Mark Poloncarz

USA Today Drops Columnist For Heated Twitter Exchange With WNY Political Operative

USA Today has dropped one of its political columnists after she authored a controversial social media post about a Western New York political operative’s children. The paper announced Friday Cheri Jacobus’ work would no longer be published following a heated Twitter exchange with former Trump campaign volunteer Michal Caputo.

The tweet, which still hasn’t been deleted, asked if Caputo’s daughters are ugly or whether they would be shared sexually at parties hosted by Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein, an associate of former President Bill Clinton, was a former financier and was found guilty ten years ago for soliciting sex from an underage girl.

Jacobus’ attack seemed to be the exclamation point on heated thread that included Caputo calling the columnist bitter, childless and alone. Jacobus, a boisterous critic of President Trump, referred to Caputo as a traitor and said he’d end up in jail for lying under oath.

“Cheri Jacobus is clearly mentally ill and she will hopefully get help,” Caputo said when reached by phone Friday evening.

In addition to testifying in front of a congressional committee, Caputo was deposed in May by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.  Mueller was appointed to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election. Caputo worked in Russia in the 1990’s for a media company later hired by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Caputo has repeatedly called the Russia collusion investigation bogus and has mounted a spirited defense which included an online fundraiser for his legal defense.  He’s also become a regular critic of the Mueller investigation on Fox News.  

Caputo’s ire isn’t limited to Jacobus, he also blamed Erie County’s Executive and the Chair of the Erie County Democratic Party.

“Mark Poloncarz and Jeremy Zellner are still paying WNYmedia to promote sexualized attacks on my family and they need to stop. Politics is a tough game but families have always been off limits. Unless Poloncarz and Zellner want that to change – for them too,” Caputo added.  

Zellner told WBEN radio Friday Caputo’s charges were baseless and didn’t warrant a response.


Rep. Collins Dismisses Gun Control Debate Invitation From Erie County Executive

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, has invited Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, to participate in a moderated televised discussion about gun control. Poloncarz said he reached out to Collins after seeing the congressman’s February 15 interview with Spectrum News about the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.

“I’m just certainly disappointed in the Democrats who rushed to the microphone in a disgusting way, frankly, instead of having a sit-down and a conversation of what we can do, but, you know, there’s only so much we can do,” Collins said at the time.

Poloncarz said he took the congressman’s call for a sit-down to heart and a day later the two of them had a roughly 20 minute conversation about the issue. He said as part of that conversation, he asked Collins if he’d be willing to take part in a moderated conversation so the general public could view it.

The Republican has been steadfast that he has no interest in holding a town hall style forum because he said opponents tend to shout and grandstand and those types of forums are not productive. Poloncarz said that while Collins was non-committal to this alternative, he took his response as a maybe.

The county executive reached out to the Western New York public broadcasting station, WNED, who said they would be willing to televise the discussion live.

“I sent a text message to Chris saying let’s do this. Let’s get this done. We sent the letter to his office by email and fax and I think we need to have a common sense conversation about what we can do in this country, which I believe is the passage of common sense gun laws,” Poloncarz said.

Collins’ office quickly dismissed the challenge and accused the county executive of doing exactly what he was upset with in the first place, politicizing the Parkland tragedy.

“It’s comical that Mark Poloncarz – who doesn’t actually have the courage of his convictions to run for federal office –  now wants to be a surrogate attack dog and exploit the Parkland tragedy for his own political gain.  We’re happy to have our own surrogate and co-equal member of county government, County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, educate Mark on the national democrat party’s failure to deliver gun control reform when they had full control of federal government in 2009.  Perhaps they’ll even invite Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who gleefully accepted the NRA’s endorsement in her failed run for federal office.  We look forward to Mark and Stefan’s town hall,” campaign spokesperson Chris Grant said.

Poloncarz, indeed, is not running for Collins’ congressional seat, despite some community efforts to draft him. He said that is proof that this is not an election year stunt.

Currently two Democratic candidates are vying for the 27th District and Poloncarz said he doesn’t think a debate would have an effect on the race.

“We are both leaders in the community and can have a frank, non-vitriolic discussion of the topic. I do not believe this will hurt or help his opponent, only reveal who the leaders are in our community,” he said.

Current Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray is the endorsed Democrat and favorite to challenge Collins this fall. He said he loved Poloncarz’s challenge to Collins and on Twitter he did the same.

“I challenge you to a debate on firearms. If you think I’m wrong, say it to my face, show the world how silly I am,” he wrote. “You can bring your gun if it will make you feel safe. Because I bet I could beat you on the range too. And at arm wrestling. And at Scrabble.”

