Pigeon Still Big Player on Political Stage
By Tony Farina
Steve Pigeon is still very much the political animal who clawed his way to the top of the always fractious Erie County Democratic Party back in 1995 when he began a seven-year run as chairman.
Pigeon’s political epitaph has been written numerous times since he left the chairmanship, but despite the ups and downs of his highly controversial career, he is making headlines again as a key upstate operative for his longtime friend, Andrew Cuomo.
Their relationship dates back more than 30 years when a young Pigeon helped Andrew’s father, Mario, win his first election as governor in 1982. Pigeon has backed Andrew Cuomo’s political career ever since, and insiders say the governor knows full well that Pigeon is a master strategist with strong political connections and a major fundraiser who would certainly be an important asset in the governor’s Western New York re-election efforts where he was badly outgunned in his first run by Buffalo developer Carl Paladino.
Even recently, Pigeon’s value to the governor in the local arena was evident. When the Hamister hotel project faced strong opposition from the Niagara Falls City Council, it was Pigeon who is credited with working behind the scenes to help persuade Councilmember Bob Anderson to change his vote from “no” to “yes,” and win approval for the development that had Cuomo’s strong public support.
In addition, it is well known that Gov. Cuomo has little use for the current leadership of the Erie County Democratic Party and its chairman, Jeremy Zellner, and that Pigeon has a very good relationship with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown despite the fact that Brown once fired Pigeon as his counsel when he was a state senator. Pigeon was down, as he has been many times, but not out.
Cuomo, like Pigeon, is often described as a terrific politician, and he knows an engaged operative like Pigeon can bring more to his campaign than an inexperienced and weak chairman like Zellner. Pigeon is the obvious choice.
While it is true that Pigeon has endured his share of controversy, almost unnoticed was his hand in keeping the Sabres in Buffalo because of his relationship with Rochester billionaire Thomas Golisano. It was Pigeon who helped convince Golisano to “save” the bankrupt Buffalo Sabres back in 2003 after Mark Hamister suspended his bid because he couldn’t put together the $40 million in public money he was seeking.
Pigeon made an early mark as a politician to be reckoned with as a young Erie County legislator from West Seneca in the 1990s before he became chairman.
“He was a lightning rod, even back then,” recalls a top legislative staffer from those days. “One day he stormed into the office, and ripped the door right off its hinges because he was made at another legislator who made some comments he didn’t like. At first, the other legislator denied making the comments, but later conceded he may have said what Pigeon thought he said.”
The staffer said Pigeon was a master politician even back then, citing his ability to read a room and immediately know who the most powerful and influential person in the room was, and go right there.
On another occasion, the staff worked all night to prepare an important resolution that Pigeon had sought that was aimed at the investment policy of the then state comptroller when it came to big tobacco. Pigeon was supporting a candidate on the other side of the issue.
“We worked all night on it, preparing for an 11 a. m. press conference, and when the press arrived that morning, there was no Steve. He finally showed up about 10:55, but he hadn’t seen our report yet. We gave it to him, he disappeared for seven or eight minutes, came out and did the press conference like he had prepared the report himself. It was amazing. We couldn’t believe it.”
“Sometimes, he was just brilliant,” said the staffer, “always a quick study and a real political animal.”
That’s the same political animal who Andrew Cuomo thinks may be able to help him in next year’s campaign. He’s probably right.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
OCT 15, 2013