The Hamburg Town Board on September 18th authorized a town referendum on Election Day to determine whether the Board should revert to five members rather than its current three. Activist Kevin Gaughan is already challenging the Board and, by reference at least, the citizen-activists whose petitioning encouraged the Board to put the referendum on the ballot. Hamburg is one of five Erie County towns that bought into Gaughan’s board downsizing proposals several years ago.
Gaughan emphasizes the need to save tax dollars and of course everyone agrees with that. But there are lots of ways for a government to save money. There is something to the old adage, “penny wise and pound foolish.” Adding two Board members back to the Hamburg budget might cost $35,000 or so in an annual budget of more than $15 million. Keeping the Board at three members, however, could cost the town a lot more than that someday.
Bob McCarthy in the September 23rd edition of the Buffalo News explained how Steve Pigeon, Frank Max and others have been working to influence the election of certain town board members in West Seneca and what their motives are. There is talk of about a $119 million town bonding commitment. West Seneca, like Hamburg, is another town that signed up for Gaughan’s downsizing.
It’s a free country. Pigeon and Max can do as they please, although most of us would prefer that they follow the law. As of September 28th Max’s Progressive Democrats committee was one week late in filing the 10-Day Post Primary disclosure required by law.
Voters in Hamburg should pay attention to how getting just two people elected to the three-member town board can give those two people enormous power over what the town does with its money.
Here are some excerpts from McCarthy’s story. I have added some emphasis in bold:
[West Seneca] Councilman Eugene P. Hart Jr., … prevailed by a handful of votes in the Democratic primary election Sept. 10 despite a flurry of mailings against him. Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan did not fare as well, losing her primary contest following mailings she said contributed to her defeat.
The pair say that while Pigeon may no longer officially lobby for S&R Co. of West Seneca LLC and its $750 million proposal at the former Seneca Mall, he remains very much involved. They insist that he is playing a part in developer Scott R. Congel’s plans and has even attended meetings this year on the project, despite the expiration of his S&R lobbying contract nine months ago.
Nobody suggests illegalities in the way that $25,000 was transferred just before the primary – from a Seneca Nation businessman to Pigeon’s political allies in Cheektowaga – and spent on mailings against Hart.
The roundabout funding pattern of the West Seneca race would not prove new to Pigeon. State Police, the FBI and agents of state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman raided Pigeon’s home with search warrants May 28 investigating his previous political fundraising. Now, Meegan says, Pigeon is reverting to his usual methods.
Hart alleges that the mailings reflect an effort to shape a Town Board friendly to the Congel plan that seeks to transform the vacant Seneca Mall property into retail, hotels, apartments, offices and entertainment venues. Significantly, the firm also seeks a $119 million bonding commitment from the town for a community center and 6,000-space parking garage.
Meegan contends that Pigeon even told her that he arranged for his associates to steer money to the Progressive Democrats of Western New York, a political committee controlled by longtime ally Frank C. Max Jr., a former Cheektowaga Democratic chairman. Ultimately, Hart said, the money funded mailings.
Max and his Progressive Democrats of Western New York (not to be confused with the Pigeon-connected WNY Progressive Caucus now under investigation) acknowledge sending the mailings that targeted Hart in the last days of the primary campaign. Max said that although his group has never before supported candidates outside Cheektowaga, it is now “expanding” it activities into other towns and sponsored the mailings in the final days of this month’s primary in West Seneca. Records indicate that the $25,000 was funneled through the Max group Sept. 9 [the day before the primary election] in a donation from Pierce National Enterprises of the Seneca Indian Territory in Irving. Max acknowledged that the company is linked to businessman Aaron J. Pierce, who also has long ties to Pigeon. Max’s group then sponsored the fliers.
Hart, meanwhile, said Pigeon’s efforts in the primary present “at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.” He added that he, Meegan and fellow Councilman William P. Hanley Jr. have all raised serious questions about the town’s ability to afford the $119 million in debt needed for the project. He and Meegan have adopted a “very cautious” approach to the Congel effort because he said it amounts to a “high-risk real estate project.” “I just don’t know if the Town of West Seneca can support such a project,” he said, adding that he and the entire Town Board remain open to the idea because of its potential benefits.
“They try to change boards; that’s what they do to get people favorable to their point of view,” Hart said of some developers. “That’s what this election was all about.”
This year it is the West Seneca Town Board that some people are trying to control and manipulate for their own benefit. Tomorrow it could be Hamburg or one of the other Erie County towns that downsized to three-member boards. Three member boards are an invitation to trouble, which is just two votes away.
I have resisted getting into all the back-and-forth concerning the ongoing investigation and potential prosecution of the crime that Patrick Kane may have committed. We have had more than over-the-top coverage by people who buy ink by the barrel and video and audio digital space by the gigabit. Much of the reporting has jumped to conclusions that we have then seen contradicted an hour later. The issue certainly doesn’t need this humble blogger’s two cents worth added to the commentary.
A friend asked me this past weekend if I was going to write anything about the Kane matter and I told her, “no, I don’t do crime.” To which she replied, “well, you write about politics.” Touché. I need to be more careful about how I answer such a question.