With only a handful of days left before Tuesday’s primary elections, it appears that tens of thousands of dollars are being pumped into hotly contested Democratic races for the Erie County Legislature.
The source of this windfall is a political action committee, or PAC, that was registered with the state Board of Elections on Aug. 22 by Kristy L. Mazurek, a former journalist and professed “political operative” who makes no bones about venting her frustration with a rival wing of the local Democratic Party.
“This PAC is made up of a group of like-minded individuals who share the same thought processes and who are not happy with the leadership of the party,” Mazurek said during a telephone interview this week.
Mazurek is treasurer of the newly registered PAC, Western New York Progressive Caucus, and co-host of the political affairs talk show “2 Sides” that airs at noon every Sunday on WGRZ-TV, Channel 2.
To her detractors, it’s an unseemly marriage of journalism and partisan politics, for which she was taken to task Tuesday at a news conference outside the WGRZ studios on Delaware Avenue by Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant and Legislator Timothy R. Hogues. The two Buffalo Democrats, who aligned with Mazurek’s rivals at Democratic headquarters, have complained that they are being unfairly maligned in anonymous mass mailings being put out by Mazurek’s PAC.
In a letter delivered to WGRZ management, they complained that Mazurek “may be involved in a conflict-of-interest situation.”
“We believe that the job of news reporters is to report, to be unbiased … not be slanting the opinions of people,” Hogues said.
Though she formerly worked as a journalist in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Detroit, Mazurek insisted that journalism is not her role at WGRZ.
“I am a political talk show host. I do not work for their news department,” she said, adding that a disclaimer to that effect appears during the opening of each show.
Mazurek asserted that, as a registered voter, she has the right to support the candidates of her choice. In the Legislature’s 1st and 2nd District Democratic races, which both are wholly in the City of Buffalo, her PAC backs former Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams over Hogues and Joyce Wilson-Nixon over Grant.
In the 7th District, encompassing Cheektowaga and South Buffalo, Mazurek’s PAC is supporting former Cheektowaga Councilman Richard A. Zydel over Patrick B. Burke and Lynn M. Dearmyer, the candidate approved by Democratic headquarters. In the 8th District, which includes Lancaster, her PAC’s pick is Wesley S. Moore over Wynnie L. Fisher.
Glossy, expensive-looking mailers touting candidates supported by Mazurek’s PAC and maligning those supported by Democratic headquarters have gone out to thousands of voters since last week. Mazurek did not reveal information about specific donors to her PAC, except to note that they are local businesspeople, as well as current and former politicians.
“I’m not doing the dirty work of some behind-the-scenes individuals. I know every single one of the donors who has contributed to me,” Mazurek said.
“Whether it’s Frank Max, Steve Pigeon or Ronald McDonald, what does it matter?”
Mazurek on Tuesday said that she had already made the appropriate financial disclosures with the state Board of Elections; the state website on Wednesday showed a $30,000 contribution from former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon, and a donation of $1,750 by Friends of Frank Max, which also lists the same mailing address as WNY Progressive Caucus, a PAC that Max on Friday told The News was unfamiliar to him. Both contributions were disclosed to the state on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner accused Mazurek’s group is violating state election law by raising money without reporting it and failing to adhere to individual contribution limits set by the state.
“There is a lot of illegal money shifting around the opponents’ campaigns against our endorsed and supported candidates from the likes of former disgraced Chairman Steve Pigeon,” Zellner said in a news release Wednesday.
He said he will ask that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recently convened Moreland Commission on Public Corruption investigate the group’s activities.