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Pre-Post-Primary Considerations

Ordinarily in an issue that comes out the week of a primary election, in this column you’d find (and probably ignore) an analysis of the voting: who won and why, what the outcome portends for the general election in November, perhaps a vignette or two captured at the polls or the watering holes where pols congregate with their foot soldiers and donors to watch the election districts report their results.

Alas, not this year: The wise men have decided that we can’t vote on a Tuesday that falls on an anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City. No such preclusions are attached to other traumatic dates in the nation’s history—we don’t keep the kids home from school on May 4, to mourn the Haymarket riot of 1886, or close banks on July 6 to mark the treacherous and bloody conclusion to the Homestead strike of 1892—but no matter: We have agreed to surrender an aspect of our most fundamental democratic ritual in memory of an attack that popular punditry branded an attack on freedom and democracy.

So, instead of parsing turnout and voting patterns in the most interesting races, blind to the results, we’re going to look at who brought us the candidates we, the voting public, just selected to represent our various political parties in November’s general election.

We’ll start with last-minute infusions of campaign cash, which often indicate how serious a candidate’s financial backers are about their horse winning the race. For example, take Johnny Destino, who challenged State Senator George Maziarz in the Republican primary. Developer Carl Paladino, engaged in a feud with Maziarz over the character and control of the Republican Party, both locally and statewide, dropped an extra $5,000 on Destino’s campaign on Tuesday. That’s a lot of money to you and me, but if the shrewd and deep-pocketed Paladino thought he could buy enough votes to beat Maziarz, he’d have ponied up.

Then there’s the 149th Assembly District race, which is so heavily Democratic that the winner of Thursday’s primary can sleepwalk to victory in November. Assemblyman Sean Ryan, heir to the seat held by Sam Hoyt until Hoyt left office to join Governor Andrew Cuomo’s team, is fighting a Democratic primary against Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority Resident Commissioner Joe Mascia and civic-minded attorney Kevin Gaughan. Mascia’s campaign ran on shoe-leather. Gaughan’s and Ryan’s, too, but their shoes are better heeled: A number of union donors combined to pump about $15,000 into the Ryan’s campaign in the last week of the race; in that same time, Gaughan scrounged up an extra $3,500—$2,000 of his own money, $1,500 from Charles Balbach of the Community Foundation, which has been a big supporter of Gaughan’s public policy work. This is indicative: Before these latest infusions, Gaughan had raised about $14,000 for his race and spent half that, mostly from friends and long-time supporters of his very public activism. In total, as of Wednesday, Ryan—who on Monday won an endorsement from Governor Andrew Cuomo, delivered here in town by Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy—had spent $117,000 on obtaining and retaining his seat, and the source of his support mirrors that Hoyt enjoyed during his career: lots of organized labor, supplemented by donations from the various quarters of Buffalo’s progressive community. Mascia had not yet filed a campaign finance disclosure report.

Now, over in the 60th State Senate District. Let’s begin with the easiest of the candidates: Al Coppola, the independent Democrat in the race. His $20,000 campaign (as of Tuesday; he’ll have spent more in the end) was largely self-financed. Orchard Park attorney Mike Amodeo is pretty easy too: Amodeo was handpicked by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz for this race, and his funding, as well as his endorsements, reflect his Democratic headquarters support. It looks, in fact, much like Ryan’s, with some Southtowns donors mixed in. He put together $53,000, plus another $5,000 in last-minute union contributions.

If you separate the money Chuck Swanick is receiving from national conservative groups looking to punish incumbent Republican Mark Grisanti for voting in favor of marriage equality, Swanick’s campaign comes clearly into focus as a Steve Pigeon production, with some help from Pigeon’s allies in Mayor Byron Brown’s camp: At least 60 percent (the actual percentage is probably much higher) of Swanick’s donations come from individuals and committees affiliated directly with Pigeon and/or Brown. Despite Pigeon’s shrug to Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy—he hasn’t had a lot to do with Swanick’s campaign, he told McCarthy, because he’d been in Romania, teaching pols there how to run democratic elections—his fingerprints are all over this race. And why not? State Senator Mike Gianaris, who is spearheading the Democratic effort to regain the majority in the State Senate, will direct scads of cash to the winner of the Democratic primary in this district, in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 98,000 to 55,000. (Gianaris sent Swanick $6,500 back in July.) Pigeon is looking for a way back into Albany’s halls of power, having been exiled after the government-paralyzing, Tom Golisano-funded Republican takeover of the State Senate he helped to orchestrate in 2010 unraveled.

Pigeon’s involvement muddies the waters because of his practice of washing donations by directing them through LLCs and other campaign committees. For example, Swanick received $6,500 from Landen LLC, one of Pigeon’s consulting firms. You may choose to believe that’s Pigeon using his own money to show his confidence in Swanick, but history suggests that the money belongs to someone whose identity Pigeon is concealing.

On the Republican side, Grisanti has benefitted greatly from his vote in favor of marriage equality, thanks to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his wealthy friends. As of Tuesday, Grisanti had spent almost $430,000 since the beginning of the year—that’s before the primary in which he is the incumbent and his party’s endorsed candidate, and before a general election in which he faces tough demographic odds.

In the meantime, Grisanti’s Republican opponent, Kevin Stocker, declared himself to have raised about $3,000 in small donations and to have spent $50,000 more than that, all of the differential comprising his own money lent to the campaign. Like Destino, he also has support from Paladino. (Grisanti is an ally of Maziarz and a protege of Joel Giambra, who sits with Maziarz against Paladino in the fight to influence Republican politics.) The nature of that support is unclear: We’re told that pollster Dino Turcharielli has done work for Stocker’s campaign on Paladino’s dime.

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