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?

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.

On the Eighth Day of Preetsmas

8preet

 

The Money Orders

An article appeared in the Buffalo News on Saturday that confirmed rumors that had been swirling throughout town almost all last week.

On 8/19/13, the WNY Progressive Caucus—the “AwfulPAC” that is at the center of the current law enforcement investigation—reported receiving $4,000 from Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY. AwfulPAC reported that $4,000 as one lump sum, but for some reason Max’s group didn’t. AwfulPAC also says that it received money long before Max’s group says it contributed it, which is truly magical and prescient. Or just a bunch of BS.

The News wrote:

Now, questions center on the three postal money orders purchased on Aug. 14, 2013 and made payable to the WNY Progressive Caucus, according to the sources.

A name appears on the postal orders as the purchaser. But nobody familiar with the case can say if the person named on the money orders actually purchased them.

Kristy L. Mazurek, treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, endorsed the postal orders and deposited them, the sources said. Yet state Board of Elections campaign finance records indicate no corresponding contribution.

The Postal Service maintains no requirement to show identification when purchasing or sending postal money orders under $3,000, according to spokeswoman Karen L. Mazurkiewicz.

(UPDATED: see editor’s note at bottom.) The person whose name appears on the money orders is Matthew Connors, the son of prominent attorney Terry Connors. Sources close to the investigation confirm this information, though other sources indicate that Matt Connors is a victim of fraud: We are told that law enforcement is satisfied that Matt Connors did not put his name on these money orders.

In any case, the money orders represent the missing $2,500, which was lumped into the $1,500 from the Progressive Democrats to show a $4,000 August 2013 deposit.

Matt Connors works for developer Nick Sinatra a Republican fundraiser with ties to Pigeon. It also bears mentioning that, although it’s not publicized on Sinatra’s website, Erie County Legislator Peter Savage III also works for Sinatra and was until recently the treasurer of the Committee for Change PAC, which Steve Casey now controls and generously contributed to Conservative Party candidate Joe Lorigo. Savage used to work for Casey and Mayor Byron Brown and it goes without saying that he has a relationship with Pigeon.

So many entities, so little time

In August 2013, Kennedy for Senate spent $39,500 for “consulting” with Niagara Frontier Business Solutions, which is a front entity for Jack O’Donnell. He is its registered agent, and the corporate address is his house. This underscores the fact that Kennedy for Senate participated in the primary election that year, triggering the obligation to file pre-primary and post-primary reports under Election Law 14-102.

The AwfulPAC shows an inexplicable liability owed to Marketing Tech—the company whose representative identified Steve Casey as its contact for all of AwfulPAC’s literature—which dates to May 9, 2013. That’s odd, since Mazurek and Pigeon claimed that the entity didn’t exist until August. Had it existed in May 2013, it would have been required to file a July periodical report to the state Board of Elections, and a 32-day pre-primary report. It did neither.

Mazurek’s Status

Mazurek is reportedly singing like a canary, having been questioned by federal and state officials. She and her attorney are now pretending that Mazurek had nothing to do with anything having to do with AwfulPAC. Right. Why, then, in September 2013 would she say she “started” the AwfulPAC?!

She started the PAC. She said so, and it was in all-caps, so you know it’s true.

AwfulPAC Isn’t / Wasn’t a PAC

Finally, the AwfulPAC and all of these other “PACs” aren’t really PACs, because no such thing exists under New York State election law. There are really only two recognized legal categories: party committee and political committee. Under the category of political committee, a PAC is simply a political committee that only donates money to other committees—either to a party committee or to individual candidate committees.  It does not participate in the campaign and does not buy goods or services on behalf of such a committee/candidate.  It is also bound by the campaign finance contribution limits as provided for in election law 14-114.

Contributions to such a (PAC) committee aren’t limited, but the PAC itself is bound by the same maximum contribution limits an individual. A PAC merely has to file a statement of its treasurer, depository, etc.; it doesn’t need to file the CF-03, where a political committee must swear under oath whether it is authorized to support certain candidates and then list them, and to state under oath the candidates whom it is supporting,but is not authorized by the candidate(s) to support.

For a standard political committee, whether it is authorized or unauthorized, the key is that the CF-03 makes them declare their hand, under oath, as to which candidate(s) they are authorized to support and which one(s) they are supporting without authorization—that is, as an “independent expenditure” committee (IE). Under election law 14-100 (9), such expenditures are exempted from the statutory definition of “contribution”—and thus not subject to the limits imposed by Article 14. Pigeon has always declared that his committees are PACs, as they clearly announced and called themselves initially, when they were discovered. And while they even filed their CF-02 late, they never filed (at least initially anyway) a CF-03—whereby they would have had to state who they were supporting and whether they were authorized or not authorized.  They simply hid behind the CF-02 PAC filing throughout August and to the date of the primary.

