later updated its original story several times, resulting in this newer, more complete version that includes quotes from various and sundry people, including Poloncarz and a spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Getting Schneiderman’s office to respond must have been quite the feat, you’d think at first blush. After all, it has a policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations. The trick here is that there is no ongoing investigation. It’s over. So, knowing what we know now, let’s examine the Republican quick-memes, and judge how well they’ve held up in under 24 hours’ worth of factual scrutiny: 

 

Poloncarz is a crook!

No, he’s not. 

 

This administration runs a clean administration,” Poloncarz said. “We became aware of certain potential improper actions leveled during the final years of the Chris Collins administration. We performed an internal investigation and we turned that information over to the state attorney general’s office for them to perform a more definitive investigation to determine whether inappropriate actions were taken in the Department of Public Works in 2010 and 2011.

 

 

Poloncarz’s administration is under investigation!

No, it’s not. 

 

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Tuesday responded to a report of an ongoing probe, saying that the only investigation into the county Department of Public Works he was aware of stems from actions during 2010 and 2011, which predate his administration.

 

 

Why is Poloncarz covering up this investigation into his administration?

He’s not. It’s not. 

 

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has confirmed that it investigated alleged bidding irregularities at the Erie County Department of Public Works, but Schneiderman’s office also said that its probe of the county agency is now closed. 

 

 

Why won’t Poloncarz speak publicly about an investigation being conducted by the Attorney General’s office?

Easy! Because (a) the investigation didn’t involve anything that happened during Poloncarz’s administration; (b) because Poloncarz is not the Attorney General and has no business commenting on or publicizing an ongoing investigation being conducted by a state agency; and (c) it’s not being conducted because it’s closed. 

 

Why all the secrecy?

 

Poloncarz, reached by phone, said his office began its investigation into bid processing shortly after he took office in 2012 and turned over the results of the probe to Schneiderman’s office in January 2013.

 

 

Why the cover-up?

 

On Tuesday afternoon after this story was published, the attorney general’s office said it had investigated the matter but had closed the case.

 

“In January 2013, County Executive Mark Poloncarz requested that our office look into alleged past issues related to competitive bidding for projects at the Erie County Department of Public Works,” the Schneiderman spokesman said in an email. “After a thorough review, and with the full support and cooperation of County Executive Poloncarz, our office closed the case with no further action.”

 

 

What is he hiding? 

 

Poloncarz, reached by phone, said his office began its investigation into bid processing shortly after he took office in 2012 and turned over the results of the probe to Schneiderman’s office in January 2013…

…On Tuesday afternoon after this story was published, the attorney general’s office said it had investigated the matter but had closed the case.

“In January 2013, County Executive Mark Poloncarz requested that our office look into alleged past issues related to competitive bidding for projects at the Erie County Department of Public Works,” the Schneiderman spokesman said in an email. “After a thorough review, and with the full support and cooperation of County Executive Poloncarz, our office closed the case with no further action.”

 

What did Poloncarz know and when did he know it? He knew that a Collins appointee had acted improperly when it came to roadwork contracts, and he knew in 2012. He then contacted the proper authorities – the Attorney General’s office. Not just because it was a matter for law enforcement, but because it would be unseemly for Collins’ successor and rival to investigate these specific allegations. 

Every single allegation – every attempted smear – turned out to have been completely false. But not only was it all false, but the overheated, reflexive over-reaction from Walter and his surrogates seems nothing less than childish now. In less than 24 hours it went from them screaming bloody murder to Bob McCarthy explaining that it was a Democratic-led probe into misdeeds under the previous Republican administration, with which Walter was closely aligned

 

The attorney general’s statement contradicted the Walter claim that a state investigation was currently in progress, which he based on a Tuesday report in City and State magazine.

“We know an investigation is going on; it’s been reported,” Walter claimed at a hastily called news conference Tuesday afternoon in Erie County Republican Headquarters.

When asked if he knew for sure an investigation was ongoing, he replied: “I know what I read in the article.”

Walter also suggested Schneiderman was working with Poloncarz to cover up a probe he said had been kept “secret.”“Is he protecting a political ally?” Walter said. “He very well may be.”

 

and 

 

Poloncarz said he didn’t further pursue the investigation himself, or publicize it, because he didn’t want to influence or compromise the Attorney General’s investigation, he said, and he didn’t want it to appear as if he was “kicking dirt” on defeated Republican incumbent Chris Collins.

Poloncarz noted that he changed the top leadership of the Department of Public Works after he took over, though the change was not precipitated by the probe.

To his knowledge, he said, no one in the department has been disciplined or fired for improprieties related to the Eden Evans Center Road project because the Attorney General’s Office has issued no finding of criminal conduct, and the county did not have definitive proof of wrongdoing.

 

It is a palpable testament to the competence and professionalism of the current administration that the best Walter can do is jump the gun and falsely accuse Poloncarz of a Watergate scandal before the facts are in; to reflexively try and make up a controversy where none exists.

 

It’s not so much Watergate as it is Waltergate – a scandal only in his mind. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The Republicans Push-Poll

propaganda

Households throughout western New York have received calls from area code 315 purporting to be an opinion poll from an organization that has “Liberty” in its name. The first question had to do with whom you would vote for if the Presidential election was held today: Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton?

