Erie County

Erie County Water Authority Director Resigning Less Than Two Weeks After Taking Post

The Erie County Water Authority confirmed Wednesday, new Executive Director John Mye III is resigning effective Friday.

Mye officially began working for the authority less than two weeks ago on February 4. ECWA said the reason for the resignation was personal and could not give any further information because of HIPAA laws.

“After my very brief time at the ECWA discovering the full magnitude of the responsibilities of the position, and after close consultation with my family, I have determined that due to this personal matter it is in the best interests of myself and the ECWA to resign,” Mye said in a statement. “The ECWA and its ratepayers deserve to have an executive director that can fully meet the rigorous daily demands of leading the largest public water utility in the region.”

A spokesperson said it will begin a search immediately to replace the executive director within 60 days. The authority has long been known as a hotbed for political patronage, but the selection of Mye was viewed as a change in direction.

Much was made of the fact the professional engineer and financial executive did not have a history of political involvement or campaign contributions. His hire came following a tumultuous several months for ECWA.

“In the short time I was at the ECWA, I came away very impressed with its operations,” Mye said. “The organization is well managed, and I am confident that the leadership at ECWA will select a highly qualified individual that will continue to lead the organization in a positive direction.”

In June 2018, the authority fired previous Executive Director Earl Jann. That move came days after the New York State Authorities Budget Office issued a scathing report recommending all water authority commissioners who served between 2016 and 2017 be replaced due to lack of transparency.

The report was particularly critical of the board for approving a guaranteed severance payout of $300,000 to $400,000 if Jann were forced out of his position for political reasons before his contract expired in 2020. The practice is known as a “golden parachute.”

Members of the Erie County Legislature also passed a resolution over the summer calling for the resignation of Authority Board of Commissioners Chair Jerry Schad, but he has stayed on. Schad is expected to discuss Mye’s resignation later today.

State Senator Jacobs Will Not Run For Erie County Executive

State Senator Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, confirmed Tuesday he will not run for Erie County Executive.

Many Republicans in Western New York believed Jacobs would be the front runner to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz. The legislator contemplated his options for several weeks but ultimately said the decision was not too difficult to make.

“We’re just celebrating the one month birthday of my new daughter Anna and really decided it’s just not the right time for myself and my family,” he said.

Jacobs said his position in the state Senate didn’t really factor into the choice. He just began his second term in the 60th district but now is in the minority conference.

If anything, he said that shift is a reason to return to Albany. The lawmaker pointed out he’s already run two countywide campaigns and it’s not easy.

“I know it’s a time consuming and all-consuming task and right now I just didn’t think it was the right time,” he said. “So I’m very much enjoying my role as senator representing the 60th district and I also think it’s a very important time to be up here to make sure Western New York’s voice is heard.”

Jacobs has developed a number of buildings in the Buffalo-area but he said impending limits on outside income in the Legislature were not a factor either. He said it is his understanding, with “soft income,” he will not be impacted by the new rules.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw was once considered the defacto candidate to challenge Poloncarz. However, after Republican Rep. Chris Collins was indicted on federal insider trading charges, Mychajliw appeared to severe from the local party a bit. He now appears to have turned his attention to the 27th Congressional District, whenever the incumbent’s tenure is up.

Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said the candidates currently in consideration for county executive are County Legislators Lynne Dixon, Joe Lorigo, and Ed Rath, as well as County Clerk Mickey Kearns. He said there are no “rankings” as to which candidate might be preferred.

Republican analyst Vic Martucci said any of the four would be good choices his gut feeling is Dixon will be the favorite.

“I would think that the Republican party will want to try and run a female candidate if they can,” Martucci said. “Again, just looking at the political landscape, Republicans lost a lot of races last year because they couldn’t appeal to middle class suburban women and that’s going to be a key voting block in this county executive’s race.”

Of the four candidates in consideration, only Rath is a registered Republican. Kearns is a Democrat, Lorigo a Conservative, and Dixon is registered to the Independence Party.

Martucci said the GOP has always needed candidates that can appeal to more than just party members because there is a heavy Democratic enrollment edge in Erie County. He said he believes voters care less about affiliation than they have in the past and there’s not necessarily a problem recruiting candidates.

He said regardless of who Reopublicans choose, the incumbent, Poloncarz, is formidable and will be difficult to beat.

Erie County GOP Chair Argues Election Reform Could Lead To Fraud

Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy warned voters should beware “legalized rigged elections” ahead of expected election reform votes Monday in the state Legislature.