Mazurek then re-filed her CF-02 stating hers was a regular political committee (not a PAC) and claiming to be an IE.  Unbelievably, it was now dated onpPrimary day and received the next day by the state Board of Elections—after all the damage was done and no publicity could be had about the committee’s mission and who the candidates are that it was supporting.

Had its CF statements also been filed before the primary, the media, the public, and the opposition could have publicized those behind the committee. But it was all kept in the dark until the voters had been duped.

It gets worse. Though prodded by the state board of elections, Mazurek still never filed the CF-03 statement required for an unauthorized committee and naming the candidates that the committee was supporting until long after the board’s investigation was begun—sometime in early 2014. Most likely, Pigeon instructed Mazurek to just file as a PAC, and they figured they could skate past the primary. They succeeded in doing just that.

Now, however, if Mazurek rolls on Pigeon and tells this story, there is a possible conspiracy charge for filing a false instrument—possibly more—even before you get to coordination. Since Mazurek didn’t change the filing to an IE committee until the date of the primary election, all the time they were raising and spending money in August/September 2013 before the primary, they were filed as a political committee with no CF-03.  Can they file later and claim to be in compliance and legally—retroactively—an IE committee? Or maybe they are stuck being a PAC, thus having violated the campaign contribution limits on their face—with no recourse to claiming to be an IE, because they hadn’t yet filed for it properly. To allow them to retroactively gain status after the war is over would be a total perversion of the law.

We have to assume that prosecutors know about all of this, and the question is whether a jury would find the requisite intent with respect to the allegedly fraudulent filings, missing donors, hiding the names of the true donors, and, of course, the issue of coordination. That’s before we get to kickbacks and money-laundering.


EDITOR’S NOTE: At 3pm, June 8, the paragraph noted above was amended to reflect information from new sources, confirmed by original sources, suggesting that Matt Connors was not the source of the donations or the money orders in question.

Cheektowaga Politics: Making Other Towns Look Good

Political figure denies padding his pension - wivb.com 2015-02-12 06-21-28

Lest anyone think the City of Buffalo or state government in Albany have some sort of monopoly on dirty politics and bad government, Cheektowaga pops up to periodically remind us that stupidity and dysfunction can be found everywhere.

Let’s take former chairman of the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee, and current head of the Cheektowaga “Progressive Democrats” club, Frank Max. Although he’s a bit player in the WNY Progressive Caucus scandal, Max has been at war with whomever has been at the helm of the county Democratic committee for years, and for reasons that no rational person can recall. Max is also the former head of Cheektowaga’s sanitation department, and was unexpectedly ousted as chairman of the Cheektowaga committee this past December.  The newly constituted committee blasted Max’s conduct and handling of committee finances.

In December, Max and his club held a fundraiser. Here’s a somewhat shaky picture of the invitation that was sent out.

I have no idea how the turnout was, or how much money was made.

That’s because Max hasn’t filed any proper disclosure. The “Progressive Democrats” juggernaut boasts a warchest of $2.02, that’s after expenses of $5.00 since the 32 day post-general election disclosure.

Friends of Frank Max” and “Frank Max” both filed statements of no activity.

So, where did the December fundraiser money go?

On another note, at least one irresponsible local website has accused Cheektowaga’s town government of attempting to cover up or silence allegations of monetary irregularities.  On the contrary, town government commissioned a private investigation, and allegedly found that town asphalt millings had allegedly been misappropriated for private use, and that people had improperly been paid for work that wasn’t done. Not uncoincidentally, the highway superintendent is Mark Wegner, who replaced Frank Max as chairman of the town Democratic Committee last year. On Tuesday, the town council voted unanimously to refer the investigation’s findings to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office.

It strains credulity to suggest that the town council, Democrats, or Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski are trying to cover up or “suppress” an investigation that the town commissioned and referred to law enforcement. On the contrary, it seems as if they’re taking complaints seriously and letting the professionals handle it, rather than turning the matter into a circus.

If anything is political, it’s Max partisans leaking false information to irresponsible websites. Wegner says it’s a predictable political witch-hunt; Max has it out for Wegner for obvious reasons, but he apparently has beef with Benczkowski because she accused him of falsifying overtime records in an effort to pad his pay and pension.