‘Made In America’ Contention Continues In Erie County

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at helping more local workers, particularly from impoverished areas, get hired. Under the order, county projects with bids of more than $250,000 that include three or more workers, must include requirements to hire local and disadvantaged workers.

One hundred percent of the work hours that are performed on a county project are to be provided to workers who reside in the eight Western New York counties. Seventy percent of the work hours to be performed on those projects are to be performed by the residents of Erie County.

“We have taken tremendous steps forward to ensure that our community is as strong as it can be,” Poloncarz said.

The order goes into effect on October 1, except for bids initiated out the County Department of Environmental Planning and the Division of Sewage Management. In those cases, it starts after April 30,2017.

Last week, the Erie County Legisdlature failed to override Poloncarz’s veto of a Made in America bill that would’ve required contracts of more than $10,000 to utilize American-made projects. That bill’s sponsor, Republican Ted Morton was skeptical of the county executive’s motives for Wednesday’s order.

“Without actually seeing the order, it seems he is trying to introduce a watered down version of Made in America that only deals with construction contracts and take credit for idea,” Morton said.

The legislator also said Poloncarz has failed to respond to his request to work together on new legislation.

“I’m beginning to think that his talk of wanting to work with the Legislature was just a bunch of hot air, especially amid rumors he is looking to offer a watered down version of my legislation,” Morton said.

The county executive noted there is already a bill he believes would pass legal muster and is in the spirit of the Made in America Act. A bill authored by Democrat Pat Burke would give bids utilizing local products extra points during the Request for Proposals process but not specifically require those products.

“If the Legislature is willing to tweak that bill, work on something similar, whether it’s Legislator Morton or others, I’m willing to do the same,” Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz Defends ‘Made In America’ Act Veto

From the Morning Memo:

Late last week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz vetoed legislation that would require Erie County to purchase American-made products for contracts of $10,000 or more, saying he had a number of significant issues with the bill that made it impossible for him to sign it into law.

First, he questioned whether the county, as a sub-division of the state, even had the power to pass such a bill. Poloncarz said he plans to seek the attorney general’s opinion on that issue.

Poloncarz also said the language in the legislation was far too ambiguous, leaving the county vulnerable to lawsuits. He said phrases like “goods or materials” and “substantially-made” were left undefined.

“I support the principle,” Poloncarz said. “I think that’s what people need to understand is I support the principle of Made in America. My father was a steelworker. I watched Chinese steel destroy the American steel industry so I support the principle.”

The bill’s author, Repulican County Legislator Ted Morton, said he hoped his colleagues would help him override the veto. He said not only did the measure originally pass by a 9-1 vote, but it was reviewed by attorneys prior to its passage and found to be legally sound.

“The state and federal government have enacted or pursued similar provisions,” Morton said. “I’ll continue to push this law to make sure we support our local manufacturers and local workers. I appreciate the outpouring of support offered by the business community, Erie County residents and local unions, who all support this law. We should promote American products and help American workers.”

Poloncarz said it would be wiser for the Legislature to work with his office to tighten the bill than for lawmakers to try to override the veto. He said an override won’t matter if the attorney general deems the legislation unconstitutional.

The county executive also said it’s too late for the law, which needs to be passed by the general public by referendum, to be on November’s ballot, so he believes it makes more sense for everybody to take their time working on it to get it right.


Erie County Submits Shared Services Plan

From the Morning Memo:

Erie County has submitted its shared service plan to the state, in keeping with a provision in this year’s state budget, which required counties to work with local governments to eliminate redundant services.

The purported goal of the program is to find property tax savings for local homeowners. The Erie County panel said it identified 22 initiatives that could potentially save $4.5 million annually.

“Our discussions were constructive, creative, and also conscious of past efforts we’ve taken at all levels to collaborate and increase efficiency wherever possible, so we had a strong dialogue from the beginning,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.

The proposals suggest that many smaller towns throughout the county share, among other things, highway equipment, animal control services, and waste management.

Poloncarz said the panel also identified another 10 possible initiatives that could save millions of dollars more.

“Erie County has always taken a leadership role in developing new collaborations with our local municipalities in an effort to provide services as effectively and efficiently as possible – without any incentives or requirements from the state to do so,” Poloncarz said.

“I will be presenting the approved plan to the public before October 15 and continuing to explore ways to provide better services at lower cost.”

Across the state, panels have until Friday to approve and submit their plans, which have caused some consternation among municipal elected officials – particularly in Onondaga County, where outgoing Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, (a Democrat and frequent Cuomo critic), and others rejected all but one of the shared services proposals put forward by County Executive Joanie Mahoney, (a Republican and close Cuomo ally).

The governor’s office said plans that demonstrate actual savings across multiple jurisdictions could be eligible for matching state funds.

