Erie County

Erie County Bans Smoking In Bus Shelters, Cars With Kids

From the Morning Law:

The Erie County Legislature has passed a far-reaching bill that will dictate where people can both smoke and buy tobacco products.

The Public Health Protection Act Of 2018 has three separate parts. The Democratic conference said it’s the county’s most substantial anti-tobacco bill since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1996.

First, the legislation will make it illegal for anybody to smoke in a vehicle with a child under the age of 18 present. Breaking the law would come with a $50 fine, and that penalty will increase by $50 for each additional offense.

The same penalty would apply to a stipulation banning smoking in or near Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus shelters.

“I am proud to sponsor this legislation,” said Erie County Legislature Chair Peter Savage. “We have known about the dangers posed by tobacco and tobacco related products for years. This law is the next logical step.”

“Public transportation users should not be forced to endure second-hand smoke. Protecting children’s health has been a prime motivation behind smoking regulation and they deserve to be protected in vehicles.”

Finally, the bill bans the marketing and sale of products containing tobacco or nicotine in pharmacies and other healthcare institutions. The provision includes e-cigarettes.

The bill passed unanimously although some legislators expressed concern parts of it could be considered government overreach. County Executive Mark Poloncarz has indicated he’s likely to sign the legislation, pointing out he proposed a portion of it in his 2016 State of the County.

NY-27 Update: Multiple Ballot Issue Explained

The Erie County Board of Elections has explained why roughly 600 voters received multiple absentee ballots in New York’s 27th Congressional District.

The BOE said federal rules required overseas military absentees be sent out 45 days prior to election. At the time, the New York State slate of candidates was not yet finalized because of judicial conventions so voters were essentially sent two half ballots.

To further confuse matters, there was a late change to the gubernatorial ballot when the Working Families Party dropped Cynthia Nixon as its designee and Governor Andrew Cuomo accepted the line. That meant a third, full, corrected ballot was sent out.

The BOE said in some cases, voters sent back multiple ballots, however, they were presorted so they were only counted once today. If voters did not send in the final ballot they received their votes will still be counted.

Elections officials said the exception is if they voted for someone who ultimately was not on the ballot line chosen, for instance Nixon on WFP. It would not affect other votes on the ballot like the congressional race which remained consistent throughout.

The board said it sent out letters to voters who received multiples, explaining the confusing situation.

Concerns About Some Absentee Ballots In NY-27

From the Morning Memo:

As the Erie County Board of Elections prepares to count absentees for New York’s 27th Congressional District, a controversy is surfacing over a number of those ballots.

Multiple sources said the BOE sent two to three ballots to up to 500 people. It’s not clear how many were sent to voters in NY-27 as opposed to NY-26, which is also covers parts of Erie County.

Democrat Nate McMurray continues to trail incumbent Republican Chris Collins but has not conceded the race. As several of the eight counties within the district have already counted their paper ballots, which also include affidavits and emergency ballots, the lead has narrowed to roughly 2,400 votes. Erie County represents by far the most votes yet to be counted.

Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner tweeted around noon Monday there were 5,588 absentees returned, 1,454 affidavits received and 423 emergency ballots. If those numbers hold up McMurray will likely have to do exceptionally well, collecting much more than 60 percent of those votes to make up the difference.

The candidate has remained confident, given the fact he has done better with absentees than he did during the general so far, and won Erie County outright on election night. If the final count falls within a percentage point some believe the ballots could potentially be the subject of litigation.

However, a source familiar with the situation did not believe there is a danger of the votes being invalidated. That person believes the issue arose because of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s late acceptance of the Working Families Party line after Cynthia Nixon was moved off the ballot.

In that situation, anybody who was sent an absentee before Cuomo gained the extra line needed a revised ballot. The source said as long as the final ballot was the one that was marked, there should be no issue.

Even if the wrong ballot was submitted, the source said it should only affect votes in the gubernatorial race, not the congressional race in which the ballot has remained consistent.

We will be following the Board of Election proceedings throughout the day. Stay with us for updates.

Sent from my iPhone

Erie County DA Won’t Prosecute Provision Of The SAFE ACT

The Erie County District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute a provision of the SAFE Act which makes having more than seven rounds of ammunition in a magazine illegal.

District Attorney John Flynn, D, said he recently became aware of a 2015 United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit opinion the provision is unconstitutional. The Second Circuit heard the lawsuit after a federal district court judge in Buffalo made the same ruling in 2012, several months after the New York gun control law was passed.

“I am not doing this because I believe the SAFE Act is good or bad,” Flynn said. “That’s not my role.”

The DA said as a state officer, he is only technically, legally bound by U.S. Supreme Court decisions but he pointed out the nation’s highest court declined to hear the lawsuit. Flynn said it is up to individual DAs to decide whether federal court decisions are “useful and persuasive” and in this case, he decided it was both.

