Ups and Downs: Week of January 17

by / Jan. 17, 2019 5pm EST


This item defies categorization as an up or a down. (Let’s call it “more information needed.”) On January 14, the day before his annual State of the State address, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo removed Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown as the chair of the New York State Democratic Party, a position Brown held for just one year. In a statement announcing that Brown would be replaced by Nassau County Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs—who served as state chair from 2009 to 2012—Cuomo thanked Brown for his service but offered no reason for the change. More interestingly, there was no quote from Brown included in the statement, no acknowledgment of the honor of serving, of work well done, etc.—the kind of quote that typically would be written for Brown by the governor’s press people. Nor has Brown issued a statement of his own or responded to queries from reporters. And Brown did not attend Cuomo’s January 15 State of the State address, which is unusual for any high-profile elected Democrat in the state, let alone the state party chairman. In the absence of explanation, of course, speculation rushes in: Is Brown on the outs with the governor? If so, why? Or perhaps this has something to do with the legal woes of one-time Brown aide and political ally Steve Pigeon, who is due in court January 29 to receive his sentence for steering an illegal campaign contribution of $25,000 to Cuomo’s 2014 reelection campaign. Inquiring minds are, well, making inquiries.

The father of a man fatally shot by a Buffalo police officer last month has retained two law firms to investigate his son’s death, according to Investigative Post reporter Marsha Mcleod. The firms, Neufeld Scheck & Brustin in New York City and Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin in Rochester, are both well-known for their work on civil rights cases. (Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck are co-founders of the Innocence Project, which for the past 26 years has sought to free the wrongly convicted and imprisoned.) A representative of the New York City firm said the investigation is underway. The firm describes itself as “taking on only a small number of important cases.” On December 11, Officer Joseph Meli, 25, shot Marcus Neal three times—twice in the abdomen and once in the leg—after police said Neal charged officers with a knife on the roof of a garage in Black Rock. Neal, 47, died in hospital the following morning. Read our interview with Neal’s uncle, himself a civil rights attorney.

It’s 2019, and we’re back in print. Which is nice. We’ll be biweekly now, because the tariff-induced rise in the price of paper continues, but you can follow the paper (and this column) online between print issues.


Outgoing Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder will be headed soon to far greener pastures in Albany, his staff learned just before Christmas, and he leaves behind him the makings of a chaotic, politically fraught transition. Schroeder will become the commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which pays about $120,000 per year—$35,000 more than Schroeder’s salary as city comptroller, a job he’s held since 2011. Schroeder has not formally resigned the comptroller’s job as of this writing, but that’ll happen soon, after which the Common Council will have 90 days to name an interim comptroller. Then there will be a race this fall for a full, four-year term. In December, Schroeder hired Vanessa Glushefski—an attorney, CPA, and former candidate for Erie County comptroller—apparently with the intention of engineering the interim appointment for her. But that seems unlikely to happen, as Glushefski has little political support in the Common Council and none in the office of Mayor Byron Brown, who would not in any case help realize any plan fomented by Schroeder, whom he dislikes. Word coming out of Brown’s office is that he’d favor Erie County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, but that might be a bridge too far, even for a generally compliant Common Council: Miller-Williams has no relevant experience and is too close to Brown politically. She would be unlikely to serve as a balance to mayoral power. Lovejoy District Councilman Rich Fontana has long relished the idea of occupying the city comptroller’s office, so that’s a possibility. University District Councilman Rasheed Wyatt’s name has been dropped, as well, and Wyatt is close to Council President Darius Pridgen. We’ve also heard that Jon Rivera—the son of Niagara District Councilman David Rivera, currently at the Erie County Department of Public Works—has expressed interest in the job. An interim appointment would give any of these candidates a leg up in the race for a full term, a fact that may lead the Common Council to choose someone who will not run for the office this fall—a true interim—especially if the vacancy lingers beyond the opening of the petitioning process for candidates who intend to run this fall, which is not far off. The natural choice for that true interim would have been First Deputy Comptroller Anne Forti-Sciarrino, a veteran of the office, but she retired the same day that Schroeder told his staff he was leaving. So, where there might have been order, there is uncertainty.