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Posts by Casey Bortnick
May 14th - 12:34 am
The 2,000-page report on hydrofracking, released the Department of Environmental Conservation Wednesday, did little to change the mind of a Western New York Congressman. Republican Tom Reed has been an unapologetic supporter of fracking, and told Time Warner Cable News he’s not impressed with the DEC’s findings.
“That’s the best that New York State can do after seven years of studying this issue?” Reed asked.
The report, which takes more than 260,000 public comments into consideration, concludes there are major uncertainties about potential health and environmental risks associated with high-volume fracking. Reed saw no evidence in the report that definitively proves fracking is harmful.
“Probably millions of dollars of taxpayer money going to research the issue and they come up with a qualitative maybe there’s an issue there? It begs the question, is this being done with science and data or is this being done for political purposes,” said Reed.
The report is seen as one of the final steps before Governor Cuomo makes a temporary moratorium on hydrofracking permanent. Reed, whose 23rd Congressional District butts up against the Pennsylvania border and sits atop the Marcellus Shale, said the ban has put his district at a disadvantage.
“We’ve had family farmers in tears, multi-generational family farmers who were relying on the opportunity that would come from the development of the natural gas rights on their property and now they’re looking at me like how can I keep the farm?”
Despite the move that appears to be coming in Albany, Reed remains hopeful the impending ban can one day be lifted.
“I’m always the eternal optimist but I’m also very practical,” said Reed. “Clearly asking the Governor to reconsider this is not going to end in a result where he will, but I’m going on record on behalf of thousands of people in Western New York who own their property, who pay their taxes on their property,” Reed added.
On the other side, those in favor of banning fracking describe the DEC report as a victory over the gas drilling industry.
“This is a really proud moment for every one of them because protecting public health triumphed over industry pressure. There are thousands of pages of fine detail to sort through, and we know much work remains, like banning other states’ fracking waste from being dumped inside our borders,” said Water & Natural Resources Associate Liz Moran.
May 13th - 11:49 pm
Freshman State Senator Marc Panepinto has had no problem drawing the attention of the GOP majority. Even before Panepinto was elected, the SRCC sponsored an attack ad against him, and just last week his 13-year-old misdemeanor was invoked in the GOP’s defense of embattled State Senator Dean Skelos.
The Buffalo-area Democrat, who was more than happy to defend himself last week, went on the offensive Wednesday accusing Senate Republicans of falling short on promises to reform the controversial SAFE Act.
“For two years, they have danced around addressing any commonsense provisions within this flawed legislation that they brought to the Senate floor and passed under their majority in the Senate,” Panepinto said.
Panepinto has broken with his party and co-sponsored four pieces of legislation that would adjust the sweeping gun control law. Three of those measures would authorize the gifting of legally possessed firearms to family members through estate planning, expand the definition of “immediate family” in the law’s language, and make all personal information regarding pistol permit applications confidential except to law enforcement.
“While I have co-sponsored numerous bills to address these issues, it is no secret that only the Senate Republicans can allow these reforms to come to the Senate floor for an actual vote,” Panepinto said.
Despite voting for the SAFE Act, New Majority Leader John Flanagan told the Buffalo News he’d be open to changes to it. The 2013 law is unpopular among conservatives in Western New York which includes Panepinto’s 60th State Senate District.
“That is why I am calling on Senate Republicans to get serious on reforming the SAFE Act and allow these meaningful proposals to be debated and addressed by the end of this session,” Panepinto added.
Fellow Western New York Senator Rob Ortt made the repeal of the SAFE Act a central part of his campaign. Republican Pat Gallivan sponsored three of the changes Panepinto signed onto.
Neither was available for comment Wednesday night.
May 11th - 11:30 pm
Despite the fact the newly minted Senate Majority Leader’s son goes to the University at Buffalo, John Flanagan hasn’t exactly gotten a warm reaction from Western New York so far. Senate Democrats, as you would expect, are less than enthused about the choice, while Conservatives are downright livid.
