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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Team Cooney vs. Team O'Donnell

On Sunday, attorney Sean Cooney officially launched his campaign for the 58th District State Senate seat currently held by Bill Stachowski with a press conference in front of the Donovan building downtown. But political operative and Steve Pigeon loyalist Jack O’Donnell made a pre-emptive effort to stop Cooney’s announcement. Some days earlier, O’Donnell and two men from the State Senate Democratic campaign committee—one of them, Josh Cherwin, is the committee’s executive director—strolled in the door, without knocking, at Cooney’s unmarked campaign office on Franklin Street. It was about 10 o’clock at night, and Cooney’s campaign volunteers were just finishing a meeting. (O’Donnell and company said they happened to be driving by and saw the lights on.) Cherwin and O’Donnell asked Cooney why he was running a primary against a fellow Democrat incumbent. He couldn’t win, they said. Cooney told Cherwin that he should ask the same question of his friend O’Donnell, whose boss Pigeon is supporting Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy against Stachowski. O’Donnell denied that Pigeon was supporting Kennedy.

Steve Pigeon, Pedro Espada: It's only a matter of time.

What, Cherwin asked Cooney, would it take to convince him to leave the race?

According to Cooney, his campaign volunteers—mostly young people—were both stunned and galvanized by the transactional nature of the question. One of Cooney’s campaign volunteers mimed walking with his hands cuffed behind his back, and told O’Donnell that Pigeon and his boss, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, would be doing the perp walk soon, refering to a tax fraud and money laundering investigation tied to Espada and Pigeon. Cherwin left Cooney his card and told Cooney to call if he changed his mind.

O’Donnell is currently maneuvering—or being maneuvered—to become both an Erie County Water Authority commissioner and the next chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, a daily double that his boss Pigeon tried but failed to hit. Rumor has it that O’Donnell’s nomination as a water authority commissioner is being negotiated. The majority of the Democratic caucus want Frank Swiatek to continue in the job, and it’s the Democrats’ privilege to nominate a candidate for the position. The six Democrats loyal to former chair Lynn Marinelli won’t nominate O’Donnell or John Elmore, the candidate that the current chair, Barbara Miller-Williams, favors. But a Republican could break precedent and put O’Donnell’s name in nomination, and O’Donnell could then be confirmed by the legislature’s Republican minority and their three Democratic allies: Miller-Williams, Tim Kennedy, and Christina Bove. The payback for this transaction is rumored to be this: Chris Collins would make the Republican legislator who nominated O’Donnell—possibly Ray Walter—a deputy county executive. Pigeon would repay Collins by securing campaign cash and the Independence Party line for Jim Domagalski, who just resigned as chair of the Erie County Republican Party to run for the State Senate seat that Dale Volker just announced he will relinquish. (He’s replaced by Nick Langworthy, who ran Representatitve Chris Lee’s Congressional campaign.) Domagalski has access to plenty of cash already, so the Republicans may be hoping to leverage more out of O’Donnell’s nomination.

Golombek's No Joke

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt will have his hands full this summer, judging from the show of support received by North District Councilman Joe Golombek when he officially announced his challenge to Hoyt at the American Legion post on Amherst Street. The bar and reception hall were both chock full of supporters—more than 300, according to the folks taking names and addresses at the door—for whom Golombek sounded the anti-incumbent themes of his campaign: Albany is hopelessly dysfunctional, and something must change; Hoyt’s accomplishments are too few to justify his 18 years in office; Hoyt supports Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver to the detriment of Western New York; etc. At the end of his speech, Golombek lifted a paper bag from the head of a cutout figure of Hoyt (remember the Unknown Comic?), holding a sign that read, “28 days late,” referring to the current budget deadlock. There was much laughter.

“That’s as tough as we’re going to get,” Golombek said afterward, referring to the bruising primary Hoyt endured two years ago, when Tom Golisano’s political director Steve Pigeon spent about $400,000 on behalf of Barbra Kavanaugh’s campaign to unseat Hoyt and spread the story of Hoyt’s affairs with two young women in Albany. Golombek said he hopes to raise between $100,000 and $150,000 for his campaign—a modest goal—but he’s also made it clear that he hopes to benefit from independent expenditures like those made by Golisano’s Responsible New York in 2008.

Antoine's Oversized Checks

At Golombek’s announcement, a representative of the Black Rock Riverside Little League baseball organization reiterated a claim that several groups have made recently: Grant money promised to them by State Senator Antoine Thompson has failed to materialize. When these accusations first surfaced in February, Thompson’s chief of staff, Mark Boyd, explained that 2009 disbursements had been delayed by last summer’s leadership coup in the Senate and the state budget crisis, and that 2009 checks should begin to arrive in May. But the Black Rock Riverside Little League claims that it still hasn’t received money promised in the 2008 funding cycle. Further, they say that all efforts to discuss the issue with Thompson’s office have been ignored.

How Jordan Levy Does Business

Last Thursday, the Common Council’s Community Development Committee invited Dr. Emma Lucas-Darby of Carlow College in Pittsburgh to discuss the community benefits agreement, or CBA, which she helped to negotiate with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the City of Pittsburgh, the Sports and Exhibition Authority, and Allegany County when the Penguins sought to construct a new hockey arena in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. About a dozen people attended the hearing, which was arranged by the Coalition for Economic Justice, which is pushing for a CBA in relation to the Canalside development planned for the foot of Main Street, insuring that the publicly subsidized project produce living wage jobs, LEED Silver certified buildings, and opportunities for locally owned small businesses.

Absent from Thursday’s hearing was any representative from the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, a local subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation overseeing the project. Buffalo’s Common Council recently passed a resolution asking that ECHDC negotiate some sort of CBA with community groups—i.e., the Coalition for Economic Justice—or the Council would withhold support for the project. Specifically, the Council would block the transfer of city-owned land in the project area that ECHDC badly wants to control.

A week earlier, ECHDC chairman Jordan Levy had appeared before the Common Council’s Waterfront Developemnt Committee to explain his opposition to a CBA: To demand that all businesses in the project area that benefit from public subsidies pay a living wage would doom those businesses and the project, he said. Afterward, outside Council chambers, Levy also explained why ECHDC had cut off all talks with the Coalition for Economic Justice. ECHDC had met twice with CEJ, he said, but then the Common Council passed its resolution. Levy resented the fact that political pressure had been brought to bear on his agency. He thought it was dishonest. “That’s not the way I like to do business,” he said.

One assumes, then, that ECHDC will not apply political pressure to the Common Council to drop its demand for a CBA on this project, which relies on $35 million in direct subsidies. That’s not how Jordan Levy does business.

Closed to the Public

Buffalo’s Common Council is in the midst of two weeks of hearings and workshops on the mayor’s proposed budget for 2010-2011, and Tuesday evening was supposed to be the obligatory public hearing, in which a handful of citizens make known their desires and concerns to elected officials and department heads. The public hearing was canceled, however, because none of the public showed up. (Neither, for that matter, did anyone from the Brown administration.) Turns out all the doors to the building were locked, preventing anyone who might have been interested from attending. Assuming anyone was interested. The same thing happened in 2008.

-geoff kelly

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