Courtesy of WNYMedia.net’s “Buffalo Live”, here is the video of this week’s debate between Senator Tim Kennedy and Legislator Betty Jean Grant. The debate was held at the Burchfield-Penney, and was sponsored by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists. Kennedy and Grant are battling in a Democratic primary for State Senate District 63.
It’s petition day throughout New York State, and we’ll learn soon enough that Governor Cuomo will have a primary challenge from the left, and that locally, the Democratic race for the 63rd Senate District (Tim Kennedy, incumbent) is going to be especially fun, as will the Republican challenge to Mark Grisanti, as perennial party-switching candidate Rus Thompson clumsily attempts to manipulate the corrupt fusion system to try and oust the sane guy.
But it’s not only electoral fusion that’s corrupt and awful, so is the petition process itself. It’s hypercomplicated and deliberately designed to be a minefield for the unwary. It’s not only time to abolish the electoral fusion system and shut down the Wilson Pakulas and backroom deals, but also to simplify the ballot access system to make it easier for candidates to run. The rules for petitioning should be simplified and written in plain English, and there should be an alternative whereby a candidate simply pays a fee (set on a sliding scale, depending on the scope of the office). Hey, if the state needs another source of revenue, there you go.
As for SD-60, where Grisanti will possibly face off with Rus Thompson, here’s the entire campaign in a nutshell. I don’t know about you, but I’d choose the calm, professional man in the suit over the wildman in a sweatshirt.
Tim Kennedy sold out his principles, his party, and his constituents when, in 2010, he executed a Steve Pigeon-brokered deal to align the majority Democratic county legislature with Republican County Executive Chris Collins. The figurehead leader of that coup was Barbara Miller-Williams, who has since returned to the legislature, and Kennedy was happy to let her take the brunt of criticism at the time.
Through his actions, Kennedy handed a de facto legislature majority to the Republicans and to Collins, leading to devastating harm to the most vulnerable members of our society and a wide variety of policy decisions that were penny wise but pound foolish. The “reform coalition” reformed absolutely nothing, and merely served as a springboard for Kennedy to run for the state Senate against a guy who had been there forever and was just as toxic.
When Kennedy last ran for re-election to the senate, County Legislator Betty Jean Grant – who had been among the most vocal and fearless critics of the “reform coalition” coup – launched what seemed a quixotic write-in campaign against him. In the end, she lost by only 139 votes, according to the Board of Elections. (Grant maintains that she won).
Last cycle, Kennedy donated $85,000 in campaign funds to the Pigeon-Mazurek “AwfulPAC” or “WNY Progressive Caucus” (which was hardly “progressive”, and is now defunct). His obvious purpose was to punish Grant, and although she won re-election, Miller-Williams defeated Grant ally Tim Hogues.
We now come full circle, as Kennedy flips and flops on abortion, and Grant’s effort against Kennedy becomes more organized.
Last night, the county Democratic committee endorsed Grant over Kennedy. And of course it did – why reward someone who has worked tirelessly against the committee and its candidates with an endorsement? But as you read the press release shown below, note that county chair Jeremy Zellner’s last paragraph is Kennedy getting cockpunched.
The Erie County Democratic Committee’s Executive Committee today overwhelmingly endorsed Legislator Betty Jean Grant for New York State Senate, District 63.
The Executive Committee, which includes leaders from each town in the county and the City of Buffalo, credited Grant with her long history of standing up to powerful interest groups on behalf of the average citizen. “Betty Jean Grant has shown unwavering support for the Democratic Party’s platform and philosophy,” said Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner. “There is no second guessing when it comes to her commitment on jobs, education, health care and social issues. Legislator Grant has always consistently supported the issues that are the bedrock of the Democratic Party.”
Grant’s support on the committee extended far beyond her base in the City of Buffalo, “I am proud to note that I received endorsements and nominations from suburban towns and among leaders in the pro-choice community. I look forward to campaigning throughout the district and talking with voters from all backgrounds and points of view. I vow to work closely with Governor Cuomo to continue the momentum that Western New York has achieved.”
