Both candidates in the Democratic primary for the 143rd District Assembly nomination vow to restore ethics and integrity to that office after successive scandals ensnared the last two people elected to the seat.
Monica P. Wallace, a Lancaster lawyer and University at Buffalo Law School professor, has the backing of Democratic Party leaders and is a fresh face with no political history to speak of.
Though she has never before held elective office, Kristy L. Mazurek has a long history in local Democratic party politics. Recently, she came under scrutiny over her longtime association with G. Steven Pigeon, the political operative accused of bribing a judge.
Mazurek was treasurer of WNY Progressive Caucus, which raised $267,000 during the September 2013 primary to help Pigeon-supported candidates who opposed candidates backed by Democratic Party leaders.
Two of the targeted candidates, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and former Legislator Timothy Hogues, later complained of potential election law violations by the Pigeon-Mazurek alliance.
Mazurek, 45, insists she has been aboveboard in her political dealings and that she has been cooperative and honest with investigators.
“They have vetted my information. I did nothing wrong. I can’t speak for anybody else. I’m nobody’s keeper,” she said.
“None of us are angels. We all face troubling times. It’s how you move forward from them. And I maintain, just in my day-to-day activities within the community, people know that I have an honest commitment to making this a great place for us to live,” Mazurek added.
Wallace, who describes herself as a person of integrity and good judgment, said she was inspired to run after the last two elected officials to hold that office fell down on the job.
“I am running because I felt that there was a real need for better leadership in this community,” said Wallace.
Democrat Dennis H. Gabryszak resigned the Assembly seat in early 2014 after seven women who are former staffers accused him of sexual harassment. His successor, Republican Angela M. Wozniak, rode into office on a wave of reform but she declined to seek re-election after revelation of an extramarital affair with a staff member.
As happened in the last election cycle for the 143rd District, rival factions of the local Democratic party fielded opposing candidates. One of them was Mazurek’s brother, Mark, who won in the primary but lost to Wozniak in the general election.
Though Wallace, 48, is backed by Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner, the former law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara said she is not involved in the party infighting.
“I’m not part of either one of those factions,” said Wallace.
“As I said, I’m not very political. I came to Jeremy Zellner and I said I want to run for this seat because I don’t like the person who’s in that seat and I don’t think she represents my values. So I think people see me as somebody who has the best interests of the community and not part of one particular faction or the other,” she added.
Asked what her legislative priorities are, Wallace replied: “They are ethics reform, first and foremost, because that is really the history of this seat and activities in Albany of late.”
Like her opponent, Mazurek is campaigning on a platform of returning ethics to the seat.
“Ethics is always a problem, and I have been a big proponent of government reform. I don’t think elected officials, when they are found guilty of bad behavior, should be able to hold on to their pensions,” she said,
Mazurek, a former television news reporter, has deep roots in the district. She is the daughter of former County Legislator Henry Mazurek, and she has lots of local civic ties as a member of the Lancaster Democratic Committee, the Pulaski Association, the Pulaski Parade Committee and chairwoman of the Polish Festival. Mazurek also was a staffer for Gabryszak, whom she later sued for sexual harassment. A State Supreme Court judge dismissed the lawsuit.
When she jumped into the Assembly race late last spring, Zellner branded Mazurek’s candidacy as “nothing more than another sideshow orchestrated by Steve Pigeon.”
Ethnic politics has been a mainstay in the district. When County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz endorsed her rival’s candidacy, Mazurek issued a statement calling his endorsement of Wallace “irrevelevant” and accusing Poloncarz of slashing funds to Polish arts and cultural groups in his 2016 budget.
Wallace, who is married and the mother of two teenagers who attend Lancaster Central Schools, said she is undaunted by her newcomer status and lack of a Polish surname, viewed by some as an asset for candidates running in the 143rd. The Assembly district covers Cheektowaga, Sloan, Lancaster and Depew.
“I believe the voters will vote for the best candidate, regardless of their last name. And I believe that ethics is first and foremost in their minds, not ethnicity,” said Wallace.
“I have been doing a lot to overcome that lack of name recognition, and I’m confident I’m going to be successful,” she added.