You might think the names of Kristy L. Mazurek or Monica P. Wallace would dominate the 143rd Assembly contest in Cheektowaga and Lancaster this primary season.
After all, they face each other for the Democratic nomination on Sept. 13.
But not this year. Not in this political climate.
G. Steven Pigeon seems to enter just about every discussion of the race, especially in light of Mazurek’s long association with the political operative. And Wallace is devoting much of her campaign to linking the indicted Pigeon to Mazurek, who in turn, defends herself as an independent Democrat waging her own effort.
The Pigeon presence intensified last week when papers in the County Clerk’s Office listed Mazurek as executing power of attorney for Pigeon in the sale of his waterfront condominium. The papers also indicate that Pigeon, indicted on nine counts of bribery and extortion by a special grand jury on June 30, authorized her role from San Diego.
“Power of attorney is a very powerful instrument you only give to someone you trust implicitly,” said Wallace, a former law clerk to U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara and a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law. “The fact that she would be his power of attorney is just further evidence of how closely connected they are. This is the person he turns to.”
Mazurek dismissed her role for Pigeon as simply executing a routine legal document.
“I am not Steve’s keeper,” she said. “Just because I’m associated with someone. ... does that make me a bad person?”
But Pigeon, and ethical politics in general, are key issues in the 143rd District. Sexual complaints from staffers have plagued the last two occupants of the seat – Democrat Dennis H. Gabryszak and Conservative Angela M. Wozniak. Gabryszak resigned from the seat in 2014 after several women – including Mazurek – accused him of harassment.
Wozniak declined to run again this year after acknowledging an affair with a staff member.
“It’s not only embarrassing and destructive of the community’s confidence in our democratic institutions, it’s expensive and distracting,” Wallace said. “We can’t have any more scandals in this district.”
Mazurek has emerged as a figure in the investigation that State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman launched in 2014. The probe revolves around a political action committee with close ties to Pigeon called the WNY Progressive Caucus. After complaints were filed about how the committee spent about $267,000 in money it collected, Schneiderman launched the investigation that led to the charges against Pigeon. Related charges lodged the same day against former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek resulted in his guilty pleas and resignation after more than two decades on the bench.
Mazurek, 45, served as treasurer of the committee, and The Buffalo News has reported that she is cooperating with investigators. She said as late as Friday that she would not discuss the matter because it is under investigation.
“That’s very concerning. Nothing prohibits her discussing her role,” Wallace said. “In fact, voters have a right to know. The reality is that she’s either incompetent or complicit.”
Wallace said her opponent has an obligation to explain her involvement in the case as a candidate for the Assembly.
“No, I don’t,” Mazurek replied, adding she is confident her long association with friends and neighbors in the district will assuage any concerns among voters.
Mazurek is also concerned about ethics, noting she considers herself a victim in the case against Gabryszak and consequently filed a suit against him. It was dismissed but is under appeal, and she said she remains part of suits filed by others claiming harassment from him.
As a result, she has introduced her own ethics reform package that would retroactively strip pension benefits from any official convicted of a felony involving breach of public trust, prevent politicians from using campaign money for criminal defense, and close the election law’s LLC loophole.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner has also weighed in on the Pigeon factor by pointing to Mazurek campaign literature in which she is pictured with J.P. and Ulla Bak. Their Bak USA firm recently announced it will double the size of its Buffalo headquarters devoted to tablet manufacturing.
But Zellner pointed to the original photo used in the campaign literature. It included Pigeon.
“Kristy Mazurek may be able to crop Steve Pigeon out of a photo, but he is always in the picture when it comes to Mazurek,” Zellner said. “Despite her misleading mailer, it is clear that a vote for Kristy Mazurek is a vote for Pigeon and everything that he represents.”
Mazurek offers an explanation. “Steve is not running for the seat,” she said. “I am.”
Mazurek, a former television reporter who now runs her own consulting firm, maintains deep roots in the Cheektowaga community that her father – Henry – once represented in the County Legislature. Her recent effort running Cheektowaga’s Polish Festival, she said, underscores her commitment.
She also pledged not to vote for any tax increases, especially after encountering so much frustration while campaigning door to door over tax levels and benefits offered by industrial development agencies.
“We have an aging population and we just can’t keep tapping into them any more,” she said.
Wallace, 47, lists her other priorities as investing in infrastructure, promoting small businesses, supporting workers and their families, and ensuring seniors have access to affordable housing and health care.
She is also running on the Working Families and Women’s Equality lines.