Wyoming County, New York is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It's really quite hard to understand why some of the ugliest politics around are practiced in these idyllic hill and hollers southeast of Buffalo.
But ugly is the only word for it, and according to the majority of the Wyoming County Republican Committee, the chief culprit is their own chairman, Gordon Brown. The group was so up in arms they asked him to hit the bricks at an official party meeting last Friday.
Brown refused, saying he will serve out his term to September. Today, the majority of his members are talking about how to get him out before he destroys the entire Committee.
The Buffalo News scratched the surface of the drama on Tuesday.
The scene Friday night in Warsaw was high drama, and an unusually high number of Wyoming GOP committee members turned up. Many held proxies. All the attendees I talked to saw this as a fight that's been a long time coming. According to the Buffalo News, Brown and his acolytes say no: it's all about the recent New York State Assembly primary:
"I did nothing [for DiPietro] because I do not care for Mr. DiPietro," Brown said Monday about his support for primary candidate David Mariacher. "That's really what it's all about.
Well, no. That's what Brown wants people to believe, but every committee member I talked to said he must resign for a long list of reasons. In fact, according to a longtime committee member, reasons for the criticism of Brown's chairmanship go back several years:
It was high time to talk about the chairmanship because of the lack of insight and leadership that Gordon Brown has exhibited as in the post. He didn't support the winning candidate for Sheriff in 2004, Farris Heimann. He didn't support Cheryl Mayer for County Treasurer. He didn't support our endorsed candidate for Congress last cycle, David Bellavia. He has a horrible track record defying the committee that's completely unrelated to David DiPietro and he's got to go."
Committee members told me that they are also dissatisfied with Brown's leadership because fundraising has dropped significantly, the Women's Republican Club has been nearly disbanded, and the County party has not progressed in any way that a GOP Committee should.
According to attendees who spoke anonymously, anti-Brown forces lined up behind Attica committee member Michelle McCulloch, who presented a case for Brown's resignation.
McCulloch's dispassionate presentation made it clear that Brown's work against the Republican nominee for the new 147th State Assembly district was just his most recent offense against the GOP. Still, she reminded her colleagues that after the committee officially voted to not back any candidate in the race, Brown and two other committee leaders publicly endorsed DiPietro's most competitive opponent, Dave Mariacher of Elma. Brown even penned a letter to area Republicans trashing DiPietro and backing Mariacher.
Unfortunately for Brown, he also took a swipe at Carl Paladino in that letter. This out-of-the-blue attack on Paladino - a DiPietro supporter - sealed the fate of political newcomer Mariacher and established Paladino as a brawny enemy of the effete Wyoming chair.
After DiPietro trounced Mariacher in the four-way September 14th primary, Brown refused to support the Party's candidate and wrote a letter to Aurora GOP Chairman Earl Jann urging him to drop support for DiPietro - a direct violation of County by laws. Brown joined a small handful of local Republicans to back Democrat candidate Christina Abt for the Assembly seat.
The group of rogue Wyoming Republicans - including Brown, County Party vice chairs Jane Stephens and David Almeter, County Supervisor chair Doug Berwanger, former Assemblyman Dan Burling, and Burling aide Scott Gardner - actively supported Abt. McCulloch singled out Gardner, who went so far as to invite Abt to the county Republicans' Fall fundraiser, and Burling, who used his campaign money to buy Abt's ticket to the event.
As a close friend and advisor to DiPietro, I can say this is all completely true.
As McCulloch read the list of grievances against Brown, she also detailed Brown's failure to support Congressional candidate David Bellavia, whom the Wyoming committee endorsed in the run up to the September 2012 primary. New Congressman Chris Collins and Bellavia were both invited to interview with the committee on April 3rd.
In a surprise to many political observers, the Wyoming GOP endorsed Bellavia. As Bellavia's chief strategist, I was also taken aback - Bellavia was suddenly in the game.
The Wyoming endorsement sent shock waves through Western New York political circles. For a time, Brown enjoyed being a bother to Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, who was backing Collins. But, as Collins outspent Bellavia and emerged in the lead, Brown fell back into the posture he knows best: he did nothing for Bellavia. Yard signs we asked him to distribute sat unused. His promised plan to get out the vote in Wyoming never materialized.
In the waning days of the campaign, with Collins confidently in the lead, I personally asked Brown to speak to a Buffalo News reporter and provide a quotation for a story we hoped would shed negative light on the former County Executive. Brown promised to call the News on our behalf and provide a supportive input. The entire story revolved around the information I asked the Chairman to provide.
The next morning, the Buffalo News story emerged without Brown's participation and it fell flat. The reporter told me that Brown never called him back. A few days later, Election Day, Brown was completely AWOL for Bellavia, the endorsed candidate of the committee he was trusted to lead.
It is important to note that beyond a small contribution to Collins' campaign, Brown never helped Collins in the general election either.
Probably the most damning evidence against Brown: his quiet attempt in December 2012 to oust popular GOP County Elections Commissioner James Schlick and take the job himself. His coup failed, but there is still a lot of bad blood boiling over it.
McCulloch and other Brown detractors organized three votes at the January 11th County GOP meeting. In a vote to test the committee's confidence in Brown, the challengers won 3622-2550. Brown lost the vote of confidence 4784-3566.
Given the opportunity to respond, Brown could have saved his chairmanship with a polite acknowledgement that mistakes had been made and changes would follow. Instead, he became arrogant, scoffed at his opponents and told the committee he refused to recognize that the vast majority no longer respected his leadership.
When a vote was called to demand Brown resign, a handful of his supporters marched out of the meeting - including Berwanger, who curiously has been a vocal critic of Brown in the past. With a quorum still in force, the committee voted for his resignation 3062-1716. Soundly defeated, Brown is scrambling to keep his job.
With the smoke still rising from his backside, Brown today tells anyone who will listen that Paladino orchestrated the Friday run on his chairmanship. He also claims Assemblyman DiPietro is obsessed with pushing him out as chairman.
As a former Paladino aide and close friend of DiPietro, I can tell you Paladino has not raised a finger in the post election effort to oust Brown. Not one telephone call, not one donated cent, nothing. However, his scathing response to Brown's surprise attack during the primary certainly inspired many Wyoming Republicans to take a second look at Brown. Knowing him, Paladino is satisfied that he has done enough to encourage new leadership.
Additionally, Brown's allegation that DiPietro is personally behind the effort to toss him is also not true. DiPietro is certainly following the effort and hopes for better, more unifying leadership. But he is certainly not actively involved.
I know McCulloch well and, as a campaign operative, I know many of the people on the Wyoming Republican Committee. In fact, the majority of the rank and file members of the Wyoming County Republican Committee are pushing for new leadership entirely as an internal matter. The homegrown effort took root in the ineffective, dishonest and disloyal record of the departing Chairman. Any other explanation is just plain whining.