Invitations to the exclusive political breakfast at the Park Country Club in Amherst last month advertised appearances by national and state Republican leaders, advising prospective donors to call "Joann at 688-9000" to make reservations.
U.S. Rep. Bill Paxon, Assembly Minority Leader Thomas M. Reynolds, State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, and Assemblyman Richard R. Anderson, R-Amherst, "personally invite you to join them at an important breakfast meeting to discuss the Amherst Town Board elections," the invitations said.
The problem is, 688-9000 is the number of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, where "Joann" happens to be Joann Maddigan, secretary to executive director James J. Allen.
Is the Amherst IDA, a public agency, using its phones and personnel for political fund-raising on behalf of local Republicans in next month's critical town election?
Not a chance, Allen maintained Tuesday. Ms. Maddigan, a town Conservative Party worker, agreed to help with the arrangements for the affair and "unknowingly made the mistake" of using her employer's phone number for RSVP calls, he said.
"I can't tell our people who they should support politically, but I can tell you that using the public number won't happen again," the IDA chief declared.
But some political leaders weren't so quick to accept Allen's explanation.
"It's pretty lame," remarked Amherst Council Member William L. Kindel, who wasn't invited, despite his being the Republican candidate for town supervisor next month. "These (political events) get organized from the top down, not from the bottom up."
Some people "already believe the IDA has given the store away" with tax breaks for hundreds of commercial and industrial clients over the years, Kindel said. "Now I don't happen to agree with them; I think there's an awful lot of merit to what the IDA has done for the community.
"Still, as unfounded as their reputation might be, this kind of back-door stuff only tends to reinforce it, and it's so damn unnecessary," Kindel said.
Although Kindel wasn't on hand for the Paxon breakfast, Allen was. "I guess I was asked because they know I know people who have money," he laughed.
The Amherst IDA for years has openly espoused local Republican philosophies of growth, development, jobs and tax breaks, said Daniel J. Ward, a Democrat who often clashed with the IDA while he was supervisor from 1990 to 1994.
In 1993, also an election year, Allen publicly declared that the re-election of Ward and any Democrat "who thinks like him" would halt Amherst's development-generated economy in its tracks. Allen was rebuked in some quarters for getting involved in town politics, but the GOP swept the races for supervisor and three Town Board seats that year.
Ward called the IDA's alleged role in the Park Country Club affair "pretty repulsive, no matter whose side you're on, because it perverts their mission. This is a public agency. Not all the businessmen in this town are Republicans. There are plenty who, like me, hold sincere, deep-felt feelings that we shouldn't be giving all these abatements away."
Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, a Democrat running for re-election against Kindel next month, called the use of the Amherst IDA phone number and the employee's time "inappropriate."