Pre-primary financial disclosures; continuing ed for DC attorneys

For elected officials and candidates who will be on the primary ballot this year, August 11th was the filing deadline for the 32-Day Pre-Primary financial reports. Here is a brief rundown of the disclosures.

Mayor of Buffalo

The September 12th Democratic primary, which will effectively determine who will be the next mayor, is a contest among incumbent Byron Brown, City Comptroller Mark Schroeder, and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. While all three are actively campaigning, the financial reports indicate a rather lopsided race. A recent Spectrum News/Siena College poll also shows Brown with a two-to-one lead over Schroeder.

Mayor Brown has a balance of $582,168, having raised $112,964 since the previous July 15th report. His committee spent $49,623.

Comptroller Schroeder reports $130,526 in his campaign account. He has collected $50,265 since July, with $37,854 in spending.

Legislator Grant does not have a campaign account for mayor. Her county legislative account shows $11,986 cash on hand as of the August 7th cut-off date of the report. She took in $6,200 and spent $1,441.

With a month to go before Primary Day none of the mayoral committees shows any spending on TV and radio ads. That’s somewhat unprecedented for a major primary.

Erie County Clerk

While there is not a primary for this office, the Republican candidate, Mickey Kearns, did file a report. He has a balance of $45,604, having raised $21,974 since mid-July.

Erie County Sheriff

Neither Republican incumbent Sheriff Tim Howard nor his Democratic opponent Bernie Tolbert have primaries. Howard did file a report showing that he has $110,211 available for his campaign. His committee purchased $10,000 in radio ads.

Erie County Comptroller

There are no primaries for Comptroller and neither candidate filed a new report.

Judicial campaigns

Democrat Susan Eagan is unopposed for the office of County Judge. She raised an additional $550 since July. Democrat Surrogate Court Judge candidate Acea Mosey, who is also unopposed, collected an additional $350.

Incumbent Republican State Supreme Court Justice Erin Peradotto did not file an update on her July report. Democratic candidate for Supreme Court, Lynn Keane, has created a campaign committee. The Supreme Court candidates, expected to be cross endorsed by Democrats and Republicans at the September Judicial Nominating Conventions, are not required to file financial reports at this time.

That’s four major judicial offices without competitive races. While the nomination process for Supreme Court limits competition to whatever the Nominating Conventions produce, having no competition for the Erie County judgeships is a hard-to-understand development. This all seems to give new meaning to the term “nolo contendere.”

Amherst Town Board

The Republicans have a three-way primary for the Amherst Town Board. Candidate Erin Baker’s reported expenses include a “transfer out” of $5,500 to the Erie County Republican Committee, which is chaired by Baker’s husband, Nick Langworthy – an interesting transaction. That is about half of the total amount raised by her endorsed Republican running mate, Joe Spino. Baker’s committee has a balance of $43,897. The third candidate in the primary, Christopher Drongosky, hasn’t even created a campaign committee, which it would appear violates the Election Law.

The Republican candidate for Amherst Town Supervisor, Marjory Jaeger, has a balance of $32,923 in her account compared with the $10,677 in the treasury of Democratic candidate Brian Kulpa.

Continuing education training for DC attorneys

Attorneys, like other licensed professionals, are required to keep current with their line of work by attending courses and programs that provide information on the latest developments in their respective fields.

One of the major impacts of all the mess that the Trump administration has created in the Russian fiasco and other matters is the sudden increased demand for personal legal services that has resulted. It almost seems like people from the White House housekeeping staff up to the president of the United States are lawyering-up.

What better example of the consequences of this than the District of Columbia Bar Association’s recent continuing education announcement:

Witness to History
As turmoil roils the current White House administration, the D.C. Bar begins a series of interviews with members who played a role in investigations of former presidents.

Representing the President

 

Robert S. Bennett, the personal attorney for President Clinton in the Paula Jones case, offers his personal view on the challenges of representing a sitting U.S. president facing investigation.

Getting to the Truth

 

W. Neil Eggleston reflects on his experience as deputy chief counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives’ committee that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal.

Planning to spend money you don’t have

An “Another Voice” article in a recent edition of the Buffalo News poses a serious, important and often overlooked view about the grand scheme of public issues: what is being proposed would be great, but where would the money come from?