Buffalo Train Station Still Dividing WNY Leaders

From the Morning Memo:

The effort to build a new train station in Bufflao has turned out to be the year’s most polarizing project, dividing Western New York leaders since they began officially exploring the issue in the fall.

Some, like Rep. Brian Higgins, cried foul when outside consultants determined it would cost less money to build a new station downtown than renovate the historic Central Terminal – Buffalo’s original station and the congressman’s preference.

His tone didn’t change much yesterday after a selection committee tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to study the issue and make a recommendation officially chose the downtown site. According to Higgins, the city is missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“(The) new train station you’re building downtown Buffalo will be inaccessible to 65 percent of America,” Higgins said. “(It) doesn’t seem like a smart decision about Buffalo’s future.”

Meanwhile, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz voted against the downtown site, too. He made clear though, that his rejection of that site wasn’t a vote in favor of the Central Terminal.

In the county executive’s opinion, there wasn’t nearly enough information to make a decision, period, and he questioned whether a new train station should even be built in the first place.

“Should we be investing millions of dollars into a new station for 400 riders, basically, a day?” he asked.

Poloncarz said the community is still feeling the impact of bad urban planning decisions made a half a century ago. He doesn’t want to repeat those mistakes.

“All you have to do is look at the impact the East Side has as a result of the Scajaquada (and) 33 (Expressways),” he said. “(We) have to look at UB. Business leaders did not want UB in downtown Buffalo in the late 60s. I think we all realize that was one of the dumbest decisions made by people in this community.”

The state Department of Transportation is now tasked with deciding where downtown a new station could go. Just because the issue is out of local leaders hands, however, doesn’t mean it’s going away.

Buffalo mayoral candidate Mark Schroeder indicated he plans to make the train station a talking point in his campaign, sending a press release out shortly after the selection committee announced its decision. He said the process wasn’t sufficiently transparent, and he promised to fight a downtown site if elected.

“The hypocrisy is palpable,” Schroeder said.  “Buffalo needs a leader that listens to its people instead of slamming the door in their faces.  If I’m elected mayor, everyone will have a seat at the table.”

His primary opponent, incumbent Democratic Mayor Byron Brown, led the selection committee. He defended the decision, but promised to work with citizens who favored the other site.

“In selecting that downtown location, it does not in any way preclude us working together to invest in the rehabilitation, reconstruction, renovation of the historic Central Terminal building,” Brown said.

Brown insisted the new station will ultimately make the “visitor experience” in Buffalo even better.

Erie County Waits ‘On Pins And Needles’ For State Budget… As Usual

From the Morning Memo:

Even as Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz laid out much of his policy agenda during his State of the County address yesterday, he acknowledged some of it remains out of his hands.

The Democrat said he is watching closely to see what comes out of budget talks at the state Capitol.

“When it comes to the state budget we’re always at the mercy of what’s done in Albany, so we always kind of wait on pins and needles; I don’t expect there to be major issues,” he said.

One piece of legislation, Poloncarz said will affect the county’s bottom line is the so-called “Raise The Age” bill. The county executive said it looks like some form of the measure will be included in the final budget, and the local government hasn’t yet accounted for the costs of raising the age at which offenders are treated as adults from 16 to 18.

“That’s the big one,” Poloncarz said. “It’s a good law that needs to pass. We do need to raise the age. We shouldn’t be treating teenagers like hardened criminals.”

As for some of the other high-profile issues currently being negotiated – like expanded water infrastructure and ride-hailing – Poloncarz said he wouldn’t want to speculate.

“I’m kind of like everyone else,” he said. “I’m waiting for the big mothership to hover over – the governor, the Senate and the Assembly to meet and say here’s what they’ve agreed upon. I’ve heard good things on a couple of those issues but until it’s actually completed, you never know.”

Poloncarz said the biggest favor state legislature can do for Erie County is pass the budget on time so there are no delays moving forward.

Erie County Executive Threatens To Sue Clarence IDA

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is threatening to sue a local industrial development agency if it follows through with tax breaks for a project he said doesn’t qualify. Poloncarz wrote a letter to the Clarence IDA arguing the approval of more than $100,000 dollars in tax incentives for a mixed-used project called “The Abbey” was inappropriate.

He said it is a retail project which is clearly prohibited under state law. Poloncarz argued the agency is giving away sales tax revenue that would benefit the county and other municipalities.

“As long as the Clarence IDA continues to do this kind of stuff I’m going to call them out. Same with Lancaster, Hamburg, if they do bad projects that are violating law, I will call them out and if I have to, I will sue, because they’re taking money away from the public. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

Council for the IDA said the county executive’s threat will not stop the project from moving forward. Attorney Larry Meckler said the retail portion of the project hasn’t even been defined yet, and noted the plans also include luxury apartments and office space.

