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Conservative leaders in tiff over Grisanti nod

 As Conservative leaders from Erie and Niagara counties continued sniping at each other this weekend over Erie's decision to endorse Democrat Charles M. Swanick for the State Senate seat now held by Republican Mark J. Grisanti, the state's top Conservative stepped in Saturday to make it clear where he stands.

"Niagara County has no official standing if, in fact, the district is all in the confines of Erie County," state Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long said. "None of Niagara County brings what Erie County does. It's like one county declaring war on another when they have no authority."

Long said Niagara County Conservative Chairman Daniel Weiss, who criticized the Swanick endorsement in a story today in The Buffalo News, was "acting strictly as an agent" of Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, a Grisanti ally.

The internal Conservative tiff stems from the decision of Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo and his Executive Committee on Thursday to back Swanick for the seat now held by Grisanti. Lorigo said Grisanti's vote to legalize same sex marriage -- after he promised Conservatives he would not -- led to the decision to back the Democrat.

That fired Weiss on Friday. In an indication of a significant party fracture, he accused Lorigo of cutting a deal with political operative G. Steven Pigeon, a longtime Swanick ally and former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party.

"The sad fact is that Lorigo abandoned Conservative principles long ago in exchange for patronage jobs and legal clients," Weiss said. "He is an embarrassment to the party."

Weiss continued to make the connection to Pigeon, a former employee of the Democratic Senate whom he said involved Lorigo in a deal that could cost Republicans control of the Senate.

"Chuck Swanick is a political opportunist and a fiscal nightmare who ran Erie County into the ground," he said. "And his mentor Steve Pigeon is a cheap political hack that lacks any true conservative principles.

"I'm also appalled at the lack of understanding of political ramifications statewide for this move that could see a return to downstate liberal control of the Senate," Weiss continued. "This again proves Lorigo stands for nothing but his own personal gain."

But Lorigo shot back on Saturday by pointing out he has never been on a government payroll.

"It's frustrating because it's not true," he said.

Lorigo also pointed to Maziarz as the impetus behind Weiss' blast.

And Long, who has had his differences with Lorigo, seemed to line up squarely with his Erie County chairman.

"I have a problem when one of my counties does that," he said. "The Niagara County chiarman has the right to disagree with any decision of the Erie County Conservative Party, but he has no legal authority to interfere."

-- Robert J. McCarthy

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