Cheektowaga Dems Blast Frank Max

Frank Max

A press release from the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee accuses former chairman and accused pension-padder Frank Max of pretending to be a sort of committee-in-exile. Max and his recent “WNY Progressive Caucus” or “AwfulPAC” effort is now under serious investigation, possibly by federal prosecutors

At a recent meeting of the Cheektowaga Democratic Party this past Monday, December 8, former party chairman, Frank Max was denounced for openly conducting business under the old Progressive Democrat Club, which has no connection to the official Cheektowaga Democratic Party which is headed by the new Chairman Mark Wegner.

For years this Progressive Democrats club was usurping money earmarked for the Cheektowaga Dems and leaving the party basically bankrupt. Only Max and his cohorts made decisions regarding the Cheektowaga Democratic Party and picked candidates without input from the Cheektowaga Democratic Committee members, who are elected by the people.

It became evident last year when the Cheektowaga Democratic Party could not pay their bills, because Max had total control of the money under the Progressive Democrats, and is only his own private club.

Frank Max lost his election for Chairman, but is still playing Chairman as if he is a political party, which he is not. Max is aligned with many Pigeon operatives that you have read about and the investigation continues to this date.

Cheektowaga Democratic Vice Chairman Jane Wiercioch made a resolution to denounce and make public that the Progressive Democrats are usurping the power of this elected Cheektowaga Democratic Committee and also stated that the Progressive Democrats continue to block this duly elected committee from conducting the work which they have been entrusted to do as elected Democratic Committeemen. The motion, seconded by Joan Adams, had overwhelming support!

Awful Endorsements for an Awful Primary Day: #WNYVotes

Greetings, citizens of Goodenoughistan, where good enough is good enough! First things first.

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. All endorsements are mine and mine alone. They are preferences – not predictions.

Secondly, here is audio of a podcast I recorded with Artvoice editor Geoff Kelly and Trending Buffalo‘s Brad Riter. In it, we discuss the primary, the state of (mostly) Democratic politics in WNY, and how we got to this awful place.

http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TB09-09-13primary1.mp3

Thirdly, here is some background. Jeremy Zellner defeated Frank Max last year in a hotly contested race for chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Committee – a win that was ultimately challenged in court, where Zellner’s win was upheld. Since then, Max and a group of dissident Democrats commonly affiliated with former party chair Steve Pigeon have turned their dissidence from passive neglect to active sabotage; chaos for chaos’ sake, as there is very little chance of success and barely any upside whatsoever.

The Mascot for the WNY Progressive Caucus PAC (not real)

In just the last two weeks, the Pigeon faction has created a brand new political action committee called the “WNY Progressive Caucus PAC“. It is operated by Kristy Mazurek, funded by Steve Pigeon, Frank Max, and Senator Tim Kennedy, and has as its spokesman a young Pigeon protege originally from Genesee County.

Typically, these sorts of things used to fly well under the radar, but this year it got blown wide open when a Buffalo News freedom of information request traced inflammatory mailers in two county legislature races to this new entity. Since then, the organization has been effectively outed, as it has begrudgingly (and arguably incompletely) disclosed donor and payee information, showing over $100,000 going in and out of the PAC in just about a week in support of certain Democratic candidates not backed by the party committee.

In addition, the PAC was found to be behind mailers that were sent throughout Niagara Falls in support of one city councilman who is working to halt progress on a prospective hotel project that Buffalo businessman Mark Hamister has proposed. The defamatory mailing went so far as to accuse Hamister of being a criminal.

If you want to get into deep background, consider this: when Max and Zellner squared off against each other for the chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Committee, conventional wisdom was that Governor Cuomo was backing Max. When Max lost, conventional wisdom was that Cuomo’s people were continuing to back Max against Zellner, and that relations were chilly between Zellner and the Governor.

But a lot has changed in the last year, and the Governor is just fine, thank you, with Zellner, and Max has not been seen with Cuomo as much in recent months, if at all.

To make matters worse, the PAC’s mailer in the Falls was so inflammatory that Hamister was about to pull out of the deal altogether until Governor Cuomo called all parties to intervene and save it. I wonder what Cuomo thinks of Frank Max now that his PAC almost destroyed a development project in a city starved for them?

So, we turn to the races. These are Democratic primaries, mostly in Erie County. I don’t really care about the fusion parties, or whatever the Republicans might be up to.