“Nothing good is going to happen for Upstate New York with this change,” said Buffalo-Area State Assemblyman David DiPietro.
DiPietro, a gun rights advocate, said Flanagan’s vote in favor of the SAFE Act alone should have disqualified him as a candidate for Senate Majority Leader.
“Totally upset that we’re going to get no movement from our own Republican Senate because the leader is pro-SAFE Act,” DiPiertro said.
The member of the Assembly with the most conservative voting record, Rochester-area Assemblyman Bill Nojay directed his ire at the reported five Upstate GOP Senators who voted for Flanagan over Syracuse-Area Senator John De Francisco. Nojay took to Twitter to vent his frustrations.
“Q (question) for the 5 Upstate GOPers who voted for Flanagan: what price to sell your soul? Biggest winner today in Senate: Andrew Cuomo. He got a RINO he can control. Biggest loser: Upstate NY, which is now politically irrelevant,” Nojay wrote.
The vote for Senate Majority Leader happened behind closed doors but most Western New York Republicans told us they supported DeFrancisco, including Michael Ranzenhofer, Rich Funke, Robert Ortt and Joe Robach.
Ranzenhofer confirmed the SAFE Act was a part of the closed door conversation. Ortt, an Afghanistan War Veteran and consistent advocate for repealing the controversial gun control measure, seemed optimistic Flanagan will move to the right on the issue.
“I think Senator Flanagan knows he’s going to have to work toward that (repealing the SAFE Act) to be successful as a leader and I think he’s going to do that and I’m willing to work with him on that issue,” said Ortt.
“John Flanagan voted for the SAFE Act. The people from his district knew it and voted to send him back to Albany. I think he respects the Second Amendment. I don’t see it as an issue,” Robach added.
Watching from outside the GOP conference, Senate Democrats in WNY saw the move as a lifeline for Skelos to hold on to some kind of power. Buffalo-Area Senator Marc Panepinto even suggested Skelos “extorted” his own conference.
“Dean Skelos threatened his colleagues on Friday and said if you don’t do John Flanagan I may resign my seat and that may put the leadership up for grabs,” Panepinto said.
Still, it’s the way Flanagan ascended to Majority Leader that bothers conservatives as much as the fact he’s there. Several sources suggest it was two Upstate New Yorkers who sided with the “Long Island Nine” to tip the scales in Flanagan’s favor.
“It was Cathy Young and Mike Nozzolio who sold us out,” said Former GOP Gubernatorial Candidate and outspoken Skelos critic Carl Paladino. “The votes are here (Upstate) and this is where the Majority Leader should come from.”
Senator Young did not reveal how she voted behind closed doors. In a statement Monday night she would only say:
“Every single member of the Republican Conference united behind Senator John Flanagan to ensure balance in state government and safeguard the future of the state.”
Senator Mike Nozzoilo’s office said he was not available for comment Monday night.
“Senator’s Young and Nozzolio sold their soul,” DiPietro said. “If one of them would have voted against him (Flanagan) we could have had a different leader. I’ll tell you up here in the Assembly right now we’re just beside ourselves. We feel like we’ve been sold down the river,” DiPietro added.
May 6th - 11:08 pm
State Senator Marc Panepinto and his supporters are firing back after the Buffalo-area Democrat was mentioned in a GOP defense of their initial decision not to replace Dean Skelos as Majority Leader.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Panepinto said.
In response to a failed Democratic effort to remove Skelos, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP Majority referenced Panepinto as an example of Democratic hypocrisy.
“They all seem to have extraordinarily short memories. Just last year, Senators Stewart-Cousins and Gianaris chose a convicted criminal to run as their handpicked candidate for an important Western New York Senate seat and he is now a sitting member of their conference,” said Senate Republican Spokeswoman Kelly Cummings.
Panepinto was convicted of a misdemeanor election fraud violation in 2001. He submitted voter signatures to the Board of Elections that turned out to be bogus and pleaded guilty to making false witness statements on petitions.
