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Pigeon’s once-tight but limited ties to Cuomo loosen

When Andrew M. Cuomo came to Buffalo in the early years of his governorship, G. Steven Pigeon would get a good seat near the front.

And when the governor’s events ended, Pigeon the Buffalo political operative would sometimes huddle with Joseph Percoco, then the governor’s top political aide.

Yet when Pigeon sought a favor from the governor – promoting the judge to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court – the Cuomo administration did nothing.

Those images and facts appear to illustrate the close but limited relationship that Pigeon and Cuomo had until last year, when State Police and the FBI raided Pigeon’s home.

Pigeon served as Cuomo’s political eyes and ears in Western New York, according to political pros in Albany and Buffalo, who pointed out that access did not appear to bleed into influence.

“Steve’s MO is to wriggle himself into situations where he can be somebody,” said one Democratic player who has clashed with Cuomo on occasion. “To the extent he could do that with Cuomo, he did.”

Several political sources, who asked not to be identified, said the relationship between Cuomo and Pigeon took root in 2002 amid Cuomo’s first bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and Pigeon’s last days as Erie County Democratic chairman.

Pigeon was the only upstate county chairman to endorse Cuomo over the establishment choice for the nomination, State Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

Four years later, Pigeon bucked the local party leadership to back Cuomo for state attorney general against Buffalo attorney Denise E. O’Donnell.

Cuomo never forgot those kindnesses – which continued when Pigeon gave $54,000 to the governor’s campaign fund during his first term.

“At one point, Steve was talking to the governor on a regular basis,” said a well-connected Albany lobbyist.

Sources said Pigeon also built a relationship with Percoco, who left Cuomo’s inner circle earlier this year after federal investigators raided his home in a probe of his ties to companies that did work for the state.

Several sources said, though, that the relationship between Pigeon and Cuomo centered on politics and did not appear to affect policy or even political appointments. For proof, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner noted that State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek – who resigned and pleaded guilty Wedneday to taking bribes from Pigeon – did not get the appointment to the Appellate Division that he had sought through Pigeon.

“The thing that Steve claimed he could get done didn’t happen,” Zellner said.

“Steve did a lot of exaggeration.”

Asked for comment, John Kelly, a Cuomo spokesman, released a brief statement that said: “As the governor has previously stated, ‘when it comes to the integrity of the government, if there is anyone who ever does anything wrong, there will be zero tolerance for that and I will be the first one to throw the book at them.’ ”