Pigeongate comes to a conclusion; pre-election campaign financials

It’s all over but the sentencing. Former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon has pled guilty to a bribery charge in State Supreme Court and to a charge of an illegal campaign donation to Governor Cuomo in federal court. State sentencing is scheduled for December. Federal sentencing will occur in January. The two guilty pleas each carry sentences of approximately one year. How those sentences will be coordinated and finally resolved remains to be seen.   I speculated in a previous post about where Pigeon might prefer to serve his time, if he has any say in the question.

Steve Pigeon and his minions for many years routinely violated the Election Law while claiming that their transgressions were simply errors in the documentation. No one who knew how Pigeon operated ever believed that. He worked hard to destroy the candidacies of various mostly Democratic candidates using questionable and often illegal means. He also damaged and disrupted the lives of many Democratic operatives who dared to cross him.

I ran against Pigeon for Democratic chairman in 2002, along with Len Lenihan and the late Jim Keane. Our efforts weren’t coordinated, but nonetheless we collectively removed Pigeon from the chairmanship; Lenihan was elected.

For a trip down Pigeon’s paths of destruction, which continued for many years after 2002, you can read some past posts here and here. In July 2015 I published an outline of Pigeon’s “WNY Progressive Caucus” and the manner in which he and his followers operated. That committee’s work was the primary genesis of the charges and guilty pleas that followed.

I offered some personal observations about Pigeon following the filing of the first state charges against him in July 2016.

Steve Pigeon brought this damage upon himself. The way politics operates, don’t be surprised if some day he tries to re-emerge from his time in prison to try to resurrect a career that was his whole life. But the damage is done, and it will never be the same. It’s about time.

Campaign financials

Candidates on the November ballot were required to file campaign financial reports on October 5th for receipts and expenses through October 1. Here is a quick rundown of the balances in the accounts of major party statewide and local candidates, plus the minor party candidates for governor:


Democrat – Andrew Cuomo   $9,203,674

Republican – Marc Molinaro   $210,835

Green – Howie Hawkins   $31,218

Serve America Movement – Stephanie Miner   $55,082

Attorney General

Democrat –Letitia James   $383,768

Republican – Keith Wofford   $400,978

State Comptroller

Thomas DiNapoli   $2,691,991

Jonathan Trichter   $153,393

State Supreme Court – Cross endorsements

Paula Feroleto   No report filed as of October 12th pm

John Curran   $58,382

State Senate – 59th District

Democrat – no candidate

Republican – Pat Gallivan   $80,208

State Senate – 60th District

Democrat – Carima El-Behairy   $19,160

Republican – Chris Jacobs   $484,274

State Senate – 61st District

Democrat – Joan Seamans   $31,778

Republican – Michael Ranzenhofer   $991,967

State Senate – 62nd District

Democrat – no candidate

Republican – Robert Ortt   $182,646

State Senate – 63rd District

Democrat – Tim Kennedy   $427,088

Republican – Thomas Gaglione   No report filed as of October 12th pm

State Assembly – 140th District

Democrat – Robin Schimminger   $410,632

Republican – Adam Ohar   No report filed as of October 12th pm

State Assembly – 141st District

Democrat – Crystal Peoples-Stokes   No report filed as of October 12th pm

Republican – Ross Kostecky   No report filed as of October 12th pm

State Assembly — 142nd District

Democrat – Patrick Burke   $32,743

Republican – Eric Bohen   $21,889

State Assembly – 143rd District

Democrat – Monica Wallace     $70,872

Republican – Daniel Centinello Sr.    $500

State Assembly – 144th District

Democrat – Joseph DiPasquale   $1,643

Republican – Michael Norris   $88,558

State Assembly – 145th District

Democrat – no candidate

Republican – Angelo Morinello   $80,498

State Assembly – 146th District

Democrat – Karen McMahon   $30,722

Republican – Ray Walter   $73,229

State Assembly – 147th District

Democrat – Luke Wochensky   $24,890

Republican – David DiPietro   $58,967

State Assembly – 149th District

Democrat – Sean Ryan   $223,869

Republican – Joseph Totaro     No report filed as of October 12th pm

Erie County Court Judge

Suzanne Maxwell Barnes  $1,158

Erie County Family Court

Lisa B. Rodwin   $18,730

Erie County Clerk

Democrat – Angela Marinucci   $44,893

Republican – Michael Kearns   $64,002

A judge, the president, some bishops and a priest

When I was a freshman at Canisius College many moons ago (it was 1966), I was a political science major. I was drawn to the subject by President Kennedy. The world of politics seemed fascinating.

In the fall of that year, as the College has done for many years, a major figure in government came to speak at the school, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. Justice Brennan was a Democrat, but he had been named to the Court by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. He was appointed in October of that year, a month before the presidential election. It was a recess appointment (the Senate was not in session) and he was confirmed in 1957. My, how things have changed.

Brennan became known as a prominent liberal on the Court, although that’s probably not what Eisenhower expected when he appointed him.