Furthermore, he said the project qualifies because it’s an “adaptive reuse” despite the fact the developer is demolishing the building. Meckler said it’s an 85 year old dilapidated structure that would only be developed through incentives.

Poloncarz called that “poppycock,” censoring himself for television cameras. The county executive noted he did not have an issue with the project, just the tax breaks.

Pending ‘Family First’ Legislation Receives Bi-Partisan Opposition From County Executives

Members of the New York State County Executives Association are asking New York’s two U.S. Senators to oppose pending legislation they say will cost New York state and county governments hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Democrat and Republican county executives held a press conference Tuesday in Niagara Falls to draw attention to the issue.

The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016, already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, would require states to provide preventive services to parents and children, designed to keep children out of foster care.

“This is a very well-meaning bill. This bill will truthfully assist other states, set up the programs that we’ve had in New York state for quite some time,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, said.

The county executives said New York already requires counties to provide these services under a Foster Care Block Grant, which is mainly funded through federal sources. The Family First Act creates new standards a county must meet in order to access federal funds.

“The problem is, it will now shift cost directly to the state and to the counties,” Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, R, said.

Astorino estimated, if passed, the law would cost Westchester County $15 million, annually. Poloncarz said it would be $8-$12 million in Erie County.

“If we did lose this revenue, because we’d still be required to provide the programming, we’d have to either cut from elsewhere in county government or raise taxes,” Poloncarz said.

Both County Executives have sent letters to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, asking them to strongly consider the bill’s unintended consequences. Other county executives who joined the effort included Marc Molinaro, R-Dutchess County, and Kathy Jimino, R-Rensselaer County.

Primary Wins Bolster Erie County Democratic Chairman’s Leadership

Just two years ago, things didn’t appear to be going all that well for Erie County’s Democratic Committee chairman. The committee was fresh off a series of primary challenges from a group of renegade Democrats that contributed to the party losing control of the county legislature to the GOP in 2013.

A year later, town of Amherst Council member Mark Manna challenged Zellner’s chairmanship, arguing large factions of the party were unhappy with his performance. With power brokers like Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and former Chairman Len Lenihan in his corner, Zellner fended off the challenge and was re-elected.

This September, his committee’s hand-picked candidates swept Tuesday’s primaries for District Attorney, State Assembly, and State Senate.

“This was no ordinary Democratic primary,” Zellner said. “It’s fair to say there was more at stake than usual.  As a party we have forces within us who represented the past and were determined to prevent us from moving forward with new voices and new promise for the future.”

In 2013, a Political Action Committee funded and influenced by former Erie County Democratic Party Chair and well-known political operative Steve Pigeon, contributed to the county legislature coup.  A probe into the practices of the PAC reportedly led to nine charges of bribery and extortion against him earlier this year.

Zellner and his committee linked Pigeon to two of the non-party endorsed candidates in Tuesday’s primary: Assembly candidate Kristy Mazurek, who was the treasurer of the PAC, and District Attorney candidate Michael Flaherty who hired some operatives with close ties to Pigeon.  They believe wins by DA Candidate John Flynn, Assembly Candidate Monica Wallace, and Senate hopeful Amber Small were a rejection of Pigeon and his brand of politics.

“If you want to win as a Democrat, you need to work with our team and we bring in people who are new, Amber Small, new candidate, Monica Wallace, new candidate. It’s not like we just recycle the old candidates,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.  

Zellner’s supporters have long rebuked claims the party is divided, arguing there were only a small faction of subversives. Erie County GOP chair Nick Langworthy disagreed.

He said his counterparts have been fighting for decades but believes it is simply a function of the party’s size.  There are 150,000 more enrolled Democrats than Republicans in Erie County, a circumstance which creates its own set of challenges.

Typically when a party’s that big, there’s some regional division. There are some differences of opinion and there tend to be factions, said Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy“I congratulate him, wish him well, not too well as we look to the general election but I’m sure it’s a great relief to him. A lot of hard work goes into that that the public doesn’t see.

In recent years, Zellner has seen former adversaries like state Senator Tim Kennedy and even the Governor reunite with his committee. He’s also long touted his close ties to Hillary Clinton, a connection that Zellner hopes will help his party-endorsed candidates in November.

No matter what happens November 8th, Zellner’s position as the leader of the party now seems more secure than it’s ever been.

It was a stark choice and the question was simple. Could we rise up and pull together as a party and deliver the strong leadership that this community needs and deserves?  We have shown this community exactly what kind of organization we are and what organization we want to be,” Zellner added.