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Harassing robocalls remain a mystery; Collins, Poloncarz trade denials

A hot topic along the campaign trail for Erie County executive the past few days has been this:

Who has been making rude and harassing phone calls, supposedly urging voters to support Democrat Mark C. Poloncarz?

The camp of incumbent Republican Chris Collins says it has to be Democrats.

"The Democrat dirty tricks just keep coming," said a Collins campaign spokesman late Friday.

The Poloncarz camp says it's not them. "These calls are not emanating from us," Poloncarz said Friday.

In all this muddle, one man -- a Canisius College professor and Erie County legislator -- said he was on the receiving end of a campaign call this week from the same phone number that apparently was used to make harassing political phone calls related to the race for county executive.

While some have complained about the rudeness of the calls, Kevin R. Hardwick said the caller who reached him at home on Wednesday was not irritating or rude.

"I'm not saying some people didn't get crazy calls, rude calls or robocalls. I'm saying, these people were calling for Mark Poloncarz," Hardwick, a City of Tonawanda resident, told The Buffalo News. "This was a straight -- a 'good' -- campaign call that I received."

It happened this way:

Hardwick, a political scientist at Canisius and sitting Republican legislator who is running for re-election in the Legislature's 4th District, said he was at home on Wednesday when the phone rang and his caller ID showed the number 250-7491.

Hardwick said he answered and spoke to the woman on the other end, who presented herself as a campaign worker making a call advocating for Poloncarz, the current county comptroller who is the Democratic challenger for the county's top office.

Hardwick said the call seemed routine and he didn't think twice about it until seeing news reports late Thursday about the supposed harassing calls and robocalls coming from that same number.

He checked his caller ID again -- and then told The Buffalo News about the incident.

Hardwick said after piecing together the incidents, he doesn't think it's fair of Poloncarz's campaign to state absolutely that the calls are not coming from its campaign workers -- or that Collins might be somehow involved.

"To say that this is a Collins call is foolish. They are using it for straight advocacy calls. I got one," the legislator said. "I got a 'good' call.

"That's not to say there's not a campaign worker out there who's overzealous or rude. They show up in every campaign. But to accuse Chris Collins [of being involved] is detracting from the issues that really matter."

Poloncarz said Friday that the phone call received by the Hardwick household -- as well as earlier calls in which rude comments were made to local voters, or there was just silence on the line -- are not coming from his campaign. Some of the calls were made late at night; in some cases they were made multiple times a day.

"We're not calling Republican members of the Legislature," Poloncarz said, jocularly.

But Poloncarz hastened to add, on a serious note, that his campaign is investigating the source of the calls -- which seem to originate from a Williamsville exchange or a cell number -- and thinks that they may be coming from out of town and are being "routed" through a local exchange.

"The phone number they are using is going through a routing number, it appears," Poloncarz said. "It has nothing to do with us."

A call by The Buffalo News to the number was answered by a recorded message, in a woman's voice, saying this: "If you received a call from this number, you were contacted regarding a political opinion poll."

Meantime, the Collins campaign had this to say:

"Now they say their own harassing phone calls by special interests are phony and blame someone else," said Stefan Mychajliw, a spokesman for Collins For Our Future.

Poloncarz said that his campaign staff has checked into the matter, and he feels confident the calls are not coming "from someone associated with my campaign."

He said the timing of the mysterious calls does not match the schedule that his campaign callers would use. "It's not us," he said.