The biggest names in New York State politics dominated the hot Democratic primary race Monday between incumbent Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan and challengers Kevin P. Gaughan and Joseph Mascia.
First, Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy traveled to Buffalo to bestow both his and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's endorsement on Ryan - a major development given the governor's soaring popularity in Erie County and New York State.
But Gaughan commanded his own attention by calling for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to retire from the speaker's post after approving a financial settlement regarding sexual harassment allegations against Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn.
But Duffy, in a personal appearance at Ryan's headquarters on Delaware Avenue, made it clear he was conveying the wishes of the governor in backing Ryan.
"The one thing we need in Albany is people with local government focus . who are in touch with people every day," Duffy told a gathering of about 25 people. "Certainly, Sean is running against two honorable men. But the governor and I and all of us believe he is the right person for the job."
Ryan and the lieutenant governor were joined by Niagara Council Member David Rivera for the announcement, as well as Sam Hoyt, Cuomo's regional economic development czar and Ryan's predecessor in the Assembly. His presence at the event was also viewed by political observers as an extra expression of Cuomo's backing, given Hoyt's close political and governmental relations with the administration.
"Sean has the governor's full support," Duffy said. "This a great indication of where Gov. Cuomo stands."
Ryan responded by pointing to several Cuomo initiatives he said will benefit the area, including his pledge of $1 billion in economic development funds, the establishment of regional economic councils and new attention to waterfront development.
"Just take a look at what the governor has done with the Regional Economic Councils," Ryan said. "He has created a new model for economic development in New York which understands that the local communities, and not Albany, are in the best position to know the needs of their area. I am going to continue to work with Gov. Cuomo to focus on this smart way of growing our economy."
But Mascia said the Ryan endorsement developed after his own opposition to administration plans such as expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza and waterfront takeover by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. (He prefers city control).
"I'm sure that has not set well with the administration," he said.
He also said the close relationship between Hoyt and his successor prompted the Duffy move.
Gaughan characterized the endorsement as an example of Albany politicians closing ranks with each other.
"Everyone knows that I'm not popular with politicians as a result of my downsizing work," he said Monday night, "so it's not surprising that one politician would endorse another in this race."
Gaughan, meanwhile, said Silver's recent admission of secretly using taxpayer money to protect Lopez from a sexual harassment lawsuit makes him unfit to continue as leader of the Assembly. And in a letter to Silver, Gaughan said he could not think of "one reason to support your continued leadership should voters send me to Albany.
"You can count on one hand the number of visits you've made to Buffalo, or the number of Western New York issues you've championed," Gaughan said. "As a result, your now 17-year tenure as Assembly speaker has mirrored my community's period of chronic economic decline, and job and population loss."
Gaughan said Silver's acknowledgement of approving state funds to settle a sexual harassment suit against Lopez further adds to his disappointment.
"Why are public funds involved in the first place?" Gaughan asked. "Even if you had voluntarily revealed this transaction, it would not erase the underlying unfairness of having a politician escape criminal prosecution by paying off women who claim to have been victimized."
As a result, Gaughan said that if elected he will introduce legislation prohibiting the use of public funds to settle legal claims against sitting members of the State Legislature.
"Public servants should face the same consequences for their actions as private citizens," he said, "without the security of knowing that if they get into trouble they can always buy their way out of it with taxpayer money."
Duffy and Ryan, meanwhile, said they will wait until after ongoing investigations are concluded before passing judgment.
"The governor has been very clear in calling for a thorough investigation of all the facts," the former Rochester mayor and chief of police said. "I grew up with the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty."
Ryan said he agreed, but also sees a need for "transparency."
"This will be looked at," he said.