Search results for 'coup county legislature'

Trolling Erie County Democrats

15 Sep

Word has it that Steve Pigeon’s biennial attempt to troll the Erie County Democratic Committee comes in the form of a new challenge to Jeremy Zellner’s chairmanship. Reportedly going around calling himself the most powerful Democrat in WNY, in comes State Senator Tim Kennedy, who is allegedly putting his name in contention as county chair. 

You might remember Tim Kennedy, who recently won re-election by wildly out-spending his opponent, orchestrated a coup in the Erie County Legislature in 2010. That coup took a Democratic majority and handed over a de facto Republican majority to Chris Collins. In exchange, Kennedy’s path to the state Senate was cleared. 

So, to be clear, Tim Kennedy sold out Democrats and his constituents in favor of Chris Collins and the Conservative Party to ease his path to the Senate. 

Because this isn’t remotely serious, they’re unlikely to show up. Being chair is actually difficult work. This crowd is content to play fast and loose with campaign finance rules, and to sabotage the committee and its candidates for the next couple of years. 


Erie County 2013: Ds, Rs, Is, Cs, Blanks, and EmoDems

1 Aug

Who’s who, what’s what, and what to think about it all. The background is as follows: Jeremy Zellner defeated Frank Max last year in a hotly contested race for chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Committee – a win that was ultimately challenged in court, where Zellner’s win was upheld. Since then, Max – more often than not aligned with former chairman Steve Pigeon and his small but vocal team of Republicans nominally Democratic contrarians has been cultivating alliances with Republicans and Conservatives, and at times creating chaos for its own sake

The Republican committee is run ably by Nick Langworthy, who has a lot of big-ticket names and hard-fought races under his belt. More importantly, the outnumbered Republicans have aligned themselves in most races with both the Erie County Conservative Party, run by Ralph Lorigo, and the New York State Independence Party, which does not let any local IP organization decide on endorsements. Having three lines, including two cleverly named minor fusion parties, is the only way Republicans can win races countywide, and in certain parts of the county. 

But the most dangerous person for Democrats in western New York is Stefan Mychajliw. The eye-chart name, the boyish good looks and charm, for years you let him into your homes via the teevee, where he donned a red coat and asked “tough questions” because he was on your side. He has parlayed that nightly visit into elected office, where he is relentlessly “reasonably sounding the alarm” on county spending, waste, fraud, and abuse. He knows full well that he has wide and deep appeal to voters, no matter what party affiliation. The comptroller gig is just part of a longer-term goal to attain executive office – Mayor or County Executive – and people know him and like him, regardless of how he’s doing his job. 


Erie County Comptroller (Stefan Mychajliw, incumbent)

Democratic Regionalism and downsizing activist Kevin Gaughan has taken the place of Lynn Szalkowski, who dropped out of the race shortly after petitioning ended. Gaughan will compete on the Democratic and Working Families lines. Mychajliw will have the Conservative line, but he is being challenged on the Independence Party line by Anthony Dorazio, Jr. 

The venom directed by the chaotic Frank Max EmoDems against Zellner’s recruitment of Szalkowski should be of particular concern. Szalkowski was, on paper, the dream candidate; she is an attractive, youthful female with an ethnic name from the suburbs, whose CPA made her remarkably more qualified for the position than the incumbent. It’s not her fault she dropped out of the race – by all accounts, she is smart, bright, and knew what she was getting into, but personal stresses got in the way of an effective campaign and she had to drop out. It’s frankly none of anybody’s business what those stresses were, but there was a great deal of hatred spewn at her and at Zellner when she departed the race – and it was done by people who are either named “Mychajliw” or so close to his campaign that Zellner could have recruited Jesus Christ, CPA and they still would have backed Stef. “Disingenuous” isn’t strong enough for their wailing. 

But more importantly, Szalkowski is exactly the sort of person any political party should want to attract to public office. Smart people who enter politics know they’re in for a tough go, but she was unfairly and viciously attacked. Suggesting that the party perpetrated some sort of petition fraud is laughable. They really wanted her.

Now, we have Kevin Gaughan – a person who, unlike Mychajliw, has a genuine record of accomplishing the unthinkable – shrinking of the size of government in western New York. A lawyer, Gaughan has devoted years to make the region and city run smarter and more efficiently. Would Gaughan run his office by press release, and send auditors to trick custodians into unlocking rooms to grab DSS records from a secure subbasement location in the Rath Building to score political points? Doubtful. 

