Casey Bortnick

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Protest Planned After Report Buffalo Billion Project Lowered Minority Hiring Goals

The same day Governor Cuomo announced a Massachusetts-based solar company was investing $700 million and bringing up to 1,000 new jobs to Batavia, he continued to face questions over another solar-based project in Buffalo.  This, as several Buffalo-based community groups are planning to protest, claiming minority hiring goals on the construction project were lowered.

“I never heard that and I don’t believe that’s right,” Cuomo told reporters in Batavia on Wednesday.

Buffalo’s Investigative Post was the first to report state officials had agreed to lower the goals from 25 to 15 percent.  Up to 1,500 construction workers were expected to be working by this fall to get the multi-million dollar solar panel manufacturing plant up and running by next year.

“We have what’s called an MWBE (Minority and Women Business Enterprises) quota requirement on projects and I’ve never heard that the Solar City one hasn’t met that,” Cuomo added.

Several groups including B.U.I.L.D. of Buffalo, We Are Women Warriors, and Concerned Clergy of WNY are planning a protest Friday morning in front of SolarCity’s South Park Avenue construction site.  Their stated goal is to “get answers from L.P. Ciminelli and the building trades unions.”

The Governor’s office did not offer any further comment on reports the minority hiring goals were lowered.  The protest is scheduled for Friday at 10:30a.m.

Ex-Staffer Accusing Assemblywoman Of Sexual Harassment Hires Attorney Who Sued Gabryszak

The former Legislative staffer accusing Western New York Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak of sexual harassment has hired an attorney. It’s the same attorney who represented six women who raised similar complaints against Wozniak’s predecessor, former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.

Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen has learned Wozniak’s accuser, Elias Farah, hired Niagara Falls-based attorney John Bartolomei. Bartolomei represented all but one of Gabryszak’s accusers, many of them former staffers, in 2013.

Gabryszak retired soon after the accusations came to light. That cleared the way for Wozniak, a Republican, to win the Democratic-leaning Cheektowaga-based Assembly seat, last November.

In the Gabryszak case, Bartolomei’s clients sought an astounding total of more than $2.6 billion in damages from the former Assemblyman, his Chief of Staff, the State Assembly and others. Bartolomei has not responded to several requests for comment on the Wozniak complaint.

As Whalen first reported last month, Farah’s claims are being reviewed by the Assembly Ethics Committee. Wozniak was scheduled to be the last person interviewed by an outside law professor brought in to conduct a preliminary investigation.

Wozniak is represented by Buffalo-based attorney Steven Cohen. Cohen has spoken to several media sources denouncing the claims against his client, but has since has since been advised by the Ethics Committee to keep the proceedings confidential.

Bills-Sabres Owner & Cuomo Donor Defends Fracking During 60 Minutes Sports Interview

Acknowledging the “irony” of how a business practice that’s illegal in New York State helped keep the Buffalo Bills in Western New York, billionaire Terry Pegula defended the controversial gas drilling method better known as hydro-fracking.  The Bills and Sabres owner’s comments came during an interview that aired on Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports, Tuesday night.

“I’m very proud of what I do. I’m in the oil and gas business I have been my whole life.  I believe my industry is getting some publicity it doesn’t deserve,” Pegula said.

As detailed in the 60 Minutes Sports report, Pegula turned a $7,500 loan from friends and family into the oil and gas company, East Resources Inc.  The company formed in the 1980’s and eventually became a multi-billion dollar business, thanks in part to drilling in the Marcellus Shale region across New York’s border in Pennsylvania.

In 2014, Pegula sold the gas drilling rights of thousands of acres of land in Ohio for $1.75 billion.  It was a deal that went through a little before Pegula bought the Bills for $1.4 billion.

Pegula is seen by many in Western New York as a hero for purchasing the Bills, as at least one outside bidder proposed moving the team to Toronto.  Even those who oppose fracking haven’t shied away from singing his praises, including Governor Cuomo.

