Ever since his days as Cheektowaga supervisor, election season rarely has passed without mention of Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak as a candidate for higher office.
Popular, well known and hailing from an ethnic base and the politically potent suburb of Cheektowaga, Gabryszak has always loomed as a potential Democratic candidate for county clerk or even county executive.
But all that may have changed after three former female staffers filed a notice of claim against the state this week alleging the assemblyman sexually harassed them. Even the Erie County Democratic chairman, Jeremy J. Zellner, wasted no time in demanding Gabryszak’s resignation and – effectively – the end of his political career.
“If there is any truth to this, I think he should resign immediately for the good of the community,” Zellner said within hours of the allegations.
“This type of behavior is exactly what turns people away from politics and government, and it needs to stop,” he added. “This conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by our party.”
Few other political figures beside Zellner were willing to express their opinion publicly Friday because of their long association with Gabryszak. But just about all who know him privately question how he can now function in light of the seriousness of the accusations and the recent history of similar Albany shenanigans.
“There’s no way he can survive this if there is even a scintilla of truth to what is being said,” noted one longtime political figure and Gabryszak acquaintance.
And because sexual impropriety charges have in recent years dogged a string of local and statewide figures, including former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, the allegations against Gabryszak appear all the more glaring.
“I feel bad, but there’s just no place for that in public life and particularly in Albany,” the acquaintance said. “It was like – again?”
Though Gabryszak has never publicly discussed the possibility of seeking countywide office, sources familiar with the local political scene say his experience as deputy county clerk positioned him as a natural to challenge Republican Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs in 2015. Indeed, Gabryszak had expressed interest in the post in the past.
But his name also has popped up in recent months as the darling of Democrats in the deeply divided local party who are unhappy with Democratic County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. They suggest Gabryszak could have followed a path forged by former County Executive Dennis T. Gorski, who in 1987 left the same Assembly seat, won a Democratic primary (though not against an incumbent Democrat) and went on to serve three terms as county executive.
“A number of people wanted (Gabryszak) to run, and he was giving very serious consideration to it,” said one influential local Democrat intrigued by such a scenario.
Zellner on Friday even questioned the assemblyman’s adherence to what he called Democratic principles like abortion rights, same-sex marriage and the state’s strict new gun-control law.
“I don’t know if his voting record is straight-line Democratic,” the chairman said. “He almost appears more Conservative.”
Like many upstate Democrats, Gabryszak has, throughout his career, won with the backing of the Conservative Party.
It also didn’t take long for State Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox to link Gabryszak to a long list of sexual misdeeds by Democrats. He blamed the state’s top two Democrats – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and pointed to allegations of sexual harassment against Democratic Assemblymen Micah Kellner of Manhattan and Vito Lopez of Brooklyn. He also claimed Silver covered up the actions of Lopez.
Cox said the Democrats’ “culture of corruption” is “alive and well in Albany.”
“While Sheldon Silver was fighting to hold power this summer after revelations that he covered up sexual abuse, yet another member of his Democrat caucus was abusing young female staff members,” he said, referring to Gabryszak. “And when Andrew Cuomo was given the opportunity to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Silver and root out corruption in Albany, he opted instead for a political Moreland Commission to promote his political goal of taxpayer-funded campaigns.”