“When it gets to the circuit courts, again one step below the Supreme Court, in layman’s terms, that is very useful and very persuasive,” he said. “So I am very much persuaded by the Second Circuit opinion and as such, I am going to follow their ruling.”

Flynn said right now there are 23 pending cases in which defendants are being prosecuted in connection with the provision and those charges will be dropped.

“Those 23 open cases, they’re not going to have their entire cases dismissed because the overwhelming majority of those 23 cases, they have other gun charges with them,” he said.

The prosecutor admitted, people have pleaded or been found guilty of carrying too many rounds, since 2012. While they can not appeal those verdicts, as they were not technically wrong, Flynn said they could file a 440 motion to present additional facts, and he would consider them on a case-by-case basis.

The ruling does not effect another provision of the SAFE Act which doesn’t allow for a magazine to hold more than ten rounds.

Flynn took office in January 2017.

Erie County GOP Boss Still Hasn’t Spoken With Rep. Collins About Indictment

New York’s 27th Congressional District is comprised of eight counties, but roughly a third of the voting base comes from Erie County.

So it would make sense that in what is also the state’s most Republican district, the Erie County GOP chairman would have regular communication with its congressman. However, as of early Thursday afternoon, more than 24 hours after federal prosecutors announced the indictment of Rep. Chris Collins, ECRC Chairman Nick Langworthy said he still hadn’t spoken with him about the news.

“I believe there could be mechanisms in place where he could theoretically get off the ballot but he says he intends to remain to fight. I’ve seen the same public statements that you have,” Langworthy said. “I have not spoken with Congressman Collins so I don’t know if that’s an evolving situation or that’s where he intends to remain.”

The party boss hardly gave Collins a ringing endorsement. He called the federal charges a distraction and openly questioned how the congressman will be able to fulfill his congressional and campaign obligations if Collins, as he has vowed, refuses to answer questions about his involvement with Innate Immunotherapeutics and the insider trading of which he’s accused.

“This is the latest, to my understanding, the latest indictment against a member of Congress that’s ever been put down in terms of closeness to election day, so any thought that this does not affect the outcome of the election, I think is nonsense,” he said.

Langworthy said the facts in the indictment are laid out by prosecutors very strongly, but he questioned the timing considering the events in question happened more than a year ago. He said if charges had come weeks or months earlier, it would have been easier for the party to have exit strategies.

Now, he won’t even say if Collins remains the favorite in the district.

“I’m not going to handicap anything,” Langworthy said. “I mean this is all very fresh. I think the district is a conservative Republican district. The challenge to Congressman Collins is can you effectively still get the base vote out for you.”

Eventually the chairman does expect to reach out to the congressman but he wouldn’t divulge what he plans to say in the private conversation or whether he will ask personally for Collins to resign.

USA Today Drops Columnist For Heated Twitter Exchange With WNY Political Operative

USA Today has dropped one of its political columnists after she authored a controversial social media post about a Western New York political operative’s children. The paper announced Friday Cheri Jacobus’ work would no longer be published following a heated Twitter exchange with former Trump campaign volunteer Michal Caputo.

The tweet, which still hasn’t been deleted, asked if Caputo’s daughters are ugly or whether they would be shared sexually at parties hosted by Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein, an associate of former President Bill Clinton, was a former financier and was found guilty ten years ago for soliciting sex from an underage girl.

Jacobus’ attack seemed to be the exclamation point on heated thread that included Caputo calling the columnist bitter, childless and alone. Jacobus, a boisterous critic of President Trump, referred to Caputo as a traitor and said he’d end up in jail for lying under oath.

“Cheri Jacobus is clearly mentally ill and she will hopefully get help,” Caputo said when reached by phone Friday evening.

In addition to testifying in front of a congressional committee, Caputo was deposed in May by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.  Mueller was appointed to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election. Caputo worked in Russia in the 1990’s for a media company later hired by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Caputo has repeatedly called the Russia collusion investigation bogus and has mounted a spirited defense which included an online fundraiser for his legal defense.  He’s also become a regular critic of the Mueller investigation on Fox News.  

Caputo’s ire isn’t limited to Jacobus, he also blamed Erie County’s Executive and the Chair of the Erie County Democratic Party.

“Mark Poloncarz and Jeremy Zellner are still paying WNYmedia to promote sexualized attacks on my family and they need to stop. Politics is a tough game but families have always been off limits. Unless Poloncarz and Zellner want that to change – for them too,” Caputo added.  

Zellner told WBEN radio Friday Caputo’s charges were baseless and didn’t warrant a response.


Mystery Check Sent To Erie County Clerk

From the Morning Memo:

A Buffalo Common Council member is trying to figure out why his long-time campaign treasurer wrote a large check to another local politician without his consent.

Democratic Councilman David Rivera said his staff notified him Tuesday, when new state campaign finance reports came out, that he had given $5,000 to Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns.

Rivera said that accounted for more than half of the total amount of money in his campaign account, and he doesn’t believe he has ever contributed more than $250 to a single individual – let alone written a 4-digit check.

