Jeremy Zellner's shaky position as Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman was certainly weakened by tough losses on Primary Night - but his week is about to get worse.
Zellner's endorsed Legislature and Sheriff candidates got blindsided when their Primary opponents started spending significant resources from Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max. But trouble lurked for the Zellner long before the notorious Max PAC emerged when he failed to fully vet his handpicked candidate for Erie County Comptroller, Lynn Szalkowski. Her campaign fell apart after disagreements with Zellner; she dropped out even before the race began.
Democrats across Erie County - especially failed candidates Bert Dunn, Lynn Dearmyer, Tim Hogues, and Paul Crapsi - might ask these questions: why did Zellner spend so much time and "boots on the ground" focusing on electing Independence candidates who were crushed by endorsed opponents? And why on Earth - especially after getting burned on the Szalkowski candidacy - did he not scrutinize the backgrounds of IP candidates the Democratic Party machine supported?
It is no secret that the major political parties sometimes back Independence Party candidates with the goal of wrestling the ballot line away from endorsed candidates. This year, Republican Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw topped the list of Zellner's targets.
Many Erie County Democratic Party stalwarts supported Anthony D'Orazio Jr., Zellner's handpicked Independence Party candidate for Comptroller. Many leading lights pounded the pavement circulating petitions to win D'Orazio a spot on the Independence ballot line.
When told that D'Orazio's name was appearing on the Independence Party line for Erie County Comptroller, one seasoned member of the IP expressed shock.
"Oh my God. Are the Democrats really helping that guy? I'm sure he was the former cop who was arrested for attacking an 18-year-old girl when he was in uniform many years ago," said the Independence Party insider.
With that tip, I went to work. A Google search pulled up several Niagara Falls Gazette and the Tonawanda News articles from 1962. According to a PDF found in the search, under the April 23, 1962 Niagara Falls Gazette headline "One Cop Held, Another Freed in Attack case":
"Tonawanda - Patrolman Anthony D'Orazio Jr., 26... was ordered held for action by the Erie County Grand Jury by Town of Tonawanda Peace Justice James L. Tippett today. D'Orazio is charged with... and second degree assault in connection with an assault of an 18-year-old Buffalo girl April 2nd."
The story was quite salacious for its day.
"The girl, a sophomore at the University at Buffalo, said she left home at 9:15 PM April 6 and spent most of the evening and early morning at the Town Tavern, 65 Delaware Street.
She said she met a man at the tavern and sat with him in the tavern parking lot from 3-5:30 AM. She said that D'Orazio drove up at one point and asked to see her driver's license. She said D'Orazio and (another police officer) stopped her while she was driving alone in Delaware Street about 5:30 AM."
"When D'Orazio offered to drive her home, she said she moved over, 'having all faith in policemen.' She said D'Orazio drove her to the Sheridan Drive-In Theater, where he started kissing her 'hard' and attacked her. Asked if she attempted to resist she said she did."
According to a Tonawanda News article published on April 9, 1962 headlined "Council Will Make Formal Suspension of 2 Patrolmen":
"After the alleged attack, the girl reportedly drove to a Buffalo police station, where she reported the attack. Buffalo police relayed the information to Town and City of Tonawanda Police. Officials said the girl later picked out the two policemen (including one named Anthony D'Orazio Jr.) from a lineup up Tonawanda police conducted at Tonawanda Police Headquarters."
According to an April 11, 1962 Tonawanda News article headlined "2 Policemen Will Be Given Council Hearing May 1" on page 3 of this PDF:
"Both men (including one police officer identified as Anthony D'Orazio Jr.) were suspended from duty Saturday by Police Chief Oldenburg after the girl identified them in a lineup of Tonawanda Policemen at Police headquarters. The Common Council formally put its stamp of approval on the suspensions Monday night."
According to another Tonawanda News story on April 7, 1962 headlined "2 Policemen Held in Assault Case; Both Are Suspended" on page 5 of this PDF
"Patrolman D'Orazio was suspended last July by Chief Oldenburg for violation of department regulations. He was found guilty of two charges of misconduct and was given a two-month suspension."
It appears Zellner also did not search D'Orazio's background prior to ordering many Democratic patronage employees to circulate Independence petitions for D'Orazio. Those listed on D'Orazio's petitions even include Zellner's own mother, a Board of Elections worker.
It gets better: one D'Orazio petitioner is is listed as an employee of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, while many others work at the Erie County Legislature and Erie County Board of Elections.
The list of Democratic workers with ties to Zellner's Erie County Democratic Committee appearing on D'Orazio's petitions is long and includes Democratic Board of Elections workers Connie Zellner, Thomas Gleed, George Campbell, Cheryl Mulholland, Michael D'Agostino, Matthew Jowsey, Mark Gabryszak, Carron Crump, Derrick Syposs, Richard K. Hawkins, Kathleen Galla, Adrian Pinto, Jonathan Bondi, Isabell Berger, David Ksiazek, Mary Ann Gray, Robert Hellwitz, Harrell Little, Gary Pajonk, Edgar Martinez, Thema Harbin, Janice Dunne, and Terry Stoner.
Democratic Erie County Legislature staff members Charley Fisher III, Kevin Hosey, Dorothy Furtney, and Shiana Denise Eve worked hard for D'Orazio, too.
Other names appearing on D'Orazio's Independence Party petitions include Michael A. Amodeo, Christopher Fahey, and former Buffalo Common Councilmember David Franczyk's staff member Robert Sinkiewicz.
So if this information on Anthony D'Orazio, Jr. was readily available and easy to find with a simple Google search, another question Chairman Zellner can answer is this: why not do your homework prior to having loyal Democratic workers - even your own mother - circulate petitions for an Independence Party candidate with a record of violence against women?
I'm sure Zellner's endorsed Democratic candidates who lost on Primary Night could have used those patronage workers going door to door for them. D'Orazio did not file disclosure reports with the New York State Board of Elections, but he was mysteriously able to pay for direct mail, campaign literature and automated robocalls. (Hello, Moreland Commission?)
I wonder how those losing candidates feel, knowing financial support and volunteers were diverted to unvetted Independence Party candidates, rather than supporting Democrats.
Who knows how different Primary Night results would be had Zellner focused solely on electing Democrats, rather than trying to be the Chairman of the Independence Party?