Western New York

Still Waiting For Special Election Decision In SD-57

From the Morning Memo:

It’s still unclear when an election will be held to fill New York’s 57th state Senate District seat vacated by longtime Republican legislator Cathy Young, although the field is becoming more clear.

Republican candidate George Borrello said he has submitted double the mandatory required petitions to get on the ballot ahead of the April 4 deadline for the GOP, Conservative and Independence Party lines. Because of Young’s sudden resignation and new election laws advancing the timeline, the current Chautauqua County executive said he faced significant challenges to get signatures.

He said he and volunteers didn’t even get started until two weeks into the process, which spans a little more than a month.

“It was truly challenging on so many levels and I’m just very thankful for everyone that circulated petitions on my behalf and also the people that signed them and stepped up,” Borrello said. “I’m very grateful for those folks that have faith in my ability to carry out and continue on Cathy Young’s legacy of great public service.”

If, however, the governor calls a special election, those petitions don’t actually matter. In that case, the local parties designate a candidate and Borrello has already been chosen by Republicans and Conservatives to run on their respective lines.

It would seem that the June 25 primary day would be the most opportune time for a special election, because all of the staff and machines are already in place. Under New York election law, it would have to be held no sooner than 70 days, but no later than 80 days following a proclamation from the governor.

That means the window for Gov. Andrew Cuomo is quickly approaching.

His office has not confirmed a timeline to this point.

“Overwhelmingly, it seems here locally, people feel that they deserve the right to have a representative long before the first of next year. So I’m hopeful that he will call for that special election but it’s up to the governor to decide if and when,” Borrello said.

If there is no special election, the Republican could face a primary challenge. Alleging County Legislature Chairman Curt Crandall is also reportedly circulating petitions.

Assemblyman Ryan Urges NFTA To Reconsider Chick-fil-A In Airport

From the Morning Memo:

Many Western New Yorkers waited a long time for a Chikc-fil-A restaurant to finally sprout up in the region.

The location in Cheektowaga still sees long lines daily, now months after the grand opening. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, perhaps seeing the success of the nearby fast food chain which serves southern style chicken, is planning on opening its own location in the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

But Chick-fil-A hasn’t been welcome by everybody in the area. Many people were critical of the company’s past anti-LGBTQ statements and donations to groups that oppose same sex marriage.

New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, said, as a state entity, the NFTA should not be doing business with a company that funds hateful and divisive groups.

“I don’t believe the leadership of the NFTA intends to help spread hate and discrimination, but allowing a corporation like Chick-fil-A to do business at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport will help to fund continued divisive anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” the assemblyman said. “New York is a welcoming state that celebrates diversity.”

“The views of Chick-fil-A do not represent our state or the Western New York community, and businesses that support discrimination have no place operating in taxpayer-funded public facilities,” he continued. Once again, I urge you to reverse this decision and identify a different restaurant to operate at the airport.”

Ryan pointed out the San Antonio City Council rejected a plan to open the restaurant at its airport for the same reasons. He also noted NY is still is not allowing state-funded travel to NY because of a law “allowing for transgender discrimination that is on the books until 2020.”

Chick-fil-A’s positions were back in the national spotlight as well this week, after openly gay Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said he doesn’t approve of their politics, but “kind of” approves those chicken. It drew the ire of some activists who felt he missed the opportunity to condemn the company.

NFTA Thanks Gov, Senate For Focus On WNY Transit Systems

From the Morning Memo:

The state Senate Democrats will hold a hearing in Buffalo today regarding New York’s transit network – the fourth of five such hearings being held statewide.

Meanwhile the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is already thanking the chair of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, state Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, and the governor for an increased focus on the authority this year.

Both the executive budget and the Senate one house budget resolution call for an increase in operating assistance. The Senate’s measure also calls for an 18.7 percent increase for NFTA, $6 million for preliminary work on the Buffalo Metro Rail’s expansion into Amherst, and $100 million for improvements to light rail systems outside of the downstate MTA service areas.

