Colleagues say they weren’t surprised to hear accusations against Gabryszak - The Buffalo News

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Colleagues say they weren’t surprised to hear accusations against Gabryszak

Did Dennis Gabryszak really say those things?

“He has always been a complex individual,” Andrew Kulyk says.

Kulyk figures he has known Gabryszak over the major swath of his political career. Together they served on the Cheektowaga Town Council in the 1980s. Gabryszak went on to serve as town supervisor for 14 years and won a seat in the Assembly in 2006.

To Kulyk, Gabryszak has always been a mix of two very different images: Devoted father. And frat boy.

“If these allegations have any merit whatsoever,” Kulyk continued, “then Dennis needs to do the right thing and resign, find strength and solace within his family, and move on to the next chapter of his life.”

At least a half dozen people steeped in Cheektowaga politics said they were not surprised to read of Gabryszak’s behavior toward women working for him in Albany, as detailed in legal papers. But none of those people would say so publicly, because they didn’t witness the behavior or didn’t want to pile onto the Democratic assemblyman when his political career may be over.

Meanwhile, numerous political figures suggest he resign.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Assembly colleagues Michael P. Kearns and Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

All say Gabryszak should leave office if the allegations are true.

In legal papers, four women in their 20s accuse Gabryszak, 62, of joking about his penis, their attire, their looks. He would suggest they spend the night with him. He would hint or joke that he patronized prostitutes. He reportedly sent one of the aides a video of him receiving, or pretending to receive, oral sex. To them, he filled the workplace with bad come-ons and crude flirtations.

Rumors abound that more women will come forward. If they do, problems for the rank-and-file assemblyman are certain to grow.

Early on Christmas Eve, just hours after The Buffalo News revealed that a fourth woman – current aide Caitrin Kennedy – had come forward with a legal complaint against him, Gabryszak posted on his Facebook page an endearing holiday-season photo of his special-needs son. The assemblyman often took Brian to public events, consistent with him being the devoted father Kulyk described.

“I would say, geez, he’s such a nice guy. He’s always with his son,” said Thomas J. Mazur, a Cheektowaga Democrat who will soon end his second stint on the Erie County Legislature. Mazur speaks well of his encounters with Supervisor and then Assemblyman Gabryszak.

But when the allegations broke, Mazur said he learned from someone who had worked in Gabryszak’s Town Hall that the women’s allegations were believable.

So far, Gabryszak’s accusers have filed notices that they intend to file a claim, not claims themselves. So the legal grind of discovery, depositions and court motions has yet to begin.

Meanwhile, Silver has asked the Assembly’s Ethics Committee to investigate. The committee’s probe is expected to gain steam early in the new year.

Kristy Mazurek started as Gabryszak’s communications director in 2009.

“I am certain that I will be brought into this investigation,” she said Friday.

In 2009, Mazurek publicly said she loved working for Gabryszak – “because he is out there every day fighting for this area.” But she later confided to other women in government that she left his staff upset by his treatment of her and other women aides.

You can count her among those not surprised by the allegations.

“We did not part on good terms, let’s just say that,” she told The Buffalo News.

Mazurek expects that, if she testifies, she will help back up the women’s reports. But she was guarded in what she said during a brief interview. Contrary to what some people are saying, Mazurek said she was not a catalyst in urging Annalise Freling, Jamie Campbell and Kimberly Snickles to draft a notice of claim against Gabryszak. But she admitted being in brief contact with them before their document became public.

“They were upset and fed up, and didn’t want anyone else to have to deal with it,” she said of the three.

Mazurek is more than another former aide to Gabryszak. She is the politically involved daughter of a former Erie County legislator serving Cheektowaga. And she inhabits the camp of the county Democratic Party’s rebel leader, G. Steven Pigeon. So do some of the other people supporting the women complaining about Gabryszak.

For example:

• The lawyer handling the Freling-Campbell-Snickles notice of claim, former political candidate Johnny Destino of Niagara Falls, was an associate in the office of John P. Bartolomei, one of Pigeon’s go-to lawyers.

• Diana Cihak, who emerged as a spokeswoman for Caitrin Kennedy, landed a County Legislature job in 2010 after Pigeon helped engineer a ruling coalition hostile to Democratic Party headquarters.

• Another lawyer who helped with Kennedy’s notice, but did not end up as the attorney of record, held an appointed post at the Erie County Water Authority when Pigeon had inroads there.

• Mazurek worked with Pigeon to push alternative Democrats to run in this year’s elections. (The Erie County Board of Elections decided to investigate their political action committee, and WGRZ-TV put Mazurek on hiatus as cohost of the political-debate show “2 Sides” until the elections were over.)

As for Pigeon, he said some of the women called him with their complaints. But as a friend of Gabryszak’s, he didn’t feel comfortable going further with them. So he referred them to Bartolomei.

The women’s notice listed a slew of crude comments: Gabryszak said Snickles was going to “sell her panties” at her upcoming garage sale.

Seeing that Campbell had received notice of a UPS delivery, Gabryszak said, “Jamie just admit it. You know you bought sex toys.”

When Freling couldn’t find her car keys during a fundraiser, she agreed to go to Gabryszak’s apartment. There, the car keys “miraculously appeared in the assemblyman’s possession,” the notice said.

Gabryszak’s behavior, as detailed in the legal notices, appears so over-the-top that he has his own front-burner Albany scandal – a fast-arriving replacement to that of Vito Lopez. The once-powerful Brooklyn Democrat resigned this year amid similar allegations of boorish behavior toward women.

“We just went through this with another colleague, the same issues,” said Peoples-Stokes, an Assembly Democrat from Buffalo, when asked about Gabryszak’s troubles. “So how in the world can someone else be engaged in something like that?

“I don’t know if this is true or not,” she said of the allegations. “But if it is true, I just don’t understand the mind-set.”

Gabryszak has not signaled whether he will resign. He has made no public statements about the matter. His lawyer, Terrence M. Connors of Buffalo, is telling him to keep quiet.

What will change Albany’s old boy’s culture?

Perhaps more women?

“Frankly, we need more women in politics,” said Kathy Konst, a former county lawmaker and department head for former Erie County Executive Chris Collins. She says women in elective office, by and large, don’t use the power of their office for ego gratification.

She also finds women officeholders more responsible. Women were instrumental in ending the federal government shutdown. Behind the scenes, women in the Assembly were a voice of reason in chiding Assembly Speaker Silver for initially helping provide cover for Lopez. Further, Konst asks, has anyone ever heard of a female politician texting out a revealing selfie?

“We think differently. We act differently,” said Konst, now executive director of the American Hellenic Council of California.

“It used to be it was the good old boy’s place, and women would be more timid and let them play that macho, sexist game where they might be harassing women.

“Women now are not putting up with it. And that might be where Gabryszak fell. Women were saying, ‘we don’t have to take this from you.’

“By and large when women are doing the people’s business,” she said, “it’s not about what intern they can hit on.’’

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