The subject in question is the proposal from local thinker Kevin Gaughan to redevelop the Delaware Park Golf Course, relocate the golf course in South Park and restore the South Park Arboretum. Both parks were part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s grand design for an inter-connected park system in Buffalo.

Neither of the parks look like what Olmstead envisioned in the nineteenth century.  Both parks undoubtedly could use some improvements. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy is focused on that.

Gaughan’s regionalism efforts in the nineties did not lead to anything significant. His local government downsizing efforts, particularly when he suggested in some cases going down to three member legislative bodies, saved little money but added political confusion and potential ethical issues for the local governments that signed up. A past blog post noted those issues in the Town of Hamburg, which subsequently decided to go back to a five member town board.

The Gaughan proposal for the parks promotes the idea that Jack Nicklaus’ golf course design firm would come to town, at cost, and redesign the two golf courses. That’s all great except for the fact that someone has come up with a number for the total cost of the projects — $42 million.

The “Another Voice” article, written by Anne Harding Joyce, former chairwoman of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, outlines how she views Gaughan’s park plans. The emphasis in the following excerpt from the article is mine.

As a member of the Long-Range Planning Committee of the conservancy, I was present at the meeting with Gaughan and the representatives of Nicklaus Golf last fall. Everyone present was cautiously optimistic about the possibilities – they are all pieces of the conservancy’s master plan…

At that meeting last fall, Gaughan was informed by the conservancy that there was absolutely no money – zero – available for it to pursue this project and that the conservancy was not in a financial position to jeopardize the current local funding streams that allow it to do its primary job – maintain and protect Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks and Parkways.

Gaughan unequivocally stated that he would raise the entire amount needed to complete the project from sources outside of Western New York. It appears that Gaughan has begun a public campaign to make it look as if the conservancy has stalled the development of these projects by refusing to identify local funding sources. This is absurd.

I would suggest that Gaughan show the conservancy his financial commitments and then perhaps the conservancy would have more confidence that he is holding up his end of the original conversation.

Kevin Gaughan is a very bright and articulate advocate for the projects he promotes.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Kevin, but $42 million doesn’t grow on trees.

He claims to be able to raise that amount of money from out-of-town interests. History plus observations about how the world works show that proposition to be silly. Why would out-of-town interests want to provide millions of dollars to re-design a couple small golf courses in Buffalo? In the meantime local cultural organizations are already in the hunt for millions of dollars in capital funds for their particular projects.

The lack of reality about funding options for noteworthy projects that have been discussed in Western New York shows that Gaughan’s park plan is similar to other grandiose ideas. That doesn’t mean that any of them make sense. They include:

  • The expansion of NFTA’s Metrorail line into Amherst up to the University of Buffalo’s North Campus, which is estimated to cost $1.2 billion for construction and countless millions more for the expanded operating costs of the line. The state has committed $5 million to studying this idea. The line would extend the system an additional six-plus miles, with half of the stops on the UB campus. Great for UB! The construction money would proposedly come from the federal government (which has no plans for any substantial infrastructure work); the state government (that has already provided the Buffalo Billion); and the county and town governments (that are not about to get out their checkbooks for this).
  • The capping and landscaping of a small portion of the Kensington Expressway in an attempt to restore some of the lost ambiance of the neighborhood that was destroyed when the Expressway was built. The state has already spent money on preliminary environmental/design/engineering work on this idea, which is seen as costing $170 million. Repeat here the comments in the first bullet point about where the money would come from.

I guess it is my life experiences that include county budget director and member of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority that lead me to a scrooge-like view of the proposed public works projects noted here. All of them, in and of themselves, are exciting and could improve the area in various ways. But where does the money come from? Does it make sense to spend time and money studying things that rational and realistic planners would conclude are never going to happen?

If someone drives around the City of Buffalo and the first-ring suburbs it is easy to identify many very ordinary but very important needs for public money. Think Main Street in Buffalo and Maple Road in Amherst, both of which are badly in need of repair. Think taking down the Skyway and improving access to the outer harbor with a ground-level bridge. Add community facilities of all sorts. These are projects that already sit on drawing boards somewhere, with nowhere near the amount of money that would be needed to complete these very mundane public works. If any of the above noted big projects were to move along the ordinary day-to-day infrastructure necessities would fall further down the list of funding priorities.