Dorazio is a local IP member who is sick of the downstate people selecting Republicans (almost exclusively) to run on that line. 

Erie County Sheriff (Tim Howard, incumbent)

Richard Dobson is a former deputy, and is backed by the Max/Pigeon EmoDems faction. Bert Dunn is scion to the Bert’s Bikes empire, formerly the Dunn Tire empire, and is a current Sheriff’s Deputy. It’s been alleged that the EmoDems have teamed up with incumbent Tim Howard to use Dobson as a pawn. Dobson is similar in almost every way to the last two Democrats who challenged Howard and lost.

By contrast, Dunn is young, he’s currently on the force, knows the issues that exist on the force as it stands now, and is a centrist Democrat who has crossover appeal. Republican Tim Howard, who is running for his third term as county sheriff, has endured a string of high-profile embarrassments and scandals from the Department of Justice review of the holding centers, the Ralph “Bucky” Phillips escape from a county jail, the botched search for Joan Diver, etc. Howard will have the Conservative and Independence line, and Dunn will have the Working Families Line. 


Certain races will be closely watched because it takes one seat to flip the Democratic majority into a Republican one. That one seat doesn’t necessarily mean a Republican pickup, by the way – there are at least four nominal “Democrats” vying for a seat, any one or all of whom would gladly strike a deal to share power with the Republicans, just like under Barbara Miller-Williams period of dysfunction and collaboration

District 1 (Timothy Hogues, incumbent)

Hogues will have the Working Families line, but he is being challenged on the Democratic line by… 

…wait for it…

Barbara Miller-Williams. No joke. No one has the Republican or Conservative nod. Miller-Williams has backing from people close to City Hall, and the chaotic Max/Pigeon EmoDems. Hogues defeated Miller-Williams last time around because she used her position to align herself with Chris Collins and the Republicans on the legislature, effecting a Republican coup of that body. The result was devastating for her constituents, as Collins defunded clinics and other resources on which the community depended. Hogues is chairman of the public safety committee and has helped to restore all the Collins cuts to libraries, rodent control, and a soon to open clinic on Broadway. Hogues is a rising star in the party and someone to watch. 

District 2 (Betty Jean Grant, incumbent)

Democrat Grant came extremely close to upsetting Democratic State Senator Tim Kennedy during last year’s primary, mostly thanks to an aggressive write-in campaign. It shows that Grant has a very strong and motivated base of support. Joyce Wilson Nixon is challenging Grant for the Democratic line in September. Betty Jean will have the Working Families line.  No one has the Republican or Conservative nod. Nixon’s husband works in City Hall, and she runs the National Inner Cities Youth Opportunities nonprofit, which receives public money to help at-risk youth. 

District 3 (Lynn Marinelli, incumbent)

Attorney Jennifer Stergion is running on the Republican and Conservative lines, while Marinelli has the Democratic and Working Families lines. The two will square off in September in an Independence Party primary. Marinelli is one of the hardest working people in county government, and is an effective, likeable, relentless candidate. 

District 4 (Kevin Hardwick, incumbent)

Hardwick will run on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party lines. A Democrat named Bill Conrad is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines. Conrad is a relative unknown outside of Kenmore and Tonawanda, but he is a teacher at Ken West, an unenrolled voter, and is very active in extracurricular sports in the town. He is very smart and will need to work extremely hard to unseat the well-known and popular Canisius professor. 

District 5 (Tom Loughran, incumbent)

Loughran has staked out a bit of a reputation for independence during his legislative tenure, and will be challenged in November by Republican Amherst Highway Superintendent Bob Anderson. Anderson and Loughran both submitted petitions for the Independence Party line. Anderson will have the Republican line, while Loughran has the Democratic line. Someone submitted “opportunity to ballot” petitions for the Working Families line, and a Christopher Fellows is challenging Loughran in a primary for the Conservative line.  Loughran will have to run hard, as it is a tough district, but his independent streak and no-nonsense demeanor should do well for him. 