COUNTYWIDE

Erie County Sheriff (BERT DUNN)

None of this matters if we don’t first come to an agreement on what incumbent Sheriff Tim Howard is. He is looking for a third term, and has been nothing but a bitter embarrassment and disappointment. When he wasn’t screwing up the Joan Diver search or letting Ralph “Bucky” Philips escape from custody, he was catching the attention of the federal Department of Justice due to conditions at the county holding centers. Howard needs to go.

Bert Dunn is the scion to the Bert’s Bikes empire, and his family also founded Dunn Tire. This means he can operate a campaign that is completely self-funded and reliant on nobody. Why is this important? Because Richard Dobson – a nice guy who retired over a decade ago – has no money at his disposal, and there won’t be a lot coming his way. The only way Howard goes is against a credibly well-funded challenger.

The last two Democrats to take Howard on – Fieramusca and Glascott – lost because they were retirees with little money and no political experience. Dobson may be the best guy in the world, but he is exactly like the last two challengers. Democrats need to try something different this time, and Bert Dunn helps them accomplish that.

Dobson allies will point out that Dunn wrote something mean about Obama and Cuomo in a text message to a friend. Who cares? Being Sheriff isn’t about partisan politics or whether Obama is great. It’s about competence, justice, and professionalism, and I have no reason to doubt that Dunn could bring that to the table.

COUNTY LEGISLATURE

Certain races will be closely watched because it takes one seat to flip the Democratic majority into a Republican one. That one seat doesn’t necessarily mean a Republican pickup, by the way – there are at least four nominal “Democrats” vying for a seat, any one or all of whom would gladly strike a deal to share power with the Republicans, just like under Barbara Miller-Williams period of dysfunction and collaboration.

District 1 (TIMOTHY HOGUES)

Tim Hogues is the incumbent. Hogues is chairman of the public safety committee and has helped to restore all the Collins cuts to libraries, rodent control, and a soon to open clinic on Broadway. Hogues is a rising star in the party and someone to watch. Barbara Miller-Williams sold out her party and her community to do Chris Collins’ bidding back in 2009. The de facto Republican legislative majority over which she presided was devastating to her constituents, and she was so politically inept that she approved the redistricting plan that ended up costing her re-election. She is being materially supported by the Max/Mazurek/Pigeon PAC, which has launched a vicious smear campaign against Hogues for having the audacity to act in exactly the way a legislator in a regional governmental entity should act.

District 2 (BETTY JEAN GRANT)

Rumor has it that Tim Kennedy’s $45,000 donation to the Max/Mazurek/Pigeon PAC is revenge for Grant coming very close to unseating him in the state Senate through a write-in campaign last year. Democrat Grant is still smarting over how Kennedy conspired with Steve Pigeon, Barbara Miller-Williams, and Chris Collins to deliver Collins a de facto Republican legislature. Betty Jean is a great advocate for her community, and deserves re-election.

District 7 (LYNN DEARMYER)

This is the Tom Mazur district. This is ground zero for the battle between the Democratic factions. The Pigeonistas are backing former Cheektowaga Councilman Rick Zydel. Zellner (although not the county committee) is backing Lynn Dearmyer, who ran for the seat in 2009. I went online to look and see what the candidates stand for. Zydel doesn’t even have a website where one can look at his platform. That by itself should disqualify him in this day and age. Dearmyer makes much of her personality and biography, and that stuff is all messed up and stuff, but doesn’t really explain what she’d do to change anything, or how she’d be different. Pat Burke also has a website, and it touts his background and achievements, as well. The “issues” section is pretty light, though. He definitely identifies some serious problems, but doesn’t quite get into specifics of any solutions.

Based on that, I would back Dearmyer or Burke. I think I would lean Dearmyer because the outgoing rep is backing her. But for the love of God, people, put some damn ideas up on the internet.

District 8 (WYNNIE FISHER)

So, again – the Pigeon people are backing Wes Moore. Remember that thing I wrote up a few paragraphs about not having a website? Sheesh, neither Moore nor Wynnie Fisher have any significant web presence. They are on Facebook, though. On Fisher’s page, I see her with Mark Poloncarz and Maria Whyte. On Moore’s page, I see an August 28th post from Kristy Mazurek thanking people for coming to a Moore shindig, indicating some form of involvement in the campaign. The problem with that is that Mazurek’s PAC came into existence on the 22nd, and she shouldn’t be coordinating between the PAC and the campaign. I suppose the definition of “coordination” is subject to some debate, but this sure as hell smells like it.

I don’t want another turncoat legislature that hands the body over to the Republicans. Fisher it is.