“I made a mistake 14 years ago. I paid the price for it,” said Panepinto. “The Republicans paid $1 million to try to convince the voters of something they were unable to do. To compare what I did to bribery and extortion, an abuse of my public office as Dean Skelos has done, is ridiculous.”
Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins weighed in during an interview with Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin:
“It’s not like we’re talking apples to apples here. This is a Freshman Senator who was newly elected by people who were familiar with the facts and it was a 14 year old conviction. So he’s not the leader of the Senate, he’s not the leader of a conference, so he’s not setting policy for the chamber,” Stewart-Cousins said.
Olean Republican Cathy Young, who’s been mentioned as a potential replacement for Skelos, was particularly critical of Panepinto during last fall’s election. Something he apparently hasn’t forgotten.
“It’s particularly galling that Senator Young, who was the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, raised tens of millions of dollars from the real estate interests in New York City, and called immediately for Shelly Silver’s ouster, is still embracing Dean Skelos as Majority Leader. That level of cowardice and hypocrisy cannot go unchallenged” Panepinto said.
Panepinto questioned how Young and others could continue to support Skelos while Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy and GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Rob Astorino are calling for a change.
Young released a statement Tuesday supporting Skelos claiming a sudden change in leadership would disrupt the legislative process as the end of session draws near.
May 6th - 7:36 pm
One of the highest profile county Republican chairmen in New York State called on embattled State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to step down on Wednesday. At the same time he laughed off suggestions Skelos had “significant control” over his committee.
“Senator Skelos and I have never really had much of a relationship in my time as chairman,” said Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy.
The criminal complaint against Skelos details an alleged relationship of political and business favors between the Majority Leader, his son Adam and a company referred to as Developer-1. On page 17, while mentioning that Skelos was soliciting substantial campaign contributions from that same company, the Erie County Republican Committee is referenced as an example.
According to campaign disclosure reports the Erie County GOP received five separate contributions of $20,000 each in 2012 from Limited Liability Corporations with the same address as New York City real estate company Glenwood Management. Three days later the committee wired $78,000 to then-Senator Mark Grisanti’s campaign fund.
“At that time we were working together and I was of the belief that the Senate Republican Campaign Committee solicited some donations that would help that effort to elect Senator Grisanti and that was about the extent of what I knew at that time,” Langworthy said. “We accepted legal contributions. We disclosed them legally. We spent them legally. Other than showing my campaign disclosures there’s nothing more I really have to offer on that.”
The complaint references a lobbyist for “Developer-1” who exchanged emails about a phone call from Skelos to a Glenwood executive to send checks to the Erie County Republican Committee, “over which the Developer-1 lobbyist believed that Dean Skelos had significant control.”
“I felt that they should probably get a different lobbyist because they were sadly mistaken,” Langworthy said. “It’s not something that’s certainly been in the paper or widely reported but Senator Skelos and I have had rather strained relations.”
Disappointed by his increasing ties to Governor Cuomo, Langworthy’s committee dropped its support of Grisanti two years later. Wednesday Langworthy joined the growing movement in his party to oust Skelos as Majority Leader.
“There’s no way for this dark cloud to go away over the Senate, over the Republican Party and over Dean Skelos personally without a change in leadership in the New York State Senate,” said Langworthy.
Skelos’s lack of support among Western New York Republicans is nothing new. Former GOP Candidate for Governor Carl Paladino made the removal of Skelos the centerpiece of a short-lived gubernatorial bid in 2014.
“He’s so addicted to power that he refuses to give up his Senate leadership position even after he was arrested. It’s disgusting,” Paladino said.
In an email blast to supporters Paladino suggested New York State Senator Cathy Young and most of her “Republican colleagues from Long Island” are blocking a change in leadership.
“Are they afraid Skelos might roll over on them and chirp to the Feds about issues where they have been complicit in criminality? Or are they just good old boys and girls who have been in office too long and have forgotten the promises they made to their constituents to clean up the Albany cesspool?” Paladino asked.
