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.

Questions/comments & hate mail: buffalopundit[at]gmail.com

Follow along on Twitter.

Paid for by Citizens for a Horrible WNY

It’s not the fault of the newly constituted “WNY Progressive Caucus” that it (or someone using its mail permit) sent out anonymous, no-attribution lit blasting incumbent legislators Betty Jean Grant and Tim Hogues, and praising challengers Joyce Wilson Nixon and Barbara Miller-Williams. So long as people aligned with the breakaway Steve Pigeon faction of disgruntled nominal Democrats exist, there will be nonsense. It is ever thus. 

The literature in question accuses Betty Jean Grant of being evil and bad with money, and accuses Hogues of helping Republican towns with their roads. Smearing Grant is baseless and offensive, but Hogues is running against Barbara Miller-Williams, who collaborated with former Republican County Executive Chris Collins to give the GOP minority a de facto majority for two years. Miller-Williams sold out her district, her community, and her principles for political gain which, thankfully, was short-lived. The hypocrisy is thick as molasses. 

Do you think that these people need to reveal who they are on that literature? You’re wrong. In a state race, there is no requirement whatsoever that the sponsor of an advertisement reveal themselves. “Paid for by” isn’t a requirement. Typical New York, that – protecting shenanigans, instead of informing the voting public. 

Generally, a PAC like the “WNY Progressive Caucus” would need to disclose where its money is coming from. But here, it’s so new, it hasn’t filed anything. A woman named Kristi Mazurek is listed as the group’s treasurer. She is a commentator for WGRZ’s Sunday political show, 2Sides, and has been running the campaigns of a few Democratic legislature candidates who are challenging people endorsed by the county Democratic committee. As I wrote in August

It should be noted that WGRZ 2Sides co-host Kristy Mazurek is [Wes] Moore’s and [Rick] Zydel’s campaign manager. Query why [her former co-host Stefan] 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. 

Mazurek had taken to Facebook to ridicule Moore’s opponent Wynnie Fisher for refusing to appear on 2Sides. Yet why on Earth would a candidate appear on a show to be interrogated by her opponent’s campaign manager? It’s an insane proposition. (N.B., David Pfaff is a known Pigeon associate): 

And so, Mazurek has Palinistically taken to Facebook again to issue a non-denial denial about the WNY Progressive Caucus’ literature: 

Translation: Zellner didn’t hire / get me hired for something-or-other, and so I’m going to align myself with the people who are working to undermine and unseat him. Note that Mazurek doesn’t deny that she or her PAC sent out the anti-Hogues and anti-Grant mailings. She simply says the complaints “don’t have merit”. So, I replied: 

Reply, (right under one from Erick Mullen, who did all of Jack Davis’ ads that relentlessly went after endorsed Democrat Jon Powers in ’08): 

I have no idea what that means. So, 

There was no reply, natch.I don’t think Ms. Mazurek knows what “meritless” means.

These types of anonymous mailers come out all the time, and when anonymous, you can bet that the people behind it want to keep you in the dark. You should be insulted by them – they figure you’re an idiot; an ignoramus. Yet there’s no law that says they have to disclose who they are. 

So, if you’re outraged when your candidate gets anonymously and unfairly slammed by anonyms, you’re going to have to lobby Albany to demand that the Election Law be amended to (a) require that all campaign advertisements and literature clearly disclose who paid for them; and (b) institute a hefty penalty for any violations – penalties that are confiscatory deterrents. 

I’m sick and tired of nasty people with unclean hands making electoral politics dirtier than it has to be. If Mazurek and the people behind the group for which she is treasurer think that Tim Hogues is a closet Clarence Republican and that Barbara Miller-Williams is the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then they should disclose who they are. 

By the way, if you’re a disgruntled Frank Max supporter or in league with Steve Pigeon, that’s swell – but instead of working with Republicans and the fusion parties actively to undermine endorsed Democrats, why not convince the various and sundry committee members why they should vote for Max over Zellner for party chair next time around? If you’re in league with the Conservative Party, why even pretend to be a Democrat? 

We’re a region with a lot of dummies running too many horrible governments, and at a bare minimum we should know who’s behind what. 

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.