It's been another rough few days for Erie County Democratic leader Steve Pigeon.
The chairman, who fared none too well in races of personal interest on both primary night and election night, is carrying his streak of bad luck into December, too.
For starters, Pigeon's intense efforts to help his Grassroots political allies install Councilmember Barbra Kavanaugh as majority leader of the Common Council backfired when Grassroots leaders sought a too-heavy price in terms of staff jobs as part of the deal.
Whether the outcome proves a tribute to incumbent Rosemarie LoTempio's own political skills or an indictment of those of Pigeon and Grassroots is a question for debate. But the end result was another loss-column entry for Chairman Steve.
Then Pigeon absorbed a minor hit in the controversy over Surrogate Judge Joe Mattina's appointment of Melvyna Murray to the Juilliard Scholarship Oversight Committee, a new panel overseeing a $700,000 music scholarship fund. Mrs. Murray, it was later determined, had pleaded guilty to a felony telemarketing fraud charge. She is also one of Pigeon's volunteer workers at Democratic Headquarters, though he claims no involvement in Mattina's appointment.
On top of that, word has filtered into One News Plaza from several sources that the old coalition of anti-Pigeon forces (translated into anti-County Executive Gorski forces) are again secretly plotting the overthrow of the current chairman.
But Pigeon's most serious -- and most bizarre -- problems stemmed from his sudden support for zillionaire Tom Golisano as the Democratic candidate against Gov. Pataki next year. Golisano, you will recall, is the Rochester businessman who spent about $8 million of his own money in 1994 as the Independence Party candidate for governor.
With five serious Democrats lining up for a tough battle against Pataki next year, Pigeon's effort to introduce Golisano to Row A didn't result in thunderous applause at last weekend's gathering of party leaders in Queens. Not even polite applause. More like snarls and outright hostility, according to several party sources.
"There was less than any enthusiasm for the proposal, which bothered my good friend from the north country," said Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Dominic Baranello, referring to Pigeon.
Indeed, Pigeon's proposal to install a minor party figure at the top of the Democratic ticket had Dems from around the state boiling with rage at most, or scratching their heads at least. And to be sure, none of the five potential candidates show even the slightest indication of stepping aside in favor of Pigeon and his disciple of Ross Perot.
But Pigeon is offering some rationale for what he concedes is a most unusual move. All he has seen so far, he says, is a statewide ticket emerging entirely from the five boroughs of New York. It is ignorance of upstate's growing political clout (witness the 1994 election), it is ignorance of his own pleas, and it is a certified recipe for disaster, Pigeon says.
"Four people from New York City is not the way to go," he said. "We've got to have an upstater on the ticket, and right now I don't know any other way to do it. Where's this going to leave us?"
And he has a point. With New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone emerging as the front runner for the party endorsement, there is no line of what he calls viable upstaters clamoring for the lieutenant governor spot. And while Baranello, a party heavyweight, doesn't see much hope for Pigeon's Golisano proposal, he recognizes Pigeon's concern.
"If all the candidates are from the city, that's a concept I don't support," Baranello said.
It's ironic that Pigeon launched a campaign earlier this year to install State Sen. Anthony Nanula of Buffalo on the state ticket -- a move he no longer pushes in view of the apparent political dead end it offers Nanula. But his gamble to introduce Golisano and all his millions to the New York Democratic Party also appears to face a dead end, despite his efforts to get party leaders to listen.
Still, it's not an idea he has abandoned yet.
"You have to stop and think about it," he said.
Meanwhile, the recent string of bad luck will prove no threat to Pigeon's continued leadership of Erie County Democrats -- at least at this point. There is no indication that Mayor Masiello has abandoned him, while Gorski has reaffirmed his support.
The plotters will probably continue to meet and plan the revolution. But until either Masiello or Gorski -- especially Gorski -- says otherwise, Chairman Pigeon will continue to preside, no matter how long the string of bad luck.