Casey Bortnick

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Senator Kennedy Calls For New “Unifying” Leadership In The Erie County Democratic Committee

Just days after surviving a primary challenge, State Senator Tim Kennedy said Monday he’s not interested in challenging Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner for leadership of the party.

“Any time you have the sort of resounding victory against the party machine that we had there’s going to be a lot of talk but that’s all that it is right now,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he’s focused on doing his job and preparing for the general election in November, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy with the current leadership.  Kennedy has some choice words for the executive committee.

“Quite frankly the leadership that’s currently in existence here in Erie County has created an embarrassing situation where it’s the most dysfunctional party in the state of New York,” said Kennedy.

Zellner and the top elected Democrat in Erie County, Mark Poloncarz, both endorsed Kennedy’s democratic opponent Betty Jean Grant.  They also accused Kennedy of creating division within the party by donating money to a Political Action Committee that funded progressive challenges to party endorsed candidates last fall.

Poloncarz is supporting Zellner again for chairman.   He said Zellner has the support of the committee members who will actually vote at the party’s reorganizations meeting next month.

“Jeremy’s worked very hard to create an environment that’s conducive to electing good Democrats.  He worked very hard in support of Governor Cuomo in this recent primary and it showed,” Poloncarz said.

Governor Cuomo got 70 percent of the Erie County vote in his primary with Zephyr Teachout, and despite the loss in the Kennedy-Grant race Poloncarz thinks Zellner had a very good Primary Night.

“I think Tim (Kennedy) probably looked at things and said, ‘Well, he’s not happy with things being done at Democratic Headquarters but the chairman does have the support of the committeemen.’  So I’m happy he’s not going to run I don’t think we need a fight for the chairmanship,” Poloncarz added.

When reached by phone late Monday night Zellner called Kennedy’s comments “a shame.”  Zellner said both he and Poloncarz reached out to Kennedy to congratulate him and try to promote unity.

“It does not surprise me however that he is taking this road because his Chief Advisor Steve Pigeon is the most divisive figure in our county’s party history,” Zellner said.

Zellner, who plans on being re-elected chairman, said he’s been working to bring the unity many Democrats are calling for.  Despite the split with Kennedy, Zellner believes he’s made progress.

“We are not stopping that momentum now.  Senator Kennedy ought to be working with our party, not attempting to divide us,” Zellner said.

Zellner could face another challenge from Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max.  Max unsuccessfully challenged Zellner in 2012, and as all parties acknowledged there’s usually a surprise candidate.

Teachout Would Rather Talk About ‘Blowing The Whistle’ Than The Bills

So far Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Zephyr Teachout has focused her campaign on cleaning up corruption in Albany, education, and the economy.  But during a stop in Buffalo it became pretty clear she won’t be spending a lot time talking about the Buffalo Bills.

“I want to keep the focus on tonight.  I want to let everyone know why I’m here and that’s blowing the whistle, breaking the glass ceiling,” said Teachout.

Teachout was a guest of the Buffalo Teachers Federation Wednesday and met with the Buffalo media beforehand.  Teachout was asked several questions about the Bills and if the team needed a new stadium in Western New York.

“I have to look into it further. My biggest focus is on keeping the cost down and that in this area you don’t end up taking on too much of a burden.  So it all depends on cost as well as negotiating the best deal,” said Teachout.  

With the team up for sale and the NFL’s Commissioner repeatedly suggesting a new stadium was needed to keep the team in Western New York, there’s been little talk locally about anything else.  While the gaggle of reporters tried several times to get her to expand upon her initial answer Teachout stayed on message.

“They need their fans and I will be an advocate for all New Yorkers including the fans to make sure that the cost falls in the right place.  If you look at my whole career you’ll see I’ve always fought for an economy that works for all of us and what I look forward to hearing about is what people on the front lines are seeing,” Teachout said.

Governor Cuomo, who’s spent a great deal of his first term trying to win over Western New York, has made keeping the Bills here a central theme of his re-election bid.  Cuomo has been reluctant to commit taxpayer funds to a new stadium but said he would consider it if it was absolutely necessary.

When asked by one reporter if she may look at professional sports and the billions of dollars poured into it differently, Teachout insisted she’s a big sports fan.

“Sports is an important part of my life.  I was the New England Champion of cross country running and a state champion in track and I coached from time to time ‘girls on the run’ because I like to encourage young women to get involved in running.  And one of my core platforms is that we have to see a lot more support for sports in schools as well as arts, and music and counselors,” Teachout added.

Higgins Backs Kennedy In WNY State Senate Race

Congressman Brian Higgins is backing State Senator Tim Kennedy in his upcoming Democratic primary against Erie County Legislative Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant. While not completely unexpected, Higgins’ endorsement will likely be seen as an important vote of confidence for Kennedy.