An easy way to identify your voter, I suppose, and the choice of Rubio over, say, Trump, is notable.

A push poll is defined as “is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of voters under the guise of conducting a poll.” In other words, it’s a campaign advertisement masquerading as an opinion poll.

It would appear that desperate times call for desperate measures.

Opinion polling is a valuable tool for campaigns, politicians, and the general electorate. It’s a tough and competitive business that oftentimes comes under exquisite scrutiny and partisan condemnation. Push-polling, on the other hand, is little more than propaganda; rumor-mongering.

The push-poll that countless Erie County voters have received in recent weeks is Republican propaganda generally, and more specifically a negative campaign tactic against incumbent Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and in support of his challenger, Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter. Walter denied to me that his campaign had anything to do with it, and Nick Langworthy says his committee knows nothing about it. Some people on Twitter speculate that this might be the work of the Casale Group, a pro-Republican campaign communications firm, which is located in the 315 area code. DIsclosure reports reveal that Walter hasn’t paid Casale yet this cycle, but he’s spent $60,000 on their services in his 2011 Assembly race. but there’s no confirmation yet that it did the call. If Walter and Langworthy are telling the truth, the culprit may be some right-wing political committee; perhaps the state Republican committee.

How do we tell a push poll from a legitimate opinion poll?

For starters, this one was a dead giveaway because it refered to Poloncarz as the “Democrat Party” candidate, rather than “Democratic Party”. After asking me about my Rubio/Clinton preference, it went on to set up a question about Walter’s city vs. suburbs tax proposal by lavishing praise and slathering it with a schmear of undeserved equity before asking me if I agreed.

Here’s how it sounded, using a hypothetical example: “Ray Walter believes that kale is a disgusting, malodorous plant that tastes like poison, causes cancer, and should be eaten by no one. Do you support or oppose the eating of cancer kale? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no.”

Another question asked whether I supported a spending cap for Erie County. Another accused Poloncarz of personally transporting hundreds of Syrian refugees to basically live next door to you, go directly on welfare, and pose a “security threat” by throwing Sharia Law firecrackers at your head or something. It asked if the county does a good job maintaining roads, and whether I support towns getting more sales tax revenue, thus lowering my town taxes. It asked me my opinion of common core and testing of students.

The people or committee(s) behind this push-poll was not disclosed at the end; state law doesn’t require it.

In 2000, John McCain was the victim of vicious push-polls that George W. Bush and Karl Rove set up in South Carolina after McCain shellacked Bush in New Hampshire.

The rumors [about McCain] were spread through push polls—“really not polls” at all, according to Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion and president of the National Council on Public Polls, but “more of a telemarketing device, where you’re actually calling people in the guise of a poll and you’re not gathering information as much as you’re disseminating it.” A push poll is further defined as solely intended to spread false, damning information; a pollster who asks your opinion about something negative but true in a candidate’s record is not push-polling. Tige Watts, a Columbia consultant and pollster who considers push polls unfair and doesn’t do them, said he understood some of the calls went like this: “They’d ask who you’re voting for. If you said Bush, they’d say, ‘That’s great. Be sure to vote.’ ” You’d hang up thinking it was just a normal get-out-the-vote (G.O.T.V.) call. “But if you said McCain, they’d ask a litany of questions: ‘Would you vote for McCain if you knew … ?’ Basically, they just threw the book at him.” Watts could tell when the calls peaked—about a week before the vote—“because everybody started talking about it. It was like a waterfall.”

Push-polling is cheap and easy to get away with. Watts estimated it runs “about a 10th of the price of a truly scientific” poll—as little as 25 to 30 cents a call—since what the voter says isn’t recorded or tabulated. “I doubt they even train the interviewers,” added Warren Mitofsky of the highly respected Mitofsky International polling firm. “They give them a script and tell them to read it.” Some states have laws regulating push-polling, but to little effect, and the American Association for Public Opinion Research investigates public complaints but can rarely trace who’s behind it. People who get push-polled seldom ask who’s calling or get a call-back number, and, Mitofsky says, “none of the campaigns ever admit” to push-polling.

All of this highlights one of the many problems with New York State election law – that campaign propaganda can be released anonymously. That’s a shame, because people have a right to know who’s trolling them. The fact that I don’t know who was behind that push-poll is a problem, in and of itself.

If we want transparency in campaigns and how they’re financed, we need to not only strictly enforce the laws we already have on the books, but also begin treating the whole issue as a consumer protection issue. If I have a right to know whether something posing as health food is actually packed with high fructose corn syrup, or whether a product actually accomplished the task it’s advertised for, then I deserve to know who is funding campaign propaganda, how that organization got its funding, and from whom and in what amount. Anything less than that serves to protect malfeasors and harm the electorate.

One way to combat poor name recognition and a popular incumbent opponent is to lay the propaganda on thick. Question now is: who’s behind it?

As it turns out, it appears from my social media timelines that people know when they’re being push-polled, and they don’t like it. I sure hope this year’s Erie County Executive campaign can be run on issues rather than negativity and subterfuge.

Max’s Progressive Club’s Late Disclosure

Oops! Mistakes were made!

