on March 15, 2013 - 10:11 PM
, updated March 15, 2013 at 10:59 PM
ALBANY – If you’re a Bills fan, maybe you believe in karma today.
A few mornings after taking to the Assembly floor this week to criticize the state funding designed to keep the Buffalo Bills from moving, a downstate Republican lawmaker was arrested for possession of marijuana while speeding on the Thruway to get to the Capitol.
Assemblyman Stephen Katz, of the Westchester County hamlet of Mohegan Lake, was pulled over going 80 mph on the Thruway on Thursday morning.
Katz, a 59-year-old veterinarian who last year voted against a bill to legalize marijuana for people suffering serious medical conditions, was busted after a trooper noticed the odor of pot coming from his car. The State Police said a “small bag’’ of marijuana was confiscated, and Katz was allowed to continue on to the Capitol, meaning the trooper did not believe he was high while driving.
The second-term legislator was nabbed at 10 a.m. The session started that morning at 10:07, Assembly records show, and he did miss the first vote, though he did participate in a floor debate later on a bill pertaining to – pause for more irony – pain management.
The previous night, Katz rose to voice his complaint over the deal cut in December by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to keep the Bills in Buffalo. That deal calls for $54 million in capital costs, as well as other operating funding, all of which is contained in this year’s budget plan being readied for a vote next week.
Katz questioned the logic of giving so much money “to billionaires who can more than afford to stay right here.’’
“Aren’t they wealthy enough that they can handle their own operating support?’’ Katz said, adding that he did not see the return on the investment for the state or Buffalo for such a large public investment.
“I don’t see that this is the financial boon to the City of Buffalo,’’ he said on the floor.
When told of the arrest Friday, the president of the Buffalo Bills Booster Club laughed.
“Was that him talking or the marijuana?’’ Dick Zolnowski said of the Monday night floor comments by Katz.
“Maybe if you criticize the Buffalo Bills or Buffalo, it will catch up with you,’’ Zolnowski said of the karma theory making the rounds Friday.
A couple of days after the floor remarks by Katz, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, approached the Westchester County lawmaker.
“I told him that the Buffalo Bills are an integral part of our community,’’ Ryan said, noting he pointed out to Katz that the team is the only NFL franchise in the State of New York, after the Giants and Jets fled to nearby New Jersey.
Ryan also gave Katz a Buffalo Bills cap, and a photo was snapped of the two lawmakers with Katz wearing the hat.
“He said he used to be a big supporter of the Buffalo team when Marv Levy was the only Jewish coach of an NFL team,’’ Ryan said. He said Katz told him his position was a “principled stand’’ in opposition to taxpayer money going to fund stadium construction deals in return for teams dropping their threat to leave a community.
Katz, who represents parts of Putnam and Westchester counties, was first elected to the Assembly in 2010. He is a veterinarian and lives in Mohegan Lake with his family “and numerous animals,’’ according to his official Assembly biography.
The State Police said he was stopped going north on the Thruway in the Town of Coeymans, which is about a 20-minute drive from the Capitol. Police would not say how much marijuana the lawmaker possessed. He was released with an appearance traffic ticket and marijuana violation notice, and is to appear in Coeymans Town Court on March 28.
Like most Assembly Republicans, Katz last year voted against a bill legalizing marijuana for people deemed by physicians to have serious medical conditions, including cancer and chronic pain. A week ago, he put out a news release condemning illegal drug use following publicity about area drug arrests reported in the Gannett-owned newspaper in his district.
Gannett’s Albany bureau last spring reported another dose of controversy involving Katz when he acknowledged being arrested twice before for incidents involving his vet practice. In one case, he was arrested after disposing of a German shepherd in a garbage can. The second came after he said he accidentally knocked a Chihuahua to the floor from an exam table after the dog bit him. In both cases, he said, he was cleared.
Katz also wrote to members of the Assembly urging them not to vote for another term of leadership by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who OK’d a settlement with two Assembly staffers who accused Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment. Katz compared Silver to the late Joe Paterno, who was accused of covering up the episodes of child abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
Katz did not return a call to comment but said in a written statement Friday that the incident Thursday was “unfortunate.’’ In an interesting segue, he said it would not stop his work to help localities get state-imposed mandated costs reduced. “I am confident that once the facts are presented that this will quickly be put to rest,’’ he added.