This community has made some great strides in re-orienting the job mix in the area and in developing great facilities such as Canalside, but only by being realistic will that progress continue. Think big, but think clearly.

July campaign financial reports are filed; speculation about Western District federal appointments

July 15th was the deadline for political committees in New York State to file their periodic financial reports. Committees involved with an active election campaign this year will be required to file several additional 2017 reports starting in August.

Compared with past experience, the election campaigns that are being fought this year are publicly pretty mild. The work of collecting and filing nominating petitions is complete. Organizing fundraisers and getting voter recruitment and get-out-the-vote programs set up is, or at least should be, well underway and mostly out of view of the general public that is not much interested in local political things in the middle of July. Here are the financial highlights of the major local campaigns to date.

Mayor of Buffalo

The marquee race this year is for Mayor of Buffalo. Mayor Byron Brown is seeking his 4th term. His challengers are City Comptroller Mark Schroeder and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

As the incumbent, Brown started the race with financial and organizational advantages over his opponents. Financially the Brown lead in campaign funds remains substantial, with his current bankroll more than four times larger than Schroeder’s.

As of July 15th the Mayor’s political committee had a balance of $518,826. He raised $439,292 in the past six months from a large variety of individuals and corporations. Strangely, the Brown report includes 39 pages of fairly large contributions, totaling $251,443 that lists only addresses but no names. The Brown committee spent $261,085, with the biggest expenses for polling and fundraising.

Schroeder has a balance of $118,115, with his six months of fundraising producing $115,592. His committee spent $154,537, with the largest expenditures paid to a Los Angeles consultant and polling expenses.

Betty Jean Grant does not have a mayoral campaign committee registered with the State Board of Elections. Grant’s county legislative committee balance is only $7,227. She raised $6,240 since January and spent $4,678.

There are also candidates who have submitted petitions for the Republican, Conservative and Green Party nominations. No one at this point in time has any reason to take those candidates seriously. The Republican and Conservative candidates might only be “placeholders” who may later decline the nominations to be replaced by another candidate. Mark Schroeder has filed Reform Party petitions. There are 16 registered Reform Party voters in the City of Buffalo.

Erie County races

There are five countywide races on the ballot this year. Here is a rundown of the financial reports from the major candidates in those election contests:

  • Sheriff – Incumbent Republican Tim Howard is being challenged by Democrat Bernie Tolbert. Howard has $138,539 in his campaign treasury. He raised $92,650 during the past six months. Tolbert has $41,742 available. He loaned his committee $25,000.
  • County Clerk – This position has been vacant since Chris Jacobs assumed his new office of State Senator in January. Peggy LaGree, formerly the First Deputy Clerk, has been holding down the fort as Acting County Clerk. The endorsed Democratic candidate is Steve Cichon, who for many years served as a reporter and then news director at WBEN Radio. The Republican and Conservative Party candidate is Assemblyman Mickey Kearns. As of July 15th political newcomer Cichon had raised $16,848 and has $14,216 in the bank. Kearns has a balance of $27,380. He raised $17,149 for the Clerk campaign since January. It is likely that before this campaign is over the Democratic and Republican Party organizations will spend heavily to win the office. This election is only for the final year of Jacobs’ term in office as Clerk. The office will be on the ballot again for a full four year term in 2018.
  • Comptroller – Incumbent Republican Stefan Mychajliw is seeking his second full term in the office. The Democrat is CPA and attorney Vanessa Grushefski. Mychajliw has a campaign account balance of $90,441, having raised $32,525 since January. Grushefski has $15,817 in her account, having raised $20,577 thus far.
  • County Court Judge – Democrat Susan Eagan, who has filed petitions in all parties, is the only candidate running for this office. This is somewhat of a mystery since the office comes with a ten year term and a very generous salary. Nonetheless Eagan has a campaign committee with a balance of $38,525. She has raised $39,934 and has received a $10,000 loan from Jim and Sue Eagan.  Whatever she cannot spend on her campaign or by donating to the political parties or to other candidates will need to be refunded after the election.
  • County Surrogate Court Judge – there is also only one candidate for this judicial seat, Acea Mosey, who has served as the Court’s Administrator for the past several years under retiring Judge Barbara Howe. Mosey is endorsed by the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties and has filed petitions for the other parties’ nominations. Her committee has a campaign balance of $750,832. She raised $379,201 since January, and loaned the committee another $300,000, bringing the total of her personal loans to $450,000. Like Eagan and all judicial candidates, there will be lots of refund checks going out from the Mosey campaign after November. Acea Mosey is well qualified for the office of Surrogate Judge and this race has essentially been over since last year. So the only question, when looking at all the money she has raised and loaned to her campaign is: “why?”

