Nobody in Erie County has immersed himself in politics more deeply over the last two decades than G. Steven Pigeon.
Chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, key adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, confidant of billionaires, lobbyist, fundraiser, ultimate insider – that’s Steve Pigeon.
Pigeon has worked every angle in politics. He eats it, sleeps it, breathes it. Steve Pigeon equals politics.
And if there is a common metaphor, according to those who know him best, it’s that he is a cat with more than nine lives.
But as investigators from the FBI, State Police and the state Attorney General’s Office swept through his waterfront condo Thursday, even his friends wondered if he may have exhausted all those cat lives this time.
That’s because the raids on his home and the homes of two others represent much more than the familiar complaints of dirty tricks and other political skullduggery. This time a judge signed a search warrant for agents to enter the homes of citizens who no doubt contend that they’re law-abiding.
Pigeon was not charged with any crime. It was a search.
In the past, Pigeon has seemed to dare law enforcement to come after him. If there is one point he stands by even today, it’s that his fundraising and other campaign activities lie squarely within the confines of the law.
“All these years, these half-truths and innuendoes only involve me donating or spending my own money or raising money,” he told The Buffalo News in February. “It’s ironic that I’m now grouped with people who have been enriching themselves.
“In today’s atmosphere of what’s happening in New York State,” he added, referring to various public officials recently charged with corruption, “I’m fine with the fact they’re finding out I followed the law.”
That statement has proven to be a matter of contention, especially within his own Democratic Party, where he has earned legions of enemies over his long career. Democrats such as former Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward (now a Supreme Court justice) and Jeremy C. Toth (now an assistant county attorney) filed many complaints over the years alleging that, at the least, Pigeon played dangerously close to the edge.
Ward and Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr filed charges of election law violations several years ago concerning political committees connected to billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, who takes every opportunity available to defend his friend. The accusations went nowhere, Golisano says, because they were baseless.
Up to now, the most serious allegations surrounding Pigeon surfaced in 2009, when Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha said that two successive Democratic district attorneys – Frank J. Clark and Frank A. Sedita III – looked the other way over Pigeon’s alleged election law violations because of his political prowess. At the time, Pigeon had just played a key role in a State Senate power struggle while virtually dictating endorsements of the often powerful Independence Party – where he had also inserted himself.
Sedita fired Sacha, and demands for a special prosecutor went nowhere. Peter J. Kiernan, counsel to then-Gov. David A. Paterson, referred the complaints to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, who has placed himself at the forefront of political corruption investigations in New York State. That request also went nowhere.
Paterson never homed in on Pigeon and Sacha’s complaints, but the observations of Kiernan – his counsel – spoke volumes.
“We concluded the existence of a pattern of violations of election law, some of which may involve money laundering or deliberate evasion of requirements of the election law,” Kiernan told The News.
Pigeon recently hired former Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco to represent him. Significant. He also recently left his longtime “of counsel” post at Underberg & Kessler, with which Golisano has conducted lots of dollars’ worth of business over the years. Significant again.
As recently as last week, Pigeon said no law enforcement officials had even hinted that he was under investigation, despite The News’ reports that his activities had caught the attention of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
Now, Schneiderman’s people have searched his home. Even more significant.
Pigeon has always proven correct in that no law enforcement official ever heeded the complaints of political opponents. He may very well prove right now, too. Pigeon does not face charges, and even if he does, he will insist he conducts his politics within the rules.
But Pigeon appears to have reached a crossroads. He will either prove he has more lives to use, or that even the luckiest cat around has only so many.