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One Week Before Primaries, the Crazy Comes Out

"I think it looks like he's eating a piece of pie - like he's really hungry and shoveling it in," said one veteran political operative of this mailer attacking Erie County Legislator Tim Hogues.

The madness began last Thursday afternoon, when an operative for Bernie Tolbert’s mayoral campaign called to say, “Listen, we’ve got all this material on [Mayor Byron] Brown, stuff we’ll never use. Stuff we don’t know how to use. We just don’t have time—we’ve got to start working on get-out-the-vote operations. But I hate to see it go to waste. Interested?”

“Sure,” I replied. I’d just arrived home on my bicycle. “What have you got?”

“Oh, more stuff from the cops on under-reporting crime, some other odds and ends. Can you use it?”

I told him I’d have to see the goods in order to answer that question.

“Tell you what, why don’t I just send all this stuff over to you,” he said. “Look at it, let me know what you want, and I’ll send the rest to Jim Heaney.”

“Great,” I said, fetching the mail as I stepped into the house. On top of the stack were two glossy mailers attacking Democrat Tim Hogues, the incumbent Erie County Legislator for the First District, where I live. The mailer accused Hogues of supporting “radical Republican policies” because he voted to approve spending on highway projects and sheriff’s road patrols in the suburbs. “That’s nuts,” I mutter to myself: After all, Hogues’s challenger in the Democratic primary next week is Barbara Miller-Williams, the former legislator who became chair of the Legislature by caucusing with actual Republicans. The same Barbara Miller-Williams who was complicits in Repblican Chris Collins’s efforts to end the WIC program and shut down inner-city health clinics, and who pushed through a redistricting plan drawn by and favorable to Republicans—a plan that, ironically, led to her losing her seat in 2011.

Surely Miller-Williams did not have so low an opinion of her constituents to suppose they’d buy such craziness. I examined the fine print, looking for some indication as to who’d paid for the mailer. No union mark, I observed: another point of common cause between Miller-Williams and her Republican friends. But there was no indocation of who’d authorized or paid for this expensive piece of literature—just a mailing permit number: 1278.

As it would unfold over the next couple days, in my mailbox and in mailboxes in other contested legislative dirsticts across the county, mailing permit number 1278 belongs to a PAC called WNY Progressive Caucus, newly registered with New York State on August 22. The real live person behind WNY Progressive Caucus is Kristy Mazurek, who manages somehow to be a political journalist for Channel 2 and a paid political consultant on the side. Mazurek has acknowledged that she is a paid politcal consultant to Brown’s mayoral campaign; she is running the campaigns of would-be legislators Rick Zydel and Wes Moore, who are associated with the faction of the Democratic Party led by Cheektowaga Town Chairman Frank Max.

In addition to the mailing attacking Hogues, Mazurek’s PAC paid for a specious attack piece on incumbent Betty Jean Grant, who is facing Joyce Nixon, who, like Miller-Williams, is an ally of Brown. WNY Progressive Caucus also paid for positive mailings on behalf of Miller-Williams, Zydel, and Moore.

On Tuesday, Hogues and Grant held a press conference in front of Channel 2, demanding to know whether the station’s management condoned a political journalist in its employ taking so active a role in partisan politics. (The station’s response: She is an independent contractor, not employed by the news department.) Reached by phone not long after the press conference, Mazurek laughed off the controversy and called her detractors cry-babies, saying that she’d grown up around hardball politics. She also shrugged off responibility for the content of the Hogues mailer, saying that the messages were crafted by the managers of the campaigns her PAC supported. “I don’t micromanage,” she said; she just writes the checks.

She had a pretty big account to draw on from the start, and she’s spent it freely. The first campaign finance disclosure filing for WNY Progressive Caucus was posted online Wednesday afternoon. In a little over a week, the PAC collected $110,300 and spent about $104,000.

The biggest donor: New York State Senator Tim Kennedy, who sent $45,000 from his own campaign committee. (Kennedy had been telling folks in South Buffalo that he was staying out of the race for the 7th District Legislature seat, where Zydel is running against Cheektowagan Lynn Dearmyer, who is affiliated with Democratic Party headquarters, and South Buffalonian Pat Burke, who is aligned with neither the headquarters nor the Max camp.) Steve Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic Party chair whose specialties include sowing chaos, as well as concealing where political money comes from and where it goes, loaned the PAC $20,000. Leave it to Pigeon to make sure he can get his money back. The bricklayers union, which donated $25,000, does not have the same option.

Max’s group, Progressive Democrats of WNY, kicked in $4,000. Buffalo Staffing, which employs Pigeon ally Gary Parenti, added $2,500; some other businesses and individuals made up the balance.

The greatest part of the spending went to mailing and television ads; a political operative, Michael Darby, associated with Mayor Brown’s Grassroots political club, was paid nearly $11,000 for consulting services. The PAC also paid $4,000 in consulting fees to Gia Services, a firm owned by Donald Turchiarelli of West Seneca. If that name sounds familiar, it may be because he was the recipient of the famous “bags of cash” that provoked an investigation into the 2007 Erie County Executive campaign of Paul Clark.

That scandal led also to the public clash between former prosecutor Mark Sacha and his boss, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, when Sacha accused Sedita of protecting his friend Pigeon from Sacha’s inquiry; Sacha argues that Pigeon arranged for the illegal payments to Turchiarelli.

Or you may be better acquainted with Donald’s son, Louis Turchiarelli, who spent two years in federal prison for assaulting a guy while trying to collect a gambling debt.

These are the kind of people who roll out of the closet in the last week before a primary election, when desperate campaigns let loose everything they have left. On Saturday night, I got the police memos on crime reporting from the Tolbert campaign, printed to the right.

Good stuff, I thought. You ought to have dug this stuff up and rolled it out months ago. If they had, it might have been the other guys looking to unload dirt.

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