“We appreciate Senator Kennedy for recognizing the critical role that Metro bus and rail service has in our community and how important it is in the re-development of the city of Buffalo and Western New York,” NFTA Executive Director Kim Minkel said. “Adequate funding for public transit is an absolute necessity for our entire community and for the thousands of riders who count on us each day.”

As the state looks to invest to fix New York City’ crumbling subway system, upstate lawmakers have vowed to make sure their communities get their fair share of funding, too. Kennedy said he has fought for capital funding for Buffalo’s Metro Rail – currently the only light rail system outside of the MTA – for years.

“The Senate’s proposed budget makes a strong statement as we enter negotiations with the Executive Branch and the Assembly on our final budget,” Kennedy said. “It makes it clear that the Senate Majority is making Upstate and Western New York a top priority. As negotiations move forward, I’ll fight to maintain the highest levels of funding possible for our local transportation needs.”

Minkel plans to speak at today’s hearing. Leaders will take other testimony on transit in Western New York as well.

Fmr. State Senator Serving Federal Sentence At Massachussetts Facility

Former state Senator Marc Panepinto, D-Buffalo, will serve his two-month prison sentence at a federal facility in Massachussetts.

According to the Bureau of Prisons Database, Panepinto is at the Federal Medical Center Devens. The prison specializes in long-term medical and mental health care but also houses inmates of various security levels.

The U.S. attorneys office said Panepinto was scheduled to report on Wednesday. A judge sentenced him in December after he pleaded guilty to an attempted coverup of unwanted sexual advances toward a female staffer.

Panepinto announced in late 2016 that he wouldn’t seek re-election, citing the health of his since-deceased law partner, but it was later revealed that he was accused of the sexual advances. He admitted to sending a senior staffer to offer the woman money or a job in exchange for her not to cooperate with a Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is against the law.

The court also fined him $9,500 and separately, state ethics regulators ordered him to pay another $10,000 for the coverup. The judge gave him several months to get things in order with his family and law firm before starting the sentence.

Notable former prisoners at FMC Devens include Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, before he was transferred to a Supermax prison to await the death penalty, and former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is now at a re-entry center in New York City.

Gallivan, GOP Lawmakers Call For Cuomo To Lift North Carolina Travel Ban

State Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, is asking the governor to rescind a 2016 executive order which banned non-essential state travel to North Carolina.

He said 13 student athletes from SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Brockport and SUNY Cortland are participating in the NCAA Division III Swimming Championships in Greensboro in two weeks. However, due to the executive order, they would not be able to stay in the Tar Heel State while they compete and would have to make accommodations and commute daily from a neighboring state.

“This is not only a distraction for the athletes and their coaches; it puts them at a competitive disadvantage and could have a negative impact on their performance,” Gallivan wrote in a letter to the governor. “The additional travel required will also add to the overall cost for attending the tournament.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, signed the executive order in response to North Carolina’s so-called Bathroom Bill or H.B. 2 which, in part, forced transgender individuals to use restrooms that corresponded to the sex identified on their birth certificates. The legislation also banned local governments from instituting and enforcing their own non-discrimination ordinances.

In March 2017, North Carolina lawmakers, facing pressure from the NCAA, repealed the transgender bathroom portion of the law. It was enough for the college sports governing body which lifted its own boycott of events in the state, however many gay rights activists called the compromise a “fake repeal.”

“In New York, we do not support blatant discrimination, bigotry and bias.” Cuomo Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi said. “Standing up for equality is not a fad and as long as this anti-LGBTQ law remains in effect, New York tax dollars are not going to be spent there.”

Gallivan pointed out the governor said in reference to New York State’s deal with Amazon, that putting political interests first was innapropriate. He said it is also true in this case.

“It is unfair to make a political statement on the backs and lives of these student athletes who have worked so hard to reach this level of competition,” Gallivan said. “We should be celebrating their achievements, not punishing them for something they have no control over.”

