Casey Bortnick

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Panepinto Fights Back; Says Governor Will Come Around

After weeks of questions over why Governor Cuomo hasn’t endorsed him and a constant barrage of attacks from his political rivals, State Senate Candidate Marc Panepinto is firing back.

“I’m talking about the issues. My opponents want to talk about negative things. This guy did this. This guy did that,” Panepinto said. 

The Buffalo Democrat will appear on the Democratic and Working Families lines on a crowed Ballot in New York’s 60th State Senate District.  His chief rival, Incumbent Senator Mark Grisanti, lost the GOP Primary in September but not the support of his Republican colleagues.  

The Senate Republican Campaign Committee is behind a scathing attack against Panepinto.  The TV ad, details a 2001 election law misdemeanor.  It accuses Panepinto of submitting “blatantly fraudulent voter petitions” and “personally forging signatures of handicapped voters and voters who had been dead for years.”

Panepinto claims he signed off on some signatures even though he wasn’t present when they were collected. Those signatures turned out to be bogus and the Democrat pleaded guilty to making false witness statements on petitions.

“Here’s somebody who’s been associated with organizations that affiliated with racketeering.  He also had some other allegations against him that have to do with more election fraud.  So it seems to be a pattern of abuse that this individual has. So we have make sure that this person is not elected to the state senate,” said SRCC Chair Cathy Young. 

Panepinto briefly lost his legal license and has consistently expressed remorse over what he’s called a “mistake.”  More than a decade later, Panepinto told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen he’s moved on.

“I’ve paid the price for that. It’s ancient history and so if they want to continue to talk about what happened thirteen years ago, that’s fine. I think the voters want to know what their plans are for the next two years,” said Panepinto. 

On top of that, Panepinto is facing new questions over his wife’s appearance in his campaign flyers. A man claiming to be an unaffiliated voter filed a complaint against Panepinto because he used his wife’s image, State Supreme Court Judge Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, in campaign flyers.

“This attack on my wife is disgusting,” Panepinto said.

Panepinto is confident his use of her image does not violate election law.

“The Office of Court Administration provided my wife with documentation that it is permissible for her to be in my commercials, in my advertisements as long as she’s not identified as a judge and we don’t even identify her by name,” Panepinto added. 

As for Governor Cuomo’s endorsement, Panepinto told reporters at a rally for the Women’s Equality Act in Buffalo Tuesday that he’s not concerned about it.  Panepinto pointed out he stands with the Governor on the WEA and the Buffalo Billion.

“I support the Governor on those agenda points and most of his agenda.  The fact he hasn’t endorsed yet doesn’t concern me.  He knows where he needs to be to pass the Women’s Equality Act and that’s not with Senator Mark Grisanti,” said Panepinto. 

Grisanti is hoping to buck the odds and win on the Independence line.  Kevin Stocker is the endorsed Republican and Attorney Timothy Gallagher is the endorsed Conservative Party Candidate.


Langworthy Calls For Ebola Related Travel Ban; Collins Does Not

As calls for a travel ban in the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa get louder, many politicians have been cautious about taking a firm stance on the issue.  Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy isn’t one of them.

“I think it’s just common sense.  I mean we need to protect our homeland and I think the first way to do that is to isolate new threats created by this Ebola outbreak,” Langworthy said.

Langworthy’s position is in line with several high profile Republicans but not with a GOP congressional member is in own back yard.

“That (travel ban) would be devastating to everyone in the country, across the world to say don’t travel. There’s also no guarantee that would contain anything necessarily,” said Republican Chris Collins.

The Clarence Republican noted the CDC has set up check-points at five major airports to screen air travelers coming into the U.S. for temperature and any sign of symptoms.

“They’re not foolproof but it is a step. I think it would certainly be premature today to call for a travel ban.  I think what we need to do is keep this in perspective and see what develops over the next few days, next few weeks relative to these nurses and you never take options off the table once we know what we’re dealing with,” Collins added.

