12:27 am, 03/06/2012
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You’d think it would be hard to hate on a guy who helped Eliot Spitzer get elected as New York Attorney General, and you’re right: It takes some work.
Let’s get started!
It should tell you something about Steve Pigeon’s reputation within New York State politics that Niagara County Conservative Party chief Dan Weiss would repeatedly invoke his name to shame Erie County’s Conservative Party chief for endorsing a Democratic candidate. It’s this sort of bipartisan deal making that is both Pigeon’s gift and his curse. Always willing to reach across the aisle to give or receive money, Pigeon is the kind of bipartisan Democratic centrist the whole political spectrum loves to hate—but is inevitably forced to broker deals with at some point.
Born into politics in 1960’s Missouri (where his uncle was majority leader of the State Senate), Pigeon would already be involved in Western New York politics by the age of 12, stuffing envelops for Democratic Assemblyman Vincent Graber after Pigeon’s family relocated to West Seneca, NY, in 1972. From 1996 to 2002, Pigeon built influence as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee, helping several prominent state pols rise to prominence—including (yes) Eliot Spitzer, Sen. Charles Schumer and rapper Ja Rule’s prison buddy, the uber-corrupt state comptroller Alan Hevesi.
What has made Pigeon a permanent fixture in local politics in the years since his chairmanship, however, is his relationship to meddling activist billionaire Blase Thomas Golisano. Golisano made his fortune as the founder of a payroll and human resources company (stupidly) named Paychex. While Erie’s Democratic chairman, Pigeon supported Golisano in his perennial runs for governor on the Independence Party ticket, to the total annoyance of state Democrats. He has also helped Golisano’s political committee move its money around various races and foundations within New York state politics, turning himself into an indispensable “assistant to the regional kingmaker.”
Since 2009, Pigeon has been absorbing piles of shit and rancor from his former Democratic allies for helping Golisano broker the infamous State Senate Coup of 2009. In brief, the Democratic Party had just won a majority in the State Senate for the first time since 1964 by a tenuous margin of 32-30. Due largely to Golisano’s dissatisfaction with Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, Pigeon began organizing a series of meetings between Republican Senate leadership and two Democratic Senators, Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada, Jr. From these meetings was born the June 8th, 2009 vote to replace Malcolm Smith as majority leader. Foiled in their attempt to adjourn before this vote, stunned Democrats left the chamber anyway, turning the lights off as they went. The Senate Republicans and four remaining Democrats held their vote literally under the cover of darkness, returning Dean Skelos to his preferred place as State Senate majority leader and placing Espada in the role of Temporary President. (Espada eventually became majority leader, which he held until the next year, when he and his son were both indicted on six federal counts of embezzlement and theft.)
It was all incredibly ridiculous. At some point later, Monserrate flipped back to the Democratic Party bloc, splitting the Senate 31-31 on almost every important legislative action and instituting total soul-crushing gridlock until—thanks again to Pigeon and Golisano—corruptionist poster boy Espada returned to the Democratic fold. The Senate then stayed in session ‘til 2 a.m., passing a backlog of 135 bills in a full on legislating binge. So, now, Republicans also really hated Pigeon again too. A high-ranking Democrat told the Buffalo News that Pigeon was a “persona non grata […] Everyone has nothing but disdain for him after what he did.” Erie County’s current Democratic Chairman, Len Lenihan, for example, likes ragging on Pigeon to fire up his base. It works.
Even when Pigeon’s helping, he kinda sucks. As you can see in this excruciating local news gotcha piece, Pigeon embroiled Democratic Senate candidate, former heavyweight boxer and all-around lovable oaf Joe Mesi in a campaign killing finance scandal involving more of Tom Golisano’s money in 2008.
Increasingly, Pigeon has taken his money changing and fund raising skills to the national and international scenes, bundling money for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential runs, working with Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative and traveling the world’s fledging democracies to offer his campaign services. At Frank Parlato Jr.’s Frank Report (LOL!!! He’s like Matt Drudge!!!!), Parlato reported that Pigeon traveled to Eastern Europe in 2005 with pizza-loving, Republican ninja turtle Roger Stone to help Leonid Chernovetskyi’s election campaign for Mayor of Kiev, the capital (and largest city) of Ukraine. The duo allegedly returned in January of 2007 to work their magic on several Ukrainian Parliamentary campaigns. (Like virtually everyone else in New York, Parlato—who’s also owner of the Niagara Falls Reporter—doesn’t like Pigeon either.)
Part of me wishes I could unlearn this, but these foreign political consulting gigs are something all of the big time dirty tricksters and electioneers do between election cycles now. As one anonymous New York-area consultant (with a side job on Bulgaria) told City and State, American consultants were often flown in to execute the sleazy bits—like stoking a party’s ethnic base—while the parties themselves presented a more legitimate front. The former campaign manager of New York gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino, Michael Caputo, joined Pigeon and Stone on a more recent trip to Ukraine. Bernard Whitman, a former pollster and strategist for President Clinton and Mayor Bloomberg, took similar jobs in Bermuda and the Caymen Islands. Veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf has an impressive roster of foreign clients. He also worked with Pigeon abroad, on a project in Africa.
So, that’s Steve Pigeon.
However, in the interest of fairness, here’s a video of Pigeon calling his shit career a box of chocolate donuts in a brief interview with WNYMedia.