“As the Senate is now adjourned for the day the members are going to come home to their districts. I’m sure they’re going to meet their constituents throughout the weekend and Monday’s going to bring a new day to Albany,” Langworthy added.
Apr 28th - 12:38 am
It’s a drastic step that has been successfully implemented in New York City and intermittently considered – but never fully embraced – in cities across upstate: Mayoral control of the public schools.
With nagging questions over the leadership of the Buffalo Public School District, and some suggesting full mayoral control is the answer, a Buffalo-area state senator has drafted compromise legislation that would give the mayor “input.”
“I think it’s an effort to try and quell the animosities that exist under the present school board configuration,” said Sen. Marc Panepinto.
Four superintendents in five years have tried to turn around the Buffalo Public School District. The most recent person to hold the position, interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie, has lost the confidence of the board of education’s one-seat majority and leaves the post July 1st.
Infighting among board members over how a new superintendent should be chosen spurred Buffalo Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes to revive the idea of mayoral control. Panepinto said he was sympathetic to the idea put forward by his fellow Democrat, but feels a full takeover is a step too far.
“From the Assembly delegation that I talked to, from the Upstate Senators, Democratic and Republican that I spoke too, I didn’t really see that there was a stomach for total mayoral control,” he said.
Panepinto’s legislation would allow Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to appoint two additional at-large board members to the nine-member school board. The terms would last five years and would need to be confirmed by the Buffalo Common Council.
“I think the City of Buffalo funds the schools to the tune of ten to 15 percent depending on what the state allocation is, so I think it’s appropriate that the mayor have some input on the school board,” the senator said.
For a majority member of the Buffalo Public School Board, however, this proposal gives away all control.
“The intent is for the liberal group, connected to the board minority, to stop the implementation of the majority’s agenda,” said Carl Paladino. “Marc Panepinto is an elitist who thinks government control is the answer to every aspect of life.”
Allowing the mayor to appoint two board members could certainly flip the one seat majority. Either way, Paladino believes it would create even more chaos.
“This effort to remove control from a duly elected board is sickening,” he said.
Panepinto’s proposal doesn’t go as far as the full mayoral control bill Peoples-Stokes’ office has said she’s still drafting – an effort that faces an uphill climb in Albany. Buffalo’s Common Council President isn’t ready to endorse either idea at this point.
“I’m interested in seeing both plans and seeing possibly is there even some working together to bring both plans into fruition in which one gives a little and the other may take away,” Darius Pridgen said.
But mayoral control may be an idea whose time has come, though the New York City measure sunsets in Albany in June, and the Senate Republicans don’t appear inclined to provide any assistance to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who would like to see it made permanent. De Blasio unsuccessfully tried to help the Senate Democrats re-take the majority in the 2014 elections, making an enemy of the GOP conference.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he favors a three-year extension of New York City’s mayoral control law, while the Assembly Democrats pushed during the budget battle for seven years. The matter was pushed off into the post-budget session.
As for his proposal, Panepinto thinks it should get a three-year trial, and he says he feels he has already accomplished part of his goal even if the idea goes nowhere in the end.
“I wanted to put something forward to begin the dialogue,” the senator said.
Apr 16th - 1:11 am
The first political shots were fired Wednesday in what could be a contentious race for Monroe County Executive. Just minutes after former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel became the presumptive Democrat candidate, the GOP released a statement on the Frankel selection.
“It seemed like the Democrats took the approach of ‘anybody but Sandy.’ They approached Mike Green. They approached Carrie Andrews. They approached Harry Bronson. They approached several other people and they all turned them away,” said Monroe County Republican Chairman Bill Reilich.
Candidates aren’t officially chosen until May but in most cases political parties seem to coalesce around a particular candidate well before then. When Frankel announced her candidacy last week Monroe County’s new Democratic Committee Chairman sounded like an endorsement wasn’t all that close.
It’s a head start that at the very least gave Dinolfo an advantage in fundraising, and her supporters argue a chance to better communicate her vision for Monroe County Government. Democrats took exception to that idea in a statement of their own.