Pegula was a significant donor to Governor Cuomo’s re-election campaign last year, even as it appeared his administration was moving closer to a permanent fracking ban.  The apparent ties between the two led Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Howie Hawkins to lash out at Pegula, calling his fracking profits a “scandal.”

Even as the State DEC moved to officially ban fracking this summer, the perceived mutual goal of rebuilding Buffalo continued to tie the Governor and Bills-Sabres owner together.  Pegula was careful not to criticize Cuomo or his policies directly, Tuesday night.

“There is some irony there though, is there not? Asked CBS Correspondent Jeff Glor. “It’s a practice that’s still not allowed in New York State and in large part has kept the Bills in New York State.”

“Yeah,” Pegula said. “That’s quite a twist isn’t it?”

WNY Congressman Sounds Off On Investigation Involving Former Aide

Western New York Congressman Chris Collins has never been shy about touting the skills of those who work for him or defending them from criticism when he feels it’s necessary.  Wednesday, while announcing his now former Chief of Staff has taken a new job, he offered his take on a well-publicized investigation.

“There’s nothing there and there never was anything there and it should be an embarrassment to the U.S. Attorney that this even happened,” Collins said.

Back in May, state investigators raided the Buffalo condo of former Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Pigeon. Documents and electronics were also taken from the homes of former Buffalo Deputy Mayor Steve Casey and Collins’ longtime aide Chris Grant.

“It was a tragedy to put them through it, the other two individuals as well as their families, but I think it’s very telling those six months after the fact there’s not a peep or anything coming forth to suggest any wrong doing,” said Collins.

Those interviewed as part of the investigation said it centered on the Pigeon-backed political action committee the WNY Progressive Caucus. The PAC funded 2013 challenges to Democratic Party-endorsed candidates in several local races. According to several sources, Casey and Grant partnered to produce political mailers.

Pigeon’s PAC hired them to produce some of these mailers, one of which caught the attention of the Erie County Board of Elections. By phone Wednesday night, Pigeon had no comment. Collins did.

“Call it the political witch-hunt of the Attorney General, calling the press to watch folks show up at someone’s house to take away electronic information and trying to suggest that somehow work wasn’t done when the Buffalo News themselves did all the printing of the direct mail, makes it laughable on its face,” Collins said

As first reported by the Buffalo News, Grant, who was not available for comment Wednesday night, announced he’s taking a position with Axiom Strategies. The company is the largest GOP direct-mail political consulting firm in the country and Collins said they fully vetted Grant and the AG’s investigation before hiring him.

Multiple sources tell Time Warner Cable News they believe the investigation is still open but at least one person familiar with the case said it is odd there’s been no movement. Neither the U.S. Attorney’s office nor the Attorney General’s office had immediate comment Wednesday night.

Buffalo-based U.S. Attorney William Hochul recused himself early on because he’s married to Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul. Sources tell us the case was handled by Hochul’s assistant, J.P. Kennedy.

“I knew all along there was nothing there and it’s not the way law enforcement should conduct themselves, but in New York State we’ve seen overzealous folks trying to get the press (there) before and it happened again and I hope at some point they stand up and admit that everything they did was politically based and inappropriate and apologize to Mr. Grant,” Collins said.

Grant, 34, spent a decade with Collins serving as his chief-of-staff when he was Erie County Executive before assuming the same role when Collins was elected to Congress in 2012.

“I am going to miss him a lot but he is going to be working for the top political consulting firm in the country and I intend to, when needed, to avail myself of his services as client of his,” Collins said.  “So I’m sorry to see him go but I always like to see folks on my staff move up into new positions that recognize their abilities.”

Erie County DA Fires Back Against ‘Times’ Article While Announcing Bid for Judgeship

For Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita the timing certainly could have been better.  It’s not clear exactly how long he’s planned on seeking a State Supreme Court Judgeship, but it’s likely he was eyeing the post well before a high profile case landed on his desk last month.

