Joel Giambra is out of office and out of the limelight, but one of his lasting legacies is political punching bag for local Democrats.
Former boxer Joe Mesi took his swings this week with a new TV ad linking the former county executive with his Republican opponent for State Senate, Michael Ranzenhofer.
"Mike Ranzenhofer and his buddy Joel Giambra," the Mesi ad claims, "led this county into the worst fiscal crisis in its history."
Ranzenhofer, an Erie County legislator, responded by pointing to his record of opposing several tax increases Giambra advocated during the budget crisis.
Ranzenhofer, who never was known as a strong Giambra ally, also asked why the reference to the former county executive was removed from a later but similar Mesi ad.
"We can't help but wonder why Mesi dropped the reference to Giambra," said Molly Fitzpatrick, a Ranzenhofer spokeswoman.
Fitzpatrick offered a few reasons why, including the suggestion that Mesi is the candidate closest to Giambra. She pointed to $3,600 in furniture donations to Mesi's campaign from Buffalo Office Interiors.
That company, owned by one of Giambra's chief fundraisers, gained notoriety when it was found to have overcharged Erie County for office furniture during Giambra's tenure as county executive.
In the end, Buffalo Office Interiors agreed to repay the county $225,000.
"Whatever the reason," Fitzpatrick said of the change in ads, "voters know that Mike Ranzenhofer never voted for a tax increase."
The Mesi campaign says the reference to Giambra and Ranzenhofer is valid and will most likely appear again in its political advertising.
"We are taking every opportunity to inform Western New York voters about Mike Ranzenhofer's 20 years of fiscal irresponsibility," Mesi campaign spokeswoman Emma Wolfe said. "Unfortunately, there's a lot there."
Wolfe is quick to note that Ranzenhofer was majority leader and later minority leader of the Erie County Legislature in the years leading up to the county's fiscal crisis.
"He was there for all the bad budgets and all the irresponsible fiscal decisions," she said. "Every time Mike Ranzenhofer had the opportunity to show fiscal responsibility, he failed."
To make its point, the Mesi campaign pointed to Ranzenhofer's voting record during that tumultuous time.
In 2005, in the midst of the crisis, Ranzenhofer voted against a measure that would have curtailed vacation pay for political appointees and increased oversight of the county's cars and cell phones.
Fitzpatrick said Ranzenhofer's "no" vote was based on his belief that the measure didn't go far enough. She said he later worked with current County Executive Chris Collins to bring about even deeper reforms in how cars and cell phones are used.
She also took issue with Mesi's claim that Ranzenhofer voted against a 2004 measure that filled a $10 million current-year budget gap by freezing spending on travel and supplies and keeping several county jobs vacant. The fact is, Ranzenhofer voted against an amendment that included the reforms but voted for the final bill with the amendment. "It's all part of their smoke screen," Fitzpatrick said.