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Steve Pigeon remains a key figure in politics

It’s been almost 13 years since Steve Pigeon ruled the roost at Erie County Democratic Headquarters, but he remains one of his party’s central figures in this part of the world.

So it is worth noting that Pigeon has left his “of counsel” post at the Buffalo office of Rochester-based Underberg and Kessler after a 13-year stint. He and longtime associate Gary Parenti now plan to expand their PAPI Consulting lobbying firm into a full-time effort.

“I do so much consulting and lobbying now that it just made sense,” Pigeon said a few days ago, adding that he and the law firm reached a “mutual” decision on his departure.

A natural curiosity surrounds Pigeon’s latest move because his recent fundraising activities have caught the attention of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the FBI. The Buffalo News reported on several occasions that FBI agents and State Police investigators have interviewed several local people with connections to the WNY Progressive Caucus, a political committee that raised $267,000 in 2013 for opponents of candidates backed by Erie County Democratic Headquarters in that year’s primary.

The investigation stemmed from the unanimous vote of the state Board of Elections in 2014 to probe allegations of several irregularities posed by the Erie County Board of Elections. While sources indicated the FBI and State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation were grilling all kinds of folks about their contributions to the caucus several months ago, those reports have now quieted down.

Pigeon hired former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco in connection with the situation, but emphasizes nobody in law enforcement has ever asked him anything. He also insists his departure from Underberg and Kessler has nothing to do with the investigation that Schneiderman’s office has never acknowledged.

“It was just time to make the break,” Pigeon said.

It’s also worth noting that Underberg and Kessler has long performed legal work for billionaire Tom Golisano, Pigeon’s close personal and political friend.

According to documents filed with state lobbying authorities, Pigeon will team up with longtime associates Frank Sanzillo of New York City and Maurice Garner of Buffalo in his new lobbying activities. While he is already representing Scott Congel’s multimillion-dollar proposal to redevelop the old Seneca Mall in West Seneca, he has also picked up the Seneca Nation of Indians and its Albany interests.

A few other items gathered along the campaign trail:

• An early test of Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter’s uphill challenge to incumbent County Executive Mark Poloncarz is set for June 4 at Giancarlo’s Restaurant in Amherst. In order for Walter to score any success against Poloncarz and all his advantages, he will have to build a formidable campaign treasury. That remains a tall order.

Still, Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy is upbeat – just as leaders of underdog efforts are supposed to be.

“Obviously this first event is an important one,” he said. “I would say the early ticket sales are brisk. I feel good about this event.”

Poloncarz has more than $400,000 squirreled away in his account. Certainly adequate; not overwhelming.

Walter will have to tally something in that neighborhood to make the race interesting, and the June 4 fundraiser should provide an early indication of interest – or lack of interest – in his campaign.

• There should be no doubt about the continuing close relationship between Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner and his predecessor and mentor – Len Lenihan. The pair recently traveled down to the opening of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s national presidential campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, while campaign finance reports show the account Zellner maintains to support his chairmanship recently spent $1,000 with Lenihan’s Glendale Strategies consulting firm.

The pair remains one of the area’s most important tag teams.