BY TONY FARINA
The battle for the job of Erie County district attorney is turning into a war of words between Acting DA Michael Flaherty and his opponent in the Democratic primary, Tonawanda Town Attorney John Flynn.
Last week in this space, the Flaherty campaign team ripped Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner for attacking Flaherty for using some of the same paid canvassers to circulate petitions that recently indicted political operative and attorney Steve Pigeon once used in support of past Flynn candidacies.
In a statement, the Flaherty campaign said that Flynn has run for eight offices in 10 years–seeking and receiving the support of Pigeon in those past campaigns–and adding that a number of Democratic headquarters-backed candidates and officials have received support from Pigeon in the past and that Pigeon’s political operations have received funding from ECDC-backed candidates.
The alleged attempts by party bosses to smear Flaherty while remaining silent on Flynn’s courting of Pigeon in past campaigns “is the height of hypocrisy,” said Flaherty spokesperson Maggie McKeon in a statement.
Flynn declined comment last week, deferring to Zellner who did not return a phone call. But Flynn this week unleashed a blistering counterattack, calling the claims that he has run eight offices in 10 years not true.
“I’ve run twice in the last 13 years,” said Flynn, “and I won both times, once for town council in 2003 and in 2007 for town judge.”
Flynn, who now serves as Tonawanda Town Attorney, said people have asked him to run “but I never started a campaign, never. Only for the two jobs in 2003 and 2007. And I never asked Steve Pigeon for his endorsement. I had not even met him in 2003, shortly after I left the Navy.”
Flynn said his campaign has momentum, noting his fund-raising success over the last three months and the endorsements by five major police unions, including Buffalo, the Town and City of Tonawanda, Amherst, and Cheektowaga. And he said the Flaherty campaign was in trouble, citing the sudden departure last week of veteran political operative Rich Horner who had been serving as campaign manager (at least according to most observers).
“That [Horner’s departure] coming a month before the primary raises a red flag,” said Flynn,. “They are in trouble.”
“Not so,” says Jimmy Eagan, the financial chairman of Flaherty’s campaign, saying “we all knew that Rich was only available until the Democratic convention. When the future president calls, you need to answer. Rich left us in very good shape.”
And Eagan stood firm on last week’s charges concerning Flynn’s campaigns, even adding two more.
“John Flynn is correct,” said Eagan. He hasn’t sought eight offices in 10 years. He sought 10.” Eagan said he based that number on reports in the Buffalo News, including political positions like State Supreme Court, State Court of Claims, and State Senator.
Eagan charged that Flynn’s only campaign strategy “is to try and link Steve Pigeon to Mike Flaherty. Flaherty has never accepted a dime from Pigeon, while Flynn’s major political supporters accepted Pigeon money as late as 2014, including Flynn’s own Tonawanda Democratic Committee. This is political hypocrisy.”
And Eagan pulled no punches on the Pigeon connection, saying Flynn’s claim that he had never met and didn’t know Steve Pigeon in 2003 “sounds like Trump denying that he knew Putin.”
This war of words may escalate in the coming weeks as the two leading candidates get ready for the Sept. 13 primary vote.
Flynn is also the endorsed Conservative candidate for district attorney while Flaherty will need to win the Democratic primary to have a line in November against the little known Republican-endorsed candidate, Joe Treanor, who is also challenging Flynn in the September primary vote for the Conservative line. Treanor is a registered Conservative
Expect Flynn and Flaherty to wage all-out television ad campaigns as the primary nears as they seek a four-year term as the county’s chief law enforcement officer. It is clear from the war of words already underway that both candidates will take their best shots to win the much-coveted office of Erie County district attorney.