“If Cheryl Dinolfo has been ‘sharing her vision’ for Monroe County Government for months, that’s news for the voters of this community. Other than telling us where we can get our passport picture taken, we have yet to hear anything new from the Republican candidate for County Executive,” said Jamie Romeo, Executive Director of the Monroe County Democratic Committee.
This campaign is quickly beginning to sound a lot like the County Executive’s race of 2011. Then, the same Sandra Frankel blasted the administration of Republican Maggie Brooks what she called ‘scandals and mismanagement.’
Brooks easily weathered those attacks defeating Frankel by 14 points. With Brooks facing term limits it appears some of the same tactics will be deployed against Dinolfo, who some see as Brooks’ protégé.
“Closed, scandal-ridden, insider dealing, mismanaged local government where our bond rating is among the worst in New York State. We are teetering on the brink of insolvency. Our county government could not be in worse shape,” said Monroe County Democratic Committee Chairman Dave Garretson.
Dinolfo has been the County Clerk since 2004. It’s position many have used as a springboard to higher office including Brooks herself.
Despite her time in that office Frankel suggested she may not be qualified for higher office.
“She hasn’t had the experience of actually being elected executive of a full service government. I have,” Frankel said.
And while Dinolfo certainly got off the starting blocks early Democrats slammed her for limiting public appearances and campaign related press availability.
“It is shameful that Cheryl has spent recent months ducking the tough questions, like why she waited until her campaign announcement to embrace Democratic proposals that would restore our county’s integrity, that have languished in a GOP-controlled Legislature. Dinolfo and Brooks are cut from the same cloth, and three months into her campaign Cheryl remains silent on how her administration would be any different than Maggie Brooks’,” Romeo said.
Reilich, who in addition to running the county party is also running Dinolfo’s campaign, dismissed the attacks on his candidate as desperate.
“Their party is stuck with Sandy Frankel when Democrat after Democrat chose not to run, acknowledging that Cheryl Dinolfo is the best choice to serve as our community’s next County Executive,” Reilich added.
Apr 7th - 11:45 pm
A familiar face is preparing to launch another bid for Monroe County Executive. Former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel confirmed she is officially seeking the Democratic nomination to run.
Frankel, who unsuccessfully challenged outgoing County Executive Maggie Brooks in 2011, plans to formally announce her candidacy Wednesday morning. Frankel lost to Brooks by 14 points, but the three term Republican cannot seek reelection due to term limits.
“I think she (Frankel) has a very good resume for the job,” said former Monroe Democratic Party Chairman Ted O’Brien. “If the party gets behind her she’d be a good candidate and can certainly do the job.”
Frankel appears to have some competition for Democratic Endorsement. Both State Assemblyman Harry Bronson and Legislative Minority Leader Carrie Andrews told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that they are considering a run.
Former Town of Greece Democratic Leader Dave Garretson replaced State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle as county chairman last year, and has never seemed to be in a rush to find a county executive candidate. Garretson told Time Warner Cable News Tuesday night that his party will begin caucusing next week.
“That process will take place over a three week period. We will endorse a candidate by May 21st at the latest. Whoever the committee selects after the process concludes will be fully endorsed by the Democratic Party,” Garretson said.
“I told Dave Garretson a long time ago don’t panic. We have a deep bench,” said O’Brien.
If Frankel were to win the Democratic endorsement she would face off against Monroe County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo who has the firm backing of the Monroe County GOP to replace the outgoing Brooks. Dinolfo announced she was running in January, giving her a lengthy head start on her potential opponent.
“To tell you the truth, people don’t start paying attention until October in local years. Any potential Democratic candidate will have plenty of time to get their message out,” O’Brien said.
Much like she did in 2011, Frankel is expected to campaign for a change in party control. The GOP has held the county executive’s seat since 1992, and Frankel claims that’s created to a culture of corruption.
