[ DEC 26 1:30PM UPDATE: An ally close Kristy Mazurek and Steve Pigeon called to say this story is incorrect: Mazurek has not been texting anyone about Gabryszak and she did not speak to Governor Andrew Cuomo or his office about the case. Pigeon had nothing to do with the issue according to the source, who said "the tired mischaracterization of Steve in the story proves the writer is biased." ]
Last weekend I was delighted to find the Broadway Market crowded and vibrant on the Saturdaybefore Christmas. The Friends of the Broadway Market really outdid themselves this year, with every corner filled with products, displays, and activities. A train show, children having pictures taken with Santa, a fascinating historic photo exhibit put together by Michael Mulley of Queen City Gallery, a live Christmas band, a performance of The Kielbasa Diaries (of course, right?) - all through the efforts of the market operators, vendors, and volunteer elves who keep the Market serving the community year after year, and a must-visit stop before holidays such as Christmas and Easter.
One of the tentpoles of Polish-American culture in Buffalo and Western New York, you can't understand Polonia without spending time at the Broadway Market. There, you're certain to encounter folks whose roots run deep in the closely knit Polish-American communities of Buffalo's East Side and Cheektowaga. Despite geographic dispersion (one who was present on Saturday now lives in Toronto and is a friend of Mayor Ford), many make their way back to the Broadway Market at holiday time. So, with one of Western New York's most prominent Polish-American elected officials embroiled in scandal, but not speaking publicly, what better place to find folks who would know what's what?
And the Broadway Market did not disappoint. In fact, the dishing began before I even got inside, in the parking garage. And within a quarter hour of my arrival, I had gotten a much broader glimpse into what was going on than the not-much I have read in the media. Someone who has known Dennis Gabryszak since long before his Assemblyman days, and is familiar with the recent allegations, said they are nothing new. Further, he suggested, if the full story was known, people would be making parallels to the Chris Lee situation of a few years ago - using a term I’ve heard my father use for a transmission.
Already, New York political leaders have called for Gabryszak’s head if the allegations in last week's court filing are true. First, and fast, was Erie County Democratic Committee Chair Jeremy Zellner. Followed by none other than the Governor. Followed Monday by Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Buffalo Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes. In fact, it's bipartisan: conservative Republican Michael Caputo, wearing his PR consigliere hat, told Hardline with Debo on WBEN Sunday that, were he advising Gabryszak, he'd recommend a Chris Lee-like immediate, no-nonsense resignation - if indeed the allegations are true. If it proves to be the case that not only are the allegations in last week's court filing true, but represent the tip of the iceberg, it seems clear that Gab's political career is stick-a-fork-in-it done. Raising the question, what happens next?
And there the Market also delivered the goods. Another insider I spoke with has known former Gabryszak Communications Director Kristy Mazurek “since she was four years old.” “You know that Kristy has been advising the aides who are bringing the charges, right?” he asked, as if he would naturally expect everyone would know this. Perhaps in his circles, they do - he told me that he's apprised of the situation by being in the loop on texts from Marurek. He also said that “Gab” had tried similar conduct with Kristy, but that she had quickly put a stop to it. “She's a bar girl - she knows how to handle that stuff,” he told me, referring to her father's former ownership of the legendary polka club the Broadway Grill.
Also this: “she informed the Governor this was coming two weeks ago.” Fascinating if true, given that the Governor, in his visit to Buffalo on Saturday, didn't suggest he had known about the Gabryszak allegations prior to the news of the legal filing. Although our local media, true to form, didn't exactly question the Governor very carefully.
While there is no way to know for sure if Mazurek is actually playing so large a role, or rather crowing to the circle with whom she texts, it’s not in her nature to be reticent to talk, or to claim credit for things. Last fall, with glee, she openly and publicly dismissed as “crybabies” those filing complaints about the 2013 primary election actions of her notorious Western New York Progressive Caucus.