Langworthy and Collins have a longstanding relationship in Erie County politics but the chairman says he hasn’t talked to Collins about the issue.

“I think this is common sense and the President needs to follow suit and I trust that same common sense would be shared by our local delegation as well,” said Langworthy.

Collins is not alone, a spokesperson for Southern Tier Republican Tom Reed said Friday the Congressman is not calling for a travel ban rather calling for “precautions with travelers to and from West Africa. Langworthy insisted he was simply expressing his opinion and his message was for the President not the Western New York Congressional Delegation.

“I mean we don’t need another czar, we don’t need another bureaucrat in Washington we need the President to stand up and be a leader,” Langworthy added.

Zellner’s ‘Door Is Open’ To Senator Kennedy

Newly re-elected Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner says his “door is open” to State Senator and fellow Democrat Tim Kennedy.

“I’m focused on moving forward.  I’m focused on this year’s election and I hope Senator Kennedy will join me,” Zellner added.

Zellner was overwhelmingly re-elected Chairman despite Kennedy backing Amherst Town Board member Mark Manna in last month’s committee vote.  It’s a vote Zellner believes sends a clear message.

“Seventy percent of this party wants to continue the leadership. They want to support our County Executive. They want me to be the leader of this party and they don’t want to go backward. So I think it’s incumbent upon both of us to continue to work together,” Zellner said.

The disconnect between Zellner and Kennedy became apparent last month after Zellner and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz endorsed Kennedy’s primary opponent  Betty Jean Grant.  Kennedy shrugged off the endorsement calling the Erie County Democratic Committee the most “dysfunctional party in the state of New York.”

Supporters of Zellner argue the bad blood can be traced back to Senator Kennedy’s significant financial contribution to a PAC that funded challengers to several ECDC endorsed candidates last fall.  Poloncarz blamed the PAC and Kennedy’s support of it for losses that cost the Democrats control of the Erie County Legislature.

“He’s (Kennedy) a Democrat we’re going to support him in the Fall for sure.  He’s got an opponent but I think he’s going to do very well and my door’s wide open to him,” said Zellner.

Right now, Zellner says he’s focused on delivering Erie County for Governor Cuomo. That’s something he’s feeling pretty confident about after the strong turnout in last month’s primary.

Zellner is also predicting a Democratic win in the 60th State Senate District.  Zellner is fully behind Marc Panepinto despite the Governor’s hesitation to endorse Panepinto over Republican Mark Grisanti.

“I know the Governor is a loyal person and Mark Grisanti helped him with progressive issues like marriage equality and no one wants to turn their back on someone who’s a friend.  I still think he wants to see a Democratic controlled State Senate.  So I don’t think you’ve heard anything from the Governor either way, but I can tell you that we’re firmly behind Marc Panepinto,” Zellner added.

Hochul Says Her Husband Is Staying Put

Kathy Hochul is hoping voters will send her to Albany as New York’s next Lieutenant Governor.  But she’s hoping her husband, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, stays right where he is.

“I like having him closer to home with me here, selfishly speaking.  But Bill’s doing a tremendous job I’m very proud of his work,” Hochul said.

With Eric Holder leaving the Attorney General’s Office, William Hochul’s name has been thrown around as a possible replacement.  Hochul joined the U.S. Attorney’s office as an assistant in the Western District in 1991.

He was promoted to U.S. Attorney in 2010.  While Hochul’s name has been brought up to head to Washington his wife says it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.

“I think he’s very happy doing what he’s doing right here in Western New York he’s got 17 counties a lot of responsibility and I know he’s proud of the work he’s doing on behalf of the Government so I think he’ll stay right where he is,” Hochul added.

Hochul isn’t the only US Attorney out of New York whose name is reportedly under consideration.  US Attorney Preet Bharara, out of Manhattan, is being considered a possible successor as well.

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.