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

Piling On

I think Mike Amodeo has a hard enough time as it is, given that Governor Cuomo has all but endorsed incumbent Republican Mark Grisanti, that it’s bad form for disgruntled Swanick supporters to pile on. Instead of promoting or assisting the Democrat’s campaign – despite empty pledges to get behind him – they mock him. 

Of course, nominal “Democrat” Chuck Swanick, who challenged Amodeo for the Democratic nomination – and lost quite convincingly – remains in the race because he represents the homophobe vote. His entire reason for being in this race is pure politics, essentially conspiring with Ralph Lorigo’s transactional, unconservative “Conservative Party” to siphon off the homophobe vote from Grisanti and Amodeo.

Grisanti is running negative ads, Swanick “Democrats” are attacking him and mocking him, the Governor’s people are telling him to stay home, and even friendly PACs are withdrawing their pledged support. Grisanti, business interests, and the Governor are attacking Amodeo for a position – a supposed call to get rid of the tax cap – that Amodeo doesn’t even hold

Probably the two biggest issues facing voters in just about every senate district in the state are jobs and hydrofracking. It should come as no surprise that both Grisanti and Amodeo want more jobs. They differ, however, on the issue of hydrofracking, and this is likely why Cuomo and Grisanti are trying to change the subject by making stuff up about the tax cap.

As for the Swanick “Democrats'” “support” of Amodeo, this must be more evidence of what Andrew Cuomo/Steve Casey/Steve Pigeon/Frank Max’s “unity” looks like.  

Endorsements: State Senate Primaries


Please note: these are not Artvoice endorsements, nor are they to be cited as such. They have not been approved or made by the Artvoice editors, publisher, or any combination thereof. Any endorsements are mine and mine alone. They are preferences – not predictions. 

The primary elections are taking place this Thursday. Please vote, if you can.

State Senate District 60 (Mark Grisanti (R) incumbent)

Democratic Primary: Mike Amodeo

Mike Amodeo is a progressive Democrat who wants Albany term limits, a ban on hydrofracking, reducing the red tape the state imposes to create a business, and you can read the rest of his campaign platform here. It’s solid, smart, and full of things Democrats should be supporting. So, I’m at a loss to explain why it is that we need a “Democrat” like Chuck Swanick to run against him with the express support of homophobic, fundamentally transactional bad actor, Conservative Party boss Ralph Lorigo

If you’re a registered Democrat in the district, you should be voting for Amodeo. Period. 

In what way is Chuck Swanick more progressive on anything than Amodeo? I will grant you, he’s more progressive in terms of, e.g., becoming a Republican, cozying up with Joel Giambra, earning personal perks, privileges, patronage, and pay. I will grant you that he’s more progressive in terms of looking out for #1 above all else, that he is without peer in the business of “protecting Chuck Swanick” and “looking out for Chuck Swanick”. I will also concede that he is unique in that his bad-government bona fides are unparalleled, and that he and his supporters are undeterred by them. If ever there was an advertisement made to highlight “how government and politics in WNY are horrible things populated by horrible people”, Chuck Swanick’s name and image would be plastered all over it. He should be perpetually and serially unelectable – not just unelectable, but the mere suggestion of his election should send average citizens screaming.

Democrats in this region are obsessed with our perpetual, counterproductive, ill-considered factionalism (e.g., Lenihan vs. Pigeon; City Hall vs. everybody). But the net result of that is hatred and failure. Chuck Swanick isn’t a Democrat any more than he is a Republican. He is an opportunist, and a corrupt one, at that. He is a member of the Swanick party, and Christ alone knows why any self-proclaimed Democrat wouldn’t back a perfectly reasonable Democratic Party candidate in Mike Amodeo. No one on Earth has given a single, solitary reason why Swanick is preferable to Amodeo on the merits, or – more to the point – why Amodeo is unacceptable. (Except for factionalism and some bizarre, unproven opinion about Swanick’s “progressive” bona fides). How much easier would it be if we had Democrats united behind the singular Democrat who (a) isn’t a patronage whore; and (b) isn’t a careerist.

Some argue that Swanick’s backing by the execrable homophobes at the National Organization for Marriage is beside the point; marriage equality is settled, they say. But it isn’t. Here you have an opportunity to have a Republican (Grisanti) and a Democrat (Amodeo) run in November, both of whom would be unwavering supporters of marriage equality. Yet instead, some supporters of same sex marriage are backing a Democrat who won support from Vomit (Ralph) Lorigo and NOM, thus putting the issue of marriage equality back in the race. If not for factionalism, and the promise of future hack job, on what merits does anyone select Swanick against Amodeo? In what way is Amodeo unacceptable as a “progressive” Democrat? How, precisely, is someone funded by NOM acceptable to anyone as a “progressive” Democrat. This primary is about Chuck Swanick, money,  patronage and factionalism, full stop, end of story.

