Mazurek deserves the chutzpah of the year award; DA race getting interesting

As U.S. Attorney Preet Brahara, Attorney General Eric Scheiderman, the Buffalo News, The Public, Politics and Other Stuff, etc., etc. continue to investigate, report and comment on all things related to Pigeongate, the last thing that most folks would expect is for a major player in the Pigeongate saga to decide to run for office. Granted Team Pigeon, operating in the shadows, has continued to play a role in some campaigns such as the Michelle Brown for Family Court effort in 2015. But actually having one of the team become a candidate – whoa!

Kristy Mazurek, in a story in last week’s Buffalo News, indicated through spokesperson and fellow Pigeonista David Pfaff that she plans to run in the Democratic primary for State Assembly in the 143rd District (Towns of Cheektowaga and Lancaster.) Assuming this is not some silly joke, and even though it is only May, we can therefore award Ms. Mazurek the 2016 Chutzpah of the Year Award.

A quick refresher on some relevant facts:

  • Kristy Mazurek is a former WGRZ TV personality who hosted a political show on the station. She is the daughter of former Erie County Legislator Henry Mazurek and the sister of Mark Mazurek, who won the Democratic nomination for the same 143rd District in 2014. Mark Mazurek went on to be defeated in the general election by Republican rising star Angela Wozniak. The campaign in 2014 was to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Dennis Gabryzak, who was involved in a sex scandal that concerned his Assembly employees. Kristy Mazurek was one of Gabryzak’s former employees who later sued for harassment, but the case was thrown out because it was filed too late. Assemblywoman Wozniak recently announced that she would not be running for re-election following an investigation into her own sexual harassment matter.
  • Ms. Mazurek has in recent years aligned herself with Steve Pigeon, acting in various roles including organizer in the Frank Max for Democratic County Chairman campaign; Treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus; and, according to an article in The Public, recipient of a subpoena intended for Steve Pigeon concerning a law suit over his condominium.

It is in her role with the WNY Progressive Caucus fiasco that Kristy Mazurek really made her mark. The Caucus became heavily involved in campaigns in 2013, particularly the one for Dick Dobson for Sheriff. There were the usual activities in the Caucus’ participation in the Dobson campaign that often identify Team Pigeon’s campaigns: mysterious donations; undocumented spending; strange alliances.

As campaign treasurer for the WNY Progressive Caucus Ms. Mazurek was legally responsible for submitting complete, accurate and timely reports to the state Board of Elections, accounting for the receipts and expenditures of the Committee. That she failed to do.

As the federal and state investigation into the activities of the WNY Progressive Caucus proceeded Ms. Mazurek retained defense attorney Joel Daniels. She avoided a raid on her home that Steve Pigeon, Steve Casey and Chris Grant endured. Reports circulated about her “proffer agreement,” also known as “Queen for a Day,” which allowed her to be interviewed with limited immunity. Where she stands with the Pigeongate inquiry is not for us to know at the moment. Rumors are all over the place about who has thrown whom under the bus in this whole messy matter.

The thing about a Pigeonista player becoming a candidate for public office is that candidates are expected to do four things:

  1. Discuss their qualifications for the office they are seeking.
  2. Review relevant work experience that adds to their candidacy.
  3. Articulate their position on issues relevant to the office.
  4. Be prepared to answer any and all questions from the public, the media and their opponent about the three things listed above.

At a time when the general public and the media have a heightened sense of concern about the ethics of officeholders, and at a time when those things are not going so well in state government, you would think that the last thing an up-to-the-eyelids Pigeonista would want to do is to put herself in a position where she needs to explain her qualifications, work experience and position on the main issue of the day.

Perhaps this is all some clever Pigeon-designed diversionary tactic to draw attention away from what anyone following political developments and concerned about integrity in government might want to pay attention to. I don’t think that is going to work, so the only conclusion that is left is that the people involved in this latest Team Pigeon effort are incredibly ill-informed and arrogant. Considering the way they have operated in the past, that is a reasonable conclusion.

Oh yeah, lest I forget, the endorsed Democratic candidate for the Assembly seat is University at Buffalo Law Professor Monica Wallace. Ms. Wallace has indicated that she plans to spend a good deal of time during the campaign talking about the need for ethics reform in Albany. That sounds like a plan.

