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Maziarz Out, SD-62 Up For Grabs

14 Jul

Here is the statement that soon-to-be-former State Senator George Maziarz issued in order to explain his very sudden and unexpected decision to resign*: 

It is no secret to my family and close friends that I have been considering retirement from the State Legislature for the last five years. And as I geared up for another long campaign season, I realized I just did not have the passion and commitment that I have had in the past to see it through.

People will ask me why now and the simple answer is there is never the perfect time to step away. I had the honor of following the late John Daly into the State Senate. I remember him telling me when he left the Senate it was simply time for the next generation of leaders in the Legislature. After nearly two decades in office, I fully understand what he meant and feel that way today.

My second daughter gets married this summer and that is a much bigger priority for me than another grueling campaign. My family has sacrificed enough for my public service through the years and I cannot ask for any more.

To the people of Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties who I have had the pleasure to represent since 1995, I extend my heart felt appreciation for your continued support. I always told people that being your Senator was the greatest job in the world, one I dedicated myself to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We accomplished great things and I did my best to help my constituents with any problem…big or small. Thank you for giving a kid from North Tonawanda the chance to fulfill his dream of serving in the State Senate.

Gee shucks, that’s swell. 

But not so fast. 

People just finished collecting petition signatures to get Maziarz’s name on the ballot. He could have easily announced a planned resignation earlier this year. You don’t just drop out of your career politicianship because you’re bored and you need more time for your kids. You don’t simply bow out from the “greatest job in the world” suddenly on a Sunday night. 

Mike Caputo’s PoliticsNY broke the story this weekend, and noted that the resignation comes quickly on the heels of the abrupt resignations of two of Maziarz’s top staffers. On July 11th, the Niagara County Democratic Committee issued a press release demanding a state investigation of Maziarz’s campaign spending

This week we learned Maziarz’s Chief of Staff Alisa Colatarci and Office Manager Marcus Hall both resigned. Given the U.S. Justice Department’s increased focus on public corruption in Albany, if there are reports of senior staff members resigning it should raise some eyebrows.

Eyebrows have indeed been raised ever since City & State revealed in May that two WNY Republican senators – Maziarz and Pat Gallivan – were coming under scrutiny for campaign spending

State Sen. George Maziarz shelled out more than $140,000 in campaign funds over a six-year period without identifying what exactly he purchased, according to an investigation by the now defunct Moreland Commission on Public Corruption—by far the most of any state lawmaker. State Sen. Patrick Gallivan was found to have about $80,000 in unreported campaign credit card expenses, including hundreds of dollars spent on cigars, tanning, and at salons and casinos. State Sen. Greg Ball laid out around $23,000 at retail stores, including Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic and Amore Clothing.

This must be why the Republicans haven’t been making much noise about the disbanding of the Moreland Commission as part of the overall budget deal earlier this year. Keep stumm and don’t kill the job. 

But the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan said, in effect,  “not so fast”. 

To date, there has been considerable speculation about what exactly the Moreland Commission’s investigations team probed over the months it was in operation, but few specifics have been disclosed to the public. Several legislators and critics have openly dismissed the Commission’s work as a “witch hunt.” Conversely, Moreland Commissioner Makau Mutua said earlier this month that the Commission had unearthed potential criminality by 10 to 12 state lawmakers.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was interested enough in finding out what the Commission had discovered that he has launched an inquiry, in part, to get to the bottom of whether “investigations potentially significant to the public interest have been bargained away as part of the negotiated arrangement between legislative and executive leaders,” as he wrote in a letter to the Commission’s members on April 3—a reference to the ethics deal struck between the governor and the Legislature as part of their budget agreement at the end of March, which coincided with Cuomo’s announcement that he was shutting down the Commission.

How does this all play into Maziarz’s resignation? Well, take a look at Binghamton-area Republican state senator Tom Libous – the second-highest ranking GOPer in the Senate- who was just indicted for lying to the FBI about getting his kid a job, and promising to direct work to that firm as a quid-pro-quo. The son was indicted for tax evasion and embezzlement. Libous was also out in front to try and block an extension on the fracking ban, mostly because his wife and a big campaign donor stand to benefit financially from a lifting of the ban

Is Bharara poised to indict Maziarz for corruption that the Moreland Commission uncovered and then simply stopped doing anything about to placate Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos? Consider what City & State uncovered

The legislator with the most number of entries about him is state Sen. George Maziarz, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate leadership. According to the documents, Maziarz amassed more than $140,000 in unitemized campaign expenses in filings reported between 2008 and 2013—which averages out to more than $23,000 a year, or nearly $2,000 a month. The senator’s campaign also had “over $67,000 of charges and expenditures to Chase and Chase Card Services,” identified broadly as “office” expenses. The total sum, which exceeded by tens of thousands of dollars the amount of unspecified expenditures by each of the other lawmakers flagged, is broken down in depth within the documents and includes details not included in the senator’s public campaign filings.