Langworthy said the Legislature, now totally under Democratic control, is trying to make sure elections are skewed in their favor for years to come. The GOP boss said the package of legislation is being rushed and as a result cannot be well thought out public policy.

“There have been no public hearings,” Langworthy said. “New York taxpayers deserve some honest hard work, debate and discussion from their legislators on an issue as critical as the future of our elections, not a package thrown on their desk by the Governor with a demand for an affirmative vote.

In particular, he expressed concern about “ballot harvesting” if no-fault absentee voting is approved. The measure would open the absentee process up to all registered voters, who could cast their ballot without an approved excuse needed under the current system.

“Ballot harvesting” he said is when paid election workers collect massive amounts of absentee ballots for delivery to boards of election or polling places.

“It is nothing more than an opportunity for special interests to commit voter fraud,” he said. “It is the practice that is the central focus of the controversial 9th Congressional District of North Carolina that has led to the voiding of the 2018 election and will lead to a new election being called.  This nefarious practice was also legalized by phony reformers in California and led to wild irregularities in 2018. Those that believe in honest elections must work to prevent ‘ballot harvesting’ from coming to New York State.”

Langworthy also expressed concerns about same day voting and automatic voter registration. He said the measures could encourage a Tammany Hall-style vote “early and often” practice in New York.

Finally, he said the bills offer zero protections against undocumented immigrants voting and argued there should be a comprehensive voter identification requirement.

Erie County Legislator Calls For Official Social Media Policy

Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joe Lorigo, C-West Seneca, has asked the county attorney to draft a social media policy for elected officials.

Lorigo has publicly questioned whether the county attorney’s office should be defending County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, in a potential defamation lawsuit. In a December notice of claim, the former operators of Emerald South, a nursing rehabilitation center, said the county executive made false and defamatory statements about them, some on Twitter.

While Lorigo said he is not making a judgement on the validity of the legal action, he pointed out Poloncarz has repeatedly referred to his social media accounts as personal. The minority leader said if that’s the case, taxpayer dollars should not be used as a defense.

Furthermore, he said the legal issues illustrated why the line between personal and public social media cannot be blurred.

“It is misleading to the public to use an account for government-related purposes while at the same time making personal statements and pushing people to attend political fundraisers,” Lorigo said. “As elected officials, it is important we separate our official public statements from those we make as private citizens”

The legislator acknowledged the action could appear to be targeting Poloncarz specifically, but he said all elected officials would benefit from clear rules. Lorigo said the county executive pointed out the county executive is just one of the most prolific and high-profile social media users in the region.

He said he would be happy to work with the county attorney to answer questions, particularly about the use of private and/or public accounts to solicit political contributions. Lorigo noted other government’s across the state are addressing the issue, including Ulster County in response to questions about the sheriff’s posts.

He believes the Erie County rules could be modeled after the federal guidelines in the Hatch Act.

Langworthy Intensifying Push For GOP Chairmanship

From the Morning Memo:

This week 11 Republican county chairmen from the North Country region of New York State delivered a letter to GOP State Chairman Ed Cox, asking for his resignation.

In the letter, they called the 2018 election cycle disastrous for NYGOP on nearly all levels. Specifically, they pointed to losses by large margins, ceding control of the state Senate, and squandering “a credible opportunity against a flawed governor.”

The county leaders said the gubernatorial candidate, Marc Molinaro, was not to blame as he was left to run with no time to raise money, no clear endorsement and no solidarity from the party. Molinaro reentered the race last year at the urging of county chairs after the party couldn’t rally behind other interested candidates.

The chairmen blamed Cox and party leadership for the perceived disorder.

“Mr. Chairman, the North Country Republicans request that you graciously resign from your position and allow a new leader to take the reins,” they wrote. “Waiting for the undeniable outcome of an election for State Chairman would only delay the needed restructuring and revitalization our party sorely needs and would send a message to the citizens of our state that we aren’t serious about becoming a viable party again.”

Despite the letter Cox told Daily News reporter Ken Lovett, who broke the story, that he did not have plans to leave. That could set up for a contested state chairmanship race this fall.

Erie County GOP boss Nick Langworthy was not among those who called for Cox’s resignation. However, a chairman told Lovett he was “likely the favorite” to replace him.

Langworthy had no comment on the letter and has not publicly lobbied for the job, but a senior GOP source said he has been quietly working to build support for several years now as the heir apparent. That effort has intensified in the aftermath of the 2018 election and he has recently been traveling the state to speak with colleagues the source said.

It is not clear yet when the state party’s reorganization meeting will be. They are required to hold it within the first 21 days following New York’s primary, but some expect the Legislature to move the primary from September to June to coincide with federal elections this year.

