Western New York

AD-142 Special Election Comes Into Focus

From the Morning Memo:

There is officially a contested special election for New York’s 142nd Assembly District. Both the Erie County Republican and Conservative committees crossed party lines and endorsed Buffalo Public School district teacher Erik Bohen, a registered Democrat, last night.

Bohen had sought the endorsement of the Erie County Democratic Committee, but earlier this week the party chose current Erie County Legislator Pat Burke instead. Because this is a special election, which will take place on April 24, there is no avenue for a primary, and party officials get the final say about who gets to run.

In a statement, Bohen thanked the Republicans and Conservatives for the opportunity.

“Both parties appreciated my extensive charitable work in the community and recognized the vast support I have received within the district,” he said.

“These endorsements will allow the residents of the 142nd District to make an important choice in the upcoming election. I will continue my commitment to community service and advocacy for those in need and I look forward to the campaign ahead.”

The Bohen endorsements aren’t particularly surprising. After failing to secure the Democratic nod (a widely expected outcome), he posted on social media he would pursue other options.

The teacher and activist had also launched a campaign page, secured union endorsements and has two upcoming fundraisers. He has the support of former gubernatorial candidate and fellow South Buffalonian Carl Paladino, too.

“He’ll be a great candidate,” Paladino said.

Burke, meanwhile, has already secured endorsements from NYSUT and CWA and will likely be considered a solid favorite in the Democratic district, who was held by Mickey Kearns until he was elected last fall to serve as Erie County clerk.

Bohen is following in Kearns’ footsteps with his approach to this race. Kearns, a Democrat, won a special election to the Assembly without his party’s endorsement back in 2012. He beat an endorsed Democrat for the vacancy by running on the GOP and Conservative lines.

WNY State Legislators Call For Quick Action On Historic Tax Credits

Members of the Western New York delegation in the state Legislature are calling on the governor to include several provisions regarding New York’s Historic Tax Credits as part of the 30-day amendments to the Executive Budget. They held a press conference Thursday morning in Buffalo with local developers.

“We’re a city on the rise but part of that is because we’ve been able to harness the power of the historic tax credit and couple that with our historic structures,” Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, said.

Ryan wants the governor to immediately extend the tax credit program, which sunsets in 2019, for another five years. He said the credits are vital, especially for Upstate cities like Buffalo.

Developer Rocco Termini said rehabilitating historic buildings often takes years of planning so his industry needs to know the money will be there.

“For developers, the most important thing is consistency,” Termini said. “We need to know that when we start a project and we count on tax credits, that we’re going to have them at the end of the project and if we don’t it’s going to really have a chilling effect on development in the city of Buffalo.”

The legislators also called for the governor to decouple the federal and state Historic Tax Credit programs. As part of the federal tax reform late last year, Congress approved paying out the credits over a five-year period instead of one year as it has previously been.

Ryan said the change already makes things tougher for developers but if the state doesn’t decouple, it will have to use the same system.

“It’s expected to erode the overall value of the tax credit and really just make it harder to use the program,” he said.

State Senator Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, said he is in favor of both proposals but he has a more immediate concern. Jacobs said the governor’s budget proposes deferring payments on any tax credit over $2 million, including Historic and Brownfield credits, for three years with some components deferred up to five years.

“This destabilizes the market in terms of investors who are doing projects right now and looking to do projects in the future,” he said.

Jacobs’ office said while the Legislature could address the issue during negotiations, it’s important to provide developers certainty and the governor should also make the change as part of his 30-day Budgetary Amendments.

Giambra Leaves Door Open For Independent Campaign

From the Morning Memo:

Some of New York’s most famous and successful Republicans built their reputations as moderates, but in the past decade the state party, like the national one, has appeared to skew to the right. Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra believes he could be the candidate to change that direction.

“I am pretty much in the mold of the George Pataki, (Nelson) Rockefeller mantra,” he said in a Capital Tonight interview.

