Erie County

Challenger Calls On Erie County Executive To Reimburse Taxpayers For Security Detail

Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has had a visible security detail with him at public events since late-March.

His Republican-endorsed opponent Lynne Dixon is calling into question the use of that detail over Independence Day weekend. Dixon said on July 3 and 4, Poloncarz campaigned while walking in six parades in Western New York.

At each of those events, she said he had the taxpayer funded detail and in at least one parade, a county vehicle. Dixon said her opponent’s recent campaign finance report showed no reimbursement to the county for the resources.

“This is an abuse of taxpayer dollars and an abuse of his position as County Executive. These things aren’t his own personal perk as County Executive that he can use however he wants,” she said. “I’m calling on the County Executive to reimburse county taxpayers for the cost incurred to them on July 3rd and July 4th, when he misused county personnel and a county vehicle to benefit his campaign.”

Dixon complained there has been no details about the status of any investigation, which led to law enforcement providing the detail. She said if there is a credible threat to Poloncarz’s safety, than it could be dangerous to others as well.

The candidate called on the county executive and Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard to answer questions on the matter. A spokesperson for Howard declined to comment on whether the Poloncarz campaign should reimburse the county.

“Law enforcement agencies did deem credible threats, hence the security detail,” ECSO Public Information Officer Scott Zylka said.

County spokesperson Pete Anderson said Zylka’s recognition of the threat answered Dixon’s questions. He did not address the issue of reimbursement.

Erie County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said under New York State Election law, any use of government resources for a campaign should be reported and reimbursed. He said it could not be reported as an in kind contribution because government entities are not allowed to contribute to campaigns.

However, he said without knowing more information, he could not say for sure whether the security detail was technically in aid of the campaign. Mohr said that ruling would be up to the state Board of Elections.

We’ve reached out to the state BOE for more details.

Democratic Erie County Executive Says He Cannot Support Green Light Law

It has been an Erie County Democrat leading the opposition against New York’s new law granting driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrant.

However, many consider County Clerk Mickey Kearns a Democrat in name only. He’s run several times with the endorsement of the local Republican Committee and has been basically excommunicated from his own organization.

Wednesday though, another Erie County Democrat, of whom no one will question ties to the party, also came out against the “Green Light” law. County Executive Mark Poloncarz released a press release questioning its constitutionality and stressing the “necessity of ensuring non-citizens are prevented from voting.”

“Ultimately I do not believe this law benefits the people of Erie County and I cannot support it,” he said.

To this point Poloncarz had not taken a hard stance on the issue, despite consistent calls from his Republican-endorsed county executive opponent Lynne Dixon to do so. He did however support Kearns request for aid from the County Attorney’s Office in filing a federal lawsuit this week.

Poloncarz clarified his opposition though, with another point he has consistently made over the past few weeks.

“However, in a civilized, democratic society we do not get to selectively pick the laws we want to enforce and ignore those we dislike,” he said. “As such, if a federal judge determines the bill to be constitutional, I expect all county officials and employees to respect the decision of the court.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo also said this week he has question about whether the new law will hold up in court, even though he signed it after the bill got a vote of confidence from the state Attorney General’s office. Poloncarz said some people are intentionally using the issue to divide the community.

Erie County Clerk Discusses “Green Light” Lawsuit

Several elected leaders across the state have threatened legal action in response to New York’s new “Green Light Law,” which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.

This week, Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, a registered Democrat who was endorsed by Republican last election, officially filed his lawsuit in federal court. He believes he is the first person to take such action.

“Basically what we said is the Green Light Bill that was passed by the New York State Legislature, one, was unconstitutional according to the Supremacy Law in the Constitution,” Kearns said. “Federal law always trumps state law and that’s fact.”

The clerk said the state statute conflicts with federal law on several fronts. He said by allowing undocumented immigrants to get licenses, and not sharing the information with federal immigration authorities, New York is actually complicit in harboring people here illegally.

Kearns also pointed out in the suit, that part of the reason given for granting licenses, is so undocumented immigrants can get to work, which is federally illegal. He said it ultimately puts him and other clerks in the position of deciding which laws to follow and which to break.