Confused, he reached out to the bank and learned the check has been authorized by his treasurer of roughly a decade, Edwin Martinez. Rivera then reached out to Martinez, but has not been able to get in touch with him. He believes he’s out of the country, and so the mystery persists.

“To this day, I’d like to find him and talk to him about what was behind this,” Rivera said of Martinez.

Rivera was able to get in touch with Kearns, a former colleague on the Council as well as a former state assemblyman. The clerk said he knew nothing about the contribution. and refunded the full amount to Rivera yesterday.

The councilman said he has opened a new campaign account, and will send a letter today to the state Board of Elections asking that Martinez be replaced as treasurer. He said he is embarrassed and perplexed by the incident, and has asked the Erie County District Attorney’s office to open a formal investigation.

Kearns confirmed the details of Rivera’s story, noting the two are long time friends and he immediately returned the money when the matter was brought to his attention.

Erie County Legislator Submits Pay-To-Play Plan

From the Morning Memo:

New York candidates for statewide office have already made the need to crack down on so-called “pay-to-play” a campaign issue this year, and it’s a safe bet that how to deal with that will continue to be debated through the November election.

In Western New York, Erie County Legislator Pat Burke has submitted his own plan for addressing a problem he insists is not an issue at the county government level, but is clearly an issue higher up the political food chain.

The Democrat is running for state Assembly, and clearly is interested in making pay-to-play a campaign issue of his own. He said he has been wanting to address campaign finance reform since becoming an elected official, and sees an opportunity while fundraising is making headlines to push the legislation forward because “public trust in government is at an all-time low.”

Burke’s legislation would limit the amount any elected official or candidate for county office could accept to $100 from any individual or entity entering into a contract with Erie County worth more than $5,000. 

“This is a small community, and influence is relegated to a few people,” Burke said. “So the money that those in power receive in campaign donations has to be transparent.”

This plans is similar to the recent proposal from GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, which would ban any state contractor from making donations to elected officials.

Other components of Burke’s bill address increased transparency and reporting standards for government contractors and penalties for violations.

ECWA Saga Continues

From the Morning Memo:

We’re learning more regarding this week’s scathing report about the Erie County Water Authority, and the drastic actions officials there took in reaction to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report, released Tuesday by the state Authorities Budget Office, criticizes the ECWA board for operating under a “veil of secrecy,” failing to properly comply with FOIL asks and acting on contracts without first doing due diligence.

A portion of the report referred to the board quickly declaring an emergency upon receiving a request for documents and bringing in a local law firm, but it did not specifically state what caused that emergency.

According to a response from the Water Authority to a FOIA request from Spectrum News’ Alex Haight, it was in relation to reporting done by Buffalo non-profit watchdog the Investigative Post.

The authority subsequently paid more than $140,000 to Phillips Lytle for “review of the legal and potential environmental issues relating to the Investigative Post publications, and advice, potential litigation and/or negotiations regarding these issues.” It was signed by then-Executive Director Earl Jann.

Thursday, the board voided Jann’s contract and with it likely his now-infamous “golden parachute” – a full salary guarantee through 2020. A spokesperson could not say why he was fired or what his severance would be.

Some county legislators are also calling for the resignation of the board’s chairman Jerome Schad, who has so far refused to step down. Schad was not chairman during 2016 and 2017, the time period outlined in the ABO report, but is the only remaining member from that period.

Erie County Clerk Takes Preemptive Stance On Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Clerk will preemptively announce today the county’s auto bureaus will not process drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, regardless of what the state Legislature does.

Both the state Senate and Assembly are currently considering legislation to institute the policy. Other advocates believe the governor can move forward on his own through an executive order.

However, County Clerk Mickey Kearns said there are already avenues for non-citizens to obtain licenses if they have the appropriate documentation. Kearns also noted auto bureaus are already facing a high volume of customers and do not need the extra strain.

“As the County Clerk elected by the taxpayers of Erie County to look out for their best interests, I cannot in good conscious follow through on a policy that will violate federal laws by knowingly providing government identification to illegal immigrants,” he said.

Kearns also pointed out a similar proposal from then-Governor Elliot Spitzer failed in 2007 after “significant backlash” from county clerks. He plans on writing a letter to the State Clerk’s Association calling for a resolution against the policy.

“As what happened more than a decade ago, there was widespread opposition, with many county clerk’s refusing to enforce this policy in their auto bureaus. I expect the same response should the legislature and Governor plan to move forward with this proposal,” Kearns said.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to our request for a response but the Erie County Democratic Committee chairman had one of his own. 

“If Michael Kearns is unwilling to uphold the oath that he swore to the citizens of Erie County just months after taking it, he should resign immediately,” Jeremy Zellner tweeted.

Kearns is a registered Democrat but ran for clerk with the endorsement of the local Republican committee. He had already,for all intents and purposes, been disowned by Erie County Democratic leadership.