Erie County

Erie County Executive, GOP Spar Over Handicapped Parking Incident

The Erie County Republican Committee is criticizing County Executive Mark Poloncarz after his detail apparently parked in handicap spots at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery prior to his Wednesday State of the County address.

Poloncarz acknowledged and apologized for the situation on Twitter after someone wrote that a handicapped woman with Alzheimer’s Disease was not able to park.

However, the GOP found the similarities between this incident and another with then-County Executive Chris Collins eight years ago.

Poloncarz’s then-campaign spokesperson, Peter Anderson, admonished Collins for parking in a handicapped spot at a local high school during a parade in Akron. In fact the party, said it was so similar, it simply updated the old press release.

“In keeping with his record of arrogance and disregard for the rules, Mark Poloncarz Chris Collins presumably reached a new low in conduct recently when he parked his car in a handicapped parking spot at the Albright Knox Art Gallery during operational hours a local high school prior to a speech and political fundraiser he was hosting summer parade.”

Anderson, now a spokesperson for the administration said the “non-issue” was being deliberately cooked up by people who deliberately misrepresent the truth. He pointed out Poloncarz apologized while he did not believe Collins ever did.

Ultimately, he said there’s no comparison between the two situations though.

“As you’ll recall, Collins drove his own vehicle to a parade in Akron, and then deliberately parked his vehicle in a clearly-marked handicapped spot so he could force his way to the front of a parade; he remained parked in that handicapped spot for the duration of the parade as well,” Anderson said. “On Tuesday, the County Executive’s detail inadvertently and briefly parked in front of a sidewalk ramp at the AKAG (NOT a clearly marked handicapped spot) and moved the vehicle immediately upon being told of the issue.”

Poloncarz is running for county executive again this year. His Republican-endorsed opponent is Erie County Legislator Lynn Dixon who is a registered member of the Independence Party.

Erie County Executive Not In Favor Of Making Tax Cap Permanent

When the governor’s office sent out a press release yesterday with quotes from county executives across New York in favor of his plan to make the state’s tax cap permanent, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, was conspicuously missing.

Today, Poloncarz said he is, in fact, not in favor of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal. The county executive is typically a Cuomo ally and was appearing at an announcement with him in Buffalo.

“We don’t have to agree on everything and I think that’s an example where I would like to see it being a strict two percent but that’s not exactly what it is today and not what the law would be in the future,” he said.

Poloncarz said the problem is the so-called two percent tax cap on property tax levy growth for local governments is not strictly a two percent cap, which he would support. Instead it is either two percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.

“There have been years in which it has not been two percent. It’s been the CPI which has been .5 and .6. If it was two percent I’d 100 percent support it but the CPI sometimes is a problem. We have increasing costs on an average basis of two to three percent,” Poloncarz said. “So to go and say I’m going to reduce my revenue below what my increasing costs are by an arbitrary number is a problem.”

Regardless, he said the county has regularly stayed under the cap. However, he said the majority of property taxes comes from school and special districts which often vote to override the cap.

He is pushing those districts to share more services.

Erie Co Legislature Reappoints Embattled Water Board Commissioner

From The Morning Memo:

The chairman of the Erie County Water Authority board has been appointed to another three-year term.

The move represents a reversal for the Erie County Legislature, which called for Jerome Schad’s resignation just last summer. That resolution, passed in June by a 6-5 vote, was in response to a scathing state Authorities Budget Office report that criticized the ECWA for a lack of transparency and recommended the removal of all commissioners who served in 2016 and 2017.

Schad was the only commissioner still serving from that time period.

However, several things have changed over the last eight months. Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick, who voted in favor of the resolution last summer, has since decided to caucus with Democrats in the Legislature. This time around, he cast the swing vote for the chairman’s reappointment.

The water authority, meanwhile, has taken steps to correct the criticisms from the ABO report, including more timely public access to its agenda. Schad has promised more changes as well.

Legislature Chairman Peter Savage said he’s been satisfied by these steps.

“So, we’re talking about commissioners,” he said. “Their chief responsibility is to manage the policies and with this administration with Mr. Carney and Mr. Schad, now have an Open Meeting Law policy.”

However, the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government actually criticized the process for the commissioner’s reappointment, which drew only one other applicant. It called for an extension so the opening could be publicized more – something the Legislature’s minority caucus supported.

But the proposal for a 45-day postponement failed.

We talk a lot in the body about reforms and changing the culture over there, but when we have the opportunity to take substance over action, we fail. I’m disappointed. I was hopeful we could get some additional support to actually have some reforms,” Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said.

The minority caucus also proposed to eliminate the commissioner’s $22,500 annual stipend, but that, too, was voted down.

EC Dem Chair Believes Clinton Still Has A ‘Huge Role’ To Play In 2020

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Democratic Party has a long history of supporting the Clinton family.

The committee was one of the first political organizations in the country to endorse Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. The prevailing wisdom among party members was that Clinton would not make another run at the nation’s top office this year, although she didn’t make it official until this week.

Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner hadn’t ruled out another endorsement before Clinton officially uttered the words “I’m not running” during an interview with News 12, a cable station in her home state of New York.

