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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Say hello to your new State Senator.

Artvoice concedes senate seat to Grisanti

By the time you read this, the ballot-counting in the 60th District State Senate race may have been completed, but, as we’ve been saying since the day after election day, the result is a done deal. At press time, incumbent Antoine Thompson had not yet conceded the race to his challenger, Mark Grisanti. So we’re conceding for him.

As our deadline neared, Grisanti was ahead 595 votes with 600 absentee ballots left to count—and those ballots were largely from Grand Island and Tonawanda, where Grisanti beat Thompson handily on election day.

Thompson’s re-election prospects, which ought to have been solid in a state where most legislators hold on to their jobs for life, withered under a ceaseless barrage of bad press this year. When did it all begin to go bad for Thompson, who’d followed in the footsteps of Mayor Byron Brown, first as Masten District councilman and then as 60th District state senator?

We think it began with a March 2 article by Jim Heaney of the Buffalo News, headlined “Thompson was in Jamaica during scheduled Senate session.” Everyone knows the story: Thompson and his chief of staff, Mark Boyd, ran down to Jamaica for about a week on what they eventually claimed was some sort of trade mission. (The jobs that were to result from improved bilateral relations between Buffalo and Jamaica have not yet materialized. But these things take time.) In doing so, Thompson skipped a scheduled session of the State Senate, which was eventually canceled anyway. As ever, the real embarrassment was in the coverup: At first Boyd and Thompson tried to conceal where they’d gone, ordering staff at home not to disclose their location. When finally reached by the News, Boyd would only say that he and Thompson were “out of town.”

But the intrepid Boyd had laid his own trap, declaring on his Facebook page, for all the world to see, that he was in Jamaica.

When asked why he and Thompson had tried to conceal their whereabouts, Boyd told Heaney, “It’s not about being secretive. Very rarely have you guys ever reported anything we’ve done positive in a positive light.”

Hard to do, Mr. Boyd, given the kind of light you shine on yourselves.

Raising money on Thompson's loss

We were pretty sure that absentee ballots wouldn’t save Thompson, and we were not alone—lots of Democrats must have read the writing on the wall. So why didn’t Thompson concede the race earlier? Why this talk of complete recounts and legal action that could cost lots of money and hold up reorganization of the State Senate for months?

Fundraising. We’ve been told by folks close to Thompson that at some point last week he wanted to concede the race but was told not to, because the state Democratic Party is using the three close races in the State Senate to replenish its war chest. To wit, this letter from Thompson, sent out last week:

The ongoing recount of ballots is an expensive effort. Knowing how hard the Senator has fought for all of us, and the courage and energy it has taken, I hope we can help him with this effort and leave him in the best position possible heading into the coming months. Any amount you can contribute would be appreciated!

Request for A Critical Contribution

There is an aggressive recount underway for my election to the State Senate. Recounts require the mobilization of staff, volunteers, and lawyers to ensure that every vote is counted. This is a very close race with thousands of absentee and affidavit ballots to be counted. Your contribution will make a huge difference. Please contribute today online at or Supporters of Antoine Thompson, P.O. Box 714, Buffalo, NY 14201.


Antoine M. Thompson

Senator, 60th District

The lawyer who probably has spent the most time at the Erie County Board of Elections on Thompson’s behalf is one of his staffers, Lisa Yaeger. No fundraising is needed to pay her—the state is taking care of that. Most likely, whatever money Thompson raised through this and other appeals would be kicked back, at least in part, to his party’s state committee to help pay for an expensive election cycle.

PUSH vs. National Fuel

Last week, New York’s Public Service Commission voted to renew National Fuel’s Conservation Incentive Program at $10 million a year. The CIP, funded by a surcharge on customers’ bills, is meant to encourage energy conservation by offering rebates to customers who purchase energy-efficient appliances and heating systems and providing weatherization assistance to low-income home owners.

PUSH Buffalo has engaged a year-long battle with National Fuel Gas, trying to convince the company that the CIP should emphasize weatherization over rebates, dues to the high number of low-income homeowners in the region whose houses are like sieves for heat. PUSH has been lobbying the Public Service Commission, too, asking that the CIP not be extended until National Fuel agreed to negotiate with and make some concessions to community groups. Among the concessions PUSH asked for, in addition to more money for weatherization and the green jobs training weatherization requires, is that National Fuel ante up some of its own money for the CIP. Right now, National Fuel’s customers pay for the entire program, and 25 percent of that money is used for marketing purposes—essentially underwriting a PR campaign for the company.

“Customer funds should not be used to plaster major media outlets with the National Fuel logo,” said Aaron Bartley, PUSH’s executive director, in a statement. “There are far more efficient and direct ways of letting customers know about conservation programs.”

In renewing the CIP last week, the Public Service Commission did direct National Fuel to allot an extra $300,000 to low-income housing weatherization programs, which amounts to a proportional. (PUSH dismissed that increase as “lip service.”) The commission also instructed National Fuel to be more transparent in reporting CIP expenditures, including reporting expenditures by ZIP code, which will help to determine who is benefitting most from the program. And the commission ordered National Fuel to coordinate its CIP with other statewide weatherization efforts.

Still, National Fuel’s CIP has escaped the PUSH campaign relatively whole—so far. PUSH is considering a formal challenge to the Public Service Commission’s actions.


This week, a formerly high-ranking member of the Albany-based NXIVM, which ostensibly trades in personal fulfillment training but has all the hallmarks of a cult, filed suit against the group and its founder, a truly strange agent named Keith Raniere. Susan Dones, who is herself being sued by NXIVM in bankruptcy court, cliams in the suit that Raniere uses NXIVM to seduce women and diverts funds to support a gambling habit.

So why should we in Buffalo be interested in a snake-oil salesman in Albany? Watch the world grow smaller: Two of Raniere’s bigger rubes—um, clients—are the Bronfman sisters, Clare and Sara, heiresses to the Seagrams liquor fortune. Last year the Bronfmans invited a brace of local politicos to attend an appearance by the Dalai Lama in Albany, which they’d paid for through a foundation they’d started with Raniere’s guidance. Among those in attendance were internet pamphleteer Joe Illuzzi, Niagara Falls developer Roger Trevino, wealthy political player Hormoz Mansouri, and political operative Steve Pigeon’s Niagara Falls sidekick Gary Parenti. (Niagara Falls Reporter editor Mike Hudson was there, too.)

Pigeon is the connection between these Western New Yorkers and the Bronfmans, and, by extension NXIVM and Raniere. Pigeon introduced the Bronfmans to developer Frank Parlato, whom they enlisted to help them with a real estate development deal in Los Angeles that Raniere had encouraged the sisters to finance. The deal was a disaster and resulted in lawsuits.

Protests of the week

A cadre of Buffalo activists have declared a week of action around the Thanksgiving holiday. On Wednesday afternoon, at 2pm, they’ll picket in front of Burgard High, at 400 Kensington Avenue, to protests the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps’ student recruitment efforts. On Thursday at noon, they’ll gather in Columbus Park at Niagara and Porter to protest US military adventures abroad. And on Black Friday, relentlessly promoted as the biggest shopping day of the year, they’ll be at the Boulevard Mall on Niagara Falls Boulevard and Maple to encourage would-be shopper to go home and buy nothing.

—geoff kelly

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