“He’s been a refreshing voice in Albany and he continues to be very effective,” said Higgins.

Higgins backing couldn’t have come at a better time for Kennedy.  A recent dust up with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and the Erie County Democratic Committee appeared to be giving Grant’s candidacy momentum.

“The Erie County Democratic Committee has a different opinion than other Democrats in this community,” Higgins said.

The South Buffalo Democrat told Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin that Poloncarz and the committee leadership have their “reasoning” for endorsing Grant, but he believes those reasons aren’t shared by other Democrats in Western New York.

“I think the best candidate will win and I think Tim Kennedy has demonstrated over a very short period of time that he can be a very effective, clear voice on behalf of Buffalo and Western New York,” Higgins added.

Poloncarz ‘partially’ blamed Kennedy, and his financial support of a Progressive Political Action Committee for Democratic losses at the polls last fall.  Poloncarz said the PAC Kennedy donated $100,000 to supported challengers to candidates who were running on the Democratic line for the Erie County Legislature.

Kennedy’s camp claimed Poloncarz support of Grant was political retaliation for Kennedy shedding “needed light on major deficiencies within Erie County government.” Specifically, what a Kennedy spokesman called problems in Erie County Child Protective Services.

Poloncarz ‘Partially’ Blames Kennedy For Dem Losses in Erie County

A war of words between two of the most high-profile Democrats in Erie County continues to escalate. The latest shot came from Executive Mark Poloncarz who told Liz Benjamin, Monday that State Senator Tim Kennedy is partially to blame for Democratic losses at the polls

“Tim created an enemy himself last year when he, working with (former Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman) Steve Pigeon and his associates, put in nearly $100,000 into Steve Pigeon’s PAC which was used against candidates who were running on the Democratic line for the Erie County Legislature,” Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz said he endorsed Kennedy’s opponent, Erie County Legislative Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant, not only because he feels comfortable with her but because he believes Kennedy’s actions “partially” cost the Democrats the Majority in the Legislature.

“Betty Jean Grant was the Chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature, in the Majority, until we lost the Majority last year partially because of the money Tim Kennedy put in to run against other Democrats,” Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz denied the endorsement was political payback and said he would ultimately support the winner of the primary. Kennedy narrowly defeated Grant in a primary for the 63rd State Senate District two years ago. Poloncarz did not make an endorsement then.

“I could have sat back and did nothing but I truly believe Betty Jean Grant would be a better State Senator to the people of this district,” Poloncarz said.

Kennedy, for his part, has not been shy about firing back at Poloncarz.  Last week he called the Poloncarz endorsement “irrelevant” and given by “failed leadership in Erie County.”

Kennedy’s office elaborated on that statement Monday Night and suggested the County Executive’s endorsement is a response to Kennedy shedding “needed light on major deficiencies within Erie County government.”  Specifically, Kennedy’s camp highlighted what it called problems in Erie County Child Protective Services.

“The glaring flaws that New York State uncovered have helped bring about new statewide reforms prompted by Erie County’s failures. The County Executive remains resentful that Senator Kennedy called for this needed state intervention in county government, and as a result, he is backing his opponent.”

As far as Kennedy’s contribution to the WNY Progressive Caucus, Kennedy’s Campaign defended the move.

“Senator Kennedy contributed to a PAC that supported strong, progressive Democrats who vowed to bring change and a hardworking mentality to Erie County government and who could win against Republicans in the November elections.”

GOP Mayor Hoping to Replace Maziarz Gets Two More Endorsements

North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt picked up two more endorsements Wednesday night in his bid to replace retiring New York State Senator George Maziarz. Ortt was endorsed by the Conservative and the Independence Parties in the 62nd State Senate District.

“What Albany needs is someone who will bring the leadership of a veteran and experience of a chief executive to represent the people of Niagara, Orleans and Monroe Counties,” said Ortt.

Ortt has already received the backing of the Republican Party.  To appeal to conservatives Ortt has not only promoted his combat service in Afghanistan, he also pledged this week to repeal the New York SAFE Act.

Senator Maziarz, who voted against the SAFE Act, has been criticized by conservatives for not doing enough to repeal it.  Maziarz announced his retirement this month just days before it was revealed a federal investigation was launched into his campaign spending.

“As Senator, I will work toward a smaller, more common sense government that respects the rights of our citizens and the rights of my neighbors. That’s what we have done in North Tonawanda, together, and what we will work to do in Albany,” Ortt added.

Conservative Gia Arnold is challenging Ortt in a Republican Primary.  Niagara Falls resident Johnny Destino is running on the Democratic line.

New York’s 62nd Senate District includes all of Niagara and Orleans counties, as well as the towns of Sweden and Ogden.

Paladino Calls Maziarz ‘Poster Child For Term Limits’

Several Western New York Republicans have come to the defense of retiring New York State Senator George Maziarz in recent days; former GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Carl Paladino is not one of them.

