By Concerned Citizen
Most rumors are not worth the time it takes to repeat them. But some are so arresting, so delightful, that they lodge in the mind for days, teasing and taunting. Here are a few we’ve been living with in recent weeks:
Most people believed that when Antoine Thompson took over management of the Buffalo Employment Training Center last December, he was finished with elective office. It had been two years since Thompson lost his State Senate seat to Mark Grisanti, despite being a Democratic incumbent in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, and the humiliation of that defeat clung to him. He was poison as a candidate.
It was also widely believed that the BETC job was a bribe offered by his most-of-the-time political ally, Mayor Byron Brown, in exchange for Thompson putting an end to his proposed primary challenge to State Senator Tim Kennedy, another Brown ally. Despite the taint of the loss to Grisanti, Thompson stood a fair chance against Kennedy, because Kennedy’s district now includes great swaths of the East Side, where Thompson’s base resides. Betty Jean Grant went on to show how vulnerable Kennedy truly is by stepping in after Thompson bowed out and nearly beating the incumbent, despite having no money and little in the way of a campaign at all.
Now we hear of a grand bargain in the works that might return Thompson to elected office. We’ve heard that next year Brown’s people will stay out of the way if Grant chooses to challenge Kennedy again. (Why would they do that? Maybe it’s realpolitik: Kennedy was wounded in 2012 and damaged his reputation with unions and other party factions this fall by meddling in primary races and, worse, backing losing candidates. Perhaps Brown sees no percentage in betting on a limping horse.) In exchange, Grant will help Thompson take her seat on the Erie County Legislature.
Can it be true? That would represent a big pay cut for Thompson, who makes nearly $80,000 at BETC. But it would be a big favor to the mayor, who would have two solid votes in the Legislature’s Democratic caucus. (The other is Barbara Miller-Williams.) And the mayor controls Thompson’s job at BETC—there’s no guarantee he’ll keep it. In any case, there’s no question that Thompson likes to be an office-holder, and that he’d like to get back on the list of potential mayoral candidates in 2017, should Brown decline to run again. He’s ready for a comeback.
How did Kennedy anger local labor leaders this election cycle? Well, here’s the story going around: Kennedy dropped at least $80,000 into a political action committee called WNY Progressive Caucus, an instrument in the war between two Democratic political factions. That PAC also received $25,000 from the bricklayers union, and word is that Kennedy and his friend Steve Pigeon helped arrange that donation. The bricklayers, apparently, were told that the candidates supported by Pigeon’s PAC would grease a redevelopment deal for the former Seneca Mall, meaning work for their members. (The project, which is currently being studied by the town board, also stands to benefit Ralph Lorigo, the chairman of the Erie County Conservative Party, and Pigeon’s law firm, Underberg & Kessler.) Why the bricklayers believed that hype is anyone’s guess, but Kennedy is tight with Pigeon and Lorigo.
What does it mean? Many local labor leaders, who try to coordinate political engagement, are infuriated that the bricklayers went freelance with WNY Progressive Caucus. And other bricklayers locals are angry that the Western New York chapter has associated the union with a PAC accused of violating election laws. Kennedy has enjoyed fulsome support from labor in past elections; he will have to work harder for their support next year.
A friend in Albany who should know has been saying for a couple months that Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy will not be Andrew Cuomo’s running mate next year. In early October, Duffy interviewed for a job as head of the Rochester Business Alliance, suggesting that he was indeed leaving—and creating a temporary ethics headache for his current boss, as Duffy now will have to abstain from any policy work related to economic development there.
Duffy’s replacement “is likely to be from Western New York,” the friend told me. (Given that she’s from Queens, I understood her to mean from anywhere west of Albany.) Some of the names that have surfaced are Kathy Hochul and Letitia Eve, because the governor believes a woman would be good for his resume should he decide to run for president, and Mayor Byron Brown, because Brown’s name surfaces whenever a high-profile vacancy arises. (Remember when he was supposedly on a list of candidates to succeed Hilary Clinton when she left the Senate to become secretary of state?) As a member of the political action committee NY Jobs Now, Brown worked on behalf of Cuomo’s referendum to legalize casino gambling in the state, so he’s clearly trying to curry favor with the governor.
What are the odds? On Brown? Slim to none. Even if you credit the mayor for all the publicly subsidized development in town, he’s got baggage no presidential hopeful wants. (NRP lawsuit? One Sunset?) And the politics are so fractious that tapping Brown might do Cuomo as much harm as good here.
Concerned Citizen is a longtime observer of the WNY political scene.