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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Seriously, we had this story first too.

Committed to Joe

Here at Artvoice, we don’t get a lot of phone calls from the mayor’s office. We rarely even receive press releases: The Brown administration’s spokesman, Peter Cutler, sent us one last week—thanks for that—but it was the first dispatch we’d seen since a July afternoon in 2007, when Melanie Gregg, then of the Office of Strategic Planning, emailed us a note about mayoral aide Jessica Maglietto’s campaign for Common Council. (On her own time, of course, not the city’s.)

So I was pleasantly surprised when Peter Savage III, acting deputy corporation counsel and consigliere to Mayor Byron Brown, called the office of his own volition on Tuesday afternoon.

“The Buffalo News tells me you’re working on a story about Committee for Change,” Savage said, and instantly I felt my stomach twisting: Clearly, I was about to be scooped by that rat bastard, Phil Fairbanks.

The Committee for Change is a multi-candidate politcal committee of which Savage is treasurer; it was mentioned as an entity to watch in this column two weeks ago. Then and now, Savage said that its principle purpose is to support candidates for the Democratic Party’s county and state committees. On Tuesday, Savage also allowed that he had “not ruled out” the possibility that Committee for Change might support candidates for other offices, too.

On Wednesday, Buffalo News reporter Phil Fairbanks confirmed that some donors to Committee for Change understood that their money would be used to support North District Councilman Joe Golombek, who is challenging Assemblyman Sam Hoyt in the 144th District.

The latest campaign finance disclosure filings reveal that the committee has raised $30,770 in the last month, all from allies of Mayor Byron Brown and his chief political officer, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey. (Some names and numbers: from Brown’s own war chest, $5,000; Hodgson Russ attorney Adam “Do not print I’m aligned with the mayor” Perry, $1,000; developer Mark Croce, $1,000; Croce’s business partner, James Eagan, $1,000; Norstar Development, $1,000; etc.)

Brown also gave $6,000 in June and July to another new political committee called Democratic Action, which is the giving arm of Democratic Action for Western New York, an organization headed by political operative Steve Pigeon’s protege, Jack O’Donnell. (The other two donors to Democratic Action are Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, a Brown ally, and palooka Joe Mesi, whose State Senate campaign two years ago was coordinated by Pigeon.) Attorney Ed Betz, who says he’s a volunteer on Golombek’s camapign, has been paid $1,500 every two weeks by Democratic Action since the end of June. Betz says the money is for legal work on behalf of Democratic committee candidates, and indeed he handled hearings and petition challenges for five committee candidates in July.

Hoyt underwrites committee candidates, too, in his biannual battle with the Brown/Casey/Pigeon faction for control of the local Democratic Party. This year Hoyt’s camp is using a fund called Good Neighbor Democrats. It had $4,100 in the bank as of mid-July: $2,000 from Councilman David Rivera, $2,000 from attorney Marc Panepinto, and $100 from treasurer Brad Hamm. That seems about right for the sort of low-grade campaign that state and county committee races entail: a few handbills, some phone calls, maybe a couple afternoons in court. Democratic Action and Committee for Change have raised more than $38,000 so far. For committee races alone?

Hoyt has raised far more money than Golombek, and the Hoyt campaign pays a small army of canvassers to knock on doors and make phone calls: The numbers are available in Hoyt’s campaign finance disclosure reports. There’s a paid team of canvassers hitting the streets for Golombek as well. Who’s paying whom for what?

“Golombek doesn’t have the luxury of people on state payroll to run his campaign,” Betz said. “So we make do with volunteers.”

“And we don’t have the luxury of forcing City Hall employees to work on our campaign,” replied Jeremy Toth, a Hoyt campaigner who worked part-time in the assemblyman’s office until about a week ago. Toth alleges that the mayor’s office has “volunteered” city employees to work on Golombek’s behalf.

If, as many expect, Democratic Action and Committee for Change spend money on Golombek’s behalf, the Hoyt campaign is sure to accuse them of felony coordination of expenditures: Under state law, committees who make independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate cannot coordinate those expenditures with the candidate’s campaign. Toth accused Golombek of coordinating expenditures in his 2004 race against Hoyt, and accused Pigeon and his cohorts of coordinating expenditures with Barbra Kavanagh’s campaign against Hoyt in 2008.

Whatever Committee for Change does, Savage said, its workings will be “transparent and completely above board.”

Paladino, Lazio...

... And, in the far distance, Andrew Cuomo. Carl Paladino picked up the endorsements of three Republican county chairmen in the last week: Cayuga, Genesee, and Niagara. And, according to the latest Siena poll, he’s only one point behind the state party’s endorsed candidate for governor, Rick Lazio. But both Paladino and Lazio trail Democrat Andrew Cuomo by more than 30 percentage points in a two-way race, and by far more in a three-way race.

Mark Grisanti, Years Ahead of His Time

A couple weeks ago, the Buffalo News had a nice piece about State Senator Antoine Thompson doing what all state senators do: spending boatloads of taxpayer money on “informative” mailings to constituents that are basically self-promoting campaign literature. Reporter Jim Heaney figured that Thompson had spent about $500,000 so far this year on mailings. It turns out the attorney Mark Grisanti, who’s running against Thompson as a Republican, started banging that drum two years ago: Last week, Grisanti sent a letter to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, reiterating a request he’d made in July of 2008 that the state’s Public Integrity Commission investigate Thompson’s expenditures on mailings and staff.

In response to Grisanti’s criticism, Thompson told Channel 4 News, “I think we could slow it down, but our constituents want to know what we’re doing.”

Two days later, a new glossy mailer hit the mailboxes of prime voters in the 60th State Senate District, boasting of the funding Thompson had secured for his district. One of the beneficiaries listed was the “Chito Olivencia Community Center,” which doesn’t exist—it’s called the Pucho Olivencia Community Center, and it’s in the 58th State Senate district, represented by Bill Stachowski. Apparently $500,000 doesn’t cover a proofreader.

Coffey and Lasange

Sean Coffey, one of five Democrats hoping to succeed Andrew Cuomo as New York’s attorney general, swung through town last Thursday. Between making some endorsements and attending some fundraisers, Coffey stopped at Chef’s Restaurant for lunch hosted by BMHA resident commissioner Joe Mascia. Coffey offered the dozen or so attendees (including the actual Chito Olivencia) his biography, which includes some childhood years in Niagara Falls, and his resume, which includes a union card, a successful career in the US Navy, and an even more successful career as an attorney—first in private practice, then as an Assistant US Attorney, then back in private practice representing investors. (He helped to secure a $6 billion settlement for investors in Worldcom.) Coffey has been visiting Western New York often; he believes that he can only beat the other two front-runners, Eric Schneiderman and Kathleen Rice, by making his case outside New York City and its environs.

He ordered the lasagne.

-geoff kelly

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