Giambra, once upon a time a Democrat, is mounting a bid for governor and believes he is the type of candidate the GOP needs to win. He said while generally fiscally conservative he has socially moderate views, for instance the legalization of recreation marijuana, he believes could bring young people back to the party.

Ironically, Giambra, a member of NY Republicans for Hillary in 2016, now compares his campaign for the nomination to that of Donald Trump’s campaign for president. While he hasn’t found immediate support from party leaders, he believes they’ll come around.

“Remember, Donald Trump I think didn’t have any of the Republican establishment when he announced his candidacy and it took some time for the Republican party and the establishment to realize that he really had the best chance of winning the presidency and I’m about to do the same thing.”

If the GOP refuses to back him, Giambra said he hasn’t ruled out running an independent campaign and said he’s already had a very good conversation with Reform Party leader Frank Morano.

“The door is open,” he said. “We’re going to continue to talk but I really think that I will be able to convince the party establishment that if you want to win the election, you can’t win with a traditional, if you will, Republican.”

Giambra said he believes the governor had done an okay job so far but he believes he has the skillset to deal with issues moving forward that Cuomo can not.

M&T Announces New Chairman and CEO

From the Morning Memo:

New management is coming into place at M&T Bank following the sudden death of longtime Chairman and Chief Executive Office Robert Wilmers this weekend.

Taking over those roles is René Jones, who served as the company’s vice chairman under Wilmers.

Jones has been with the company since 1992, and was its chief financial officer from 2005 to 2016. M&T also promoted another vice chairman, Richard Gold, who is now president and chief operating officer.

“Over the past 34 years, Bob Wilmers built M&T into one of the most successful banks in the country,” Robert T. Brady, M&T’s non-executive chairman, said.  “Mr. Wilmers did not do it alone, however. Thousands of experienced colleagues have worked side-by-side with Bob to develop and deliver M&T’s successful community-focused approach, including a Management Committee comprised of members with an average tenure of 24 years at M&T.”

Like Wilmers, both Gold and Jones have been active in the Western New York community. Jones has overseen the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Initiative, while Gold is on the board of directors of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

“Together, the M&T family will carry on – as Bob would have wanted – focused as strongly and steadfastly as ever on our colleagues, our customers and our communities,” Gold said.

Jones said he wants to continue to move forward with Wilmers overall vision and direction for M&T as well as the values he embodied.

:Bob Wilmers was an inspiration to us all, and his legacy will live on in everything we do to support our colleagues, serve our customers and strengthen our communities,” he said.


Gallivan Continues To Discuss Special Session With State Senate Leadership

From the Morning Memo:

Having legislators return to Albany for a special session is already a rare occurrence and the window for one to happen this year is quickly closing. State Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, is still holding out some hope his colleagues will return to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would’ve blocked the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center from moving from its current location in West Seneca.

He said he continues to have discussions with Majority Leader John Flanagan and state Senate leadership.

“Our deadline’s not the end of the year,” Gallivan said. “We do have until we start up again next session so conceivably we could do something after the first of the year if there’s the willingness on the part of leadership and my colleagues to do this.”

It’s a long shot at best, but one the state senator will continue to pursue until the door closes. At that time, he said he’ll explore avenues.

“It’s something I believe very strongly in. This is a wrong decision. I think the governor was wrong when he vetoed this and I would hope that we could convince the governor to ultimately change his mind on this,” Gallivan said.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit to block the move to the same site as the adult facility in Buffalo, continues as well.

“There is the legal avenue and we still have a budget season coming up so even though he may have vetoed this legislation, the move is still not complete despite the construction starting. As they say, it’s not over until it’s over.”

20,000 Niagara County Pistol Permit Holders Yet To Recertify

From the Morning Memo:

According to the Niagara County Clerk’s office, there are 28,000 pistol permit holders in the county whose firearms were registered more than five years ago. Those people are required to get recertified under the SAFE Act by Jan. 31, 2018 or they will lose their permits.

Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski, a Republican, said he received updated figures from the State Police this week, showing just a little more than 8,000 of his constituents have gone through the recertification process so far.

“Our law-abiding gun owners that followed the rules and got their permits more than five years ago never expected to have to do anything else, except continue to be law-abiding citizens, to exercise their Second Amendment right to defend themselves and their families,” Jastrzemski said.

“When Gov. Cuomo imposed these new rules on gun owners, what he ended up doing was causing a lot of confusion among people who just try to follow the law.”

The clerk said he recognizes the law is unpopular among gun owners, but he believes compliance is their best option. He has met with various community groups and held a number of public forums across the county, and will host another one Saturday in Niagara Falls to answer any questions people might have.

“Everyone from firearms enthusiasts that normally hang out at the LaSalle Sportsmen’s Club to firefighters to professionals to just everyday moms and dads came out in the Town of Niagara to get answers,” Democratic Niagara County Legislator Jason Zona said.

“We understand that a lot of people have questions, and we’re just trying to provide them with the best answers to keep them legal.”

Jastrzemski noted there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the law and how it will be enforced, and he has heard new questions at each meeting. He said it’s also causing confusion at his office, where employees have noticed longer lines and frustrated constituents.

WNY Political Operatives Plead Not Guilty To Election Law Charges

Two Western New York political operatives charged with felony election law violations, including former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steven Pigeon, pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon in state Supreme Court. A third person will be arraigned at a later date.

Pigeon, David Pfaff and Kristy Mazurek all face two felony counts for allegedly coordinating with Erie County Legislature candidates in 2013 to circumvent campaign finance rules. At the time, they were members of an independent expenditure committee called the WNY Progressive Caucus.

All three pleaded Not Guilty to a felony complaint in April but in order to move to trial the state Attorney General’s Office sought and received a Grand Jury indictment this month. Thursday, Pigeon and Pfaff pleaded not guilty once again.  Mazurek’s arraignment is being rescheduled due to a medical issue.

The defendants were supposed to be processed after court at the state police barracks in Boston but all parties agreed to postpone because of the weather. Attorneys have 45 days to file motions then there will be a window for responses and replies. The next scheduled hearing is March 12 at 2 pm.

Prosecutors said they have witnesses and are ready to go to trial, which could be either a jury or non-jury. The Attorney General’s Office also moved to waive the felony complaint in light of the indictment.

Pigeon is also facing separate charges in two other cases, one in state Supreme Court and another in Federal Court, but both cases stem back to when investigators executed a search warrant at his Buffalo condo in May 2015.

WNY Legislators Push Hard For Special Session

From the Morning Memo:

Western New York legislators have asked both the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker to convene a special session, with the hopes of overriding the governor’s veto of a bill that would stop the pending move of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center from West Seneca to the campus where an adult facility is located in Buffalo.

In the state Senate, Republican Pat Gallivan was the bill’s sponsor, and he is leading the call to bring his colleagues back to Albany before the end of the year.

“I can’t say I’m optimistic that it will happen or I’m not optimistic, but I acknowledge that it’s very rare that there is an override,” he said.

Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, a Democrat, has also been very active on this matter, but he is about to give up his seat to take the new post of Erie County clerk, which he won in the fall elections this year. Kearns did, however, issue a letter to Speaker Carl Heastie urging an override effort as soon as possible.

Gallivan said that based on past actions, the chances don’t look particularly good. He noted the Legislature has never overridden any of this governor’s vetoes since he took office in January 2011, and the last time it did happen was 2006 when then-Gov. George Pataki was in his final term.

On the other hand, the senator says he believes this is a unique circumstance in which the bill both had merits and the governor’s office disregarded the community’s will.

“I also don’t know an instance where any individual legislator has brought forward an issue to their legislative leader to ask them to convene a special session to override the veto,” Gallivan said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave a number of reasons as to why he was vetoing the bill. He said opponents’ arguments did not have merit, and moving the facility will provide children with the best care – not to mention save the state a lot of money, though that wasn’t mentioned.

