State and federal investigators Thursday searched the homes of three Western New York political operatives – confidants to the New York governor, Buffalo mayor and a member of Congress – sending shock waves across state Democratic and Republican party circles.
The investigation of G. Steven Pigeon, Steven M. Casey and Christopher M. Grant appears focused around an independent political committee called the WNY Progressive Caucus, which has ties to Pigeon. Investigators appear interested in the financial activities of the caucus and its ties to several political campaigns in recent years. The probe also includes questions about “elevated” payments for advertising, mailings and other political activities, a law enforcement official said.
The raids targeted three men who have been integral players in local and statewide politics, and that fact was not lost on party insiders in Buffalo and Albany.
Pigeon has vast political connections, from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to billionaire businessman B. Thomas Golisano.
Casey – dubbed the “shadow mayor” – was until last year the first deputy mayor under Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.
Grant is chief of staff for Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence.
The Cuomo connection:
Last year, Pigeon also gave $54,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign. He and Cuomo have been tight for years, and the governor has sent signals to people in and out of government in Western New York that Pigeon should be considered his go-to political point person from the area.
The Cuomo administration had no comment Thursday.
More on the Cuomo/Pigeon connection from the Buffalo News in October 2013:
If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seems obsessed with all things Buffalo in the months leading to his re-election campaign, those familiar with the governor point to his rejection by the voters of nine western counties in 2010.
Perhaps that’s why Cuomo is turning to G. Steven Pigeon, one of his oldest – and most controversial – Western New York allies, for fundraising, politics and even policy, according to several sources.
The former Erie County Democratic chairman is taking on more assignments from Cuomo and is telling political leaders here of a larger role, according to at least half a dozen highly placed sources with knowledge of the situation.
A total of about 10 people interviewed for this article did not want to be identified, citing Pigeon’s controversial history and the governor’s penchant for keeping such matters within a close circle of advisers. And some say they doubt Pigeon’s claims of closer ties to the governor.
But there may be no more telling sign of a key role for Pigeon than his new and close relationship with former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, the regional economic-development official from Buffalo who represents the governor in many matters here.
Pigeon and Hoyt personified political enmity during their respective days as party chairman and assemblyman, but observers now say the mere fact that the longtime archfoes are working together for Cuomo’s interests is significant.
“The only way Sam would even talk to him is because he’s told to,” said one local Democratic leader who is familiar with the situation and asked not to be identified.
Also telling is that Hoyt would not comment for this article. Neither would the normally talkative Pigeon.
And while Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi would not discuss Pigeon specifically when questioned by The Buffalo News, he did not deny the suggestion that Pigeon plays a role for the governor.
“The governor has many friends in Buffalo, from the mayor to the county executive to Sam Hoyt to Steve Pigeon,” Azzoparadi said.
Pigeon’s larger profile may also stem from other roles such as major campaign donor and the $50,000 check he presented to Cuomo’s birthday fundraiser at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel last December.
Other Democrats say a senior official for the governor has told members of the Cuomo administration, including Hoyt, to have regular contact with Pigeon. They say that Pigeon has joined conference calls and meetings and that his involvement transcends politics to include economic-development matters.
One major Democrat said local officials “employed by the State of New York” are aware of Pigeon’s enhanced position for the governor.
“He’s going to be his top political person,” the Democrat said of Pigeon’s role for the governor in Western New York. “Steve is telling people that.”
Pigeon’s role now fills a vacuum created by the Cuomo team’s lack of a relationship with the Erie County Democratic organization headed by Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, according to many sources. And because the governor remains determined to win the one region where voters rejected him in 2010, Pigeon’s influence will be especially large, they say.
It all occurs as Cuomo looks to build his own local organization apart from Erie County Democratic Headquarters, hoping to win as much of New York State as possible next year to bolster a potential presidential bid.
“The governor is clearly fixated with Western New York; he wants to do better here,” said another Democrat familiar with the situation. “But he’s not going to deal with Zellner. So where does he go?”
“The governor clearly doesn’t have any use for the current Erie County Democratic Party organization,” said a state lawmaker who asked not to be identified, indicating that the situation opens possibilities for political operatives such as Pigeon to get the governor’s ear.
Pigeon’s admittance into Cuomo’s confidence should come as no surprise.
As Erie County chairman in 2002, he emerged as one of the few state leaders who endorsed Cuomo’s first but ill-fated bid for governor. The majority of local and statewide party leaders backed then-State Comptroller H. Carl McCall in a hotly contested primary.
And as Cuomo faced several opponents in the 2006 Democratic primary for state attorney general, Pigeon backed him over Denise E. O’Donnell, the former U.S. attorney for Western New York. While most Erie County Democrats supported the hometown candidate, Pigeon went with Cuomo at significant personal expense. O’Donnell is the mother of Pigeon’s longtime political associate Jack O’Donnell.
This is something to keep an eye on.
Cuomo desperately wanted to win Buffalo and surrounding counties in his re-election bid last year and handed out lots of state largesse to win people over to his cause.
That state largesse became known as the "Buffalo Billion" and was meant to be used for economic development in the region - though the Cuomo administration has worked hard to keep who was getting that money secret.
G. Steven Pigeon was his point guy in Buffalo - the guy with the "enhanced position" with the governor.
You can bet some of the "Buffalo Billion" flowed through him.
Why is Cuomo fighting to keep the "Buffalo Billion" recipients secret?
Again, something to keep an eye on - another burgeoning Cuomo scandal.