And after the elections, ticking off the accomplishments of that PAC on the Sandy Beach show with substitute host and her WGRZ 2Sides co-host Michael Caputo, she included the Rochester mayoral race. Yet when asked about Mazurek, Rochester’s mayor-elect Lovely Warren said: “I don’t even know who that is.”
Mazurek’s WNY Progressive Caucus partner, political operative Steve Pigeon, is also prone to hyperbole about himself and his operations, whether tipping off the media about an upcoming ouster he’s orchestrating of an Erie County Democratic Committee chair - which then never materializes - or proclaiming himself as the Governor’s new go-to guy in Western New York.
So while Mazurek could be overstating her role, it’s perhaps equally likely she’s involved in this situation up to her neck. And if so, one would expect Pigeon to be, as well. The timing of it all seems tailor-made for meddling. After an expected Gabryszak resignation, with nearly a full year before the next normal election cycle for the Assembly seat, depending on the process a special election or interim appointment would be likely to fill the remainder of the term. That person would then be the obvious frontrunner for election to a full, two-year term next fall.
What all that adds up to is the likelihood that Mazurek and Pigeon have already had ample opportunity to play out scenarios and talk with potential candidates, perhaps in conjunction with the Governor’s political people, who very much have their head, heart, and hands in Erie County politics. And possibly before the Erie County Democratic Committee had an inkling that this was in the wind. Possibly. If so, they may see themselves as the drivers of this bus, which could present a problem to the county party, which one would otherwise expect to be the key player in addressing an unfortunate situation like this.
The piece that doesn't fit in all of this is that, in Erie County Democratic factiondom, Dennis Gabryszak has been a Frank Max guy, which makes him an ally of Mazurek and Pigeon. And I’m not aware that Max has ever said a peep about this.
But looking to the other side of this equation: what about the involvement of Johnny Destino as the attorney for the aides? If Mazurek was advising the aides, did she set that up? I put that question to the person who had been texting with her. “No,” he said. But it may not have been necessary, and that’s where—surprise, surprise—a potential Carl Paladino angle comes into play. Because hey, it’s Western New York.
If the name of one of the former aides filing the complaint, Annalise Freling, sounds familiar, you may remember it from Carl Paladino’s failed GOP run for governor, in which she served as a campaign coordinator. And she apparently remained close to Carl despite subsequently going to work for Democrat Gabryszak. Although (perhaps on the advice of Destino) she deleted her social media accounts before the complaint was filed, the internet is the elephant that never forgets. Her tweet from January 26 of this year (which as recently as last weekend could still be found online) suggests she remained in close touch with Paladino:
@AnnaliseBabe @michelle_deeps girl you gots to be rich, rich can sniff other rich, and you gots to have Carl Paladino on your iPhone 5 speed dial!
Johnny Destino, of course, is the Niagara Falls attorney who narrowly lost as the GOP challenger to Mayor Dyster in 2011, and, having suffered the fallout of his 2012 primary challenge to George Maziarz, later became a Democrat. Carl Paladino supported Destino against Maziarz . While none of that demonstrates any Paladino role in the Gabryszak crisis, it’s another illustration that there is not usually more than a degree of separation between Paladino and any person or situation in Western New York politics.
And where do things stand now? Destino’s legal filing stated there would be more complaints filed. As of late Monday, another was, this time from a current employee, involving conduct as recent as December 16. Also Monday, Gabryszak retained attorney Terry Connors. Connors is no slouch, so one would think he must be giving Gabryszak the same advice everyone else is: he’s done and needs to resign.
Today the only word forthcoming is that Gabryszak will not be forthcoming. Yet a resignation could come anytime (perhaps by the time you’ve read this). That would almost certainly be only too welcome to party officials who would undoubtedly like to avoid an extended scandal. And also to the accusers, who should not be overlooked even while the political aspects of this are considered.
One thing it seems safe to predict: if in any future holiday season Dennis Gabryszak visits the Broadway Market, it will be as a private citizen and not a public official.
A very happy holiday to you and yours!