District 6 (Ed Rath, incumbent)

Rath will have the Republican, Conservative, and Independence nods while Clarence resident Alan Getter submitted Democratic petitions. Getter is unenrolled and needs a Wilson-Pakula to run on the (D) line. A Clarence resident, Getter is a CPA and small business owner who is active in the community. Ed Rath is Ed Rath. 

The Frank Max Faction MascotDistrict 7 (Tom Mazur, incumbent)

Mazur is not seeking re-election, and he has endorsed Democrat Lynn Dearmyer to replace him. Dearmyer primaried Mazur in 2009 and lost. Former Cheektowaga town councilman Rick Zydel is challenging Dearmyer for the Democratic nod.

Zydel has the backing of the Max/Pigeon chaos faction. In fact, Zydel announced that he would run a primary campaign against the incumbent Mazur, the legislative majority leader. Obviously, that’s not going to go over well at Democratic HQ. So, when Mazur decided not to run – mere days before petitioning was to begin – HQ wasn’t inclined to call an endorsement meeting, and an open primary ensued. Zellner says, “not one committeeman” has called him to “express outrage at this.” Incidentally, as to Zydel’s alleged popularity in Cheektowaga, he most recently lost re-election to the town council to (of all things) a Republican. 

Pat Burke, a South Buffalo native who recently ran for a seat on the common council – and lost  – is also running as a Democrat, leaving a 3-way primary in September.  Elias Farah, who appears to be a tea party type, is running on the Republican and Independence lines. Zydel has the Conservative nod, and also submitted petitions for the Working Families line.  

District 8 (Terry McCracken, incumbent)

McCracken is not seeking re-election. Democrat Wes Moore is backed by the Frank Max / Steve Pigeon Democratic faction. Ted Morton is running on the Republican line. Wynnie Fisher is a teacher who is also running as a Democrat, and Morton has the Conservative line.  As in the case of Zydel, Moore announced before McCracken decided he was out. Moore never contacted Democratic Headquarters or Jeremy Zellner directly, except to send an email to a generic “info@” email address asking when his endorsement meeting would be held. None was held. It should be noted that WGRZ 2-Sides cohost Kristy Mazurek is Moore’s and Zydel’s campaign manager. Query why Mychajliw would have felt the need to abandon the show when he ran for public office, yet the Democrat on the show feels no similar ethical obligation to do so, going so far as to attempt to ridicule an opponent on Facebook who wasn’t interested in going on the show. 

Like Zydel, Miller-Williams – and to a lesser degree Nixon – are potential candidates to flip the legislature to one that is friendly to the Republican minority, resulting in a de facto Republican majority. Anyone who remembers the Barbara Miller-Williams legislature knows what that would look like. The only difference now is that Chris Collins is nowhere to be seen. 

District 9 (Lynne Dixon, incumbent)

Former WGRZ journalist Dixon is a member of the Independence Party who caucuses with the Republicans in the legislature. She is being challenged by Democrat Mike Schraft, who also has the Working Families line. Dixon has the Conservative line, and is being challenged by Brian Burke for the Independence Party nomination. Schraft is a military guy with a background at the State Department, specifically dealing with development and budget issues in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Washington. Burke is related to Pat Burke, as seen above in the 7th District Race. 

District 10 (Joe Lorigo, incumbent)

Lorigo is a member of the Conservative Party, led locally by his father, who caucuses with the Republicans in the legislature. Lauren M. Gray is a young law school graduate awaiting her bar exam results, has the Working Families line, and is challenging Lorigo for the Independence nod. Democratic Headquarters is proud to have five female candidates, three of whom have never before run for office. Lorigo is seen as vulnerable and a possible (D) pickup, due to the fact that he doesn’t enjoy a wide base of support and has done little. 

District 11 (John Mills, incumbent)

Mills is running unopposed. Can you believe that? 

Questions/comments & hate mail: buffalopundit[at]

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Open Letter to the Erie County Legislature

23 May


I am a constituent of Mr. Rath’s but am writing to you to inquire about a resolution sponsored by Mssrs. Lorigo, Rath, and Hardwick, which will oppose Governor Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate the “Wilson-Pakula” law, which enables party bosses to endorse other parties’ candidates.

