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Errant text upsets county legislator Grant sent message in mistake by aide

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant does not hold back.

The Buffalo Democrat speaks her mind about County Executive Chris Collins, his assorted department heads and other Democrats, including Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams of Buffalo.

Grant's style was the subject of a text message that one of the Legislature's Democratic staff members sent out about her.

The staff member inadvertently sent the message to Grant herself.

"Betty Jean is a bitter, bitter woman. We need to get those responses into the Challenger and stir it up in The Buffalo News and we can finis "

That's how the first text ended.

Diana Cihak realized her mistake and texted this follow-up to Grant: "That was accidentally forwarded to you. I meant to respond to the person to say we should all try to work together. I apologize."

Grant, at a recent Finance and Management Committee meeting, had complained about the county executive's wish to hold federal stimulus money in reserve rather than spend it on work that can stimulate the local economy.

Grant had said she hoped the federal government would take back its money from Erie County and give it to Buffalo. She figured City Hall would spend the millions, given Buffalo's myriad issues.

Her willingness to let the federal government take back more than $40 million surprised a number of people in the room. When she was driving home, the first text message clicked into her cell phone.

Grant said the Cihak text revealed she was willing to help engineer Grant's defeat at the polls next year by placing articles about her in The Buffalo News and in the Challenger, another newspaper serving Buffalo.

Cihak wasn't commenting Friday because it was an internal personnel matter, she said. She's the aide who handles public relations for the Legislature's Democratic majority.

Grant hopes the Legislature chairwoman metes out some serious discipline, though when interviewed Friday, Grant wavered on whether Cihak should be fired.

"We have the right to have staff there that we can trust," Grant said. "I am very dismayed that we have no loyalty among certain staff on the Legislature."

The text message reveals, once again, that the Legislature's nine-member Democratic majority has its factions.

As chairwoman, Miller-Williams hires and fires the workers who serve the Democrats. She's linked to Mayor Byron W. Brown's Grassroots political organization. Cihak has links to Grassroots, too.

Grant does not. In fact, Grassroots has run candidates against her in her re-election contests in District 6.

Further, Grant did not support Miller-Williams when she sought the Legislature's top post this year.

It's unlikely that Cihak will have to look for another job. Miller-Williams said she opted to suspend the aide for three days.

"She was remorseful and said she had used poor judgment," Miller-Williams said of Cihak. "She's an excellent employee outside of this incident. I am trying to boost the morale down there and keep things moving forward and to let this be a lesson learned."

Grant was unimpressed Friday by a three-day suspension, especially since it hasn't started yet. She wonders what would have happened to Cihak had she done the same with one of the other Democrats who backed Miller-Williams for chairwoman.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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