“I think George is probably a poster child for term limits,” Paladino said. 

Maziarz has served in the Niagara County based 62nd state senate seat for two decades.  It’s a tenure Paladino believes was too long.

“After a while they start to feel like a king, you know King George,” said Paladino. 

It’s a characterization the Buffalo businessman has repeated over the years, and one that now appears to be gaining traction.  At about the same time Maziarz announced his retirement, reports surfaced the U.S. Attorney’s Office was looking into his campaign spending.

What started as a Moreland Commission report that showed $140,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures continues to expand.  The Albany Times Union reported Friday Federal investigators are now examining unitemized checks that were made out to cash, but never reported to the state board of elections.

The latest questions center on funds from the Maziarz campaign account that were reportedly given to a youth softball team and thousands of dollars in purchases from a WNY business.  Maziarz Campaign Treasurer, Laureen Jacobs, has been asked to turn over documents but her attorney wouldn’t provide any further details.

And although charges have not been filed, Paladino isn’t giving Maziarz the benefit of the doubt. 

“In my book, he was the guy that held Niagara County down,” Paladino said. 

Paladino believes the investigation into Maziarz campaign spending is nothing compared to what he didn’t do.  That criticism has to do with what Paladino describes as more than $1 Billion from the New York State Power Authority’s budget. 

That money, according to Paladino, was generated through the sale of unused allocated power.  Money that Paladino insists should have been spent on development in Western New York.

“George turned the other way as Cuomo was sweeping the account for the last four years.  He never ensured that that money would stay here for Western New York’s benefit.  That’s the kind of stuff that bothered me about George.”

It may take some time before Maziarz’s legacy is clear.  While the jury is still out in the court of public opinion, Paladino made up his mind long ago.  

“George is going to walk away with a million, one hundred thousand dollars in his campaign account and Western New York is no further ahead today than it was when George originally took office,” Paladino added.

 

Gallivan Reacts To Maziarz Retirement; Downplays Questions Over Campaign Funds

Although he was surprised by it, State Senator Pat Gallivan said the public shouldn’t read into the timing of the retirement of fellow Western New York Republican George Maziarz.

“Senator Maziarz has expressed publically his reasons for retiring that he had been thinking of it for a while, that it was in the best interest of his family and his future and I think unless we see otherwise we have to take that at face value,” Gallivan said.

A report by an anti-corruption panel released in May that showed Maziarz had $140,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures, followed by the revelation his former chief of staff was issued a Federal subpoena has sparked a new conversation over how this money can and should be spent.

“It wasn’t talking about taxpayer dollars. It was talking about voluntary campaign contributions and of course the expenditures of campaign contributions are guided by the Executive Law,” said Gallivan.

Gallivan’s name also appeared on the now defunct Moreland Commission Report.  It showed he had $80,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures dating back more than five years.

“When that happened I directed my campaign staff to look at our filings. We’ve always tried to endeavor to comply with the law but I asked them to look at our filings to ensure that we are in full compliance with the law,” Gallivan said.

Democratic Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward said there’s a lot of gray area when it comes to campaign finance law in New York State.  He said expenditures from private campaign donations, under $100 don’t have to be itemized.

“That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to keep the records so that if you are audited, at a point down the road, that you have to still have the records for such expenditures,” Ward said.

Ward said the Moreland Commission; even if it was still active, had no power to prosecute.  There are also questions as to whether or not a commission appointed by the executive branch even had the authority to investigate the legislative branch of state government.

“Is it sufficiently clear? No. Our law should be strengthened and it should be tightened up to define a lot more of these expenses that would appear to people to be personal expenditures,” Ward added.

Gallivan hopes the public will keep a few things in mind before passing judgment solely on the findings of the Moreland Commission.

“My understanding is that they looked at the campaign filings of every member of the the legislature so in some way shape or form everybody was looked at, some questions were raised and that’s ok that some questions were raised because that gives you a chance to make sure you’re doing things the right way and again I’m confident that our filing, after review, are fully up to snuff and are in full compliance with the law,” Gallivan added.

Buffalo Teachers Union Backs Teachout

Most of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout’s more than 45,000 signatures to get on the September primary ballot came from the New York City area. But at least 600 came from Buffalo.

The President of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, Phil Rumore, said the BTF decided to pass petitions for Teachout and her Lt. Governor candidate Tim Wu, to send a message to Governor Cuomo.

“He’s supported charter schools, cut funding for public schools, and has said failing schools should face the death penalty. Our members don’t support those positions,” Rumore said.

The union’s move will likely raise some eyebrows especially in Western New York. Cuomo’s Lt. Governor Candidate, Kathy Hochul, was put on the ticket, in part, to help the Governor win some of the Western New York votes he lost to Carl Paladino four years ago.