Justice Brennan’s main speech at Canisius was in the evening, but earlier that afternoon he spoke in a student lounge. There were maybe 30 or 40 people there, so it was kind of neat – up close and personal. I don’t remember much of what Brennan said that day, but one point has stayed planted in my memory.

He made a comment about how the Court arrives at its decisions, noting (tongue in cheek, I later figured out) that of course, the Supreme Court does not make decisions involving politics. He paused briefly, waiting for some response from his audience. Being either in awe of his presence or maybe just being unfamiliar with how things really worked, no one reacted. He chuckled a bit at the lack of reaction, and then just went on.

The truth is, of course, that the Supreme Court does at least sometimes make political decisions, although the Justices do their best not to make it obvious. The best example of a political decision was in 2000, when the Supreme Court elected George W. Bush president by a five to four vote.

But now we have a situation, perhaps (?), probably (?), where a nominee for the Court has displayed the most obvious and specific example of politics that a Supreme Court nominee has ever displayed. Brett Kavanaugh’s aggressive political attack on Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others in the party who are not part of the confirmation decision was the most outlandish public example of judicial politics that the country has ever seen.

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.” So said the judge. Donald Trump couldn’t have said it any better himself. How much of that big chip on Kavanaugh’s shoulder would he carry into the deliberations of the Supreme Court?

The allegations leveled against Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, where she stated that she had been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers, are extremely serious matters. Many found Dr. Ford much more convincing that Judge Kavanaugh. Whether a FBI investigation brings any clarity to the matter remains to be seen.

But there are also very serious issues with this nominee that transcend the assault question. There are reasons to doubt Kavanaugh’s truthfulness under oath about issues like his involvement in the leaks of the Starr investigation of the Clintons in the 1990’s and his possible access to and use of stolen information involving court nominees when he worked in the Bush administration prior to his judicial appointment in 2006.

And then there is the question of judicial temperament. He showed in his testimony last week a lack of a rational and balanced temperament. He was unhinged. He was unprofessional. He was apparently displaying characteristics that until last Thursday were not widely known.

Did you know that he likes beer? Did you know that he loves beer? Did you know that he likes to drink lots of beer? Did you know that Bud Light just signed him up for some commercials – “dilly, dilly?” Okay, I made up the part about the commercials.

Part of the cover provided by some of his supporters, including Trump, is that even if the allegations were true, they occurred over 30 years ago, so why are they relevant to this life-time appointment? Why didn’t Dr. Ford come forward back then?

Which segues nicely into a similar issue, the activity of some Catholic priests and the Church’s handling of such matters. Those issues pre-date the Kavanaugh nomination, and will undoubtedly continue long after the issue of the Court appointment is resolved, one way or another.

Just this week the Buffalo News reported about another instance where the hierarchy of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese shuffled around a priest who engaged in sexual abuse with at least one child with whom he came in contact. The Diocese evidently did not report any abuse to legal authorities; they just covered it up by reassigning the priest from parish to parish.

The story notes the difficult issues that the parents of a certain child dealt with concerning that priest and their child. The parents and child lived quietly with the horrible experience for decades because the Church had such an overriding influence on their lives.

As the stories about sexual abuse among certain clergy continue to cascade locally, nationally and internationally, the Church is struggling mightily to deal with these matters. The leaders of the Church are not doing very well with that.

We have seen numerous reports in the media about why victims of sexual abuse did not come out and raise the issues when they occurred. Consistently the answer is that the shame, or fear, or lack of support has kept people quiet for very long periods of time. The issue is the same whether the accused is a politician, a judge, a priest, or an entertainer.

Things are slowly changing, but not without some resistance. Donald Trump, who has a number of alleged victims of sexual assault to personally contend with, is pleased with Brett Kavanaugh’s self-defense. Republicans in the Senate have demonstrated pretty clearly where they stood on the question of the assault that was discussed at last week’s hearing.

The Catholic Church hierarchy begs for forgiveness for their past actions while they prepare large checks to try to settle up for the damage that has occurred. But when will they ever tell us that, going forward, any evidence of sexual abuse by clergy will be reported immediately to the police for investigation and possible prosecution. In-house discipline hasn’t work and isn’t right. Sending a predator away for some rehab is not sufficient when a crime may have been committed.

The Republicans seem happy to settle their dilemma by promoting Judge Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Talk about a reassignment!

How ironic it is that the Republicans and the Buffalo Catholic Church have sought out the same way of dealing with the issues they face – having the FBI, or in the case of the Buffalo Diocese, a former FBI agent, involved in looking into, controlling, managing – choose your own verb – the problems that are threatening their institutions.

Who knows whether such investigative involvement will resolve anything or simply serve as a vehicle for covering up a nasty issue that is dominating public attention? Such work can’t hurt, but whether it helps is questionable.

Cover-ups, it is frequently noted, are often worse than the crime. We’re about to find out if that’s true in these cases.