Factions of Erie County’s divided Democratic Party appear headed for open warfare today following allegations that Board of Elections officials deliberately destroyed designating petitions for a local candidate deemed unfriendly to Democratic Headquarters – a potential criminal offense.
It all revolves around party officials loyal to Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner and an opposing group led by former Chairman G. Steven Pigeon. The Pigeon group now contends that Democratic Board of Elections officials under Commissioner Dennis E. Ward disposed of designating petitions for Michael K. Deely, a New York State United Teachers official who has been active in Democratic politics and was running for county committee.
Pigeon and political activist Kristy L. Mazurek, a longtime associate, say they will initiate legal action in State Supreme Court to reinstate the Deely petitions and will report their allegations to the Buffalo Police Department and District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III. “This is about an elections official destroying a document,” Pigeon said. “There is no doubt it violates the law in several areas besides election law, including abuse of power. This is exceptionally serious.”
Pigeon stopped short of directly accusing Ward of destroying the documents, but said he believes either the commissioner or his employees bear responsibility. He also said he will produce witnesses to the alleged destruction for the legal action he will initiate by the end of this week.
Ward, secretary of the party committee, said Tuesday he has no idea what Pigeon is referring to. He said he did not know that Deely was running for anything, and had never even seen anything connected with Deely or his candidacy.
“I’ve never seen a petition with Mike Deely’s name on it – ever,” he said. “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Ward acknowledged that “anything could happen” when asked if a board employee could have been involved, but added he does not believe that Pigeon and Mazurek “know what they’re talking about.”
Deely was unavailable to comment, but some note the irony of party officials’ alleged antipathy toward him following NYSUT’s strong financial support of endorsed candidates in the 2012 elections.
The accusations against Ward add a new dimension to an already simmering party dispute after he and Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr alleged earlier this year that Mazurek ran an illegal political committee during the 2013 election season. In an unusual bipartisan action, Ward and Mohr ruled that the WNY Progressive Caucus, which raised $267,000 for opponents of several candidates backed by Democratic Headquarters in last fall’s primary, violated election law by filing campaign finance reports marked by discrepancies between what was reported to the board and what was actually paid to local television stations for political ads.
In an even more unusual move, the state Board of Elections then unanimously voted – at the request of Ward and Mohr – to open an investigation into the committee, which was run by Mazurek and to which Pigeon contributed heavily.
Now Mazurek says investigations should come full circle following her need to “lawyer up” and her new demand for an investigation of Ward and his Democratic operation at the Board of Elections. “These allegations are very serious,” she said. “I will press this to the fullest extent of a criminal investigation and charges.”
Mazurek said she has complied fully with the ensuing Board of Elections investigation, which was slated to be conducted by the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation. She continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Pigeon was even more direct.
“They love making accusations, but they’re the ones breaking the law,” he said, adding that he always treated designating petitions as “legal documents” during this days as party chairman and turned into the Board of Elections signatures even for his party opponents.