I submit that eliminating Wilson-Pakula is hardly enough to reduce the power of money and patronage in politics, and our entire system of electoral fusion should be abolished, full stop. Electoral fusion and Wilson-Pakula are not used for good; they are used for political advantage and power. The Independence Party is essentially controlled by one marginally intelligent character from Long Island, and exists to enrich and employ him and his close followers. Its name is constructed so as to confuse low-information voters who think they’re registering as unenrolled.

The Conservative Party is controlled locally by Mr. Lorigo’s father, and has shown itself to be exquisitely flexible – when convenient – with respect to the “principles” on which it purports to base its endorsements.

In my town of Clarence, the Conservative endorsement for Supervisor was allegedly withheld not on any ideological grounds, but partly due to personal animus, and partly due to private business interests. That’s the stuff of petty banana republics.

Political decisions and government leadership should be based on merit, not on personal vendettas or misinformation. The system of electoral fusion should be well known to the legislature, as the Independence Party was intimately involved in the so-called “coup” which took place in early 2010 whereby the Republican caucus joined with several breakaway Democrats to create an ersatz “majority”.

That was one of the most embarrassingly tumultuous periods for the Legislature and cheapened it and its mission, such as it is. If the Conservative and Independence Parties want to participate in New York or Erie County politics, Mr. Lorigo and Ms. Dixon have established that members of those parties can run and win.

But if anyone’s goal – at any point – is to establish a cleaner, more honest, and less corrupt political environment, then eliminating Wilson-Pakula is a great first step. Banning fusion altogether is an ultimate goal.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Alan Bedenko

Erie County Posturing

8 Dec

I’m hearing that the Democratic majority in the Erie County Legislature may be in jeopardy; that a couple of legislators are busily trying to cut side deals regarding jobs and the chairmanship.

Are we looking at another January of fail, or will people get to work and start tackling big problems and big ideas, rather than angling for patronage and influence?

County Government: What a Treasure!

1 Nov

1. Did you see the story about Barbara Miller-Williams sending her county legislature staff out to do personal errands for her? Did you see that she didn’t deny it, but instead suggested that those workers were doing it – apparently without remuneration – on their own time?! Did you see that she treats legislative staff like a personal bank of servants? Did you see the accusation of sexism and colorism? What nobility we have running County Government! No wonder she gets along so swimmingly with the Duke of Cobblestone Lane.

2. Tom Precious picks up again on the real central issue in this year’s County Executive race. No, silly – it’s not roads or clinics or schools or regionalism or planning or Medicaid or mandates. It’s fundraising! Poloncarz has raised $10,000 per day over the past couple of weeks, which means his campaign is gaining momentum, while Collins remains largely self-funded.  Also don’t forget that the Democrats’ get out the vote effort is less dependent on spending money that the Republicans’.

Legislature Downsizing & Hoyt for Marriage Equality

27 May

Needless Collection of Humans

Jerry, let me tell you something, a man without hand is not a man.  I got so much hand I’m coming out of my gloves. – George Costanza, “The Pez Dispenser

1. I haven’t written much of anything about the county redistricting clusterfiasco because NY-26 has been a preoccupation. Most of what I’m going to write sort of re-hashes what Chris posted yesterday, but I want to add some additional thoughts about how we got here and what it means.

The process was broken from the get-go. It was ground zero for the blood feud between Chris Collins and the Democrats, and Grassroots “Democrats” against the party apparatus led by Len Lenihan. Predictably, it degenerated into ugliness, and the redistricting commission became a joke and a sham to ram through whatever Chris Collins wants; and there were people who call themselves Democrats who were going along with this.

Now that there seem to be two competing maps that are to be voted on by the legislature next week, and that one map is being promoted by the Chris Collins – Republican – Miller-Williams coalition, and the other one is being promoted by the Legislature Democrats. Regardless of which map wins, the people have already lost. The process has been farcical and hypercharged with political idiocy. (Here is the Republican map) (Here is the Democratic map)

Reader and commenter RaChaCha forwarded to me an editorial on the process that was published in the Bee Newspapers. It excoriates the redistricting committee that was chaired by Adam Perry for failing to hold three promised public hearings in more remote parts of the county. I have emailed the Bee to ask whether I can reprint it in its entirety, but offer this key passage:

The committee could have used the opinions and concerns of the public to draw a map that would best serve the people.  Instead, we got a map that best serves the interests of politicians, with continued gerrymandering.  Lines weren’t drawn to best represent the communities but to boost the chances for re-election among the legislators.