BUFFALO MAYOR (DEMOCRATIC PARTY): (NO ENDORSEMENT)

I’ve never endorsed Byron Brown before, and I’m not about to start. While Brown hasn’t delivered on the “progress”, as he claims, his challenger Bernie Tolbert has been all over the place in this race. Tolbert’s effort has been so weak that he didn’t just fail to define himself, he was such a nonentity that Brown didn’t find a need to try to define Tolbert, either. Tolbert said people “Believe in Bernie” but didn’t explain why, or for what. Tolbert offers up a choice without a rationale – yeah, Byron is terrible in a lot of ways; a caretaker mayor, but Tolbert only went as far as pointing that out, never giving voters a positive reason why they should choose him instead.

For me, President Obama’s visit – and the way each campaign used it – said it all. While Tolbert got out a quick one-liner about Obama mixing up Higgins and Brown, the Mayor used glowing things Obama said about Buffalo’s recent successes as the template for his own, positive, ad. It was as if Obama was not only endorsing Brown, but telling people that Brown was behind them all. It was the last nail in a coffin that only needed maybe 3.

(CONSERVATIVE PARTY): SERGIO RODRIGUEZ

Seriously, I hope all of the fusion parties go straight to hell, but you go to war with the army you have, not the one you want. Sergio Rodriguez is the Republican candidate who is also vying for the Conservative Party line. I would love for him to have it, because the only thing conservative about Byron Brown (whom that committee has endorsed) is his quiet passivity as mayor over the last two terms. I apologize for omitting this originally, but this is an excellent way to send a message to the “politics as usual” crowd that money and jobs don’t always rule the day. 

NIAGARA FALLS CITY COUNCIL

If you are fortunate enough to live in the Cataract City, and unfortunate enough to deal with its ever-crisis, then do yourself a favor, Democrat, and vote for Andrew Touma, Kristen Grandinetti, and Charles Walker. (It’s a vote-for-any-three election). I don’t know the first thing about them, but I have seen enough about Sam Fruscione in the last week to know that you should never, ever vote for him again for anything, ever.

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Erie County 2013: Ds, Rs, Is, Cs, Blanks, and EmoDems

Who’s who, what’s what, and what to think about it all. The background is as follows: Jeremy Zellner defeated Frank Max last year in a hotly contested race for chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Committee – a win that was ultimately challenged in court, where Zellner’s win was upheld. Since then, Max – more often than not aligned with former chairman Steve Pigeon and his small but vocal team of Republicans nominally Democratic contrarians has been cultivating alliances with Republicans and Conservatives, and at times creating chaos for its own sake

The Republican committee is run ably by Nick Langworthy, who has a lot of big-ticket names and hard-fought races under his belt. More importantly, the outnumbered Republicans have aligned themselves in most races with both the Erie County Conservative Party, run by Ralph Lorigo, and the New York State Independence Party, which does not let any local IP organization decide on endorsements. Having three lines, including two cleverly named minor fusion parties, is the only way Republicans can win races countywide, and in certain parts of the county. 

But the most dangerous person for Democrats in western New York is Stefan Mychajliw. The eye-chart name, the boyish good looks and charm, for years you let him into your homes via the teevee, where he donned a red coat and asked “tough questions” because he was on your side. He has parlayed that nightly visit into elected office, where he is relentlessly “reasonably sounding the alarm” on county spending, waste, fraud, and abuse. He knows full well that he has wide and deep appeal to voters, no matter what party affiliation. The comptroller gig is just part of a longer-term goal to attain executive office – Mayor or County Executive – and people know him and like him, regardless of how he’s doing his job. 

COUNTYWIDE

Erie County Comptroller (Stefan Mychajliw, incumbent)

Democratic Regionalism and downsizing activist Kevin Gaughan has taken the place of Lynn Szalkowski, who dropped out of the race shortly after petitioning ended. Gaughan will compete on the Democratic and Working Families lines. Mychajliw will have the Conservative line, but he is being challenged on the Independence Party line by Anthony Dorazio, Jr. 

The venom directed by the chaotic Frank Max EmoDems against Zellner’s recruitment of Szalkowski should be of particular concern. Szalkowski was, on paper, the dream candidate; she is an attractive, youthful female with an ethnic name from the suburbs, whose CPA made her remarkably more qualified for the position than the incumbent. It’s not her fault she dropped out of the race – by all accounts, she is smart, bright, and knew what she was getting into, but personal stresses got in the way of an effective campaign and she had to drop out. It’s frankly none of anybody’s business what those stresses were, but there was a great deal of hatred spewn at her and at Zellner when she departed the race – and it was done by people who are either named “Mychajliw” or so close to his campaign that Zellner could have recruited Jesus Christ, CPA and they still would have backed Stef. “Disingenuous” isn’t strong enough for their wailing. 