The campaigns heat up, highlighted by the DA race

Aside from the above noted Assembly race, the other major political action this fall in Western New York includes the 60th Senate District, at least one Supreme Court seat and the race for Erie County District Attorney.

At the moment Republican County Clerk Chris Jacobs is in the strongest position to win the Senate seat. He will need to defeat Kevin Stocker in a primary first. With Assemblyman Sean Ryan bowing out of consideration for the Democratic nomination, the Democrats are left with a potential primary between community association director Amber Small and former Senator Al Coppola. Even though the district is 47-26 Democratic by enrollment, Jacobs will be tough to defeat.

The Supreme Court race contestants are set, with Lynn Keane as the Democratic candidate and Mary Slisz as the Republican. Discussions will continue over the summer about where the minor parties will line up on this one. The latest developments in the Pigeongate matter involving Justice John Michalek have many folks speculating about the possibility of at least one more Supreme Court seat opening up prior to the September party judicial conventions.

And then there is the DA’s race.

Acting District Attorney Michael Flaherty got an early jump on the campaign. He borrowed and raised, in large part from the DA staff, about $300,000 for his campaign account. He made a bunch of press announcements about the rearrangement of the DA staff as well as proposals for ethics reform. He promised to re-open a case in Evans that the DA’s office that he was part of under former DA Frank Sedita failed to prosecute.

Former Assistant District Attorney Mark Sacha announced his intention to get into the race too. Sacha made his mark challenging the refusal of former DAs Frank Clark and Frank Sedita to prosecute Election Law violations by Steve Pigeon. Sacha, along with County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and former Legislator Tim Hogues, had the guts and determination to pursue the truth. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission, with Sedita sitting as a member, paid no mind to what Sacha, Grant, Hogues and others presented to them. But with the empanelling of a grand jury to investigate Pigeongate, Sacha and the legislators can feel some sense of vindication.

The third candidate in the DA race is Tonawanda Town Attorney John Flynn. Since announcing his candidacy in February Flynn has reportedly been quite successful in raising funds for his campaign and putting together a campaign structure. He has secured both the Democratic and Conservative parties endorsements.

The Republicans are still searching for a DA candidate. They demurred on Flaherty, which the News reports had something to do over unhappiness with Flaherty choosing to pursue the voter fraud prosecution of political gadfly Russ Thompson. It seems that public integrity investigations can get sticky. Perhaps that is why Flaherty has not pursued Frank Sedita’s failure to file campaign financial reports for his Supreme Court campaign last fall.

Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy gathered together some party operatives this past Tuesday at party headquarters to interview candidates for DA. So far there is no word on what the outcome was. The only names circulating are Mark Arcara and Joe Treanor, a registered Conservative who ran third in a three person race for Cheektowaga Town Justice in 2014.

Flaherty is counting on his large campaign account and his Team Pigeon supporters to carry the day for him. (Note to Mr. Flaherty – you may want to check with Michelle Brown about how that might work out.) It is not clear what voter base he has or appeals to. His campaign money and the election experience of a consultant do not compensate for the lack of a base.

Mark Sacha is on the side of the angels concerning his principled stance on the failure of the DA office to prosecute Pigeon for Election Law violations. It is not clear, however, where Sacha’s campaign funds or his base of supporters will come from.

Aside from being an attractive candidate on his own, John Flynn carries into the Democratic primary the general support of the party committee throughout the county. Voters are likely getting kind of tired of all the politicking this year, so the September primary will see a very low turnout – figure 15 percent or less. When you have a good candidate, a generally unified party and a low turnout, a win for the endorsed candidate is a pretty safe bet.

Petitions hit the street on June 7th.

County Charter Revision Commission proposals raise questions

Once every 10 years Erie County is required by its Charter to review the organization and purposes of the government. A Commission is appointed by county-elected officials to review the entire county government and recommend changes or updates.  The County Legislature considers legislation to implement some or all of the changes, followed by approval or disapproval of the local laws by the County Executive.  Changes that modify the duties and responsibilities of elected officials also need voter approval in a public referendum. Continue reading