Tea Party Protests Grisanti Fundraiser

An exclusive image of the massive tea party protest of Mark Grisanti’s fundraiser, courtesy of @HeyRaChaCha on Twitter

Ballot Access & Fusion: Keeping New York Corrupt

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 it stands now, our petitioning process should rightly be named the Election Law Attorney Full Employment Act

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. 

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Swanick’s Money

Who is funding Chuck Swanick’s Conservative Party run in the 60th State Senate District? We’re told that he’ll do nothing to affect marriage equality, but…

It’s somewhat heartening to know that – at least financially – Swanick finds very little support locally, except from the likes of erstwhile Democrat Joe Mesi. 

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.  

Chuck Swanick: Progressive?

Yesterday on Facebook, someone I know explained his support for Chuck Swanick for state Senate based on his opinion that Swanick is more progressive on environmental issues than his opponents, and also that he has a better grasp of state issues and their effects on the local community.  

Oh, really? 

I will grant you, he’s more progressive in terms of, e.g., becoming a Republican, cozying up with 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. 

Last week, proper Democrat Mike Amodeo released his campaign platform. 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

But yeah. “Progressive.” 

Chuck Swanick and Terribleness

Chuck Swanick skulked back into the private sector and out of government in the aftermath of the epic disaster that was the county fiscal meltdown of 2004 – 2005. He went back to his job with CSX, but saw an opportunity last year when State Senator Mark Grisanti voted in favor of same-sex marriage. 

The opportunity was that Swanick could be the conservative Catholic homophobic Democratic candidate and challenge Grisanti. He enlisted the help of local scheissmeister Steve Pigeon, fresh off of a cush State Senate job under his protege-turned-convict Pedro Espada. This means that every hack with a (D) after their name who has a beef with Len Lenihan’s Erie County Democratic Committee had been enlisted in the Pigeon/Swanick cause. 

Swanick, in expressing his disgust and opposition to same-sex marriage, quickly received the endorsement of execrable Ralph Lorigo-led jobs club known as the “Conservative Party” (which is famously inconsistent in its supposed automatic withholding of support for candidates who back same-sex marriage – see Kennedy, Tim). 

What’s so conservative about Swanick? His opponent, Mike Amodeo reminds us of that, as Chairperson of the Erie County Legislature, Swanick requested $4.78 Million for the Legislature’s 2004 budget. Included in Swanick’s bloated budget request were funds for 50 patronage employees. In addition, the Legislature stashed away another $2.7 Million for member items, more commonly known as pork projects. In comparison, the County Legislature’s 2012 budget is $2.96 Million, with no money allocated for member items. The Legislature staff has also since been right-sized to almost half the employees of the Swanick era

“On the eve of the Red/Green Budget Crisis, Chuck Swanick’s focus was on pork and patronage for his political fiefdom,” said his challenger, Amodeo. “Voters have no interest in returning to the days of wasteful spending.”

During Swanick’s tenure at the Legislature, Erie County’s cash reserves dwindled down to a paltry $4 Million. In addition, Swanick helped squander $250 Million of proceeds from the County’s tobacco settlement. Swanick also voted to allow Erie County to sell the Erie County Medical Center to itself, incurring another $200 Million long-term liability in exchange for an approximately $85 Million short-term benefit. New York State eventually determined that Erie County needed “adult supervision” and implemented a control board. 

“When Chuck Swanick left office in 2005, County finances were in complete shambles,” concluded Amodeo. “Chuck’s decision to campaign as a ‘fiscal conservative’ is an insult to every Erie County resident that had their library closed, services cut and taxes raised.”

Remember all that? You should. It’s what sparked a reasonably serious civic discussion about the future direction of the city and county, and started a local tax revolt of sorts as the county’s share of the sales tax inched up to avoid catastrophe. 

Swanick – a former Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat recently accepted two donations totaling $7,000 from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-equality organization based out of Princeton, New Jersey. Since 2007, NOM has spent millions of dollars across the United States to restrict the rights of LGBT Americans, whom NOM Chairman John Eastman has referred to as ‘barbarians’.

Swanick, a 26 year career politician, also received a contribution of $16,800 from Sean Fieler of Princeton, New Jersey. Mr. Fieler, a major Republican donor and hedge fund manager, is chairman of the American Principles Project, whose founder is chairman emeritus of NOM.

 “I am deeply troubled to hear of Chuck Swanick’s taking of campaign funding from NOM, a hate group designated as such by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” said Bryan Ball, President of Stonewall Democrats of WNY. “Mr. Swanick’s blatant disregard for the equal rights and protections of every Western New York family he seeks to represent is an offensive assault on the right to freedom we value as Americans. The Democratic Party has always stood to aid the civil rights movement, and hate such as Mr. Swanick’s has no place in our great Party. I am proud of all who stand united against such divisiveness. Never should any part of our great Party support his actions.”