But more importantly, Szalkowski is exactly the sort of person any political party should want to attract to public office. Smart people who enter politics know they’re in for a tough go, but she was unfairly and viciously attacked. Suggesting that the party perpetrated some sort of petition fraud is laughable. They really wanted her.

Now, we have Kevin Gaughan – a person who, unlike Mychajliw, has a genuine record of accomplishing the unthinkable – shrinking of the size of government in western New York. A lawyer, Gaughan has devoted years to make the region and city run smarter and more efficiently. Would Gaughan run his office by press release, and send auditors to trick custodians into unlocking rooms to grab DSS records from a secure subbasement location in the Rath Building to score political points? Doubtful. 

Dorazio is a local IP member who is sick of the downstate people selecting Republicans (almost exclusively) to run on that line. 

Erie County Sheriff (Tim Howard, incumbent)

Richard Dobson is a former deputy, and is backed by the Max/Pigeon EmoDems faction. Bert Dunn is scion to the Bert’s Bikes empire, formerly the Dunn Tire empire, and is a current Sheriff’s Deputy. It’s been alleged that the EmoDems have teamed up with incumbent Tim Howard to use Dobson as a pawn. Dobson is similar in almost every way to the last two Democrats who challenged Howard and lost.

By contrast, Dunn is young, he’s currently on the force, knows the issues that exist on the force as it stands now, and is a centrist Democrat who has crossover appeal. Republican Tim Howard, who is running for his third term as county sheriff, has endured a string of high-profile embarrassments and scandals from the Department of Justice review of the holding centers, the Ralph “Bucky” Phillips escape from a county jail, the botched search for Joan Diver, etc. Howard will have the Conservative and Independence line, and Dunn will have the Working Families Line. 

COUNTY LEGISLATURE

Certain races will be closely watched because it takes one seat to flip the Democratic majority into a Republican one. That one seat doesn’t necessarily mean a Republican pickup, by the way – there are at least four nominal “Democrats” vying for a seat, any one or all of whom would gladly strike a deal to share power with the Republicans, just like under Barbara Miller-Williams period of dysfunction and collaboration

District 1 (Timothy Hogues, incumbent)

Hogues will have the Working Families line, but he is being challenged on the Democratic line by… 

…wait for it…

Barbara Miller-Williams. No joke. No one has the Republican or Conservative nod. Miller-Williams has backing from people close to City Hall, and the chaotic Max/Pigeon EmoDems. Hogues defeated Miller-Williams last time around because she used her position to align herself with Chris Collins and the Republicans on the legislature, effecting a Republican coup of that body. The result was devastating for her constituents, as Collins defunded clinics and other resources on which the community depended. Hogues is chairman of the public safety committee and has helped to restore all the Collins cuts to libraries, rodent control, and a soon to open clinic on Broadway. Hogues is a rising star in the party and someone to watch. 

District 2 (Betty Jean Grant, incumbent)

Democrat Grant came extremely close to upsetting Democratic State Senator Tim Kennedy during last year’s primary, mostly thanks to an aggressive write-in campaign. It shows that Grant has a very strong and motivated base of support. Joyce Wilson Nixon is challenging Grant for the Democratic line in September. Betty Jean will have the Working Families line.  No one has the Republican or Conservative nod. Nixon’s husband works in City Hall, and she runs the National Inner Cities Youth Opportunities nonprofit, which receives public money to help at-risk youth. 

District 3 (Lynn Marinelli, incumbent)

Attorney Jennifer Stergion is running on the Republican and Conservative lines, while Marinelli has the Democratic and Working Families lines. The two will square off in September in an Independence Party primary. Marinelli is one of the hardest working people in county government, and is an effective, likeable, relentless candidate. 

District 4 (Kevin Hardwick, incumbent)

Hardwick will run on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party lines. A Democrat named Bill Conrad is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines. Conrad is a relative unknown outside of Kenmore and Tonawanda, but he is a teacher at Ken West, an unenrolled voter, and is very active in extracurricular sports in the town. He is very smart and will need to work extremely hard to unseat the well-known and popular Canisius professor. 