Azzopardi pointed out the executive order does not ban competition in the state – just the use of taxpayer money. Three other GOP lawmakers, state Senators Rob Ortt and Daphne Jordan and Assembly Member Marjorie Burns, joined Gallivan at a press conference at the Capitol today.

Gallivan Letter by Ryan Whalen on Scribd

Outgoing Niagara Falls Mayor: Seneca Dispute Among Biggest Challenges

From the Morning Memo:

An arbitration panel sided with the state in January in connection with a long-running dispute with the Seneca Nation of Indians over casino revenue sharing.

Although the panel said the Senecas owed New York roughly two years worth of payments, the exact dollar amount still needed to be sorted out between the two sides. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said he believes that reconciliation process is finally over.

He said the arbitrators will set a date for transfer of cash from the tribe to the state, and then his city will receive the portion of the money it’s due – likely within two weeks after it arrives in state coffers.

“I don’t have a dollar amount yet at this point, but I’m optimistic with regard to the amount that maybe it’s going to be a little more than people had anticipated,” the mayor said.

Of the three municipalities that get a portion of the casino slot machine money, Niagara Falls gets the largest piece. However, it has not been a reliable revenue stream during Dyster’s tenure as mayor.

The Democrat is stepping down at the end of this year, and said the ongoing disagreements over casino cash have been one of his administration’s biggest challenges.

“Six out of the 12 years I’ve been mayor, we’ve been involved in a fiscal crisis involving the dispute between the Senecas and the state of New York over casino revenues, and I think that created a sort of a dark cloud always hanging on the horizon,” Dyster said. “I hope we’re past that now.”

He said all sides should start looking toward 2023 when the current compact expires. Dyster said even though he will no longer be mayor by then, he would like to be a part of the discussions between the state and the Senecas.

He said not being a candidate or public official might actually make it easier for him to be in an “honest broker” to help work toward a beneficial agreement for all sides.

House Judiciary Committee Requests Documents From Fmr. Trump Staffer Caputo

Former Donald Trump campaign staffer and Western New Yorker Michael Caputo is among the 81 agencies, entities and individuals the House Judiciary Committee is requesting documents.

It is part of an investigation, the committee announced today, into obstruction of justice, public corruption and other abuses of power allegedly committed by the president, his associates and members of the administration. New Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, said over the past two years the Republican-led Congress has refused to conduct responsible oversight.

“We have sent these document requests in order to begin building the public record,” Nadler said. “The Special Counsel’s office and the Southern District of New York are aware that we are taking these steps. We will act quickly to gather this information, assess the evidence, and follow the facts where they lead with full transparency with the American people. This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts. That is exactly what we intend to do.”

Caputo, who worked for the campaign from November 2015 to late-May 2016, has previously testified before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and did an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The Senate Judiciary Committee has also contacted his attorney requesting information and possibly testimony.

In a letter, Nadler asked Caputo for documents that have already been produced in other proceedings to be provided to House Judiciary by March 18.

In addition the committee is requesting documents related to the following:

  • a) The June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting (the “Trump Tower meeting”), including but not limited to contacts or communications about the meeting involving one or more of the following individuals: Donald Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov, Goldstone, and/or Rinat Akhmetshin.
  • b) Any contacts, direct or indirect, from January 1, 2015 to January 20, 2017 between or involving the Russian Federation and its officials, agents, intermediaries, and/or instrumentalities and any of the following: Donald Trump, the Trump Campaign, the Trump Organization, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, Thomas Bossert, Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Konstantin Kilimnik, K.T. McFarland, and/or Erik Prince.
  • c) Any contacts, direct or indirect, from January 1,2016 to the present between Paul Manafort and/or Rick Gates and any of the following individuals: Konstantin Kilimnik, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and/or Rinat Akhmetov

Nadler said the staff would work with Caputo and his attorney on a “mutually agreeable schedule” for those documents. The political operative has complained often that the legal proceedings have been very costly for him and a GoFundMe and trust fund were even started in his name.

Caputo said he needed to discuss the latest developments with his attorney before making any comment.


