Tastes Like Pigeon

8 Jan

Everything that happened on the fourth floor of Erie County Hall yesterday was made for TV.  It was reform theater; a series of motions, statements and votes intended to provide the feeling of reform while doing little or nothing to actually “reform”.

The veneer of smug ideological “bipartisanship” which needed to be cracked would take way too much time to explain on the evening newscast.  Which is exactly what the “Reform Coalition” aka “The Repigeonista Coalition” wanted.

The backstory of the Repigeonistas is a lengthy tale of power politics, score settling and horse trading that goes back nearly six months.  Later this morning, I’m going to give a video chalk talk on the connections, deals and reasons behind this mess.  That’s about the only way I can think of explaining it without banging out a 7000 word article.

Cutting to the chase, this was a small town version of the New York State Senate Coup which happened in August of last year.  That coup was also orchestrated by one G. Steve Pigeon and done in the name of “reform”.

Two dissident Democrats, who had been secretly strategizing with Republicans for weeks, bucked their party’s leaders and joined with 30 Republican senators to form what they said would be a bipartisan power-sharing deal. But the arrangement effectively re-establishes Republican control.

Democratic leaders were caught off guard as the Republicans and the two Democratic dissidents, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, moved to topple them.

In this minor league Buffalo version of the “reform” coup, Barbara Miller-Williams played the role of Pedro Espada and Tim Kennedy played the role of Hiram Monserrate.  Behind the scenes, an unlikely coalition of power brokers addressed numerous political problems, old scores and future electoral problems.  That coalition included Erie County Executive Chris Collins, Rep. Brian Higgins, Steve Pigeon, and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

Republican Legislator Ray Walter countered this criticism by saying “This isn’t the result of any bogeyman in the room, orchestrating things. This is the result of an election.”  Yes, an election in which the people voted for a 9-6 Democratic legislative majority.  As Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz stated on Twitter, “The stench of hypocrisy is wafting through the Erie Co. Legislature’s chambers”

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers in yesterday’s reform theater and we’ll start to see how the pieces fall together.


Barbara Miller-Williams gets a $10K bonus in salary and several hundred thousand dollars added to the budget for pet projects.  She also gets the leadership position she has sought for some time.

Tim Kennedy has the support of Steve Pigeon, Tom Golisano and Chris Collins as he seeks to unseat Bill Stachowski in New York State Senate District 58.

Christina Bove gets new patronage jobs for her fawning coterie of Independence Party hacks as the entirety of the Erie County Legislature staff (excluding Crystal Peoples’ family member John Calvin Davis) will be replaced with IP and Grassroots personnel.

Brian Higgins has a promise that he won’t have to face former Erie County Sheriff Pat Gallivan in the 2010 general election.

Byron Brown gets additional jobs for his Grassroots supporters, takes care of crony Miller-WIlliams, and was paid his tribute when he faced no general election opponent in last November’s election.

Chris Collins gets a compliant legislative majority to handle affairs while he seeks the Republican Gubernatorial nomination.  He can’t be out on the campaign trail with a $50MM budget deficit looming and a Democratic majority nipping at his heels.  Also, his work with Pigeon behind the scenes on this helps him get one step closer to getting the statewide IP line for Governor, which I’ll cover later in the “chalk talk of corruption”.  Collins was also able to depress city turnout in the 2009 elections, which was crucial for winning seats in the legislature and the Sheriff’s race.

Walter, Fudoli, Mills, Dixon, Rath and Hardwick essentially get additional staff positions and assume the role of majority without having to win a majority of seats.

Their first order of business?  Adding additional jobs to the county legislature payroll and increasing salaries for those new positions.  They also failed to account for the benefits or as Collins calls them, “legacy costs”, when they added these positions to the payroll.  Potentially putting the legislature into a structural deficit after holding the majority for less than an hour.  Even though several of the Repigeonistas speak of doing away with the majority/minority definitions in the name of “bipartisanship”, they added separate majority/minority positions to the staff as part of their amendments yesterday, thereby codifying the distinction.  Doublespeak, FTW!

Nothing says reform like an influx of Grassroots and IP hacks as staffers as well as a structural deficit and threatening former staffers with arrest.  FEEL THE REFORMINESS!@#!#!


Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan does not have the Buffalo Mayor, the City’s leading Congressman, the Erie County Legislature nor the Erie County Sheriff’s office under his umbrella.  Lenihan is a good man, but the factions have split so severely that one wonders whether he is the right man to keep everyone in line.

The ECDC aligned legislators, Marinelli, Whyte, Kozub, Mazur and Grant are on the outside looking in for this legislative session.  They’ve lost their support staff, they’ve lost their power, they’ve lost the ability to check or balance the County Executive.

The people of Erie County who elected a Democratic Majority to the Erie County Legislature.

All of this begs the question, can this coalition of convenience be maintained?  Mills and Miller-Williams had a frosty relationship prior to today and Tina Bove is a wild card.  Will Kennedy sell out his labor base to support the anti-labor Collins agenda?  Can the Republicans keep their egos in check, especially when they have to capitulate to the wants and needs of the Pigeonistas?  Steve Pigeon nearly destroyed Kevin Hardwick several years ago when Kevin ran against Chuck Swanick, can these two stay in the same camp for the long term?

The questions are innumerable and the egos huge, we’ll see how it plays out.

Stay tuned for the video chalk talk.

3 Responses to “Tastes Like Pigeon”

  1. Paul January 10, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    You do really impressive journalism Chris. You guys don’t get nearly enough attention.


  1. Erie County Politics in 90 Seconds | WNYmedia.net - January 8, 2010

    […] a lighthearted spin on what Alan and I spent 3500 combined words describing in earlier posts from […]

  2. The Knesset of Erie County | WNYmedia.net - January 13, 2010

    […] declares this a coup, and compares it the Albany disaster this past summer. I think that’s the wrong analogy. […]

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