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Back-Room Politicking

David Bellavia

This week, online pamphleteer Joe Illuzzi reports that Carl Paladino’s former campaign manager, Michael Caputo, solicited a bribe of $50,000 from the congressional campaign of Jane Corwin. In exchange, the story alleges, Conservative candidate David Bellavia would drop out of the race to fill the seat Chris Lee resigned. Caputo has denied the story, and denies representing Bellavia in any capacity. We don’t know what to make of the tale or whether to believe it.

But we do believe this story: Two Sundays ago, Paladino and Erie County Executive Chris Collins met with Bellavia themselves to try to convince the Iraq War veteran to drop out of the race.

The encounter took place after a meeting of members of the TEA New York coalition at the Comfort Zone cafe on Elmwood Avenue. TEA New York is one of two competing Tea Party factions in Western New York; the other is the Tea Party Coalition, which had scheduled a candidates night the following evening.

The candidates to be interviewed by TEA New York that night were Bellavia and Jack Davis, who is also running for the 26th District seat. Both were invited By Rus Thompson, a Tea Party activist who took part in Paladino’s gubernatorial campaign.

After Davis had spoken and been interviewed for over an hour, it was Bellavia’s turn. But his interview ended rather abruptly and the meeting broke up. As he readied to leave, Bellavia was asked to stay behind for a cup of coffee. He then was taken into a back room, where he found Paladino and Collins, the county’s two most powerful Republicans, awaiting him at a table.

The ensuing conversation lasted more than an hour. Bellavia repeatedly was asked to drop out of the race. He refused. When it became clear that he would not agree to do that, the conversation turned to polls and campaign financing—subjects designed to further discourage Bellavia. “It was really an educational meeting,” Thompson says.

There’s a story going around that Bellavia was offered a seat in the Assembly if he’d back down, but Thompson says no such offer was made. By several accounts, the meeting was not unpleasant, though Bellavia was taken aback by the surprise meeting and felt the pressure to drop out was inappropriate. A TV news crew from Channel 2 apparently got word of the meeting and sent a camera, causing Collins to run for the restroom. The video never aired.

Corwin, an ally of Collins, has a considerable advantage over her Democratic opponent, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul. There are 26,000 more registered Republican than Demnocratic voters in the district. But Hochul, a conservative Democrat, has great name recognition and great cross-party appeal. Bellavia could draw conservative votes from Corwin, helping Hochul. Davis, if he stays in the race, will draw votes from Corwin, too.

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