According to NOM’s own press release, the organization “intends to participate in legislative contests throughout the state as part of its $2 million commitment to make sure the voters of New York are able to vote to restore marriage in New York”.

Mike Amodeo supports same-sex marriage. He pledges to take on NYPA to ensure that western New York’s waterfronts continue to improve. He is against hydrofracking and the environmental risks that come from injecting bedrock with water and noxious chemicals to extract natural gas from it.  (Swanick essentially supports fracking). He supports term limits and changing Albany’s careerist culture. (Swanick is the opposite). 

Swanick isn’t a Democrat, and I don’t understand his return to politics, except by noting how he differs from the mainstream Democrat running against him. 

Seneca Anti-Grisanti PR Gone Bad (UPDATED x2)

I realize that the facts are still fluid with respect to the night that State Senator Mark Grisanti and his wife had at the Seneca Niagara Casino this past weekend. I don’t know how intoxicated anyone was, but whoever was the physical aggressor(s) here is in the wrong. 

The Grisantis got out front of the story right away over the weekend, and Seneca loyalists pushed back hard on Monday, accusing Grisanti of “sticking his nose in” where it didn’t belong, and of being intoxicated; neither of which justify being physically pummeled, incidentally. 

I think the incident highlights the primary reason why the Pataki deal to allow the Senecas to annex sovereign exclaves in downtown Buffalo and Niagara Falls was so fundamentally wrongheaded. If we’re to have class III casino gaming in these cities, then it should be legal, tightly regulated, and well taxed. Instead, we’ve permitted a situation where a foreign nation is able to carve out a swath of downtown with dubious police and court jurisdiction when we have alleged crimes and altercations such as this. 

Yesterday, a young Buffalonian named Matt Ricchiazzi inserted himself into the Grisanti matter. Ricchiazzi is a relatively recent Cornell graduate, and has somewhat famously failed to make the ballot in just about every political race he’s run.  He’s had some good ideas for Buffalo under the auspices of his changebuffalo.org, but the perception in the political community is that he wants a fast track to political power without doing much grassroots-type legwork, like becoming a committeeman, for instance. He was, at last check, a supporter of Senator Grisanti, even after the passage of same-sex marriage legislation last year. 

However, Ricchiazzi’s most recent known employment was with Seneca Holdings, LLP, the Seneca Nation’s investment entity. I don’t know whether he is a registered Seneca, but his “religious views” are listed at Facebook as “Haudenosaunne/Ongweo:weh”. 

In the wake of the Grisantis-go-to-the-Casino story, Ricchiazzi took to a Twitter account he seldom (if ever) previously used, and has just as quickly deleted. Because his Twitter account has been deleted, I had to scan through a cached version of the Twitter apps on my phone: 

Ricchiazzi was incensed that the media were reporting that “Seneca businessmen” at the bar had beaten the Grisantis without provokation. He was pushing a story that Grisanti was extremely intoxicated and belligerent, and took to Twitter to argue with Grisanti supporter and Republican political strategist Michael Caputo. 

 

Later in the day, I received an email from Ricchiazzi, as did just about every other current and former journalist and commentator working in Buffalo. Including a few weatherpeople.

 

I emailed him back,

 

WGRZ’s Michael Wooten echoed my request, to which Ricchiazzi responded, 

When I asked him if he was speaking on behalf of the Seneca Nation, he replied that he was not; that he was speaking only as an individual. 

So, why did Ricchiazzi suddenly quiet down and delete his Twitter account? Sources close to the Grisanti camp say that Ricchiazzi has been contacted by the authorities. Over the weekend, Ricchiazzi sent text messages to Senator Grisanti and his chief of staff, Doug Curella. In those text messages, which have been turned over to the police, Ricchiazzi claims that he saw the surveillance and knows that Grisanti and his wife were drunk instigators, that the Senator used a racial slur, and that Ricchiazzi would run a Republican to primary Grisanti on that line, in conjunction with a relentless smear campaign. This would likely set up a 3-way race, as Carl Paladino (a genuine, if flawed, player in Republican politics) has already pledged to support a right-wing primary against Grisanti. 

But Ricchiazzi apparently went one step too far – in one text, he allegedly demanded a $20,000/month job from Grisanti in exchange for his silence and to prevent him from smearing and running a candidate against the Senator. Obviously, Grisanti’s team was tickled by the idea of a kid who couldn’t get on the ballot for the the Buffalo school board throwing fictitious political weight around, but the demand for money was more insidious and likely illegal extortion or blackmail. The Grisanti aide who received the text replied that this demand was completely inappropriate, and Ricchiazzi “withdrew” his “offer”. 