In the end, the concerns of the people were overshadowed by the concerns of the politicians looking to remain in office and hold on to a slice of power.

The committee failed us.

Neither plan is perfect, but the Democratic plan is less un-perfect than the Republican/Miller-Williams plan. One has to imagine that Collins will veto the Democratic plan if it passes, and this would set up a very interesting County Executive race in November. Right now, of the three Democrats who are aligned with Collins as part of the ridiculously named “reform coalition”, Miller-Williams is definitely voting for the Republican plan, and Tim Whalen is definitely voting for the Democratic plan. Everyone is waiting to see what West Seneca legislator Tina Bove will do, as she is the swing vote and is probably milking that fact for all it’s worth. We’ll find out next Wednesday at 2.

But remember this: right now, ECDC has hand. Time and time again over the past two years, nominal “Democrats” on the County Legislature have collaborated with Chris Collins against the interests of their own constituents. Real Democrats worked damn hard in 2009 to ensure that the Legislature retained a Democratic majority to check King Collins’ power. Unfortunately, three so-called “Democrats” align themselves instead with Collins when convenient in exchange for a growth of personal power, and at the expense of their constituents, and Democrats who helped them get elected. These people who act out of self-interest to help themselves and Chris Collins aren’t Democrats. Barbara Miller-Williams has become, for all intents and purposes, a mere Collins puppet. Now that ECDC has quite a bit of momentum coming out of the Hochul win, her shenanigans have weakened her and her cohorts considerably. It’s time for Miller-Williams to recognize that (a) she’s the chairwoman of the Legislature; and (b) she sticks a (D) after her name. It’s time for her to consciously decide to act like she is both of those things.

2. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt penned an excellent editorial to the Buffalo News in support of marriage equality.  I’m sure Sam won’t mind if I reprint it here in its entirety:

New York State is at a crossroads. The Legislature is presented with the opportunity to pass a bill that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, granting them access to the same rights already afforded to straight couples. This comes at a time when national and statewide polls have shown an enormous increase in public support for marriage equality. More New Yorkers than ever recognize that denying our gay and lesbian family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors the right to marry is simply not fair.

Marriage equality is about fairness. It is about ending discrimination. It is about the freedom to marry the person you love and the legal rights that go along with it.

Throughout my career in public service, I have worked for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers. It is an issue that is close to me personally, but beyond that it is a public issue that has the power to change society’s perception. I believe that as an elected official, I have an obligation to help the people in my district who need it the most. It is time for us as representatives to acknowledge the will of the people both in New York and beyond and pass marriage equality legislation.

Some opponents argue that civil unions are a compromise solution that would allow gay and lesbian couples some limited rights. Yet a recent evaluation of the civil union system instituted in neighboring New Jersey showed that the two are not equivalent in practice. Couples joined in civil union faced bureaucratic hurdles that married couples did not. The two institutions were in effect separate, but not equal. Civil unions are not the answer. There is just no substitute for marriage.

To be clear, this legislation expands the legal definition of marriages recognized by the state. No religious institution would be forced to perform marriage for gay or lesbian couples, nor would any religion be compelled to recognize their marriages.

As majority whip, I will do all that I can to ensure that true marriage equality passes for a fourth time in the State Assembly. But once again, the State Senate will be the battleground for this vote. My colleagues in the State Senate must understand that this discrimination against lesbian and gay couples and their families cannot continue any longer. They must understand that a “yes” vote for marriage equality is a “yes” for justice, equality and fairness.

New York State was once a progressive leader in civil rights. It is time for our State Legislature to stand up and make our state a leader once again. We must end this injustice that has gone on for too long by making marriage equality law.



The Erie County Legislature of 2011: More of the Same

10 Jan
Chris Collins, New Erie County Executive

His Highness, King Chris du Lac

By the way, last Thursday, the Erie County Legislature held its annual “reorganization” session to elect this year’s Chair.

Despite the backstabbing and rancor of the 2011 budget process, three Democrats yet again broke away from the rest of their caucus to reconstitute the so-called “reform coalition” with the Republican minority (including Lynne Dixon, of the Independence Party).

