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Seven Days

TEA New York: big fans of hats and phone book millionaires.

All the Tea in China...

Would not be enough to supply the divergent tastes of those who claim to represent Tea Party politics in Western New York.

In the race for the vacant 26th District Congressional seat, Republican Jane Corwin has the endorsement of TEA New York, the local faction personified by Grand Island political activist Rus Thompson, as well as the endorsement of the Tea Party Express, the national group who staged a rally here last fall in support of developer Carl Paladino’s bid for governor. Paladino, too, has endorsed Corwin in an email he released Wednesday morning titled “I’m Mad As Hell.”

Millionaire Jack Davis, on the other hand, is running for the seat on a “Tea Party” line that he created by filing 15,000 nominating signatures to the New York State Board of Elections. His supporters include Allen Coniglio and attorney Jim Ostrowski, who personify the Tea Party Coalition, another local faction of right-wing-to-libertarian political activists. Davis is also touted by Dave DiPietro, the former East Aurora mayor whose Tea Party candidacy for State Senate Paladino threw under the bus last fall by endorsing the Erie County Republican chairman, Jim Domagalski, in order to shore up his major party support. Both lost to now State Senator Pat Gallivan.

And now Davis has been endorsed by David Bellavia, the Iraq war veteran from Batavia who sought the Conservative Party endorsement in the race for the seat Chris Lee resigned earlier this year.

This squabbling on the right clearly isn’t doing Corwin any favors: A new poll released on Tuesday shows Corwin falling behind Democrat Kathy Hochul, despite a heavy Republican registration advantage in the district. Davis continues to draw votes from Corwin rather than from Hochul, despite the Republican refrain that he is a “liberal Democrat” who favors abortion rights and supports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and whose candidacy is a “Democrat trick” designed to steal the election for Hochul.

Big Democratic and Republican money is pouring into the race now, and Davis has plenty of his own to spend, which means high living for political operatives on all sides of this special election, which takes place May 24. But there will be hell to pay for someone should Corwin lose what ought to have been a cakewalk for the Republican. As noted last week in this column, one who might pay is the young Erie County Republican Party chairman, Nick Langworthy. In fact, this week we heard the names of a number of possible successors circulated, should Corwin lose: Gallivan’s chief of staff, A. J. Baynes, who managed Gallivan’s successful campaign against Langworthy’s candidate, Domagalski, as well as DiPietro and Democrat Cynthia Appleton; Doug Curella, chief of staff to State Senator Mark Grisanti, who managed Grisanti’s unlikely win over Antoine Thompson; and both Chris Grant and Grant Loomis, who help to run the politics side of Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ office.

Scandal Fatigue

I hope that Brian Davis has reached his bottom—that he’s not, for example, going to be arrested for unpaid parking tickets next week—because I’m beginning to develop a troubling sense of sympathy for his cascading prospects.

However, his most recent arrest, for allegedly misdirecting tens of thousands of federal dollars to himself and associates using the Community Action Organization of Erie County as a pass-through, bears watching. The CAO is a stronghold for Grassroots, the political club which propelled the careers of both Davis and Mayor Byron Brown belong. (An example of the overlay between organizations: Davis is a former president of CAO’s board of directors. The current board president is John Calvin Davis, who works for the Erie County Legislature courtesy of Chair Barbara Miller-Williams, a Grassroots stalwart who also sits on CAO’s board. Masten District Councilman Demone Smith and Ellicott District Councilman Darius Pridgen sit on the CAO’s board, too.) Davis faces serious jail time if it is proven that he stole federal funds, and so he might choose to cooperate with investigators, who continue to look at the imbroglio over the restaurant One Sunset and other city contracts.


Monday’s meeting of the Erie County Legislature’s advisory commission of reapportionment featured the long-awaited unveiling of the redistricting plan favored by the majority coalition of six Republicans and three Democrats.

The proposed map, which reduces the legislature from 15 to 11 districts as approved in last year’s referendum, was submitted by the commission’s chair, Adam Perry. Perry is the appointee of Barbara Miller-Williams, the chair of the legislature, who nominally is the head of that coalition.

The highlights of Perry’s map:

• It divides the City of Buffalo among five districts, splitting the West Side’s Latino community, currently united in Legislator Maria Whyte’s district, in three.

• It places Whyte in the same district as an incumbent Democrat, Betty Jean Grant, who, like Whyte, stands in opposition to Miller-Williams. (In any case, Whyte is planning a race for city comptroller.)

• It creates safe districts for Miller-Williams and the two other Democrats in the majority coalition, Tim Whalen and Tina Bove, as well as for Lynne Dixon, who is registered an Independent but usually votes with the Republicans.

• It cedes a chunk of Amherst’s eastern reaches to the district that encompasses Clarence, in defiance of a state mandate forbidding unnecessary divisions of municipalities, in order to avoid putting incumbent Republicans Ray Walter and Edward Rath III in the same district. (To compensate for the population thus gained in the Clarence- and Lancaster-based district, the Cheektowaga-based district to the south bulges into the western part of Lancaster.

• It pits Democratic incumbents Tom Mazur and Tom Loughran against each other.

• It isolates Republican Kevin Hardwick so he will not have to run against former chair Lynn Marinelli, who may run for Tonawanda town supervisor anyway. It similarly protects Southtowns Republican John Mills from any incumbent opposition.

On presenting the plan, Perry offered a brief, vague summary of its precepts, finishing, “And that’s the map.”

The map indeed. Perry invited questions about the process by which he (or whoever else actually drafted the map) arrived at his proposal, but then refused to answer any of the questions. This refusal invited a testy exchange between Perry Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward, more civil but no less revealing dialogues between Perry other Democratic commissioners, and a parting sense that Perry’s plan would be railroaded through, no matter what the other commissioners or the public might think.

Jeremy Toth, an attorney and Democratic political operative who sits on the commission, expressed a concern separate from the protections of incumbents friendly to the legislature’s ruling coalition—protections that Toth, after all, might well have sought for Democrats if his team was able to control the reapportionment process. Toth suggested that the two districts which Perry identified as “minority majority” district—that is, districts where minorities stood a better than even chance of electing one of their own to office—provided only the thinnest advantage for minority candidates. Toth felt those small majorities opened the door to the old gimmick of splitting the minority vote: A white candidate’s backers clandestinely run an African-American candidate, for example, in order to steal black votes from another African-American candidate, allowing the white candidate to slip into office.

“If this plan is adopted,” Toth said, “it would take only the faintest of breezes to blow minority representation out of the legislature. If this is the plan, I predict that within the next 10 years, there will be no minorities on the legislature.”

Perry, true to form, did not respond to Toth’s comment.

geoff kelly

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