Actually, former Cheektowaga Democratic Committee Chairman Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats group has said absolutely nothing on the issue of its illegally and improperly late campaign finance disclosures. But before we get to that, let’s examine the constituent documents that Max’s companion group – the “Right Democratic Team” filed with the state earlier this year. As you’ll recall, the “Team” is a brand-new construct that held a fundraiser in late July but even at this late September date has yet to disclose anything at all about its activities during the primary campaign season, except a claim that it received $125 from two sources.

Cheektowaga Right Democratic Team by Alan Bedenko

I especially like the stricken “political” as the committee apparently was going to be a PAC before becoming a multi-candidate committee. It’s unclear whether the committee was created on August 7th or 14th, based on the competing “received” stamps, but either way, its filing came one or two weeks after it held its inaugural fundraiser. Who spent money on the fundraiser? How much was raised? To whom were the checks made out? How and when were they deposited? What right did this committee have to raise money for itself if it wasn’t yet legally in existence?

The Right Democratic Team declared the candidates whom it was supporting, also noting that these candidates – Magierski, Specyal, et al. – had authorized it to do so. The filing was executed on July 30th, one day  before its scheduled fundraiser.

As we reported on September 8th –  on the eve of the September 10th primary, which was hotly contested in Cheektowaga, Max’s Progressive Democrats hadn’t filed the requisite disclosures despite the fact that it was quite obviously participating the primary election. We knew that because of a piece of direct mail that it sent out slamming Democratic supervisor candidate Diane Benczkowski. Frank – who has run several times to be the county committee chairman and should know better – seemed to be sort of crossing his fingers and hoping that no one would question why there was no 32 day pre-primary or 11 day pre-primary disclosure filed.

On September 16th, he finally came clean – far too late to matter for the people whom he was working against, and completely against the law. Based on his wide experience engaged in electoral politics, there’s no way this was negligent, accidental, or some mistake. The failure to disclose had to have been intentional.

Now, Max’s group would like to inform you – the electorate – that his personal committee actually DID participate in this primary season, and in its late 32 day disclosure, filed on September 16th, reports having spent $1,600:

In its late 11 day disclosure, also filed September 16th, it reports spending an additional $950:

The 32-day report was due August 10th, and the 11-day was due on August 31st. All of this is 2 weeks to a month too late. All of it was, apparently, specifically designed to keep the electorate and their opponents in the dark about their activities.

The post-primary disclosures were due on September 21st. Neither the Right Democratic Team nor the Progressive Democrats have one on file yet.

Cheektowaga: Wrong Democratic Team

CheekRight

We talked about it during Episode 2 of the Public Record podcast, and I wrote about it here and here.

Sometime during this past summer, a political committee suddenly popped up in Cheektowaga calling itself the “Right Democratic Team.” It filed its first and only financial disclosure on or around September 7th – an 11-day pre-primary report. It appears that the “Right Democratic Team” is a Frank Max-aligned subsidiary of Preetsmas Industries.

Here’s what its reports purport to reveal:

1. The “Right Democratic Team” claims to have been created on August 14, 2015, and Kathleen Hannel is listed as treasurer at a Depew address.

Hannel is a supporter of Supervisor Mary Holtz, has been hired in the past as a seasonal worker in the town clerk’s office, and Holtz co-owns the 16 Brookedge Road property with Hannel, according to the Cheektowaga town assessor:

2. In its September filing, the Right Democratic Team says it took in $50 in unitemized contributions from individuals or partnerships on August 26th. The election law allows contributions of under $100 to be unitemized.

3. The Right Democratic Team says it took in $75 in unitemized corporate contributions on July 30th, two weeks before its creation.

So, according to the “Right Democratic Team”, from a date prior to its creation until the September 7th date of this report, it took in only $125 in unitemized contributions, and spent no money whatsoever.

This, however, is not possible. It is a lie. These people are lying. 

How do we know?

1. Here is a ticket for a picnic fundraiser that the “Right Democratic Team” held at Fontana’s on July 30th.

Unless that event was canceled, this committee (a) made much more than the reported $75 in corporate contributions on July 30th; (b) had expenditures relating to the holding of the picnic event; and (c) it is missing – at the very least – one required financial report, the 32-day pre-primary report.

Although the official address for this shadowy committee is that of Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz, the “remit checks to” address is that of town councilmember Jerry Kaminski. If you go look at Kaminski’s own filings, he reports a $500 contribution to the Right Democratic Team on July 17, 2015. So, why hasn’t the committee that received it reported that? 

Let’s try something different – a search for all contributions to the “Right Democratic Team” that other committees reported. Here’s the result:

So, add to Councilman Kaminski’s $500 an additional $500 from Supervisor candidate Alice Magierski’s committee, Two $500 listings for “literature” to the Right Democratic Team, and a ticket to the July picnic bought by Republican Family Court candidate Brenda Freedman.

That is $2,035 unaccounted-for dollars that the “Right Democratic Team” received starting in mid-July, through September. It had a legal duty to file a 32-day pre-primary report accounting for these payments, but failed and refused to do so. Even if it claimed mistake or ignorance in doing so then, certainly it had a duty to make these disclosures in its 11-day pre-primary report of September 7th. Its failure and refusal to do so is a blatant violation of not only the letter but the spirit of the election law and its flimsy disclosure requirements.