District 5 (Tom Loughran, incumbent)

Loughran has staked out a bit of a reputation for independence during his legislative tenure, and will be challenged in November by Republican Amherst Highway Superintendent Bob Anderson. Anderson and Loughran both submitted petitions for the Independence Party line. Anderson will have the Republican line, while Loughran has the Democratic line. Someone submitted “opportunity to ballot” petitions for the Working Families line, and a Christopher Fellows is challenging Loughran in a primary for the Conservative line.  Loughran will have to run hard, as it is a tough district, but his independent streak and no-nonsense demeanor should do well for him. 

District 6 (Ed Rath, incumbent)

Rath will have the Republican, Conservative, and Independence nods while Clarence resident Alan Getter submitted Democratic petitions. Getter is unenrolled and needs a Wilson-Pakula to run on the (D) line. A Clarence resident, Getter is a CPA and small business owner who is active in the community. Ed Rath is Ed Rath. 

The Frank Max Faction MascotDistrict 7 (Tom Mazur, incumbent)

Mazur is not seeking re-election, and he has endorsed Democrat Lynn Dearmyer to replace him. Dearmyer primaried Mazur in 2009 and lost. Former Cheektowaga town councilman Rick Zydel is challenging Dearmyer for the Democratic nod.

Zydel has the backing of the Max/Pigeon chaos faction. In fact, Zydel announced that he would run a primary campaign against the incumbent Mazur, the legislative majority leader. Obviously, that’s not going to go over well at Democratic HQ. So, when Mazur decided not to run – mere days before petitioning was to begin – HQ wasn’t inclined to call an endorsement meeting, and an open primary ensued. Zellner says, “not one committeeman” has called him to “express outrage at this.” Incidentally, as to Zydel’s alleged popularity in Cheektowaga, he most recently lost re-election to the town council to (of all things) a Republican. 

Pat Burke, a South Buffalo native who recently ran for a seat on the common council – and lost  – is also running as a Democrat, leaving a 3-way primary in September.  Elias Farah, who appears to be a tea party type, is running on the Republican and Independence lines. Zydel has the Conservative nod, and also submitted petitions for the Working Families line.  

District 8 (Terry McCracken, incumbent)

McCracken is not seeking re-election. Democrat Wes Moore is backed by the Frank Max / Steve Pigeon Democratic faction. Ted Morton is running on the Republican line. Wynnie Fisher is a teacher who is also running as a Democrat, and Morton has the Conservative line.  As in the case of Zydel, Moore announced before McCracken decided he was out. Moore never contacted Democratic Headquarters or Jeremy Zellner directly, except to send an email to a generic “info@” email address asking when his endorsement meeting would be held. None was held. It should be noted that WGRZ 2-Sides cohost Kristy Mazurek is Moore’s and Zydel’s campaign manager. Query why Mychajliw would have felt the need to abandon the show when he ran for public office, yet the Democrat on the show feels no similar ethical obligation to do so, going so far as to attempt to ridicule an opponent on Facebook who wasn’t interested in going on the show. 

Like Zydel, Miller-Williams – and to a lesser degree Nixon – are potential candidates to flip the legislature to one that is friendly to the Republican minority, resulting in a de facto Republican majority. Anyone who remembers the Barbara Miller-Williams legislature knows what that would look like. The only difference now is that Chris Collins is nowhere to be seen. 

District 9 (Lynne Dixon, incumbent)

Former WGRZ journalist Dixon is a member of the Independence Party who caucuses with the Republicans in the legislature. She is being challenged by Democrat Mike Schraft, who also has the Working Families line. Dixon has the Conservative line, and is being challenged by Brian Burke for the Independence Party nomination. Schraft is a military guy with a background at the State Department, specifically dealing with development and budget issues in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Washington. Burke is related to Pat Burke, as seen above in the 7th District Race. 

District 10 (Joe Lorigo, incumbent)

Lorigo is a member of the Conservative Party, led locally by his father, who caucuses with the Republicans in the legislature. Lauren M. Gray is a young law school graduate awaiting her bar exam results, has the Working Families line, and is challenging Lorigo for the Independence nod. Democratic Headquarters is proud to have five female candidates, three of whom have never before run for office. Lorigo is seen as vulnerable and a possible (D) pickup, due to the fact that he doesn’t enjoy a wide base of support and has done little. 

District 11 (John Mills, incumbent)

Mills is running unopposed. Can you believe that? 