“I have made a conscious decision not to comment on the (Patrick) Kane matter, as I have done.  This is something I’ve done in every single similar matter we’ve had since I’ve been district attorney,” said Sedita.

Sedita’s silence on the alleged rape investigation of the Chicago Blackhawks star didn’t stop a New York Times columnist from running a critical report on his handling of the case.  Reports circulated that Sedita planned to present the case to a grand jury and had thensuspended” the grand jury while Kane and his accuser negotiated an out-of-court settlement.

Former Federal Prosecutor Paul Shechtman was quoted, “Most prosecutors would say if your victim does not want to cooperate you have a nightmarish case. But to stop a grand jury really does send the message that justice is for sale.”

When Time Warner Cable News reached out to Shechtman about his part in the article the attorney had no comment but did express surprise he had been quoted.

The critical Times article was published just two days before Sedita announced he was seeking the endorsement of both the Erie County Democrat and Republican Parties for one of two open State Supreme Court Judgeships.  The article forced Sedita to at least bend his own policy and respond to reporter questions related to the Kane case.

“It was outrageous.  It was full of factual misrepresentations.  The reporter never bothered to call me, never bothered to interview me.  He was taking unwarranted shots.  He makes several factual, simple factual inaccuracies. I read it and I was just shaking my head,” Sedita said.

Kane’s attorney, Paul Cambria confirmed to Time Warner Cable News last week that the Grand Jury proceeding had been postponed, but could not elaborate on why.

“I don’t know this columnist.  This columnist never called me.  Why a sports columnist in the New York Times would be taking shots at me, I don’t know.  I can’t give you an answer to that,” Sedita said.

Former State Attorney General and Republican Dennis Vacco had very public differences with Sedita in the past over his handling of certain cases.  In this instance, Vacco called the criticism unfair.

“(The Times is) not recognizing, necessarily, the steps that he has to carefully go through to bring together evidence in a very high-profile case such as this and that speed isn’t always the best thing for any of the parties in terms of seeking justice,” said Vacco.

As time goes by and Kane returns to work, Vacco believes the speculation and pressure that comes along with the case will only increase.

“When you have such intense press scrutiny it does ratchet up the pressure.  The pressure of getting it right goes up just dramatically,” Vacco added.

Sedita, a Democrat, was cross-endorsed by the GOP in 2012 during his bid for re-election as the Erie County District Attorney.  It’s unclear if the attention around the Kane case will have any impact on his effort to get the backing of both parties for Supreme Court Judge.  Something he’s actively seeking.

“I’m hopeful.  That obviously makes things a lot easier, a lot less expensive,” said Sedita.

According to July campaign disclosures, Sedita had about $175,000 in his coffers.  Sedita has practiced law for 30 years; almost all of that time was spent in the DA’s office.

For Sedita, a seat on the bench would be a dream come true.

“I think for most lawyers it’s the pinnacle of your career.  It’s what you want to do, to preside over matters and to ensure that justice is done,” he added

Erie County Executive Not Worried About Dismal Primary Turnout

Anyone who follows politics will tell you voter turnout in a primary election is typically low, but Thursday’s 7.5 percent voter turnout in the Buffalo-area was among the lowest in recent memory.

“It was historically low.  I don’t know if it broke an all-time record but again a lot of this is attributed to the fact there wasn’t a major race on top of the ticket,” said Erie County Elections Commissioner Len Lenihan.

There were certainly distractions, like the opening night of the NFL in a sports crazed city,  not to mention the movement of the Primary to a Thursday to avoid conflicting with Rosh Hashanah.

“People aren’t used to voting on Thursday.  They’re used to voting on Tuesdays,” Lenihan added.

On the other hand, one of the most well-publicized Buffalo Common Council races featured a candidate whose racist remarks drew the ire of the public for weeks.  Even with embattled Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority Board member Joe Mascia trying to secure the Democratic line, barely more than a thousand votes were cast.