Buffalo’s Grassroots political club is aligned with Chris Collins and Steve Pigeon, the former county Democratic chair.  Grassroots and Byron Brown basically have a deal whereby they stay out of the county’s business, and Collins largely stays out of the city’s business. Barbara Miller-Williams, who is aligned with Grassroots, was joined by Christina Bove, who is closely linked with Pigeon, and Tim Kennedy’s replacement, Tim Whalen to vote with the Republicans for Miller-Williams as chair.

This means nothing changes and the county legislature will operate in 2011 much as it did in 2010.  There will be no changes in the way the county puts its budget together, there will be no progress on the issue of spending or taxes, there will be no examination of better ways in which the county could do its largely ministerial duties.

Seriously, I might as well just re-submit this paragraph from my 2010 roundup:

In the meantime, a so-called “reform coalition” was formulated in the county legislature, giving County Executive Chris Collins a de facto majority. Democrats Tim Kennedy, Christina Bove, and Barbara Miller-Williams broke away from the remainder of the Democratic caucus to form a coalition with the minority Republicans and help progress the Collins – Pigeon – Brown agenda. It was the embodiment of the alliance of the Collins and Brown political machines, and died hard just 12 months later. Some of our writing got a bit inside basebally, so Chris and I wrote  “Profiles in Fail” to help fill in some blanks. The legislature became what we termed an “orgy of transactional politics”, and we explained the legislature coup in some more detail here:

Two things: firstly, Democratic counsel Jen Persico was summarily dismissed on Thursday, replaced by Shawn Martin, the West Seneca town attorney.  Persico was appointed a few years ago by then-chair Lynn Marinelli, and this change appears to be Bove’s price for her continued role in the “reform coalition”.  The second is redistricting.  Over the next several months, a seemingly democratic process will be implemented to reduce the number of legislative districts, but in the end Chris Collins will pull out all the stops to get his way and eliminate districts represented by legislators who give him trouble.  Think “Kozub” or “Marinelli”.  Maybe “Loughran”.

So, we leave you again with a video we did last year to explain what’s behind this process.  The language is NSFW.


2011 County Budget: Getting Ready for More Rumbling

8 Dec

Chris Collins only wants a very select list of 10 cultural organizations to receive county funding, and slashed money for the libraries.  Over the past couple of weeks, the county legislature worked through a process whereby it restored funding to the culturals and the libraries one by one, oftentimes by veto-proof majorities. The library re-funding was unanimous.

In the process the Collins-friendly “reform coalition”, (three Democrats who for various reasons aligned themselves with Collins and the Republican minority on the legislature, thus forming a de facto Republican majority), seemingly broke down.  Tim Kennedy has no use for the coalition anymore, since it’s outlived its get-me-t0-the-Senate usefulness.  Next, West Seneca’s Christina Bove dissented leaving Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams alone, warning lawmakers to beware Collins’ veto pen and/or wrath.

Last week’s shenanigans lead to this week’s bickerfest, with Collins firing the opening salvo.  Although the Democrats were careful to balance the budget through its re-funding of culturals and libraries, Collins claims that all of this will lead to a tax hike. He pledges to veto $400,000 for youth programs and $1.2 million for culturals – money that goes to help fund our very way of life.

But when you reduce “life” to numbers on a balance sheet, as Collins does, those arguments will fail.

And while Collins can’t veto legislative reductions to his budget, made to help pay for the cultural re-funding, he’ll try to declare them “null and void”.  The Buffalo News reports:

When pressed by reporters Tuesday, Collins refused to specify the percentage of increase he saw as necessary. In total, the Legislature moved around $8 million of a more than $1 billion budget that relies on about $235 million in property tax income. Even if all $8 million was in dispute, which it’s not, that would require a property tax hike of around 3 percent, or $15 a year on a $100,000 home.

After Collins issues his “veto message,” the Legislature will meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday for its “veto override” session, which gives the Legislature a crack at mustering the two-thirds majority needed to override a county executive’s vetoes. The key will be the six-member Republican conference, which has been all over the board.

Democratic Majority Leader Maria Whyte points out, however, that the budget as-amended by the Democratic caucus spends $100,000 less than Collins’ proposed budget.

The “fun” continues Thursday.