I don’t understand why a group of experienced political operatives feels the need to create a secret, shadowy little political committee to help the Frank Max-backed candidates get elected. Would they be less effective if they obeyed the law? The law requires that they be transparent and up-front about it, yet they refused and failed to do so. Why lie about it? This isn’t an accident – this is deliberate .

Why do people in Cheektowaga tolerate this sort of thing? When will this illegality be prosecuted? Who will prosecute it?

Preetsmas in September

preetsept

It’s been weeks – months – since we last checked in on Preetsmas.

You may recall that on May 28th, state police and FBI agents raided the homes of three prominent political consultants, former county Democratic chairman Steve Pigeon, former deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Congressman Chris Collins’ chief of staff, Chris Grant. Authorities are investigating campaign finance and election law irregularities of the WNY Progressive Caucus (hereinafter referred to as “AwfulPAC”), and the extent to which they jibe with real life. There’s been speculation that the AwfulPAC investigation branched off into other matters .

Throughout June, we drilled down through the various disclosures and discussed or analyzed how they might be evidence of some illegality:

The First day of Preetsmas (5/28/15): The raids & an introduction

The Second day of Preetsmas (6/4/15): All about AwfulPAC

The Third Day of Preetsmas (6/2/15): Seneca cigarette bootlegger Aaron Pierce & Mickey Kearns.

The Fourth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): Steve Pigeon, PAPI, and Gene Caccamise

The Fifth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): Pigeon’s Tax Liens

The Sixth Day of Preetsmas  (6/4/15): Analyzing tax returns, and litigation surrounding the sale of the Front Page/South Buffalo News

The Story of Preetsmas (6/4/15): Background on AwfulPAC

The Seventh Day of Preetsmas (6/5/15): Financial Shenanigans with Pigeon-connected PACs

The Eighth Day of Preetsmas (6/7/15): The Money Orders and AwfulPAC

The Ninth Day of Preetsmas (6/9/15): Pigeon’s addresses and Ganjapreneurs

The Tenth day of Preetsmas (6/11/15): The Pigeoning

The Eleventh Day of Preetsmas (6/12/15): AwfulPAC FOIL

Preetsmas: In their Own Words (6/14/15): A trip down memory lane

A Preetsmas Recap and Update (6/16/15): Updates on the investigation

The Preetsmas Mysteries (6/22/15): More about the AwfulPAC money orders

Let’s Talk About “Mistakes Were Made” in Campaign Finance Law (7/14/15): On the question of intent.

The statute of limitations for misdemeanors under the election law is two years from the date of a filing. It’s now mid-September 2015, and 2 year anniversary of the first batch of AwfulPAC’s 2013 reports has come and gone with no prosecution. It’s possible that prosecutors may instead choose to proceed under the New York State Penal Law, for filing a false instrument – a felony.  That may be a cleaner, easier explanation to a (grand or trial) juror.

It may be that prosecutors have focused more on other crimes, all well within the felony category.  It would be a shame to have them ignore the Election Law
even if these people are convicted on other things, because it’s the precedent that’s important – to avoid similar future violations, like illegal coordination.  These sorts of activities have been happening for a long time – at least since 1999, when similiar shenanigans took place on behalf of David Dale vs. Greg Olma, and for Jack O’Donnell vs. Al DeBenedetti. The people who think this all matters can afford to be patient.

Just this past primary season, we had two campaign committees get involved in Cheektowaga that are in blatant violation of the election law; Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY and a new committee called “Right Democratic Team” clearly participated in the September 2015 primaries, but improperly failed to make the proper financial disclosures. Neither committee filed primary reports, despite things like this happening:

Close readers of the Preetsmas series will recall Aaron Pierce of Irving, NY as having been invested in AwfulPAC, as well. He was a topic of discussion on the 4th and 7th days of Preetsmas. Two of Pierce’s companies found themselves in deep trouble, resulting in a guilty plea and over $1 million in fines, and Pierce lavishly exploits the LLC loophole to plunge tens of thousands of dollars into campaigns.

Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY received $25,000 from one person just days before a primary election it never disclosed to anyone that it was participating in. Where did the money go? How was it spent – as a donation to one or more campaigns, or to make independent expenditures on other campaigns’ behalf? Whom was the committee supporting or opposing in September’s primary? Why didn’t it file the required forms and disclosures? Is this just another “oops we made a mistake?”

What, exactly, is Pierce buying by throwing $25,000 at Cheektowaga

This is yet another case where a Max- or Pigeon-controlled political committee tries secretly to influence a primary election and does everything it can to avoid drawing attention to itself. Long after it’s too late to matter, or to comply with the letter or spirit of the law, the committee files a flurry of disclosures or amends old ones. It will file forms with the board of elections to reveal the candidates it was backing or opposing months from now – months too late to matter, and months later than required. And, in the end, we’re meant to believe that a person who used to be a town committee chair, has been involved for decades, and who has vied to be the county committee chair did it by mistake and didn’t know any better.

If you have any information concerning this investigation, please feel free confidentially to contact me at buffalopundit[at]gmail.com.

Primary Night 2015 in Goodenoughistan

goodenough“Goodenoughistan” is my term for western New Yorkers settling for whatever’s comfortable, convenient, easy, or familiar. It’s good enough, dear.