“It’s a message I’m sure teachers across the state feel need to be sent,” Rumore said.

It’s a stance other union leaders are taking note of.

“I’m certainly interested to see if Buffalo’s support for Teachout could start a trend,” said Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski.

Urbanski said the RTA typically defers to the New York State United Teachers Union in statewide races but will speak to the BTF and NYSUT, and possibly raise the issue with RTA members in September.

“Governor Cuomo has name recognition and big bucks, but many teachers have been displeased with him,” Urbanski said.

Much of that displeasure comes from the poor rollout of the Common Core.  It’s something Rumore called a factor in his union’s decision to back Teachout.

“It’s teaching our kids to death.  I call it institutionalized child abuse,” said Rumore.

When asked if the BTF would support Republican Rob Astorino if Cuomo and Hochul make it through the primary unscathed, Rumore didn’t rule it out.

“That’s a decision we really haven’t had any discussions on that but it’s a possibility, let me put it that way,” Rumore added.

Gallivan Calls IDC ‘Flip’ A Bad Deal For Upstate Interests

Tuesday Republican State Senator Pat Gallivan was standing next to Governor Cuomo, in Buffalo, as he ceremonially signed a package of bills into law designed to combat heroin use.  Just a day later he was attacking a political deal the Governor brokered that could pave the way for Democratic control of the State Senate. 

“When the State Assembly, the State Senate, and the Governor’s office were all occupied by Downstate New York City centric people from the same party, in this case the Democratic Party, there was tremendous dysfunction,” Gallivan said.

The Elma Republican not only offered a warning of what he believes will happen if the Senate falls back into Democratic control he also criticized the timing of the deal. 

“Before we get too far ahead of ourselves we still have elections to go through.  And June, in my estimation, is not the time to determine whose going to be leading the senate come next January.  That will be determined by the citizens of the state in each of the districts,” said Gallivan.  

Gallivan says it’s now up to voters to block what he calls a bad deal for Upstate New York.

“In 2009-2010 we saw an additional $14 Billion in taxes and fees levied.  I don’t think one party control of government is a good thing.  We do need the checks and balance and in a case like this we go back to 2009-2010 and citizens should be rightly concerned if we were to go back to that.  And the citizens of Upstate especially should be concerned their futures will be controlled by New York City and New York City interests,” Gallivan added.

Cuomo On Bills: ‘Only If You Really Need A New Stadium’

Some unexpected comments from Governor Cuomo Tuesday about the future home of the Buffalo Bills raised a few eyebrows in Western New York.  During a visit to Buffalo to ceremonially sign some bills aimed at combating heroin use, the Governor sounded more hesitant than ever before about the possibility of a new stadium for the team.

“No one is anxious to build a stadium if we don’t have to build a stadium, more because no one is anxious to pay for a stadium,” Cuomo said.

The comments seemed contrary to what the Governor said during a visit to Buffalo earlier this month when he indicated the idea of a new stadium was very much on the table.  Tuesday the Governor had a different tone.

“Stadium’s are very expensive creatures and even if you said well everyone’s going to contribute, the state, the county, the NFL, the new owner, it is still expensive. So you would only build a new stadium if you really, really had to build a new stadium and then you had a lot of money from other sources coming in,” said Cuomo.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said a new stadium would be vital to the future of the Bills in Western New York.  Cuomo’s own stadium working group has been exploring possible sites.

“The situation we are trying to address currently is the situation where the only prospective owners who want to keep the Bills in Western New York need a pathway to creation of a new stadium,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

Dyster is on the stadium working group and told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen he wasn’t surprised by the Governor’s comments.

“None of us who are elected officials want to spend any more of the taxpayers money than we absolutely need to and if we could get a prospective owner who would sign onto keeping the team here long-term on the basis of the improvements that are currently being made to Ralph Wilson Stadium, I don’t think you’d find anyone in Western New York who would object to that,” Dyster added.

The Bills are entering year two of a ten year lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.  The state and Erie County are spending millions renovating the Bills’ current home this offseason.

Despite Goodell’s comments Cuomo said he would only support public financing for a new stadium if it was the only way to keep the Bills in Western New York.  After Tuesday’s comments it appears Cuomo isn’t convinced that’s the case.

“We’re in the process of spending a lot improving the current stadium and again this would be if there was a new owner and if the new owner and the NFL say there has to be a new stadium then the question would be when and what are the terms and who’s contributing,” Cuomo said.

As for who will buy the team, Real Estate Mogul Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday he was the only potential owner who would keep the team in Buffalo.  Cuomo laughed when asked about the tweet.

“It must be true if he tweeted it. Who could argue with that?”

Cuomo said at this point there are a number of bidders, besides Trump, interesting in keeping the team here in Western New York.

“The bid package is out and people are considering it and I think you’ll have a number of bids that are attractive that will come in,” Cuomo added.