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Buffalo's biggest 'bundlers' Presidential hopefuls Giuliani and Clinton lead the way locally in fundraising, thanks to help from boosters Giambra and Pigeon, respectively

Joel A. Giambra and G. Steven Pigeon may not rank at the top of any lists of Western New York's most popular politicians -- but one of the two may well rank among the next president's favorite Western New Yorkers.

That's because Giambra, the outgoing Republican Erie County executive, and Pigeon, whose controversial tenure as Erie County Democratic chairman ended several years ago, serve as major fundraisers for the two New Yorkers who are leading the race for the White House.

Giambra is one of three local "bundlers" promising to raise big bucks for Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who leads the Republican polls for the presidency. Lockport developer David Ulrich and Buffalo businessman Anthony Gioia are the other two.

Meanwhile, Pigeon has agreed to raise at least $100,000 for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner.

Not surprisingly, then, Giuliani and Clinton have posted commanding leads in the local fundraising sweepstakes. Giuliani has raised $430,471 locally through Sept. 30, while Clinton has amassed $371,760 from Western New York donors.

Giambra, Ulrich and Gioia all go back a long way with Giuliani and say they are happy to be pulling in money for him now.

"I think Mayor Giuliani represents mainstream America," Giambra said, "and that's why I think he has a very, very good chance to be president -- despite the unpopularity of some Republicans right now."

Giambra met Giuliani at a fundraiser for then-Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato in 1998, and now the two men sometimes play golf together.

Ulrich hosted that D'Amato fund-raiser.

"I met the mayor back in 1998, when I had a party at my house for Sen. D'Amato and he was the honored guest," Ulrich recalled of Giuliani. "I became very friendly with him, and he took me to the World Series that year and then to Opening Day the next year. It was a terrific thrill."

Ulrich expected to be with Giuliani for his 2000 Senate bid, which collapsed when the former mayor developed cancer and endured tough tabloid headlines over his marital problems. But when Giuliani re-entered the arena early this year, this time for the "big one," Ulrich and Gioia quickly went down to New York to offer their services.

"Whatever he decides [for me], I'm more than willing to do," Ulrich said.

Ditto for Gioia, the Buffalo businessman and former ambassador to Malta who smoked cigars on his patio with Giuliani last May, after a Buffalo fundraiser.

That event pulled in more than $400,000, making it the biggest political fundraiser ever in Western New York. Giambra, Ulrich and Gioia organized both that event and a smaller one for Giuliani in August.

"I continue to be amazed at the amount of support for the guy," Gioia said at the time, "and for the people who have already been tapped who are willing to be tapped again."

Other major Giuliani contributors include David M. Flaum of Rochester, who was also a "pioneer" for President Bush in 2004 -- meaning he raised at least $100,000. He contributed $2,300 to Giuliani this year and has signed on as a bundler for the campaign.

Another local $2,000 contributor was attorney Emilio Colaiacovo, while Western New Yorkers Karen A. Young, Henry M. Sloma, Richard E. Winters, attorney Anthony J. Colucci Jr., Anne Leary and Daniel Leary all gave $1,000 to Giuliani.

Clinton, meanwhile, has relied on Pigeon, her one local "Hillraiser," the term given to fundraisers who pledge to raise $100,000 by recruiting others into the financial fold.

Pigeon noted that while Giuliani has three local bundlers working primarily in the Buffalo area, his efforts for Clinton are split between Buffalo and other parts of the country.

Clinton's relationships locally account for the fact that she vastly out-raised all the other Democrats in the race, Pigeon added.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan, Mayor Byron W. Brown, Rep. Brian Higgins and others held a major fundraiser for Clinton at Kleinhans Music Hall, and many of the Buffalo area's big names gave money to the senator either at that event or at other times.

Her big local donors include M & T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers, longtime Democratic fundraiser Frank J. McGuire, Erie County Clerk Kathleen C. Hochul and local strip club owner Richard A. Snowden.

While Clinton generated $371,760 in Western New York, her closest local fundraising rival, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, raised less than half that amount.

Moreover, Edwards' fundraising -- driven primarily by local trial lawyers -- trailed off badly in the third quarter. While Edwards, a former trial lawyer himself, has raised $147,543 locally so far this year, only $22,909 came between July and September.

Edwards has two bundlers from the Buffalo area -- local attorneys John P. Feroleto and Francis M. Letro -- and also has received contributions from trial lawyers such as Richard Barnes of Cellino and Barnes.

Meanwhile, Clinton's leading Democratic challenger nationwide, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, continued to raise comparatively small sums in Western New York.

Obama pulled in $10,251 for the third quarter locally, and a grand total of $23,946 for the first nine months of the year.

Among those who gave Obama the maximum $2,300 donation for the primary campaign are local attorney Lawrence Vilardo, Lifetime Health Cos. executive Cynthia Ambres and Joseph DiNardo, a former Amherst attorney who was suspended from practice in 2000 after pleading guilty to filing a false federal tax return.

While Clinton had only one bundler from the Buffalo area, she had two others from elsewhere in upstate New York: John G. Kinney of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in Syracuse and James B. Flaws, chief financial officer of Corning Inc.

The Southern Tier company has longtime Republican ties -- former Rep. Amo Houghton, R-Corning, served as its chief executive -- yet Flaws has managed to turn Corning Inc. into Clinton country. Corning employees gave $90,900 to Clinton and nothing to any other candidate.

Flaws, a registered Democrat, said Clinton has intervened on Corning's behalf on an important trade issue involving China and helped the company in other ways as well. As a result, he said made many employees were willing to contribute and to attend a fundraiser he held with the senator over the summer.

"I think people have seen what she has done," Flaws said. "She has a seven-year track record . . . And we clearly don't think she'd forget New York State as president."

News staff reporter Connor Sheets contributed to this report.

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