This is a nervous Sunday for political types around Buffalo and New York State.
The same pols who read the lead story in Thursday’s editions of The Buffalo News – the one reporting state investigators were mining reams of tips from the emails of political operative Steve Pigeon – must now be asking questions of themselves.
“Did I ever send an email to Steve Pigeon?” so many New Yorkers are asking today. “Did I ever ask a favor? Did I ever write something to come back and haunt me?”
It’s a nervous Sunday all right.
That’s because Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic chairman and self-appointed power broker, has been wheeling and dealing around these parts for 25 years. And whatever he has conveyed via email during much of that time now rests in the hands of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
“This thing has an unbelievable number of tentacles,” said one source familiar with the situation.
Maybe that’s why it took almost a year for Schneiderman, the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI to figure out just what they had when they hauled computers out of Pigeon’s waterfront condo (and the homes of fellow operatives Steve Casey and Chris Grant) back on May 28.
And if Pigeon is the saving type who kept all his emails, the Schneiderman crew has spent the last year reading some most interesting stuff.
Now, as prosecutors weigh potential bribery-related charges against Pigeon and State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek as a result of the Schneiderman probe, the case has grown much more serious.
It started with possible election law violations. That, in itself, proved significant because nobody around here ever bothered with those pesky laws governing the integrity of the voting process.
But when nobody else would lower themselves to investigate such matters, Schneiderman did. And now it appears he is reeling in fish much bigger than election law minnows.
For sure, nobody has been charged. The News has reported only what investigators are probing, and nothing should be assumed. In fact, maybe the attorney general will drop the whole matter.
But just a few days ago, knowledgeable sources report the State Police were asking Michalek about information gleaned from the seized emails. They contained enough fodder to at least prompt Schneiderman to ask questions.
And now lots of people are nervous.
In a long career that centers around his obsession with politics, Pigeon prints are everywhere. Pigeon is the first to tell you he maintains few other interests. He eats, sleeps and breathes politics.
And that obsession opened to him political inner sanctums all over the nation and even in Europe and Africa. His connections extend everywhere.
Now, so does Schneiderman’s curiosity.
All of this could have been examined years ago. When former Assistant District Attorney Mark Sacha accused two successive district attorneys of ignoring Pigeon’s alleged election law transgressions because of politics, Sacha got fired.
He then called for a special prosecutor to investigate, with everyone realizing such a probe might blow the lid off Erie County’s cutthroat politics. But then-Gov. David Paterson punted, even though his counsel, Peter Kiernan, proclaimed a pattern of election law violations in Erie County that included money laundering.
To this point, no U.S. attorney ever asked questions. Neither did Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission, despite the pleas of Sacha and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. Only when Erie County Elections Commissioners Dennis Ward and Ralph Mohr investigated and sent their complaints to Albany did the matter ever come before the attorney general.
All this means that election law – no matter how pesky – matters. Schneiderman’s investigation, even if it leads nowhere, has at least led to somebody asking serious questions about serious matters.
For a change, action resulted because a pair of local elections commissioners listened to complaints. And that can lead to a very nervous Sunday.