Pigeon’s indictment finally turns the page

I have known Steve Pigeon for more than 30 years. I have never considered him a friend.

Right from the get-go, when he worked as a night watchman at the Small Boat Harbor, he was always scheming and self-promoting. Those are not particularly unusual traits for someone seeking to make politics his profession, but as time went on he seemed to give scheming and self-promotion a bad name.

Steve got himself elected to the County Legislature, but then he lost the seat. He ran to replace long-term Democratic Assemblyman Vince Graber. He lost that seat too.

But he kept pushing to move himself up, and he did. When Chairman Jim Sorrentino wound up on the losing side of the Democratic primary for County Executive in 1995, Steve in 1996 maneuvered his way into the party chairmanship.

Even though he was a Democratic Party leader, Steve helped promote the independent campaigns of Tom Golisano for governor. He still to this day maintains a close relationship with Golisano.

Steve also made good connections with President Bill Clinton, with some assists along the way from Golisano. He was planning to play an active role in Hillary’s campaign until the FBI and State Attorney General’s Office came knocking on his door 13 months ago.

As Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve seemed to relish a mean and vindictive role for himself. He often seemed to pay more attention to hurting people or seeking revenge than to electing Democrats.

Four years into his chairmanship a large group of Democratic Party men and women decided that they had enough of his shenanigans. The Task Force to Reform the Democratic Party, led by then-County Clerk Dave Swarts, tried to take the party back. It was a bitter fight, and Pigeon and his minions used every trick they could to hold the chairmanship. It worked, but nothing got any better.

In 2002 I ran as the Task Force’s candidate for County Chairman to get Pigeon out of the office, and after a while Len Lenihan and Jim Keane joined the race. Len was elected. Pigeon was out of the chairmanship, but not forgotten.

He has engaged in a series of political activities over the past fourteen years that, in the minds of well-versed party veterans, crossed the line of illegality in the way he raised and spent money in campaigns. Mysterious funds paid for commercials for Swarts’ 2002 opponent for County Clerk, Fran Pordum. We dug into that and even briefly got DA Frank Clark to assign an investigator to the matter. It was soon dropped with no follow-up.

Other similar Pigeon activity followed. He often played games with the campaign finances of County Legislature candidates, helping some, like Chuck Swanick and Barbara Miller-Williams, and hurting others like Tim Hogues and Betty Jean Grant. He worked with Republican Chris Collins to grab control of the County Legislature. He helped make Pedro Espada the State Senate Majority Leader, but Espada was soon indicted and convicted on corruption charges.

Pigeon worked to torpedo the election chances of some Democratic judicial candidates. He arranged for his foes to lose their jobs, even trying to hurt the job chances of one of those people by seeing that bad references followed the person wherever he applied for jobs in other parts of the country.

In 2013 Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus once again played games with raising and reporting committee revenues and hiding how the money had been spent. We still don’t have a real accounting of that committee’s activities.

Along the way other people who were hurt by Pigeon, or who were simply seeking justice for his questionable election work, came into the picture: Elections Commissioners Dennis Ward and Ralph Mohr; County Legislators Hogues and Grant; assistant DA Mark Sacha, among others. For the most part their complaints fell on deaf ears. Steve has always been good about maintaining friends in high places, and they have helped cover for him. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission did not give complaints against Pigeon a moment’s notice. I am sure the 2nd floor in the State Capitol was thrilled yesterday to read the New York Times headline, “Operative Tied to Cuomo Is Accused of Bribing Judge to Get Favorable Rulings.”

So now Steve Pigeon has been indicted on nine counts and faces several years in prison. He has taken down a Supreme Court Judge with him. The charges relate to bribing a judge, extortion, and grand larceny – not election law violations. I believe the election law violations are a very credible problem for him as well, but we may have to wait and see about that.

When the news finally broke Wednesday afternoon, I thought briefly about tweeting “ding, dong, the witch is dead,” but someone else had just recently used that.