I’m not a Dem committeeman – not for the county committee, and not for my town committee. I have no say or stake in who becomes ECDC chair. However, I think that once the committee selects a chair, the party faithful should default to supporting the committee’s activities, absent some compelling reason not to. Instead, we have factions who openly and relentlessly challenge the committee, but don’t have the balls or the votes to actually change its makeup. (Who showed up to vote for Sundra Rice?)  Now, you’ve successfully deflected the argument away from my question to you, which is – why do you support the Conservative Party’s candidate, Chuck Swanick? Democrats should run screaming from Ralph Lorigo. All Democrats

Al Coppola is also running. So what?

tl;dr: AFAIC, Democrats should stop backing candidates who seek and obtain the Conservative Party endorsement, full stop. 

A New Way from WNYMedia Services on Vimeo.

Republican Primary: Mark Grisanti

Last year, Mark Grisanti, in a massive and systemically uncharacteristic display of balls, bucked his party to vote in favor of same sex marriage. For that alone, he deserves re-election. His opponent has a track record of questionable campaign tactics, and is running almost exclusively on the “Grisanti said he wasn’t going to vote for same-sex marriage” platform, such as it is. 

What that amounts to is, “Grisanti broke his promise to do the wrong thing, and did the right thing instead“. 

Grisanti’s vote was a real-life, contemporary profile in courage.

Grisanti’s vote wasn’t influenced by phone calls or internet chatter. Instead, he performed legal research on the matter, finding out that civil unions don’t really work, and that married couples enjoy 1,300+ rights and privileges that unmarried couples don’t. He had to compartmentalize his faith and examine the issue purely on the facts and the law, resulting in a conversion.  However, he would not agree to vote in favor of this law without strong religious exemptions and an inseverability clause, which would render the entire law null and void should a future court change so much as one word.  Grisanti said that the clergy to whom he’s spoken since his vote appreciate that language.

At the time, traditional media were intensely interested in the “betrayal” angle, and whether Grisanti had committed “political suicide”. Grisanti smiled and replied that he’s new to politics and didn’t make his decision under pressure. He said it was going to pass anyway, but he could not in good conscience refuse to extend basic civil rights to his taxpaying constituents. He said he doesn’t know – or care – whether he committed political suicide with this vote. He didn’t get into politics to be re-elected, but to do good by his constituents. If they decide he should leave Albany, so be it.

I guess in western New York politics, we’ve become so cynical and jaded, expecting our electeds to be dirty, dishonorable deal-makers that when we see true leadership, hard work, and conscientious research and analysis, we really don’t know how to react and assume we’re being played. Grisanti wasn’t playing anyone. 

Furthermore, people who may or may not be on Grisanti’s opponent’s payroll have been engaged in an utterly disgusting, obscene campaign against the incumbent – so bad that it serves only to enhance Grisanti’s standing. That Grisanti’s opponent expressly or tacitly permits this to happen reflects poorly on him and should be punished. 

If you’d like to know the genesis of that “mailer” emailed around by a conservative “committee” (i.e., by polterpol Matt Ricchiazzi) and the anti-Grisanti animus behind it, it all has to do with a reason and a pretext. The reason is that Grisanti refused to hire Ricchiazzi. The pretext is that Ricchiazzi is somehow insulted by an uncorroborated account of Grisanti’s behavior in that bar fight up in the Falls.  Click below to see a series of text messages that Ricchiazzi sent to Senator Grisanti and members of his staff around the time of the bar fight. Note his initial offer to “help” Grisanti sue the Senecas, and quickly degenerated into a demand for a job. 

State Senate District 58 (Tim Kennedy (D) incumbent)

Democratic Primary: Tim Kennedy

I am a big fan of Betty Jean Grant’s, and I think she would make a fantastic State Senator. She is a tireless advocate for the poor and disadvantaged, and doesn’t cut deals with horrible Republican technocrats for political gain. I am a huge fan of the symbolism of her run. I don’t mean the fact that she’s an African-American or a woman – I mean the fact that Kennedy very deliberately and openly betrayed what should have been a Democratic county legislature majority in 2010 – 2011 and handed the reins of power almost unchecked to the execrable Chris Collins. The so-called “reform coalition” reformed nothing and brought little more than strife and hatred to the county legislature – a body that is about 90% uncontroversial ministerial work, and 10% visceral combat. 

However, I won’t be guided by factionalism here any more than I will be in the 60th. As much as I like her, Betty Jean hasn’t articulated specific policy reasons why she would be an improvement over Kennedy, so I’ll reluctantly give it to the incumbent. While Kennedy touted his no-brainer work on cyberbullying and texting-while-driving statutes, I’d like to see him get out front of more controversial issues and stick his neck out for important reasons. So far,  his tenure has been adequate, not excellent.