Zellner dismissed criticism that the endorsement amounted to insider support from party bosses. “Our Executive Committee is designed to represent a cross section of our community. In addition to representatives from each town and city in the county, we have seats for labor, education, the private sector as well as the LGBT community and African American and Hispanic leaders. Legislator Grant’s support comes from the grassroots up. The public has grown cynical of politicians who trot out substance free, feel-good initiatives at home, while running back to Albany to surround themselves with the worst elements of our political system.
This will absolutely be a race to watch.
From everything I can gather, there’s never been a time in recorded history when Erie County Democrats were united and working together as a matter of routine. It happens from time to time when convenient (i.e., when there’s something (or nothing) in it for everyone), but every election cycle or two there’s a party establishment that is battling on two fronts; Republicans on one side, and the sabotage wing of the nominal Democratic party on the other.
You know the drill – “Concerned Parents” bludgeoning Sam Hoyt within an inch of his political life with the double-edged sword of infidelity and interns, engineering a coup in the state Senate to depose Democratic leadership there with a small collection of criminals, and a copycat coup in the Erie County Legislature to prop up the person who has quickly emerged as the most transactional, least interesting local politician – Tim Kennedy.
Kennedy and Betty Jean Grant never really got along well, but the whole thing fell apart when Kennedy and Barbara Miller-Williams sold the Democratic legislature majority out to then-County Executive Chris Collins in a Pigeon-engineered coup in 2010. That positioned Kennedy to challenge incumbent Bill Stachowski and hop over to the appropriately useless State Senate. Grant mounted a grassroots, barebones challenge against Kennedy as payback two years later, and lost by only 139 votes.
This year sets up a rematch of the Kennedy-Grant battle. During the last political cycle, the political action committee that Pedro Espada’s patronage hire, Steve Pigeon, set up last year with toxic personality Kristy Mazurek, found itself the subject of a bipartisan Erie County Board of Elections campaign finance violation probe. Subpoenas revealed undeclared expenses and sloppy accounting. It was called “Progressive Caucus of WNY” and its sole purpose was to sabotage the Erie County Democratic Committee and its candidates during the last cycle. I called it “AwfulPAC“. At one point in late October, it was late on its filings and $19,000 in the red. (It’s since updated its filings, which the Board of Elections has basically said are a masterpiece of fiction.) But losing most of its primaries wasn’t enough, AwfulPAC’s Republicans-in-Democratic-clothes went so far as to defame the Democratic candidate on the eve of the election.
Pigeon supposedly funded AwfulPAC to the tune of $120,000 of money that came from God knows where. Senator Tim Kennedy gave an additional $80,000 – and he got revenge on Betty Jean Grant when AwfulPAC candidate Barbara Miller-Williams unseated Tim Hogues in the September primary.
In the end, it cost about $267,000 (that are accounted-for) for Steve Pigeon and his known associates to kneecap the county Democratic committee and destroy Tim Hogues and Betty Jean Grant. This is all they can do, since they have failed and refused to successfully challenge the committee chairmanship repeatedly over the last decade. They’re now gearing up not only to do battle against Grant, who is well-liked and not even close to lying down for these punks, but also to back a likely Mazurek effort to take the Assembly seat most recently kept warm by creepy toilet video director Dennis Gabryszak. AwfulPAC failed to account for $35,000 in TV spending, and spent another $112k directly on behalf of failed Sheriff candidate Dick Dobson, despite not properly being set up as an independent Dobson committee.
Meanwhile, Kennedy flips and flops on abortion – he was pro-life when convenient, and is now pro-choice because that has suddenly become convenient –
Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo’s joke of an election law review – the Moreland Commission – has done absolutely nothing about any of this. It hasn’t addressed election law shenanigans or improper reporting, raising, and spending of money, and has completely avoided the issue of toxic and corrupt minor “parties” and their use of electoral fusion to obtain unearned political clout and patronage.
As Kennedy and Mazurek run, watch how the money flows in and out of their campaigns, (to the extent the disclosures resemble reality), and that’s how you’ll know what this is all really about. Hint: good government and constituent service aren’t on the list.