Yet sources close to the Senator also say that Ricchiazzi sent a text message to Grisanti himself on Saturday, expressing shock and dismay at what had happened to him and his wife at the casino. In it, Ricchiazzi told the Senator to sue the casino and the Senecas for the assault, and that Ricchiazzi could act as an advisor against the Senecas on the Senator’s behalf. 

Larceny by extortion is defined in New York’s Penal Law 155.05(2)(e) when a person, “compels or induces another person to deliver … property to himself or to a third person by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the property is not so delivered, the actor or another will: … Accuse some person of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against him; or (v) Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule; …or (ix) Perform any other act which would not in itself materially benefit the actor but which is calculated to harm another person materially with respect to his health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.”

It would appear that Ricchiazzi’s texts threatened to accuse Grisanti of criminal or socially unacceptable behavior if Grisanti didn’t pay Ricchiazzi $20,000/mo. Police are investigating the matter.  The Buffalo News obtained vertical iPhone video of the fight’s aftermath, and it is silent due to profanity, and the News says no one uses a racial epithet. It’s not really conclusive of much.  The Niagara Falls Police are not bringing any criminal charges. But whatever PR headway the Senecas may be making with respect to this incident, Ricchiazzi’s self-insertion in the controversy hasn’t furthered that effort. 

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

At 8pm Monday night, I emailed Ricchiazzi for a comment, informing him that I was running with this story regarding his text messages to the Senator and his aide, and noting the deletion of his Twitter account. I told him I would be completing my story at 6:30am on Tuesday. Apart from a “Thanks!”, I have not received anything more substantive from Mr. Ricchiazzi.  

UPDATE:  I called Phil Pantano, the spokesperson for Seneca Gaming, who informs me that he’s never heard of Mr. Ricchiazzi, that he’s had no contact with Mr. Ricchiazzi, and that whatever Mr. Ricchiazzi was trying to do was not in any way solicited or sanctioned by the Seneca Gaming Corporation. Mr. Ricchiazzi emailed me after this post went up to say, 

I’d be happy to tell you the story — and a lot of other stories on Grisanti’s office that pale in comparison to this recent incident.  We should meet for coffee sometime and discuss. Let me know when you’re free.
 
Looking forward to speaking with you,

 

UPDATE x2: Mr. Ricchiazzi emails as follows: 

My text message to Mark on Saturday morning was in the context of just having read initial media reports, which suggested that Maria was horrifically beaten. I spent 5 months of my life helping Grisanti get elected, and Maria has treated me so kindly. She is such a nice, gracious, beautiful person. I wanted to make sure Maria was alright, and at that time I encouraged Mark to file a lawsuit.

After I realized that Mark was using the racist stereotype of “drunk Indians” as an escape goat for his own drunken intoxication, I was upset that Doug would recommend such an inappropriate and racist media strategy. As a friend, I told Doug that the video and audio footage that exists is damning and is a political liability.

Via text message to Doug, I offered to help them walk back their racism as a media consultant, and told them my monthly rate, which is not unreasonable for the industry. Doug misinterpreted me trying to be helpful as a threat, and responded offensively, as if I was trying to demand something from them.

I was offended by his reaction to my offer of help, and even more deeply offended by their use of racism and unfair stereotypes against Native Americans — and I will be saying so publicly to combat this type of bias. Political speech is the most legally protected of all speech.

I did not commit, consider, or attempt to do anything illegal.

I’m puzzled by your characterization of this situation, which I frankly don’t understand. I don’t see how I’m the story, or how I’m central to this situation. I took extensive coursework in indigenous political theory as an undergraduate, and I’m an activist on Native issues. That’s all.

He also adds: 

I’m not affiliated with the Seneca Nation of Indians. I’m Cayuga, bear clan. My usage of the word “us” that you cite, I admit, was too loose.

 

Grisanti vs…. Panepinto?

Marc Panepinto

I’m hearing that Hoytian local attorney Marc Panepinto is seriously considering challenging Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti for SD-60. Grisanti is a former Democrat who defected to the Republican Party and won a very hard-fought election against current Realtor Antoine Thompson.

Although Grisanti endeared himself to Democrats in his district in the wake of his vote on same sex marriage earlier this year, it is an overwhelmingly Democratic district, and unknown what the electorate’s overall thoughts are concerning the Senator’s other policy positions and actions.

No word yet on whether Thompson might want a rematch, as well.