Erie County Legislature: Horrible People Doing Small Things

24 Nov

If you read the Buffalo News article written by Phil Fairbanks about today’s Erie County Legislature meeting, I don’t think you get the full scope of failure that transpired.  Let me be the one to fill in the holes.

This is not to say Phil did a poor job, it just takes a lot more column space to describe it than he was allotted in the print edition of the newspaper.

Let’s start with the backstory…I encourage you to click the links in the story to fill out any gaps you might have in the story.

Last year, three Democrats split from the Democratic majority to form the so-called “Reform Coalition” with the minority Republican caucus.  Legislators Barbara Miller-Williams (BMW), Christina Wleklinski-Bove and Tim Kennedy all received some sort of transactional reward from the County Executive and/or affiliated political powerbrokers to join the coalition.  BMW received the support of the Republicans for the position of Chairwoman and also got some additional funding for her husband’s non-profit group.  Bove received some jobs for her Independence Party loyalists and Kennedy received material support for his State Senate campaign.

Here’s a video we did laying all of that out.


So, we have a legislature that technically has a Democrat majority, but functions on fiscal matters of import to the County Executive as a Republican majority. The year has thus been filled with pointless squabbling, petty fights and intra-party slapfights all while we face a looming deficit.

Yesterday, the whole mess came crashing down.

The County Executive’s proposed budget slashes spending in the libraries, cultural organizations, comptroller’s office, county security staff, agriculture…you name it, he cut it.  The legislature held a series of public hearings in which the public came to demand restoration of funding for those budget lines, especially the libraries and cultural organizations.  The outcry was so large that Republican legislators Rath, Hardwick and Dixon (lets dispense with the Independent moniker for her, mmkay?) worked to restore funding to the libraries in their two proposed budget amendments today.  The non-reform coalition Democrats also proposed restoration of library and cultural funding as well as staff in the County Comptroller’s office.

Hardwick’s amendment restored $3MM of the needed $4MM in library funding, created a job in the Department of Social Services and sent $20K in funding to the Erie County Naval & Servicemen’s Park.  No money for auditors in the Office of the Comptroller.  Hardwick cut some money from the legislature budget by proposing a 20% cut to legislator ($8400 per year x 15 legislators = $126K) and some trimming in other departments.

The Rath/Dixon amendment gave $3MM of the needed $4MM to the libraries, sent $110K to the Erie County Agriculture Co-Operative, $20K to the Naval & Servicemen’s Park and $40K each to Shakespeare In The Park and the Irish Classical Theater.  Also, no money for the Office of the Comptroller.  They paid for their amendments in the same manner that Hardwick did.

Democrats restored the full $4MM to the libraries, fully funded all cultural organizations and restored the Erie County Comptroller’s office to full staff.  Their final amendment spends less than the original budget put forth by the County Executive.  They paid for their amendments using a $4MM cut to the risk retention fund (Erie County’s municipal insurance) and cuts to fringe benefits in the Sheriff’s Department (among others).  There were also other cuts, but this is getting long-winded.  Legislator Ray Walter complained that the Democrats amendment package was “irresponsible and reckless and would result in increased taxes”.  He also claimed that reductions in the insurance fund put the county at risk.  However, a quick check of budget rules showed that the money in the 2010 risk retention fund rolled over to 2011, meaning the the insurance account would be fully funded.

Sounds like normal government so far, right?  Competing proposals from different camps to be debated and voted upon.  Seems like a normal day….nope. What happened next is where the FAIL comes in.

After the amendments were submitted, a bizarre series of events happened in which every minuscule point of order was checked by the Parliamentarian and neither proposal made it to the committee for a vote.  Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams announced that neither proposal would be debated nor voted upon as she determined that neither had the votes to pass.  She also added that since the County Executive was going to veto either amendment package, she needed to come up with her own amendment package that Collins would approve.

When questioned by Legislator Whyte why she did not propose her own amendment package earlier, BMW said “I didn’t know I was able to submit my own amendments.”  Your County Chairwoman, folks.  She knew full well that she was able to submit amendments and did as much last year on two occasions during the budget process (based on my records).  The Chariwoman then listened to a barrage of complaints from Democrats who claimed she was a tool for Collins (she is), was in league with the Republicans (she was), and that she was being intellectually dishonest with her claim to not know the rules of amendment submission (she was).