Thursday was primary election day, and the overwhelming winner was “staying home and not voting at all”. For the very few of you who are superprime voters and eagerly traipsed down to your local school, nursing home, fire hall, or church to vote, your choices were limited and races were won in some cases by a small handful of votes.

It all came down to energizing one’s base of support and getting that small superprime vote out.

Buffalo/Fillmore: We won’t have Joe Mascia to kick around any more, as he garnered just over 100 votes – someone on Twitter remarked that he didn’t realize that Mascia had that many family members in the district. Chalk up another loss for his comical spokesman. The win goes to incumbent David Franczyk, who only needed 490 votes to win.

Buffalo/Masten: Congratulations to Ulysses Wingo, who will have the coolest name in the Common Council.

Erie County Family Court: On the Democratic line, the Republican candidate garnered more votes than the Pigeon crowd’s candidate, Michele Brown. Congratulations to Kelly Brinkworth for that blow-out. Freedman has every other line for the battle in November.

Cheektowaga: A mixed bag, as the forces opposed to former chairman Frank Max won the race for Supervisor and Highway Superintendent, but lost 2/3 of the available council seats. It would be nice if Mr. Max’s group would deign to follow the rules of the New York State Board of Elections and make the proper disclosures regarding its activities.

Clarence: Huge blow-out of a win for Councilman Pat Casilio over incumbent Supervisor Dave Hartzell on the Republican line; completely lopsided win. Tough loss for town justice on the (D) line for Justin Kloss, as I’m at a loss to explain or understand how or why 87 more Democrats voted for the Republican incumbent over the Democrats’ endorsed candidate except to say: forget it, Jake. It’s Clarence.

Amherst: Deborah Bruch Bucki and Francina Spoth won and newcomer Hadar Borden lost.

West Seneca: incumbent Democratic Supervisor Sheila Meegan appears to have been very narrowly defeated by Christina Wleklinski Bove. Bove is a former county legislator who was an integral part of the Pigeon/Collins coup of 2009 – 2011.

Niagara Falls: Paul Dyster holds a remarkably narrow lead over Glenn Choolokian in the Democratic primary for Mayor. Only about 90 votes separate the two, with about 200 absentee ballots waiting to be tallied. Choolokian could win, but it’s mathematically unlikely.

It’s important to remind people that it’s important to get out and vote. You should aspire to be a superprime voter who gets all the calls and mailers, because it means that you – and the people who want to represent you – know and understand how important that franchise is. The alternative is no choice and no competitiveness or adversarial system, and I can tell you from experience that it’s not a good way to govern or be governed. If for some reason you’re unenrolled in any party, you may wish to re-think that, because you don’t get to participate in primaries, which can oftentimes be the deciding factor in many races.

If you’re enrolled in a major party, your vote can help direct how that organization selects candidates and the overall direction of the party and its platform. If you’re enrolled in one of the minor parties – fusion or Green – you hold disprorportionately great power, since there are so few of you out there. For instance, in Clarence, Justin Kloss secured a slot for himself in November, if he chooses, on the Working Families Party by virtue of the one vote cast in that primary.

Mascia: Missing Disclosure

mascia2_0

Deadbeat racist Joe Mascia is laughably still running for the Democratic nomination to represent the Fillmore District on Buffalo’s Common Council. His spokesman most recently mass emailed a plea for $1,000 donations, telling everyone that Mascia deserves our support because he was an FBI informant. Have those donations been rolling in? “Vote for the Rat” can be ineffective as a slogan, so I wouldn’t hold your breath. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone that this habitual scofflaw is late in filing his 11-day pre-Primary financial disclosure with the Board of Elections. It was due on August 31st.

The entire Mascia trainwreck occurred in late July, and the Board of Election’s several judgments against him for repeatedly refusing or failing to follow campaign finance law were brought up. One would think that he’d at least make some effort to follow the law this time, now that he has received all of this attention. But alas, he seems incapable of even the most basic required task.

Transparency and Election Law: Cheektowaga

cheek

A couple of years ago, Cheektowaga’s Democratic Committee ousted Frank Max, the head of the Progressive Democrats of WNY committee, as its chairman. Until now, no one thought Max’s group was at all involved in this year’s primary race for town supervisor.

Several Democrats in the town are vying for the supervisor job, including Councilmember Diane Benczkowski and Town Clerk Alice Magierski. The former is aligned with current committee chairman and Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner; the latter is aligned with Max, the town’s former head of sanitation.

On Tuesday, Cheektowaga Democrats found in their mailboxes a mailer slamming Benczkowski and Wegner, and the direct mail piece was marked as paid for by the Progressive Democrats of Western New York—Max’s group.

The problem is that the Progressive Democrats of WNY hasn’t filed the requisite financial disclosures with the Board of Elections.

Max’s political committee would have to declare its support for Magierski or against Benczkowski in order to make independent expenditures on their behalf. Otherwise, a PAC is only allowed to raise and contribute money. Furthermore, a PAC is presumed to be participating in a primary election unless it expressly files a document with the BOE indicating that it is sitting this one out.