“It’s hard to imagine a turnout that low in frankly a race that was pretty well-publicized,” said Lenihan.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is counting on a much better voter turnout in the Fillmore District and the rest of the city in November.  His challenger, Republican State Assemblyman Ray Walter, is expected to perform well in his home suburb of Amherst and other historically GOP leaning towns and villages.

“Four years ago, my opponent, the incumbent said there’s no way they’re going to get the turnout that they think they need in the city of Buffalo and we far surpassed that in the turnout,” said Poloncarz.

Despite the dismal primary numbers, Lenihan believes the County Executive’s race will draw more voters in places like Buffalo’s Fillmore district to the polls.

“It’s a major community-wide office that people are interested in, that will stimulate the turnout,” Lenihan added.


Update: WNY Assemblywoman Turns Over Cell Phone And Computer Records As Part Of Sexual Harassment Probe

New details Thursday, in the sexual harassment and retaliation investigation of a Western New York Assemblywoman.  The attorney for Cheektowaga Republican Angela Wozniak says they have taken steps to cooperate with a preliminary investigation by the Assembly Ethics Committee.

Buffalo-based attorney Steven Cohen told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen, who broke the story last week, that Wozniak has turned over her cell phone, email and copies of all her hard drives to the Ethics Committee.

“Assemblywoman Wozniak has said she’s got nothing to fear and she’s directed me just to cooperate in turning over all of the evidence so we did that today,” Cohen said.

The committee has assigned an independent law professor, Merrick Rossein from the City University of New York, to conduct the interviews in the investigation.  Cohen said Wozniak will be interviewed last, September 28th.

Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak, Former Wozniak Staffer Elias Farah

Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak, Former Wozniak Staffer Elias Farah

Cohen told several media sources that Wozniak’s former Legislative Director Elias Farah filed the complaint.  Farah, who declined comment, ran for Erie County Legislature in 2013.  Sources have told Time Warner Cable News that Wozniak and Farah did have a sexual relationship, although Cohen would not confirm that.

“I too find it hard to believe that any credible complaint could be made against this assemblywoman to be intimidating or harassing anyone,” said Cohen.  “She (Wozniak) and her husband are bearing under the embarrassment of these kinds of allegations but both of them are confident that they’re going to get through this,” said Cohen.

Cohen expressed frustration with the Ethics Committee’s process.  He said he was never given a copy of the complaint or even told initially who made it.

“I have represented members of the United States Congress, military commanders in ethics investigations and never before have I not been given the charges that have been placed against my client and never before have I been told that I’m not allowed to investigate it.” Cohen said.

Cohen has said repeatedly he’s not only working to clear Wozniak’s name but he’s also preserving evidence for a defamation suit against Farah.

“If it is determined that this was a complaint made with actual malice, we will seek to bring the complainant to justice through the courts,” said Cohen.

Wozniak has made no public appearances since allegations surfaced last month.  Cohen made it clear she is continuing to represent her district and will be addressing the allegations soon.

“Once the Assembly Investigation Committee, Ethics Committee, unties my hands we would look forward to a press conference and we would look forward to commenting on everything,” Cohen added.

Wozniak was elected in 2014 to the 143rd seat vacated by Democrat Dennis Gabryszak who retired.  Several of Gabryszak’s former staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

Update: Assembly Ethics Committee Investigates Sexual Harassment Complaint Against WNY Assemblywoman

Last week we learned a Western New York Assemblywoman had hired an attorney following what her lawyer described as “unsubstantiated accusations” made by a former male staffer.  Wednesday we learned more about those accusations and how they’re being investigated.

Time Warner Cable News Buffalo is reporting the Assembly Ethics Committee has started a preliminary investigation into a sexual harassment claim against Cheektowaga Republican Angela Wozniak.  Sources tell Ryan Whalen, Wozniak and others have been scheduled for interviews as part of the committee’s probe.

Buffalo-based attorney Steve Cohen is representing Wozniak.  Cohen said last week he was not only working to clear Wozniak’s name but he was also preserving evidence for a defamation suit against Wozniak’s accuser.