Niagara County DA Requests Special Prosecutor To Investigate Accusations Against Her Husband

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek is requesting a Special District Attorney to investigate bid-rigging accusations involving her husband.

Earlier this week, former state Senator George Maziarz, R-Newfane, alleged discovery material he obtained during his own political corruption case, indicated others were committing crimes. Among those crimes, he said he believed former Niagara County Republican chairmen Michael Norris and Henry Wojtaszek rigged the bid so a “sham company” Four Points Communication could secure a grant writing contract with the county.

Henry Wojtaszek, currently the head of Western Region Off-Track Betting, rejected the accusations as “incoherent rambling by a disgraced former politician” with a score to settle. He said Maziarz already made the same complaints to the New York State Attorney Grievance Committee which dismissed them.

The district attorney also said she was confident the accusation were fully reviewed by federal and state authorities, as well as, the grievance committee. However, she said, as a matter of protocol, whenever a complaint is made against a family member of someone working in the DA’s office, it is turned over for outside review.

“To provide for public peace of mind and another layer of full transparency I am asking that a Special District Attorney conduct his or her own review of the matter so that it can be dealt with once and for all through the legal system. I do not want anyone to question the integrity of the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office and all the hard work that is done here,” she said.

An attorney for Norris also pointed out authorities were aware of all of the information Maziarz released Wednesday and chose not to pursue charges. Maziarz was charged with five felony counts connected to a money pass through scheme, but ultimately pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor, he said, because the prosecution could not prove he had done anything wrong.

Buffalo-Based Consulting Firm Announces New Partner

From the Morning Memo:

Buffalo-based political consulting firm Big Dog Strategy is expanding its operation to Texas.

The firm announced Republican consultant Matt Langston as a partner, who will head Big Dog’s new Austin branch.

According to his professional page, Langston has most recently worked as a vice president for Axiom Strategies in Austin. He also was chief of staff for Texas state Sen. Don Huffines.

“I’ve been proud to work alongside some of the most hard-working men and women in politics for many years, and I am excited to have a chance to continue serving them as a member of the Big Dog team,” Langston said.

Big Dog was launched by Chris Grant, also a former Axiom consultant. Grant also served as chief of staff for Republican MY-27 Rep. Chris Collins until 2015.

Grant’s firm ran the much publicized re-election campaign last year for the indicted congressman, who beat his Democratic opponent, Nate McMurray, by a slim margin.

Grant said he is thrilled to add the experienced Langston to the team.

“Matt brings with him a proven record of national success, a team-focused work ethic, and a relentless focus on winning that will play an integral role in the future of our company,” he said.

Big Dog also has an office in Washington, D.C..

MLB Player Joins Movement To Keep New Era In WNY

From the Morning Memo:

Local labor and elected leaders have been trying to get the ball cap manufacturer New Era to remain in the WNY community of Derby, since the company announced in November it planned to close the factory, taking more than 200 jobs with it.

So far, however, all the letters and rallies have not worked, as the hat company has continued to take steps toward its ultimate goal of shutting down next month – including recently negotiating a severance package for employees.

The effort to keep New Era gained a high-profile ally yesterday. Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle posted a series of tweets criticizing the company and expressing his support of the New Era workers who are poised to lose their jobs. New Era has an exclusive deal with Major League Baseball to manufacture its caps.

“As one of the most prominent unions in the US, we want to elevate the voices of the laborers whose work makes our game possible,” Doolittle wrote. The Derby, NY factory workers have been a part of our game, making the iconic on-field hats for over 50 years. They deserve better.”

Doolittle is an active member of the MLB Players Association and often uses Twitter to voice his opinion on a variety of topics. He pointed out that in 2017, MLB was able to step in and broker a deal to keep 600 jobs in Pennsylvania when uniform manufacturer Magestic planned to move them out of the country.

Houston Astros pitcher Collin McHugh, who played minor league ball both in Buffalo and Binghamton, also said he supports the workers in Derby. He wrote that when he was in the minor leagues, his wife and he lived with a woman who worked at the factory since its inception.