By spending money on a mailer involving a primary race, Max’s group has run afoul of the law, and is late in filing its 32-day pre-primary report, and its 11-day pre-primary report. No one knows how much money they’ve spent, how much they’ve raised, or whom they’re supporting. When you slam your opponent for lack of transparency, it would behoove you to be transparent yourself. When you call for “clean” government, do it with clean hands.

Any candidate that will not, in any way, support or oppose a candidate or issue on the ballot for a particular election will not have to file any reports for that election. If you are a registered PAC, Party or Constituted Committee, you must, however, inform the Board by filing a Notice of Non-Participation in Election(s) by a Registered PAC, Party or Constituted Committee (CF-20 ). Failure to file a CF-20, when applicable, may result in penalties being assessed against the treasurer of a committee.

The committee is no newcomer to this, and has known to make these disclosures in the past.

As a possibly related matter, Ken Kruly’s excellent article dated September 8 reveals the identity of a political committee called the “Right Democratic Team.”  Kruly writes,

On July 21st Magierski’s committee cut a check for $500 to something called the “Right Democratic Team” committee. Such a committee does in fact exist on the State Board of Elections website, with a Cheektowaga address, but it has not filed any disclosure reports. So where did that $500 check go and for what purpose? Perhaps it is nothing much, or perhaps it is the 2015 version of the WNY Progressive Caucus or WNY Freedom, which have had Pigeon-related problems in reporting all their financial activities.

Donations to the Right Democratic Team also came from the Committee to elect Steven Specyal, who is seeking a seat on the Cheektowaga Town Board; Freedman for Families, supporting Barbara Freedman’s bid for Erie County Family Court; and Friends of Jerry Kaminski, who is seeking reelection to the Town Board.

The Right Democratic Team is registered to an address that, according to the Cheektowaga town assessment, belongs to current Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz. (Holtz announced in March that she would not seek re-election.) That address, 18 Brookedge Road in Depew, is listed on the record of Kaminski’s donation to the Right Democratic Team. Curiously, the donations from the other committees to the Right Democratic Team were directed to 1101 Losson Road in Cheektowaga—a property that belongs to Kaminski. Bear that in mind if, in the aftermath of Thursday’s primary, there are allegations of coordination between the Right Democratic Team and the candidates it supports.

In any case, as Kruly points out, if money was exchanged between the Right Democratic Team and any of these committees, then the Right Democratic Team is also dramatically late in filing its 32-day and 11-day pre-primary disclosures.

It’s almost like AwfulPAC became a primer, rather than a cautionary tale.

The End of the Clarence GOP’s Hartzell Experiment

casiliokloss

In 2011, political newcomer David Hartzell (R) challenged and narrowly defeated the incumbent Clarence Town Supervisor Scott Bylewski – a rare elected Democrat in that Republican citadel. The Conservative fusion party had abandoned Bylewski, most likely because he wouldn’t violate the town’s master plan and push through the zoning changes needed to build a massive Wegmans on the Clarence side of Transit Road. To make sure Bylewski’s political coffin was securely sealed, the town’s right-wing establishment also mounted a campaign of personal destruction against him, which was as heartless as it was comically hypocritical.

In 2011, Clarence Republican Committee chairman Dan Michnik wrote this letter to the Clarence Bee in support of Hartzell’s candidacy:

As chairman of the Clarence Republican Committee, I am very proud that our committee unanimously endorsed David Hartzell for Clarence supervisor. His business experience, coupled with substantial volunteer work in the Clarence community, makes him uniquely qualified to serve the taxpayers and make decisions that will make our community a better place to work, live and raise a family.

His four children all graduated from Clarence High School, and one is now proudly serving our country overseas as a Navy Seal. As a fiscal conservative, he will hold the line on taxes and root out wasteful spending in town government.

As a successful businessman, he not only knows how to lead, but he knows how to listen also. His leadership is based on transparency and respect for others, and I fully expect Dave to continue these policies as Clarence supervisor. His record on the Clarence Industrial Development Agency is a pro-business, pro-growth agenda that seeks to make strategic investments in local businesses, with the ultimate goal of creating jobs. I would urge the taxpayers of Clarence to take a close look at Dave Hartzell’s private sector record and his platform and plan for Clarence. I know he will make a tremendous supervisor, creating jobs, growing local businesses and improving our quality of life.

Dan Michnik

Hartzell won, and the town board enjoyed its reversion to one-party rule.

For a time, anyway.

Along the way, something happened.

Fast forward to May 2015, when the Republicans shunned Hartzell in favor of town board member and local developer Pat Casilio. In July 2015, here’s what Michnik wrote to the Bee:

The Clarence Republican Committee is pleased to announce the slate of candidates chosen by the members at their endorsement meeting held May 19.

They are Patrick Casilio for supervisor, Robert Geiger and Christopher Greene for councilmen, Nancy Metzger for town clerk and Robert Sillars for town justice.

Casilio earned the committee’s endorsement for supervisor because of his integrity, work ethic, history of public service, and his commitment to always put the Town of Clarence first.

Councilman Robert Geiger earned our endorsement for another term because of his sound judgment, his ethics, and his hard work on behalf of all of the town’s residents.

Christopher Greene is a newcomer to the slate for councilman. His youth and enthusiasm to get things done will bring new energy to the board.

Nancy Metzger and Robert Sillars are seeking re-election to their current positions. Their experience, leadership and sound judgment also earns our endorsement.