Wednesday, he acknowledged there is an investigation.

“We can confirm that there has been an accusation brought against the Assemblywoman.  We are now looking forward to cooperating with the investigation to clear her good name.  Once that is accomplished, we will turn our attention to bringing her accuser to justice.  There are consequences for bringing malicious false accusations,” said Cohen.

Cohen reiterated that he has not received any formal charges against his client.  The chairman of the Assembly Ethics Committee would not confirm or make any comment about the investigation.

The Assembly Ethics Committee is an eight-member bi-partisan committee that includes two Western New York Republicans, Joe Giglio of Gowanda and Peter Lawrence from Greece.

Wozniak was elected in 2014 to the 143rd seat vacated by Democrat Dennis Gabryszak who retired.  Several of Gabryszak’s former staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

WNY Assemblywoman Hires Attorney To Defend Against ‘Unsubstantiated Accusations’

21537471_BF Angela Wozniak 143rd Assembly Candidate VO 102914kl  - 00005019

A Western New York assemblywoman has hired an attorney to defend against what are being described as malicious accusations. Buffalo-area attorney Steven Cohen told Time Warner Cable News reporter Ryan Whalen Friday night he’s representing Cheektowaga Republican Angela Wozniak after she learned a man was making unspecified claims against her.

Time Warner Cable News has been following this story for several weeks now, and has learned from multiple sources that the individual making the accusations is a former Wozniak staffer. Cohen said to his knowledge there has been no formal complaint, and neither he nor Wozniak have been provided with any details regarding any charges lodged against her.

“Consistent with good ethical practice we are taking steps to preserve any and all evidence that anybody might be interested in looking at in order to clear Angela’s good name,” Cohen said. “To the extent that this individual is spreading falsehoods with actual malice against Assemblywoman Wozniak, we intend to bring a defamation suit.”

Wozniak is under 30 years old, and considered in political circles to be a rising star in Western New York’s Republican party. She won the 143rd Assembly Seat in 2014 after it was vacated by Democrat Dennis Gabryszak, who retired amid allegations of sexual harassment against a number of female staffers.

Rubio Pads Campaign Coffers in Buffalo

It was a successful visit to Western New York for GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, Tuesday night. The Florida senator was briefly in the Queen City for a private campaign fundraiser, and left with a pretty hefty contribution to his campaign coffers.

“We did very well,” said former ambassador and prominent Republican fundraiser Anthony Gioia.

Gioia hosted Rubio during a similar visit a year ago. He told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen that this time around, more than $200,000 was raised even before the private dinner at a home in Amherst began.

“We were very happy not just with the cash raised but that everyone had a nice time,” Gioia said.

Tickets for the event were $1,000 and $2,700 for a photo with the candidate. A select few who raised $25,000 or more for the campaign got a chance to sit down and eat with Rubio.

“He’s the personification of the American dream, his knowledge of foreign affairs, his knowledge of intelligence is just outstanding.  He’s the best communicator in either party, he’s the most knowledgeable,” Gioia said.

Rubio spent more than three hours taking photos with guests, and also made a speech. He spoke in general about his platform and took some questions. Earlier in the day, Rubio spent some time touring the New Era headquarters in downtown Buffalo.

Rubio isn’t the only GOP hopeful to garner some support in Western New York.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush held a fundraising event earlier this year.  Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino hosted an event for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry last September, and Donald Trump drew large crowds during a visit as a potential gubernatorial candidate back in January of 2014.

Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy was at the Rubio fundraiser with his wife, but he also made the trip to Wisconsin when Gov. Scott Walker announced his presidential bid last month. Langworthy said he hopes to bring Walker to Western New York, too.

Despite the competition and his modest numbers so far in the polls, Rubio’s supporters feel good about their chances.

“Marco knows what he’s doing. When you look at the true candidates I think Marco’s in a good position. We were talking about that in the car. We’re right where we want to be,” Gioia added.