Pigeon, of course, is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Those who know him and how he has operated, however, don’t believe he is innocent. The process will now play itself out in a court of law, one that he cannot influence.

But in the meantime, the indictment alone should wipe away any future chances of Pigeon again meddling in Erie County politics. The page has finally been turned.

5 thoughts on “Pigeon’s indictment finally turns the page

  1. Ken, your article about Steve Pigeon kind of sweeps Judge Michalek into the dustbin with the same broom. Let me assure you that Judge Michalek has always been an upstanding judge, notwithstanding his guilty plea. I don’t know the details of the current matter, and I can’t imagine his honor would’ve taken a plea unless there was something to it, but I can say that 99% of the material that the public is aware of talks about things that are not in any way illegal. The only question is whether the Judge adjudicated a case before him with some bias, influence or taint. I’ve seen no evidence of that yet. Only bare allegations.
    Asking a political operative to help find a relative a job is absolutely commonplace and not at all illegal.
    Same thing with getting hockey tickets. The only thing that would render those actions illegal would be if the judge ruled unfairly, or was influenced by those gifts to act in his official capacity in return for those.
    As for the thousand dollar ticket to a fundraiser, not a dime went into the judge’s pocket. It was just to secure the attendance of a prominent member of the community to a fundraiser. I’m not even certain what the fundraiser was for – the articles I’ve read don’t say – but I do know that any number of fundraisers I have personally hosted for different charities I have given free tickets to certain prominent people just to get them to come. The presence of those people helps to draw paying attendees.
    Ken, as you know I rarely respond to your blogs. I just read them and learn and keep my thoughts to myself. In this instance, this particular judge who often rules against me has proven over the years to be guided by facts and law and nothing else. He is one of the good guys. Pour me enough bourbons and I could tell you the names of judges who aren’t.
    Keep up the good work.
    Steve Cohen

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  2. I’d like to see the proof too, but all the proof that is necessary is the guilty plea. Is it possible that the judge and the “political operative” were just friends? That’s maybe where the political operative’s defense is going, but sitting New York State Supreme Court Justices don’t take a felony rap just because they have a shady friend. And by the way, what the hell is a ‘political operative” anyway? I think it is a synonym for ‘bagman’.
    Sitting New York State Supreme Court Justices don’t need strings pulled– they have their own strings, and they don’t typically have to pull them very hard. This judge seemed straight and capable to me– usually when they aren’t people notice. Rulings seem peculiar, results seem odd, and eventually it comes out.
    One more thing that I think we probably know: when you see a rat in the house there is usually a nest of them. The casual nature of this particular set of circumstances strongly suggests to me that there are a lot of people who are probably not sleeping well

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  3. Bill, you and I have been around the block enough times to see prosecutors pressure “defendants” into taking pleas for many reasons other than guilt. Heck, even the US Supreme Court knows that happens all the time (see, eg., “Alford pleas”). The extremely high cost of a competent criminal defense, emotional pressure upon the family for extended periods of time and the uncertainty of the verdict are three of the most common reasons to get a matter over and done with. You talk about getting a good night’s sleep? I’d sleep better knowing that before he took a plea, that there was evidence that Justice Michalek decided a case against the law or against the facts as a quid pro quo. Until I see that, knowing what I have observed over the past 25 + years about prosecutorial pressure, the act of taking a plea means very little to me.

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  4. I appreciate the article and the transparency in the comments from individuals who are week respected in the community. It keeps me balanced and not judgmental. I to would rather see evidence and trials versus guilty plea through pressure. Unless he’s taking the heat for higher ups…In that case then he’s doing it in fear of believing he has no choice.

    However if he did take a bribe then it’s best that he resign and ALL cases that were before him be reviewed for accuracy.

    As for Pigeon (and others like him)…. let’s see if he can bring the other birdies out the nest… because for sure the corruption in other courtrooms in Erie County are forged with them!

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