Lorigo, Lies, and Audiotape

by / Nov. 2, 2017 2pm EST

Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo is either a liar or countenances those who lie on his behalf. The proof is in a robo-call received by households in East Aurora and West Seenca on Wednesday evening. 

In the call that went out to East Aurorans, the speaker claims that Michelle Schoeneman, the Democrat who is challenging the incumbent Lorigo in Tuesday’s general election, supports the creation of “a free heroin shoot-up site for drug users in East Aurora.”

Here’s a transcript:

At a recent public forum, Michelle Schoeneman was asked if she supports opening a free heroin shoot-up site for drug users in East Aurora. Michelle Schoeneman says she does support free heroin shoot-up sites once she gets community input on where to put them.

Should we tell Michelle we want it by Vidler’s? By Hamlin Park and the Roycroft? By Parkdale Elementary?

Or should we tell her that drug users have no place in East Aurora or near our children?

On Election Day, send Michelle Schoeneman a message that we don’t want a free heroin shoot-up site for drug users in East Aurora.

And here’s a link to an audio recording.

The robo-call that went out to West Seneca residents is essentially identical, with just the place names changed.

Schoeneman’s campaign says she has never articulated any such position. The only substantial statement we can find from her on the opioid crisis and government’s role in combatting it is in a candidate survey to which both she and Lorigo responded. Their answers:

Michelle J Schoeneman

The opioid epidemic is a complex and multi-faceted public health crisis that requires an array of strategies to manage. In the short-term, local government should support increased access to medication-assisted treatment like methadone and suboxone. This is the only proven treatment for opioid addiction. New York State is well ahead of the curve in implementing changes to insurance law and prescribing practices to prevent individuals from becoming addicted to opioids in the first place.

Joseph C. Lorigo

Everyone agrees that the opioid problem doesn’t have one quick fix. It is also an ongoing problem, where we’ll likely be fighting this battle for years (if not decades) to come. I am proud of my effort to fund a collaboration with private sector organizations who have expertise in the issue to see how best they can fight the epidemic with $500,000 of Erie County money. The proposal was supported by the administration and my colleagues. Hopefully this collaboration will yield results.

The whole thing is a lie. The person who wrote the scripts for these robo-calls is a liar, and the person who recorded the robo-calls abets a lie. We don’t know who they are, of course, because it is an anonymous smear. The caller does not identify herself as representing any group, so we don’t know if the call was paid for by Lorigo’s campaign committee or by the local or state Republican or Conservative parties, or whether it is the product of an independent expenditure. We will likely never know, unless and until some political operative boasts of being responsible for the attack.

Schoeneman responded to the robo-calls late last night with a statement, excerpted here:

First through the mail, and now with robocalls that are not only a poorly executed attack on me, but that politicize a very serious issue: the opioid crisis.

In the 11th hour, my opponent is using this crisis for his own political gain.

I take the opioid crisis very seriously, and I hope that these robocalls can have a silver lining and will promote discussion about this devastating epidemic. I believe that residents should be involved in ANY decision that affects their community, no matter what the issue.

Lorigo, backed by the advantages of incumbency, plenty of money to spend on advertising, a fairly conservative district, and the political clout of his father, Erie County Conservative Party chairman Ralph Lorigo, ought to be having an easy go of it. But, when a campaign goes negative, as Lorigo’s began to do quite early against Schoeneman, it suggests one of three things: a) the candidate is a nasty, spiteful person; b) the candidate is behind and hopes to drag down his opponent; c) both a and b.

Schoeneman has been running an aggressive campaign—by the far the most aggressive of any of the Democrats challenging incumbent members of the Republican coalition majority on the Legislature. A recent example: In Lorigo’s hometown of West Seneca, she has tied Lorigo to a 12 percent tax hike imposed by Town Supervisor Sheila Meegan, who owes her narrow election in 2015 to a deal she made with the Lorigos in exchange for the Conservative Party endorsement. From Schoeneman’s statement on that deal earlier this week:

The Lorigos put Sheila Meegan in office, leading to higher taxes for all West Seneca residents. Without the Conservative party endorsement, Meegan would have lost her reelection bid.  Instead, the Lorigos made a deal with her and in return, Meegan made appointing Joe Lorigo as West Seneca Town Prosecutor AND compliance officer the first duty of her new term.  The political culture of backroom deals is all the Lorigos know. Now town residents are being asked to foot the bill for these sorts of political machinations.

That’s aggressive language, but the story has the benefit of being true. It’s the kind of story that resonates with voters who are angry about transactional politics and their taxes going up, and it’s custom-fit to embarrass and infuriate the Lorigos. But chagrin and fury aren’t enough to explain the virulent attacks Lorigo’s campaign and its surrogates have launched at Schoeneman, a first-time candidate with little name recognition coming into the race. The Lorigo campaign’s polling must show something they don’t like. There are 23,000 registered Democrats in District 10; there are 22,000 Republicans and Conservatives, 3,400 Independence Party members, and 11,600 registered voters with no party affiliation. The district has a conservative bent, but the registration numbers open it up.

A candidate who propagates a lie like this one, or who countenances such a lie, looks desperate. Maybe Lorigo is. Voters in District 10 should stand by their phones and check their mail to see what form that desperation takes between now and Tuesday.

UPDATE: Shortly after we posted this piece, the Lorigo campaign began airing a TV commercial that doubles down on the claim that Schoeneman, if elected, will build a shooting gallery for heroin users in your backyard. The commercial is paid for by Joe Lorigo’s campaign committee, so there’s the answer to the first question posed above, about who commissioned the propagation of this lie. Here’s the commercial, courtesy a Tweet by GOP political consultant Chris Grant, whose Big Dog Strategies seems to be the go-to firm for local Republicans this election cycle. And that, I suppose, answers the second question posed above, about who scripted it.