While Frankel will certainly be considered, some party insiders favor a new candidate with a fresh message. O’Brien believes the process is far from over.
“If others want to be considered they’ll come forward,” O’Brien added.
Apr 6th - 11:46 pm
Just about every Republican you talk to in Erie County insists publically it’s a “winnable race.” The first two preferred GOP candidates to challenge Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz used those exact words while at the same time announcing they wouldn’t be the ones to do it.
“My hunch is that Chris Jacobs’ decision, knowing Chris the way I do, is that it was based on polling and his gut. So his announcement today tells me that their internal polling shows that Poloncarz is strong,” said Republican Political Consultant Vic Martucci.
Any Republican running for Erie County Executive would have to overcome a 130,000 voter enrollment disadvantage and this year, a popular incumbent. Martucci knows what seems like tough odds now can change dramatically in seven months.
“Between now and November is an eternity in politics and if you’re not in the race and something were to happen to make the County Executive vulnerable politically, he’s not in a position to take advantage of that,” he said.
While Jacobs and Mychajliw both calculated it wasn’t worth the risk, State Assemblyman Ray Walter may decide it is. Calling it a “winnable race.” Walter, who received the backing of Chris Jacobs is now on the clock.
“I appreciate Clerk Jacobs’ support but there is a party process that must occur and I have great respect for that process. I will continue to talk with my family and party leaders and a decision will be made sooner rather than later,” Walter said.
A Walter candidacy would allow the GOP to mount its best defense of the Erie County Legislature. The Republicans took control of County Hall for the first time in more than thirty years in 2013 and Erie County Chairman Nick Langworthy would like to keep it.
Running Walter would prevent Langworthy from having to pull one of his county legislative candidates to challenge Poloncarz. To Martucci, Walter could help some down-ballot candidates in battleground districts.
“On the plus side, Ray represents the largest town in Erie County, represents the town of Amherst and the village of Williamsville and he’s battle-tested. Amherst is no longer the Republican stronghold as it was ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. It’s marginally Democrat,” said Martucci.
Jacobs, who cited his desire to stay Erie County Clerk as his prime reason for not running, knows first-hand that Walter has a tough decision to make. But in true Erie County GOP fashion both he and Walter say the county executive race is “winnable.”
“He brings a lot to the table and I think he will be a solid, solid candidate if he decides to do it. I don’t know if he’s definitively said that or not. I don’t want to put him on the spot like I was,” Jacobs added.
If Walter also decides he’s out, Martucci floated Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak as a dark horse candidate.
Apr 6th - 3:08 pm
Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs is not running for Erie County Executive. He confirmed the news Monday Afternoon via a press release.
“Over the last several months I have considered the race for Erie County Executive, always mindful of the ongoing and innovative initiatives we have begun and continue to expand upon at the Clerk’s Office. From the outset of this process I said I would give the run the serious consideration it merited and make a final decision by early April,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs is the second high profile GOP candidate to take his name out of consideration to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz. Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw announced late last month he was backing out of the race and throwing his support behind Jacobs.
“While I have received a great deal of encouragement and support from party leaders, small business owners, veteran and labor organizations, and people from all walks of life, I have decided that at this time my commitment to the County Clerk’s Office must come ahead of any campaign for County Executive,” said Jacobs.
Like Mychajliw, Jacobs also threw his support behind another Republican. He confirmed the Buffalo News Polictical Reporter Bob McCarthy’s report that he’s backing State Assemblyman Ray Walter to challenge Poloncarz.
Walter’s name emerged only recently when party insiders began to look for a back-up if Jacobs decided he didn’t want to run. Walter was first elected to the assembly in 2011. His district includes the Towns of Amherst and Pendleton, and the Village of Williamsville.
Walter released this statement in response to Jacobs’ announcement:
“I appreciate Clerk Jacobs’s support but there is a party process that must occur and I have great respect for that process. I have certainly looked at this opportunity and believe that it is a winnable race. I will continue to talk with my family and party leaders and a decision will be made sooner rather than later.”