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” he said. :That’s where we’re at.  We’re stuck in the middle of this thing and that’s why we’re going to the courts”

Kearns has been among the laws most vocal critics and has been steadfast that Erie County Departments of Motor Vehicles won’t process the licenses. He said the Trump administration has been clear its willing to prosecute local officials who stand in the way of immigration officers.

However, he also noted Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the power to remove him from office, and has not affirmatively said he will not. The suit also seeks an injunction which would prohibit the governor from taking that action.

“I have to commend the attorneys in the County Attorney’s office. They’ve been very professional. They’ve been easy to work with and I’m very thankful that we’re able to work together to get a resolution.”

The new law doesn’t go into effect into December, but Kearns, expecting the process could take some time, has also asked for an injunction to stop implementation. He said he’s willing to bring the issue all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The suit names three plaintiffs: Cuomo, Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner (and Kearns’s South Buffalo neighbor) Mark Schroeder, and Attorney General Letitia James.

“The Green Light law is well crafted and the Office of Attorney General has concluded that it is constitutional. As the state’s attorney and chief law enforcement officer, my office will vigorously defend it,” James said in a statement.

Like Kearns, Republican Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo is also looking to challenge the new law. Her office said she needs authorization from the County Legislature and the body is meeting to discuss the issue tonight.

A spokesperson for Dinolfo said various local actions could potentially be consolidated and her office is currently reviewing the suit Kearns filed.

Kearns said he also discussed the issue with other county clerks during a Monday meeting in Syracuse


Kearns To File ‘Green Light’ Challenge Tuesday

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns plans to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday, challenging New York State’s new law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

In an advisory, the Clerk’s Office said he will sue Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and the Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder in U.S. District Court in Buffalo. He said in enacting the “Green Light” law, the state is substantially facilitating “illegal aliens to remain in the United States” and shielding them from detection by immigration enforcement officials.

“The law compels County Clerks across the State to be an instrument to violate federal law,” the advisory reads. “The federal lawsuit seeks a declaration as the law’s constitutionality and will also be seeking an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect prior to a final decision from the courts.”

Kearns has been one of the biggest critics of the new law, consistently maintaining his office will not process the licenses. He announced his intention to sue a day after it was officially signed, and has the assistance of the county attorney.

Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has supported the county attorney assisting Kearns in seeking clarification on the law. However, he said he expects all county officials to follow the law if a federal judge determines the new law is appropriate.

Kearns was traveling Monday for a meeting of county clerks from across the state.

New Revelations Regarding Collins Insider Trading Case Permeate Erie County Executive Race

Recently discovered court documents connected to federal insider trading case of Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27. claim Western New York political consultant Chris Grant sold shares of Australian biopharmaceutical company Innate Immunotherapeutics in June 2017, just before the stock plummeted.

According to the affidavit obtained by Spectrum News and first reported by WKBW, Grant avoided losing more than $11,000. Grant has worked both directly for Collins, as his congressional chief of staff, and later consulted for him through his company Big Dog Strategies.

The company currently consults for Republican-endorsed Erie County Executive candidate Lynne Dixon, a registered Independent.

“If you are going to run to be a representative of the people in any office, and I’m not just talking about county executive, I’m talking about any office, you need to be held to the highest ethical standards and your staff needs to be held to the highest ethical standards,” Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

Friday, Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz called for Dixon and any other public official with ties to Grant to cut them. Spectrum News has been told Grant, who has not been charged with a crime, does not plan to leave the campaign.

“I don’t expect Chris Grant to resign but it’s not up to Chris Grant to resign. It’s up to Lynne Dixon to do the right thing,” Poloncarz said.

The county executive also pointed out Grant’s house was raided by federal agents in connection to allegations which ultimately led to the corruption convictions of Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon and a federal judge. Grant has not been charged in that investigation either.

Through Big Dog Strategies, Grant has served as Dixon’s primary spokesperson, but Friday the campaign released a statement from Bryan Fiume, who also serves as the associate Deputy Erie County Comptroller. Another Big Dog employee was listed as the media contact.

Fiume called Poloncarz “desperate” and his claims “preposterous” and pointed out the county executive has a history of disgraced hires himself, like former Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger, who was convicted of raping another county employee.