The Commission found that the Maziarz campaign doled out more than $125,000 at retailers such as Target and BJ’s Wholesale Club, including $56,250 in expenditures that investigators concluded had not been reported. Another $10,000 from the senator’s re-election funds went to specialty chocolatiers, a florist and wineries and wine stores. The campaign committee also paid for $7,850 worth of reading materials at Borders, Readers Digest and Barnes & Noble, with $2,000 labeled as “unreported” by the Commission.

The Commission also tabulated the Maziarz campaign spending $12,000 at arts and crafts stores like Michaels and Oriental Trading; $7,000 at the now-defunct online gift boutique Southern Living at HOME and its successor, Willow House; and $4,000 on purchases related to children, including from Toys ”R” Us and Mud Pie, and payments to Do-do, the clown.

A company called MEM Enterprises also received a cumulative $39,000 from the Maziarz campaign. A Commission document notes that the company has only one employee, brings in $54,000 a year and is based at a residence owned by a person who appears to be the senator’s relative. Efforts to reach MEM Enterprises were unsuccessful, however, based upon inquiries made by City & State, it appears that the company’s address is the same as that of the senator’s brother, Marvin Maziarz, a retired Niagara County Community College professor.

As for Pat Gallivan, 

The next highest total was run up by Gallivan, who had about $80,000 in “unreported credit card expenses.” In Gallivan’s case, records for a Capital One card revealed $1,200 spent at casinos, $1,000 on cigars and $300 on “tanning beds and at salons.” The senator also had approximately $4,000 in unreported charges to AT&T, $3,500 in unreported charges to Verizon Wireless, $4,000 in charges to the DeLacy Ford dealership in Elma, N.Y., and almost $3,000 in unreported loan payments to M&T Bank. The Commission was apparently unable to obtain records for an American Express card that had $47,000 in unreported campaign charges.

Generally speaking, lawmakers are forbidden from converting campaign finances to personal use. This sort of analysis of campaign spending is unprecedented, and for decades, no one has bothered to look into any of this. 

It’s quite clear that Maziarz’s unforeseen and hurried exit has to do with something much more grave than a general feeling of political ennui and a sudden desire to focus on his daughter’s nuptials. 

Another corrupt lawmaker in a hypercorrupt Albany? Big surprise, and the way in which this unfolded reveals the degree to which no person or party in Albany has a desire to clean up that city’s act for the good of the people in this state. Thankfully, the people working on the Moreland Commission’s investigations were disgusted enough to forward their investigations to law enforcement. 

About two years ago, Carl Paladino and his cult following tried to unseat Maziarz by spreading rumors that he was gay. It was an especially disgusting campaign – just as you might expect from Carl, Rus Thompson, and any other right-wing homophobe you might encounter. 

It was so ugly and hateful, that I endorsed Maziarz because of it, and also because Paladino was openly backing Maziarz’s primary opponent, Johnny Destino (who is now a Democrat and running for Maziarz’s now-vacant seat).  Consider, then, that Paladino and Rus Thompson could have – but didn’t – pushed instead an argument that Maziarz was corrupt. That would have been a tougher argument to make, and by no means as much fun to a couple of gay-bashers, but at least it would have smacked of factual accuracy. 

But most importantly, recall Governor Cuomo’s agreement with the Working Families Party to start backing the idea of a Democratic Senate in exchange for its fusion endorsement. With Libous’ indictment and Maziarz’s departure, that’s two Republican seats up for grabs. (Libous and Maziarz, incidentally, were not backbenchers – they were quite powerful). The Republicans have a de facto majority in the Senate thanks to a small group of breakaway Democrats led by Jeffery Klein, the “Independent Democratic Conference”.

Right now, the Senate is made up of 29 Republicans, 24 Democrats (2 formerly Democratic seats are vacant), 1 Democrat caucusing with the Republicans, and the 4 members of the IDC. If the IDC decides to abandon its Republican ties the Democrats get a majority.  

The NYS Board of Elections reveals that Democratic enrollment in the 62nd District is almost 63,000 Democrats and just under 60,000 Republicans. 4,000 are enrolled Conservative, 1,200 are enrolled in the WFP, and 8,200 are in the Independence Party. The Greens have fewer than 400 enrollees. With a slight Democratic enrollment advantage, this seat is wholly up for grabs. 

* I use the word “resign” not to denote an immediate Maziarz withdrawal from public office, but merely to connote the fact that he’s choosing to not seek re-election to his Senatorship-for-life. As of right now, Maziarz is expected to complete his term of office. 

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