“I can’t speak for the party,” he said. “I know that I wanted to talk about it if she was interested. I’m a big supporter of hers and the president’s (Bill Clinton). So I was looking for that conversation, if there was one to be had.”

However, Zellner is not taking Clinton’s decision not to run as a sign she’s stepping away from the Democratic spotlight. He pointed out that she said she doesn’t plan on going away, which he took to mean that she intends to play a part in the national discussion in the coming election cycle.

“I think that she’s going to have a huge role to play going forward in the state and also nationally,” he said. “I think you’ve seen that with Governor Cuomo having her at a few events and some of our other legislative leaders. I think that she’s going to have a very big impact in 2020.”

Zellner has said he wants to speak with New York party leaders, including Clinton, before deciding who in the crowded field of would-be Democratic candidates to support to take on President Donald Trump.

Fmr. Erie County Social Services Commissioner Convicted of Raping County Employee

The former commissioner of Erie County’s Department of Social Services has been convicted of raping another county employee.

A jury in Albany convicted Al Dirschberger on one count of third degree felony rape and one count of third degree felony committing a criminal sexual act. The trial, including jury selection lasted roughly five days with deliberation beginning Friday morning.

The Albany County District Attorney’s office said Dirschberger engaged in sexual intercourse and oral sex with a woman who was known to him without consent. It happened in a hotel in Albany while the two were attending a conference in early December 2017.

“This victim was forced in to sexual contact by a person with power over her, despite repeatedly telling him “No” and being too intoxicated to legally consent. We are proud to deliver justice to her and to those who have supported and believed her,” DA David Soares said.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, said he learned of the serious allegations about his commissioner and a female subordinate less than a month after it happened and asked Dirschberger to tender his resignation.

“Today’s verdict confirms my administration took the correct course of action in performing an immediate investigation of the incident upon learning of it and asking for the defendant’s resignation after confirming that he had violated numerous Erie County policies,” he said. “Independent counsel retained by the Legislature also confirmed that my administration acted quickly and appropriately in this case and cooperated fully with investigators and law enforcement as the case moved forward.  Additionally, it should be noted that Erie County declined to provide a defense or indemnity for the defendant upon learning of these charges as his actions did not fall within the scope of his public employment or duties. I do not tolerate any form of sexual misconduct, especially the abhorrent conduct in this case, and my thoughts are with the victim at this time.”

Poloncarz’s opponent for county executive and current County Legislator Lynne Dixon, I, also released a statement.

“This was a tragic event no matter the outcome of the trial of Al Dirschberger, but I am satisfied to see that a panel of his peers listened to the evidence and made a determination that he is guilty and should be punished for his actions. Rape by its nature is intentionally designed to produce psychological trauma. It will forever be with the victim and those close to her,” Dixon said. “My thoughts are with the victim and her family. I applaud the bravery and courage they have shown throughout this process. Erie County has an obligation to protect our employees, and we failed this young woman.”

Dirschberger was remanded to jail and faces up to four years in state prison for each count. His sentencing is April 12.

Erie County Dems Will Take Time On 2020 Prez Endorsement

From the Morning Memo:

Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner attended the high-profile McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner late last week.

The New Hampshire fundraiser, in its 60th year, has a reputation for bringing in major national party figures, including presidential candidates. This year was no different, as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, an announced 2020 Democratic contender, gave the keynote speech in her neighboring state, which just so happens to host the country’s first presidential primary.

Zellner admitted he has never been a major Warren backer, but said he found the senator to be very impressive. However, he also made a point to mention one of her main competitors.

The ECDC chair said he spoke with top staff for California Sen. Kamala Harris, another announced 2020 candidate, whose campaign already has gained significant momentum. I asked Zellner if he plans to endorse Harris, about whom he has tweeted several times since she entered the fray.

“Right now, it’s very early and what I want to do is I want to hear from our governor, I want to hear from our incoming state chair and I want to hear from Secretary (Hillary) Clinton,” Zellner said.

“She’s a fellow New Yorker. She’s someone who carried the torch for us last time and I’d like to hear her thoughts on it. So I’m not making any decisions or any recommendations or any endorsements yet.”

Clinton reportedly has been meeting with Democratic 2020 hopefuls, and though she doesn’t plan on endorsing a favorite, has plenty of advice for those seeking to follow in her 2016 footsteps. Already, her primary opponent from that year, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has announced he’s going to take another shot at the White House.

There has been speculation that Clinton herself might make a third White House run, but that doesn’t seem likely.

This wait-and-see mode is a different tactic for Zellner and the EC Dems than the last presidential election, when they were among the first in the nation to endorse Clinton, the state’s former junior senator.

Western New York has long been known as “Clinton Country,” and Zellner said he doesn’t know this year’s crop of candidates – at least those who have announced to date – as well.

“It’s just a different scenario where we had known that this was coming with her,” the chairman said. “We had been in touch for a long time and we had a very strong relationship there.”

That’s an interesting statement, given the fact that Clinton’s replacement in the U.S. Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand, is among the 2020 Democratic hopefuls.

Zellner actually attended the 100 Club Dinner in 2016 as a member of Clinton’s finance committee.

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.