“In the veto message and the things that they have said, I think that it’s misleading, and I think it’s inaccurate, some of the things they’ve put forward,” Gallivan responded.

Niagara Falls Struggling To Budget Without Casino Revenue

From the Morning Memo:

The economic strain caused by an ongoing dispute between the Seneca Nation and the Cuomo administration over casino revenues continues in Niagara Falls.

City Council members met last night, and are looking for savings in hopes of limiting property and business tax hikes in the mayor’s proposed budget.

In all, the council members found roughly $1 million worth of savings. Still, members approved a resolution that would pave the way for the city to override the state-mandated 2 percent property tax cap.

Lawmakers plan to meet again today, but say there is little left to change.

“We’re pinching pennies trying to make things happen,” Chairman Charles Walker, a Democrat, said. “It’s been a very difficult budget.”

Of the municipalities that receive part of the Seneca casino’s slot revenue, Niagara Falls gets the largest share at roughly $20 million a year.

While the Nation has expressed willingness to negotiate individually with the city, it said its obligation to the state has run its course, and the matter is currently moving to arbitration.

Outgoing Democratic Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti said her colleagues were ill-prepared to deal with the impact, adding: “This is the sloppiest budget process I have witnessed in eight years.”

Grandinetti, in particular, expressed disappointment with the council’s decision to cut four more police officer positions. Walker said the city won’t engage in layoffs, and instead won’t replace some retiring officers.

“We decided to cut those positions in hopes of getting through this year, and hopefully the casino revenue and things come back into play and we’re on more solid ground next year, where perhaps we can put those positions back into the budget,” he said.

Council members also acknowledged that part of the current strain is their own doing because they relied too heavily on casino revenues to cover up past budget shortfalls.

“I understand that there have been things that could’ve been done differently in the past, but we need to move forward right now and we need to be more thoughtful,” Walker said.

Walker said if the state and the Senecas don’t resolve the dispute before next year’s budget, things could get even worse. He said the city can make some changes before then, although they may not be popular with taxpayers.

That includes reassessing the property values, an undertaking that has been neglected in the past.

Judge Denies Maziarz’s Motions For Dismissal

An Albany County Court judge has denied two motions to dismiss the indictment of former state Senator George Maziarz. The longtime Niagara County powerbroker is facing political corruption charges; accused of using a third party to make unreported payments to a former campaign staffer.

“In this Court’s view, using a campaign committee as a conduit to make unreported third party payments undermines the integrity of the election process and is extremely serious,” Judge Peter Lynch wrote. “The ‘harm’ is the defendant’s alleged actions constitute a felony offense, and undermines the integrity of the political process.”

Maziarz’s attorneys argued the grand jury proceeding was defective because the prosecution did not properly identify accomplices in the case. The defense told Spectrum News in October it believed the prosecution did not present all relevant witness statements.

“The law in New York State is if there is information out there and if the prosecutor knows about it and if it might tend to induce a grand jury not to indict, that prosecutor is duty-bound to present that evidence to a grand jury and to appropriately instruct the grand jury as to its significance,”  attorney Joseph LaTona said.

Lynch ruled some of the witnesses could in fact be considered accomplices but a grand jury does not need to be instructed to the same degree of precision as a trial jury.

“We deem it sufficient if the District Attorney provides the Grand Jury with enough information to enable it intelligently to decide whether a crime has been committed and to determine whether there exists legally sufficient evidence to establish the material elements of the crime,” the judge wrote.

He also rejected the defense’s argument that an internal debate, between Board of Election officials about whether campaign filings for payments to a payroll company require the identification of the ultimate recipient, was a basis for dismissal. Lynch said it was of no significance because it was up to the Attorney General’s office to decide whether to move forward with prosecution after it was referred there.

The judge also said it was the opinion of the court that dismissing the case would adversely impact public confidence in the criminal justice system.

The trial is scheduled to start in February.