Legislator Betty Jean Grant went so far as to say that neither Barbara Miller-Williams nor the Republicans “have the balls to tell the County Executive what you or the people want” while Legislator Tom Loughran claimed that Miller-Williams was “seeking political cover from the County Executive, not governing”.  Legislator Whyte openly wondered what we’re all doing here if this is the Chris Collins legislature.

The meeting was adjourned shortly after some other bickering and transactions.

After the meeting, Legislator Miller-Williams told us that “some individuals are making this a personal process and they aren’t interested in doing the people’s business”.  She will contact the County Executive, find out what he’s willing to fund and submit his, I mean her, amendments on Friday at 1:30PM.

After speaking with legislators on all three sides of the aisle and sources in the Rath building, it would appear that Collins will agree to restore some library funding, a few culturals important to the Republicans and Reform Coalition, tell Mark Poloncarz to get bent by cutting his office to the bone, and throw a bone or two in patronage jobs to some people to keep the whole apparatus in place.

Remember, Chris Collins is not a “politician”.  He’s just a simple businessman who has cut deals with Grassroots over patronage jobs, constructed an agreement with the Mayor to suppress the Democrat vote in the city during county-wide elections, cuddled up with Steve Pigeon, played politics with the Sheriff’s office, punishes those who step out of line, and unnecessarily overinflates portions of the budget in order to justify cutting programs he doesn’t deem worthy…regardless of public outcry or legislative support.

It is all horribly transactional, petty, and small.  There are a few honest players in the legislature (even a few Republicans) but this is a group of people which has tragically lost sight of their actual job, to govern.  There are people in those budget line items.  People who rely on county support for their employment, after-school programs, medical care, benefits, safety and security.  It’s not a game, it’s real life.

Maybe someday soon, the County Executive and Legislature will understand that.

The Knesset of Erie County

13 Jan

Alan, Marc and Chris have done a great job recently of dissecting the varying layers of backroom deals, patronage jobs, party handouts, and general tomfoolery involved in starting the new session for the Erie County Legislature. Having only been back in town for the last 2 1/2 years, I need a primer occasionally myself. While it has not shocked (SHOCKED!) anyone who is paying attention, it has been bemoaned for focusing on party power, and not governance. Even Donn Esmonde got in the act today – while I generally dislike his viewpoints, you can’t argue with these choice quotes:

Politicians were—and are—too obsessed with wrestling the wheel out of one another’s hands to care about where the bus is going. Expecting them to change anything is like waiting for a toddler to cure cancer.

Chris declares this a coup, and compares it the Albany disaster this past summer. I think that’s the wrong analogy. Instead, I compare this to EVERY DAY in the Israeli Knesset.

For those that don’t follow Israeli politics, there are over 30 political parties active in national elections, and they range in policy position from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal, in a spread far beyond the United State’s sweep. Unity governments are formed and reformed in Europe as well, but not with the frequency or sharp political elbows as in the Israeli Knesset. “Portfolios” (patronage jobs) are swapped, cut up, combined, and reformed regularly, usually with the same names (Sharon, Netanyahu, Barak) just playing musical chairs. Sound familiar yet? And in the end, the policies stay remarkably the same: let’s keep building settlements, lets dearm Hamas, and invade Gaza and fight Hezbollah in Lebanon if threatened.

Grassroots? ECDC? Reform NY? All factions fighting over a handful of jobs and less than $100M budget. Does anyone actually think the bills coming out of the Knesset County Legislature will be different because of who the Chairwoman is? Any bill right or left of the WNY political center rarely sees the light of day. There is much sound and fury over union handouts, but little changes. The Arts and Culturals get their couple million after rounds of golf. Taxes go up by 1% or 1.5%. And in the end, Collins does whatever he wants anyway. Albany is a Banana Republic. But Erie County is a shaky unity government built on jobs, deals, and family connections. In other words, politics. 

On a side note, I’d like to remind everyone that this is why local political parties are so useless. Is it not clear that this spasm has little to do with Republicans or Democrats? Alan goes through the list of players, and the relevance to party is minimal. And when the Republican County Executive buys the new Chairwoman’s position with $300K for The Colored Musicians Club on the East Side, clearly the suburb vs urb story is getting tired as well.