Erie County Executive Pours Cold Water On New Stadium Talk

From the Morning Memo:

The Buffalo Bills are following through on a promise to do an internal analysis regarding the possibility of a new stadium.

Many people in the WNY area received a survey that asked a number of questions – including one that inquired, in broad terms, that if the team were to build a new stadium would the preferred choice be downtown Buffalo or north, south east or west of the city?

The survey certainly seemed to excite fans and members of the local media. However, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has long warned people not to get ahead of themselves on the issue of a new stadium. And he’s not changing his tune yet.

“This is not surprising,” he said. “We expected this. This is what generally is done when you’ve got a stadium lease that is coming up. This happened the last time there was a stadium lease that was due.”

Poloncarz pointed out the county does its own analysis, as well. The current lease goes through 2022, and, he said, especially if a new stadium is a possibility, it’s important to get an early start.

“I can tell you just to negotiate the last lease, it took almost a full year in negotiations and then another four months, five months to finalize it in paper,” the county executive cautioned. “So if it took that long and we knew we weren’t going anywhere other than staying at the existing facility, it certainly is going to take much longer to determine what the long term plans are.”

The county executive also noted that there are very limited spaces where a new stadium could be built. Even if a spot is located, it could mean less parking, which would likely curtailed the much-covered Bills tailgating culture. He said nobody at this point has determined if a new facility is even appropriate.

Poloncarz maintains that the current stadium in Orchard Park can last another 20 years with some additional upgrades.

“It’s a determination that’s going to be made in the long-term, not just by the Buffalo Bills, but by my office and the governor’s office,” he said.

Finally, he pointed out, as new stadiums are being built around the NFL, the costs are not only-covered through state and local taxpayer money, but directly from the fans through personal seat licenses.

“If you expect this market to be able to pay the prices that they do in Dallas or Atlanta or Los Angeles, it’s not going to happen,” Poloncarz said. “This is Buffalo. We’re more like Kansas City. We’re more like Cleveland and you can’t expect that what they do in the larger markets is going to carry over here because truthfully people couldn’t afford to go to the games.”

Erie County Clerk Issues Warning To Expected New DMV Chief

From the Morning Memo:

The state Department of Motor Vehicles has been without a permanent commissioner for several years now, but that should soon come to an end.

A source confirmed reports that Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder is resigning his city post to run the DMV. Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns said the change can’t come soon enough.

“The one thing I do know about Mark is he will listen, and believe me, he will be hearing from me a lot because there are many things that need to change,” Kearns said. “There are many things that are broken at the state DMV. We haven’t had a leader there in a long time.”

In many ways, Kearns and Schroeder are cut from the same cloth. Both served the same South Buffalo Assembly district known for its “conservative Democratic” politics.

They also both have been known for sometimes bucking party leadership. Schroeder challenged Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in 2017, who also happens to be the state Democratic Party chairman, compliments of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

At the moment, it happens to be Kearns who is in worse standing with local Democrats, having run and won two recent races for clerk on the Republican line.

Similarities aside, Kearns said geography could be one of the most important things he and Schroeder have in common as his former colleague prepares to ascend to a new post.

“Obviously, if you have a commissioner that’s from Western New York, he is going to understand Upstate and Western New York and hopefully he won’t forget about us,” he said.

Despite all their history, it’s possible that the relationship between Schroeder and Kearns could quickly sour.

The county comptroller has been steadfast in his vow not to process drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, which is a top priority for a number of progressive advocacy groups as the Democrats prepare to take control of the entire state Legislature kin Albany.

Cuomo has already indicated his willingness to sign this legislation if it passes both houses, and he is also the one who would appoint the new DMV chief. Kearns said he doesn’t know Schroeder’s stance on the issue, but said if he plans to enforce any new driver’s license law, he’ll face a fight – and not just in Buffalo.

“He may be in for a tempest of a storm with the county clerks throughout the state of New York if that matter gets passed by the Legislature, and that’s something that I want to warn him on,” he said.

There’s history on this issue dating back to the days of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who had to retreat from his push to give undocumented immigrations driver’s licenses after a significant backlash against the proposal, which even tripped up then Sen. Hillary Clinton during her first presidential run.

And leading the charge against the idea at the time: Then Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, who, of course, is now Cuomo’s lieutenant governor. Back then, though, she vowed to have immigrants arrested if they showed up at her local office to apply for a license.

Schroeder has not made any official comment on this subject, and his office indicated he would not do so until Cuomo announced any appointment.

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