Poloncarz said when he found out about those allegations he immediately launched an investigation and called for the commissioners resignation before he was even charged.

“Would I have hired him if I knew he was going to have a situation where he would have raped an employee? Of course not,” Poloncarz said. “We never would have hired him. He had a clean resume, a clean background and as I said, Lynne Dixon actually seconded his nomination at the Legisalture.”

According to the affidavit, developer Gerald Buchheit was also among the Collins associates who dumped Innate stock. Buchheit and his company have made campaign contributions to numerous politicians, including Dixon.

Since 2017, he’s donated more than $15,000 to Poloncarz as well.

“I’m going to return every donation that Mr. Buchheit has made in the last year,” he said.

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs also called on Dixon to “denounce and disassociate” herself with Grant. He said a culture of corruption “permeates the Erie County Republican Committee.”

ECRC Chair Nick Langworthy is the incoming GOP State Party chairman.

Erie County Comptroller Offers Hotline For Clerks To Report Undocumented Immigrants

An elected official in Western New York is offering county clerks and their employees across the state, a way to report undocumented immigrants who apply for driver’s licenses to federal authorities.

New York State’s new “Green Light” law which grants those licenses, also provides protections to make sure people in the country illegally don’t face deportation as a result. Attorney General Tish James, D, in a legal opinion earlier this week, pointed out the legislation prevents disclosure of Department of Motor Vehicles’ records to agencies that primarily enforce immigration laws.

However, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has offered his office’s Whistleblower Hotline, as a way for clerks to anonymously report those records.

“To preserve the integrity of our electoral process and protect law enforcement, I expanded my Whistleblower Hotline to provide a direct and anonymous tip to ICE from County Clerks or their employees who suspect an illegal alien has requested a driver’s license,” Mychajliw said. “The threat from Governor Cuomo to remove County Clerks from office is real. I’m simply providing them a tool to report illegal immigrants to federal law enforcement without the fear of being forcibly kicked out of office.”

The comptroller also personally extended the offer to Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, a vocal critic of the law who has vowed not to process the licenses. We’ve reached out to Kearns for a response.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, offered his own response on social media Friday morning.

“For the record, when I was comptroller I created the Whistleblower Hotline as a way for citizens to report the waste, fraud and abuse of county resources,” he said. “This use of it by the comptroller is, in itself, an abuse of county resources.”

Poloncarz said if Mychajliw wants to create a hotline “to advance his own political ambition,” he should pay for it himself.

Former Erie County Executive Taking The Wheel At Taxi Company

From the Morning Memo:

At the peak of New York’s ride-hailing debate, former Republican Erie County Executive Joel Giambra provided his knowledge and expertise to Buffalo’s largest taxi company. And now he’s taking on a larger role.

In 2016, Giambra worked as a consultant for Liberty Cab, acting as a spokesman and advocating for a level playing field for traditional cab companies with ride-hailing heavyweights like Uber and Lyft.

In 2019, he’ll be leading the way in trying to help Liberty compete with those companies as the new chief operations officer of the company.

“I believe Joel Giambra, with his experience as a chief executive and in politics as well as in business development, brings the right credentials to his new position with Liberty,” founder and President Bill Yuhnke said. “I am looking forward to working with him and my daughter, Lisa, in the coming days. It is an exciting time.”

Yuhnke said that over the past several years, even as the market has changed with the introduction of ride-sharing, his company has been able to “hold its ground,” thanks to modernization and deregulation efforts. Giambra assisted with that battle, and said it needed to be waged.

“It was very difficult given the money and the political influence wielded by the technology companies,” he said. “But under Bill’s leadership, much has been accomplished and many of the regulations holding down the taxi industry in the city have been removed, helping to level the playing field. I hope to build on that forward momentum and continue to improve the ground transportation industry.”

Last year, Giambra, a Democrat-turned-Republican announced a rather quixotic campaign for governor of New York.

After failing to gain traction with the Republican party, he attempted a third-party bid with the Reform party, but ultimately it was GOP candidate Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess Conty executive, who secured the line, running unsuccessfully against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the general election.

Giambra is also a staunch proponent for legalizing recreational marijuana, and has lobbied for legislation in the past. He currently owns a Buffalo real estate development company.

