Two Saturdays ago, the Tea NY faction of the local tea party movement held a candidate’s forum for the NY-26 race. The two candidates who showed up were crazy xenophobe Jack Davis and Iraq War veteran David Bellavia. Davis was set to speak at 3:00 at the Comfort Zone Coffee Shop on Elmwood, and Bellavia was set to speak at 4:00.
The head of the Tea NY group, Rus Thompson, was running the program. He knew that top Erie County Republicans wanted to talk to the Batavian Bellavia and try to find out why he was ruining Jane Corwin’s sure thing, and hopefully get him to pull out of the race. Rus, seeing an opportunity with Bellavia in Buffalo, took it upon himself to contact Carl Paladino and Chris Collins to come and have a friendly conversation with Bellavia.
When Davis got through pontificating about how immigrants are ruining America, Rus summoned Bellavia to come in to start his presentation, and says he told Bellavia at that time that Carl and Collins were waiting to speak with him. Bellavia reportedly disputes this; it was relayed to Glenn Gramigna that he felt completely blindsided and cornered. Bellavia’s camp says that, when he was done with his presentation, Rus’ wife Jul convinced him to hang around and have a cup of coffee, at which point he was led to a back room where Paladino and Collins were waiting. Rus tells me that it wasn’t exactly like that; that Bellavia knew the two were there, and there was some discussion with Bellavia’s people about who could attend the meeting.
Gramigna reports that Paladino and Collins, (whom he doesn’t name) tried to convince Bellavia to leave the NY-26 race, going so far as to allegedly offer him an Assembly seat – presumably Steve Hawley’s in A-139. Rus says that this never happened; that it was a friendly conversation, and that the only thing Collins and Paladino told Bellavia about the NY-26 race was that Corwin would spend millions. Bellavia acknowledged that fact, and explained that he was in this race because ECGOP Chair Nick Langworthy had promised him that the NY-26 race was his when Chris Lee was done in Congress. That day came sooner than anyone expected, and Bellavia feels betrayed by the Corwin pick.
Channel 2 did, in fact, make an appearance as the meeting was taking place in the back room of the coffee house. Gramigna reports, and sources tell me, that Bellavia called them from the bathroom. Nothing came of it, but I’ve heard that hilarity ensued as Paladino and Collins scrambled to evacuate the Comfort Zone coffee shop undetected by HD cameras. Rus says it was nothing like that, and that Bellavia and his handler went out first, with Rus, Collins, and Paladino following soon afterwards.
Rus Thompson tells me that during the meeting, Bellavia played for his assembled hosts a voice mail he had received and saved. The voice, whom nobody recognized – and was not Michael Caputo – promised Bellavia $70,000 if he would leave the race, and I also hear that the message included information that could only have come from Bellavia’s own credit report, with the voice urging Bellavia to take the money and better his financial situation.
The use of the gossip sites to try and affect the Bellavia candidacy is a huge tell. Before Kathy Hochul could even announce her candidacy, Jane Corwin and the NRCC jumped all over her, calling her a liberal lobbyist tax-hiker. The fact that Bellavia is in this race with some genuine right-wing Tea Party support, and the fact that Jack Davis is positioning himself as the whackjob Tea Party candidate pulls wingnut votes away from Corwin; Corwin, whose first public proclamation upon being selected by her party bosses involved calling out President Obama for not defending the stupid, stupidly named, and likely unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. Corwin has to call the gays gross in order to protect her right flank from a war hero and a deep-pocketed nut. What a sad indictment of the Republican Party that is.
Bellavia is a man on a mission, he’s pissed off and has something to prove. He’s not burning any bridges because they’re already smoldering in the creek below. I may disagree with every opinion he has, but I don’t have any reason to believe that Bellavia is not a man of honor and integrity. Unlike so many others involved in politics in this petty, nasty area, he can’t be bought off. This is remarkably frustrating to hyperwealthy Republicans who are used to people trembling at the sight of their checkbooks.
Rus agreed to confirm his side of the story on the record, and he confirms many of the details contained in Gramigna’s post. Rus says he tried to set Bellavia up with Paladino and Collins for noble reasons, to foster a discussion. He says he didn’t intend to ambush Bellavia, and I take him at his word. But it would appear that Bellavia felt ambushed, enough so that he alerted the media.
There’s also the matter of Caputo. Some have expended a lot of energy accusing him of being the person who tried to solicit $50,000 bribes for Bellavia to exit the race. If Bellavia had a phone message on his voice mail – confirmed – that offered him a $70k bribe to do just that, why the hell would he need Caputo to go out and hustle for $20k less? It makes no sense.
It makes no sense because the Caputo-bribe story is utter nonsense. Apparently, when the Corwin pick was made, a strong effort was undertaken to get Bellavia to sit this out. It was thought that, should that happen, big money people might host a fundraiser to enable Bellavia to retire his campaign debts. This is so common as to be completely uncontroversial, and not at all a bribe.
So, good for Bellavia for sticking to his guns, for not being intimidated by powerful, wealthy men trying to influence his decision-making behind closed doors under peculiar circumstances. Note that Bellavia is standing on principle, and can’t be bought.
Corwin is scared. Collins is scared. Paladino wants people to be scared of him. How fascinating that Chris Lee’s shirtless tranny hunting let all of WNY see that political party for what it really is.