Our committee believes in selecting candidates that put Clarence’s needs and best interests first. We want the best candidate for the job. We think that all of our endorsed candidates have the experience, integrity and dedication to the town that will guide us in the right direction for our future. We ask for your continuing support to elect the best candidates for the Town of Clarence.

Daniel A. Michnik

The Republicans kicked Hartzell to the curb, but don’t really tell you why or what happened. They don’t address why they so enthusiastically endorsed Hartzell over Bylewski in 2011, only to abandon him at the first possible chance. Put another way, in 2011, Michnik’s club picked Hartzell to oust an excellent, intelligent Supervisor; if Michnik was so drastically, fundamentally wrong in 2011, why should we believe him now? I don’t much know or care about the ins and outs of Clarence Republican politics, but I have to surmise that Hartzell must have really been just awful for them to have rejected him after just one term, no?

Maybe it was the raises that Hartzell gave himself?

Before election day 2011, outgoing Democratic Supervisor Bylewski had actually cut the Supervisor’s rate of pay for 2012 from $77,096 to $76,357.  Hartzell was sworn into office in January 2012, and reckoned that he deserved more. So in 2013, he bumped himself from $76,357 all the way up to $78,648. That’s a $2,300 raise – 3% – for a part-time job! Not satisfied, in 2013, Hartzell gave himself – with the Republican town board’s help – another $500 raise, from $78,648 to $79,148.

Maybe it was the 2014 audit of the town’s vehicle and fuel use? The state found that controls were lax, resulting in waste – not a headline that residents of any party were especially excited to see.

Some of us saw it coming, though. Here’s what I wrote in 2011:

The town race has been exquisitely ugly this year, thanks in no small part to the execrable Joe Weiss and his puppet, Dave Hartzell. Bylewski enjoys bipartisan support from people who truly care about the town and the direction in which it’s going. His opponents have proven themselves to be a dirty, hypocritical collection of fetid assholes whose idea of good government is to lie to town residents when they’re not berating them. Don’t be fooled by the lies and deception – Bylewski is working hard to keep the town on the right track, despite myriad pressures from many sides to go against the town’s land use constitution.

“Dirty, hypocritical collection of fetid assholes” has a nice ring to it, especially when you recall members like Joe Weiss.  In 2010, someone using Hartzell’s phone number (he denied it) sent out a horribly tasteless “Clarence offers to buy the City of Buffalo” April Fools Day prank. Hartzell opposed moving the Williamsville toll east towards Pembroke, inexplicably calling it Transit Road’s “golden goose”. There was also this, this, Hartzell’s comical behavior at the candidate forum, and a ton of picayune nonsense about stolen campaign signs. I even wrote about shady Republican fundraising in 2011 over the Hartzell race.

Now? Michnik writes – again – to the Clarence Bee demanding that Hartzell return contributions his campaign received from Michele Brown’s Family Court campaign committee. Not to be out-done, the 26-year incumbent town clerk – running unopposed yet again – endorses Hartzell’s opponent, Pat Casilio, who would be the eighth (8th) supervisor with whom she’ll have worked. It’s funny because Republicans are usually the very first and loudest to condemn career politicians. Here’s what she has to say:

I have worked with seven supervisors and have never experienced such disconnect from the operation of the town. The town has been running on autopilot for the last three and a half years without a dedicated leader.

Maybe you should have supported Bylewski in ’11. He was a very “dedicated leader”.

I should not have businesspeople tell me the supervisor ripped them off, or that he will only meet with them at a restaurant and they have to pay for lunch. Every applicant that comes before a board should not be solicited for a campaign donation.

Metzger supported Hartzell in 2011. You break it, you bought it.

Who else endorses Casilio? How about soon-to-be-former Councilman Bernie Kolber, whom the Republican committee shunned on the same day as they did Hartzell. Also publicly endorsing Casilio is Peter DiCostanzo, who inexplicably used his power on the board to fight petty battles against dedicated volunteers. The only check on such abuses of power and childish fits of pique is public outcry.  The Republicans have even gone so far as to send out lit (citing my columns) calling Hartzell that most unspeakable of Clarence slurs – a Democrat.

I appreciate the linkage, but the notion that Hartzell – who isn’t seeking or running on the Democratic line, and who ousted a Democratic Supervisor by a very slim margin – is a Democrat is laughable. Clarence Republicans enjoy 100% ownership of the Hartzell fiasco. Indeed, Hartzell’s victory in 2011 effectively put an end to the town’s Democratic committee until 2013.

As the mailer notes, in late July, we revealed how Michele Brown’s campaign – which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pigeon Preetsmas Gang – paid Hartzell over $5,000 for petitioning. What better way to get Republican signatures for Brown on the (R) line than to solicit the help of the embattled Republican incumbent Supervisor? The money was reported as a contribution to Hartzell’s committee, and I got pushback from Brown’s lawyer, Joseph Makowski, on that point.  Makowski claimed that the payments weren’t contributions, but effectively payments made to Hartzell (or his committee) as a vendor.

Here’s how they appeared at the time – listed as expenditures.