State Supreme Court

There are two positions of Justice of the Supreme Court in the 8th Judicial District to be filled this year. There is one incumbent – Appellate Court Justice Erin Peradotto. Democratic and Republican Party leaders have come together to propose cross-endorsements for Justice Peradotto, who is a registered Republican, and Lynn Keane, a Democrat. Keane is currently the Town Justice in Orchard Park. She narrowly lost an election to the Supreme Court last year.

Assuming the respective party nominating conventions go along with the Erie County chairmen in September we are only going through the formalities here. Peradotto has a committee fund balance of $101,708. Keane has not as yet created a 2017 committee.

Town of Amherst

For now I’ll just leave this as a list of campaign committee balances with no editorial comments (except that Republican State Chairman Ed Cox contributed $250 to Erin Baker):

  • Democrat for Supervisor – Brian Kulpa $4,070
  • Republican for Supervisor – Marjory Jaeger $31,465
  • Democrat for Council – Jacqualine Berger $2,939
  • Democrat for Council – Shawn Lavin $1,092
  • Republican for Council – Erin Baker $56,800
  • Republican for Council – Joseph Spino $7,449
  • Republican for Council – Christopher Drongosky – no committee registered
  • Conservative for Council – William Kindel – no Council committee registered

O’Donnell for New York

The O’Donnell for New York committee was set up in 2005 in anticipation of a 2006 race for state attorney general. Denise O’Donnell was to have been the committee’s candidate.  She dropped out after the state Democratic Party Convention in the spring of 2006.

Aside from preliminary campaign expenses for the race that was never run, the main beneficiaries of the committee’s largesse have been the re-election campaign of her State Supreme Court Justice husband John O’Donnell and her lobbyist/political consultant son Jack.

As of July 15th the O’Donnell for New York committee had a balance in its treasury of $280,776. It spent $268 on bank and IRS fees since January. Bank interest produced $405 in new revenues. In total this committee has raised $1,122,670 since 2005. You can read further information about this committee in a previous posting on this blog.

Garner update

A previous post mentioned the political income that political operative Maurice Garner had collected in recent years. 2017 is not going as well. His Urban Visions and Garner Associates collected nothing in the past six months. His Urban Chamber of Commerce organization, one of three locations raided by the FBI and State Police last month, collected a total of $650 since January from the committees of Acea Mosey, Byron Brown and Joel Giambra.

Speculation about Trump administration appointments in the Western District of New York

The most obvious and significant local political appointments that follow from the election of a new president are the positions of federal judge, United States attorney and United States marshal. Word on the street is that Republicans in Western New York have settled on their choices for those offices in the Western District of New York.

For judge the person moving forward is Amy Habib Rittling, a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman. The role that Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand might play in consideration of the nomination is not known. This appointment would fill a long term vacancy on the Court.

For U.S. attorney speculation centers around Hodgson Russ partner John Sinatra. Sinatra is the brother of developer and Bush 43 appointee Nick Sinatra. The U.S. attorney’s position has been vacant since William Hochul resigned last fall.

The choice for U.S. marshal, according to circulating reports, is Peter Vito. Vito served as Commissioner of Central Police Services in the administration of then County Executive Chris Collins. Normally the U.S. marshal’s position in the Western District goes to someone from Monroe County if the U.S. attorney is from Erie County.

Actual presidential nominations and congressional action on these appointments will depend on how such things fit into the schedules of the Trump administration and Congress. At the moment they seem to be pretty busy with other things.

The State doesn’t need to spend $25 million for a train station

As the state’s 2017-18 budget finally fell into place we found that among the financial decisions is a pile of goodies from the state. Governor Cuomo provided the Buffalo Billion II, which is actually one half billion dollars – a lot of money. There is also $385 million more stuffed in the budget for projects in Western New York and statewide that the governor and the Legislature will separately award. Continue reading