Erie County

Erie County Executive Candidate Launches Television Ad

The political season is shifting into another gear post Labor Day with county races at the top of the ballot this year.

Independent Erie County Executive Candidate Lynne Dixon has released her first television advertisement. The commercial portrays the current county legislator as a “different kind of leader.”

“I’m a single working mom with four kids,” Dixon said. “I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I’m an Independent who does not care about partisan politics. I only care about the right ideas and doing the right things.”

While Dixon is registered to the minor Independence Party, she is endorsed by the Erie County Republican Committee, which circulated the campaign email Tuesday. She is running against incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz.

“The campaign for CE offers a clear choice – an independent in Lynne Dixon who’s running to take politics out of government or a partisan bully in Mark Poloncarz who brags about being Erie County’s progressive version of Bill DeBlasio. The more voters hear from Lynne the easier that choice is for them,” campaign consultant Chris Grant said.

According to Federal Communications Commission files, the campaign spent more than $13,000 to air the ad on local broadcast networks through September 8. Dixon’s campaign said there are also additional cable and digital buys which are not yet noted in the FCC reports.

In July, the candidate reported having more than $216,000 in campaign funds available. Poloncarz had north of $637,000.

We’ve reached out to the county executive’s campaign for a statement.

Erie County Moving Quickly To Implement Procedures, Find Money For New Early Voting

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Board of Elections is scrambling to prepare for New York State’s new early voting period.

The state Legislature passed a series of election reforms in January, including early voting. Lawmakers pushed to have the laws effective this year, in order to establish the systems before the presidential election this year.

However, the rush has been taxing on county boards of elections who received only a few months to get plans in order. Early voting was not required for the primary elections, which were moved up to June, but is required before the general election on November 5.

In Erie County, it will take place from October 26 until November 3 this year.

“What we have to do is implement a procedure and that really involves a change in a lot of our procedures and our software,” Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said.

Mohr said there are a number of obstacles that the new law presents. It is establishing 37 voting sites that will need things like new electronic poll books, printers and staff.

The inspectors also need to be trained on the new technology and the county needs to establish protocol to make sure people can’t cast multiple votes, and the early votes are held until election day to be counted with the rest.

“We estimate the total cost to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about $3 million,” Mohr said.

Since the law was passed in January, after Erie County had already passed its budget, there is no money specifically allocated for early voting. The state is picking up some of the tab with a roughly $1.1 million dollar grant for Erie County, reimbursable after the county fronts the cost.

Because there is no budget line, the county budget office needs to at least approve that funding and the county Legislature, which is currently on break, may need to take a vote sometime in early September as well.

The Board of Elections says state lawmakers also approved another grant worth $874,000 but the state budget director hasn’t signed off on it yet.

“We’re working very rapidly to try to make sure that we don’t lose any funding and continue along the procedures and the plans that we have in place,” he said.

The quick turnaround has put most counties in the same position of trying to find money for which it hasn’t budgeted. In Erie County, commissioners said they’ve worked extra hard to make sure early voting is available to everybody.

“If you look at counties in Upstate like Monroe and Onondaga, they only have one site in the city of Syracuse and one site in the city of Rochester,” Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner said. “We have ten sites in the city of Buffalo.”

Zellner said there will be sites in close proximity to every voter but also noted people will be allowed to vote at any site in the county.

Rep. Stefanik Helping GOP-Endorsed Candidate For Erie County Executive

North Country Republican Elise Stefanik will travel to the western side of the state next month as she lends a hand in the Erie County executive race.

The congresswoman will be the guest of honor at a September 4 luncheon fundraiser for GOP-endorsed county executive candidate Lynne Dixon who is running against the Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz.

Dixon said it was very humbling to get the endorsement from a “rising star” in the party. In 2014, at the age of 30, Stefanik became the youngest Republican woman ever elected to Congress.

The tickets for the luncheon are $125 per person and $1000 for the VIP reception. It’s being held at Templeton Landing in Buffalo.

State To Ask For Rensselaer ‘Green Light’ Challenge Be Put On Hold

From the Morning Memo:

There are several new developments involving lawsuits challenging New York’s Green Light Law which allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

The state plans to file a motion asking for Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola’s federal suit to be transferred to the Western District court or be put on hold until a judge makes a decision on a similar action in Erie County.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns filed his challenge before Merola and is asking for an injunction on implementation of the law.

The state has also asked for dismissal of the Kearns suit and suggested it wouldn’t make sense for the courts to pursue any other litigation until a judge makes a decision on those matters. That motion will be made September 19 with the oral arguments for the Erie County suit scheduled for Sept. 25.

At the same time, the state of Connecticut said it intends to file court documents in support of New York in the Kearns case.

“In an amicus brief, Connecticut will offer the perspective of a neighboring state with more than four years of experience granting driver’s licenses to undocumented residents,” Joshua Perry, Special Counsel for Civil Rights wrote.

“Our example – along with those of 11 other states and the District of Columbia – shows that granting these licenses is not only well within each state’s prerogative but is also a wise policy decision that improves public health and safety.”

Perry said New York’s decision is an “appropriate and well-considered exercise of police power.” He asked for the court’s permission to file the brief no later than August 23.

State Board of Elections Weighs In On Erie County Executive Campaign Debate

From the Morning Memo:

A representative from the State Board of Elections said questions about whether the Erie County executive’s campaign should pay for the use of a security detail at parades should be decided locally.

Republican-endorsed candidate Lynne Dixon claimed Wednesday, County Executive Mark Poloncarz should reimburse the county for sheriff’s deputies who escorted him during six parades over the Independence Day weekend. She said Poloncarz was campaigning and not working as a county employee at the time.

State BOE Public Information Officer John Conklin said the “threshold question” is whether the detail is a misuse of county resources for a private or non-governmental purpose. He said that is generally not an Election Law question and is usually related to local ethics code or standards of conduct that come from the General Municipal Law.

In Erie County, those violations are determined by a Board of Ethics.

“If the county has decided there is a credible threat against the Chief Executive that may be a reason to assign a security detail at the county’s expense,” Conklin said. “Based on the statement from the Sheriff that may be the case and it would mitigate against the argument that the County Executive has misused county resources for his own private purposes.”

However, how the county arrived to the decision there was a “credible threat,” Conklin said, is a “perfectly legitimate question” for the Dixon campaign to ask. He said details pertaining to whether the process was transparent, who was involved in the decision, if the county attorney weighed in, and what evidence was used to arrive at the decision are all relevant.

“Under state law if a public official uses state resources for a private or non-governmental purpose the official could reimburse the taxpayer, like a governor reimbursing the state for use of the state plane to attend a private fundraising function,” Conklin said. “He has the approval of JCOPE (the Joint Commission on Public Ethics) to do that.”

Conklin said if an ethics board determined reimbursement was necessary, the state Board of Elections would rule on whether the reimbursement was properly disclosed on a campaign finance report.

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.