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Attorney general candidate faults rival's link to Pigeon

Democratic operative G. Steven Pigeon has been a "go to guy" for introductions to power brokers and money people for years in New York State.

But statewide candidate suggests the former Erie County Democratic chairman is glowing with political radioactivity.

Sean Coffey -- one of five Democratic candidates for attorney general -- faulted primary rival Kathleen M. Rice's "poor judgment" in associating with Pigeon on the campaign trail.

Coffey, a former federal prosecutor and Navy aviator, criticized Rice -- the Nassau County district attorney -- for using Pigeon to introduce her in Florida to his political patron, Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano. Rice sought out Pigeon to introduce her to Golisano as federal and state investigators are probing Pigeon's business and political activities, Coffey said.

"The troubling piece is that she made the determination that she would benefit from associating with someone like that," Coffey said. "It showed poor judgment to put herself in that position."

Pigeon has long been considered a conduit to Golisano and the millions of dollars Golisano has donated to various campaigns. Pigeon is influential in determining endorsements of the Independence Party. He served as one of the chief architects of the 2009 coup that temporarily dislodged Democratic control of the State Senate and is the $150,000 counsel to Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, D-Bronx.

After the Village Voice last week reported that Pigeon introduced Rice to Golisano in March in Florida, where Golisano now lives, Coffey is raising questions about Rice. He also questioned why she later attended a dinner in the Buffalo Chop House arranged by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, that Pigeon also attended.

"For short-term political gain, District Attorney Rice found it convenient to associate with Mr. Pigeon to get close to Mr. Golisano and the Independence Party, and to raise money," Coffey said. "Now we'll wait until July 15 to see if she got money from Tom Golisano."

Coffey was referring to the next date when campaign finance reports are submitted to the state Board of Elections.

A Rice spokesman said she has not taken money from the Florida billionaire. He noted that Coffey had contributed $5,500 to her district attorney campaign in 2009.

Pigeon and Espada reportedly are subjects of a probe by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan. Gov. David A. Paterson's counsel, Peter J. Kiernan, has referred to Bharara evidence that Kiernan compiled indicating a "pattern" of election law violations that Pigeon allegedly committed in Erie County.

The Kiernan investigation stemmed from charges by Mark A. Sacha, a former Erie County assistant district attorney, that two successive Erie County district attorneys looked the other way on Pigeon's alleged election law violations because of his political influence.

Coffey said he is not implying that Pigeon is guilty of anything, adding he has met Pigeon only once.

"He said hello, I said hello back and moved away," Coffey said. "I certainly made the judgment early on that Steve Pigeon is someone to be avoided."

Rice spokesman Eric Phillips acknowledged that Rice traveled to Florida in March to meet with Pigeon and Golisano, the founder of the New York Independence Party.

"Mr. Pigeon was not and is not involved in the Rice campaign, either formally or informally," Phillips said. "His attendance related solely to Mr. Golisano. The purpose of the meeting was to solicit the personal support of Mr. Golisano, a politically and civically active former resident of Western New York."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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