It’s still listed that way:

Those are from Brown’s reports. Hartzell’s show the following, and note that the entries were changed in August.

and this:

So, there exists a Board of Elections ruling that dealt with these transfers of funds from Brown’s campaign committee to Hartzell’s campaign committee for, presumably, petitions. But instead of being listed as a straight cash contribution, it’s now listed as a “campaign to campaign transfer”. That seems more appropriate, but Hartzell still lists these sums as contributions to his campaign committee rather than, as Makowski assured me, a payment made to a vendor. If Hartzell was just a vendor selling petitioning services, is his campaign now an LLC or even a DBA? If these sums were paid for services rendered and not a contribution, why is Hartzell listing it as the latter? Why wouldn’t Brown’s campaign just list the individuals who did the petitioning? Even if it was just for convenience’s sake, it remains exceedingly unusual for one campaign to make a contribution or payment to another campaign committee for goods or services.

Who were these individual petitioners that Republican incumbent Supervisor Hartzell retained to perform these services? You can see payments of about $80 – $100 going to individuals for “consulting” services on this page.

The consultants Hartzell paid include Victor Adragna, a Buffalo Democrat, who was paid $88 on June 5th and 13th. Tina Bromund, an unenrolled Cheektowaga voter, was paid $88 on June 5th. Nancy Ferrucci, an Orchard Park Democrat was paid $88 on June 5th. Kimberly LaJudice, a Buffalo Democrat, was paid $72 on June 5th. Ellie Allen, an Amherst Democrat, was paid $88 on June 5th and $94 on June 6th. Joelle Pollak, an East Amherst Democrat, was paid $102 on June 3rd and $66 on June 13th. Also at that same address were Sarah Schultz and Jessica Martin – a Republican and Democrat, respectively, who were paid $77 each on June 13th. Sandra Barile, a Depew Republican, was paid $1,823.72 on June 13th.

The petitions collected for the Hartzell effort were, apparently, all obtained by David Hartzell, Carolyn Hartzell, Ryan Hartzell, and Michael Preggo. No other name appears as a witness to any petition page, except one – you can check them here and here.   Yet, it appears from the July 2015 expense form that myriad people were paid to petition, or – more unlikely – that Hartzell is busy obtaining political consulting services from a gaggle of mostly Democratic 20-somethings living in Buffalo and Amherst. Did Hartzell take the money from Michele Brown’s campaign to hire a bunch of “consultants” to just get her petitions signed, or did he, Carolyn, Ryan, and Michael get them all? What’s going on here? Hartzell personally obtained almost 100 signatures in one day, or did he sign off on the labor of others?

Here’s Hartzell’s mailer, which arrived over this past weekend in Republicans’ mailboxes:

And the other side:

A candidate is generally forbidden from citing an opinion poll in campaign literature. If he does, he has to file its complete results and data with the Board of Elections. Under § 6201.2 of the Election Law,

No candidate, political party or committee shall attempt to promote the success or defeat of a candidate by, directly or indirectly, disclosing or causing to be disclosed, the results of a poll relating to a candidate for such office or position, unless within 48 hours after such disclosure, they provide the following information concerning the poll to the board or officer with whom statements or copies of statements of campaign receipts and expenditures are required to be filed by the candidate to whom such poll relates:

(a) The name of the person, party or organization that contracted for or who commissioned the poll and/or paid for it.

(b) The name and address of the organization that conducted the poll.

(c) The numerical size of the total poll sample, the geographic area covered by the poll and any special characteristics of the population included in the poll sample.

(d) The exact wording of the questions asked in the poll and the sequence of such questions.

(e) The method of polling—whether by personal interview, telephone, mail or other.

(f) The time period during which the poll was conducted.

(g) The number of persons in the poll sample; the number contacted who responded to each specific question; the number of persons contacted who did not so respond.

(h) The results of the poll.

Unless Hartzell made this disclosure to the Board of Elections, he’s broken the law. Again. Also – “unanimous”? Enough is enough with this guy.

As a Democrat in Clarence, my ballot will feature only two races – the Democratic primary for Family Court Judge, and the Democratic primary for town Justice. (Justin Kloss – who is not enrolled in any party and is therefore independent, is the only endorsed Democrat for any office.) Republicans get to pick who gets to run for Supervisor in November against … no one. So, Thursday’s primary election is the whole shebang, and it will only be decided by a small percentage of enrolled members of the town’s Republican Party. There is no primary on the Conservative or Independence lines, so if Hartzell is out Thursday, he’s out.

The local Republicans’ realization that Hartzell was a bad choice came four years too late, and to the detriment of the town and her residents – it was political malpractice. If they would deliberately and viciously remove a perfectly competent incumbent, only to foist upon us someone even they quickly became unable to stand – politically and personally – it calls into serious question their judgment and leadership in all things. Let’s be clear: in 2011, when the Clarence Republican committee conspired with the corrupt minor lines to jettison Bylewski, it wasn’t acting in the best interests of the town.  Instead, it was a simple power grab cloaked in lies and phony moralizing. Out of that came David Hartzell’s tenure, and I contemporaneously warned you that he was a bad choice.

I may be what some call a “liberal jihadist“, but I guess we liberal jihadists can smell malignant BS a mile away. Good to know.

On Thursday November 10th, I urge Clarence voters to vote for Justin Kloss for town justice, and Pat Casilio for town Supervisor.

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