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Max v. Ward, et al.: Transcript of Judge Chimes’ Decision

Judge Chimes’ Decision on Max v. Ward, et al. by

http://www.scribd.com/embeds/122208945/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll

Maxed Out

Congresswoman Kathy Hochul

They brought in allies and operatives – many of them festooned with red armbands, without a hint of irony or historical perspective. They demanded that the vote be overseen by an outside observer – Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. They enlisted the assistance of Governor Cuomo, who used surrogates to cajole and persuade the members of the Erie County Democratic Committee to replace outgoing chairman Len Lenihan with Frank Max of Cheektowaga. 

Max’s support came not just from the governor’s arm-twisting, but from two breakaway party factions. City Hall told the governor that it could work with Max, but not with Lenihan #2, Jeremy Zellner. The Steve Pigeon faction has a reasonably consistent alliance with city hall, because they share an anti-Lenihan sentiment. 

How did it work? When a committeeman arrived at Saturday’s reorganization meeting at the Hearthstone Manor, she was handed a ballot upon check-in. The ballot was turned over after the committeeperson had shown an entrance card and ID, and then signed a receipt acknowledging its receipt. 

Before you hop on the “Democrats are hypocrites” with respect to voter ID, voting for the chairman of your regulated private club isn’t the same as voting for an elected official. The latter invokes constitutional rights, the former does not. 

Each ballot contained the committeeperson’s name at the top, and weighted vote at the bottom. The list of candidates was printed in the center. The attendees ripped the top off, removing their name from the ballot, ticked the desired box, and dropped the ballot in a container. Each container was being watched by Max and Zellner representatives to ensure that there was no ballot-box stuffing. 

The weighted vote is more complicated. It was all calculated based on the number of people within a given election district. Some suburban voters had weighted votes of under 200, while some city voters had weighted votes in excess of 900. 

 Max claims he won more ballots cast, that isn’t how the winner is calculated – Max and his faction knew this full well. One insider who was in the room tells me they didn’t even tally who received how many ballots cast in the counting room. Not only that, but they knew how the weighted votes were allocated and could have – but didn’t – file an objection of some sort in advance of the reorganization. The court case that’s being filed seems to center around the redistricting and reapportionment of the weighted vote in the Town of Amherst. Amherst’s town committee is led by Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward, who is a Lenihan/Zellner partisan. But it’s not clear whether the allegation is that Ward did something wrong. Even Max attorney Peter Reese acknowledged to the Buffalo News that, “[Ward] used an arcane provision of election law to redistrict in Amherst to his advantage.” Election Law section 2-104 is “arcane“? 

Even arcane statutory provisions are valid, though, aren’t they?

Ward rightly argues that the redistricting was done well in advance of the reorganization, and Max’s people had an equal opportunity to run people for new committee seats earlier this year, but didn’t.

The charges of ballot-stuffing are vague and don’t name names – the police were not called, no one is being haled into court over it, and in this smartphone age, no one took so much as a snapshot. By failing to pre-emptively challenge the Amherst redistricting, and by calling in the state party committee to don a blue helmet and oversee the process, the complaints from the losing side seem to be nothing more than soreness and sour grapes. 

In fact, Miner – whom Frank Max asked to attend and oversee the process – was in charge of the counting room. If she did not raise an objection (and there’s no report that she did), the count was fair on its face. If part of their strategy was to challenge the procedural legitimacy, it flew in the Max camp’s face. That explains why the allegations of counting improprieties are relegated to rumor and won’t be part of the litigation. 

It would be great if the Democratic party in Erie County could be unified, but any such unity is a three-way street. Conspicuous in their absence were any mouth-noises from the Pigeon or Brown camps about pledging to work with the ultimate winner. (Zellner and Max pledged to work with anyone, to their credit). To Pigeon and Brown, this is part of a decade-long effort to wrest control of the party apparatus back even though Lenihan found it in debt and utter disarray. Over ten years, almost always fighting a war on two fronts – against Republicans and breakaway Democratic factions, Lenihan navigated the party ship to a scandal-free path of successes that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. 

It would be great if the party could now unify behind Zellner, but no one’s holding their breath. Zellner is more pitbull to Lenihan’s likeable teddy bear, and has alienated many party stalwarts. The likelihood of these people shrugging off their personal bias in favor of party unity is slight. The Cuomo camp will have to reassess how wise it was to attempt to cajole and bully party loyalists to do something they couldn’t do in good conscience. The governor is alleged to have held up big civic issues such as the Bills lease over this idiotic party battle. If accurate, holding the entire community hostage over a party squabble is rank governmental malpractice. 

Party politics is by its very nature a massive battlefield of competing egos, and Erie County Democrats have proven time and again that these egos are most often unreconcilable. Maybe that conflicted status quo is better than the alternative. 

 

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