He said as COO of Liberty, he plans to pursue new business development opportunities and ways to improve the customer experience.

State Legislature Passes Bill Addressing ‘Golden Parachute’ Severance Packages

Legislation aimed at preventing public authorities from awarding “golden parachute” severance packages is heading to the governor’s desk.

Tuesday, the New York State Assembly passed the Severance Pay Limitation Act which limits the package allowable for at-will employees to no more than three months pay and ensured payments are not considered in calculating retirement packages.

Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, introduced the bill after reports last year showed the former Erie County Water Authority executive director’s contract guaranteed an estimated $300,000-$400,000 payout should he be forced out of his position for political reasons before his term ended in 2020. The news came less than two months after the authority raised its rates.

“As a ratepayer myself, I was angered by this news because it represents government at its worst,” Wallace said. “Erie County Water Authority customers expect that when their rates increase, the money will go toward addressing crumbling infrastructure and water quality improvements – not lucrative severance packages. I am glad that my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate have recognized the need to curtail future abuses, and I urge the governor to sign the legislation into law.”

ECWA fired Executive Director Earl Jann last year following a scathing report from the state authorities budget office which also criticized his “golden parachute.” Ultimately, the authority said Jann was not paid the severance as it was able to void his contract.

“Golden parachute severance packages might be appropriate in the private sector, but they have no place in a public authority whose mission is to provide a public service to its ratepayers in a fiscally responsible manner,” Wallace said.

The state Senate passed its legislation, sponsored by Leroy Comrie, D-St. Albans, earlier this year.

Erie Co. Clerk, Comptroller Join Forces Against Green Light Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Comptroller’s Office will investigate the potential negative ramifications to the county if the state passes legislation to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

The review comes at the request of County Clerk Mickey Kearns, a former Democratic assemblyman, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the proposal. Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, a Republican, said his office will look at the impact such an initiative might have on the county budget and potential cost of litigation – among other things.

“It is absolutely, positively unconscionable for out-of-touch politicians to ignore federal immigration laws to give illegal immigrants a ‘breeder document’ like a drivers license,” Mychajliw said. “It really does open up a Pandora’s Box.”

Kearns has maintained he will not process the licenses if the state Legislature passes the bill. He has cited numerous concerns, including his belief that the proposal is inconsistent with federal law. He’s also worried it could promote fraud, and would be taxing on clerks offices across New York.

“Unintended consequences that roll down from Albany, you know who pays for them? The Erie County taxpayers,” Kearns said. “So, taxpayers need to know to reach out to legislators, that there will be an unintended consequence, their tax bills will go up.”

The two elected officials promoted the investigation as a bipartisan effort, although it’s worth noting that Kearns won his seat with the Republican endorsement, and has been essentially excommunicated for the local Democratic committee.

Expecting the bill to pass, Kearns and Mychajliw also sent a letter to the governor imploring him to veto it when it reaches his desk, which is highly unlikely.

Erie County Dem Chair Believes NYGOP Is Misguided In Langworthy Choice

From the Morning Memo:

In a series of tweets Tuesday evening, Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner characterized the state Republican Party as out of touch, for choosing his county counterpart to become the new state chairman. Nick Langworthy will become the new GOP boss in July, following the party’s reorganization meeting.

“This is obviously good news for Nick Langworthy, but it’s another sign that the New York State Republican Party is moving closer to President Trump and away from the mainstream,” Zellner tweeted.

Zellner first took his post with ECDC more than six years ago and has competed with Langworthy in Erie County since. He pointed out the Republican Chair has been one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters in the state.

“Nick was one of the very 1st to endorse Trump, and he has supported him and his extremist agenda at every turn, whether it’s a trade war guaranteed to hurt WNY, tax cuts that burdened taxpayers, or the attempt to strip healthcare insurance from millions of Americans and NY’ers,” he wrote.

Zellner suggested bringing the party closer to Trump might be the wrong move for NYGOP. He pointed out in 2018, the first state Legislature election following the president’s win, Democrats took full control of both the Assembly and the Senate.

“Trump may be from NY, but he does not represent or stand up for NY or this community,” he wrote.

Zellner said Republicans will be reminded again next year, sidling up to Trump won’t help them win state elections.