A week after sexual harassment allegations forced Democrat Dennis H. Gabryszak from the Assembly, speculation is growing about how his departure might affect other candidates and whether political hardball also had something to do with his resignation.
One candidate for office this year – State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy – is quietly absorbing the political ramifications that may help his cause.
To understand how the Assembly seat race might affect the Senate seat outcome, one needs to look at the candidates and their overlapping districts.
Kennedy, who loudly condemned Gabryszak for the sexual harassment allegations, won a narrow primary race against a city-based candidate, Betty Jean Grant, the last time around. And his Senate district in Cheektowaga overlaps with Gabryszak’s Assembly district.
So a heavy Assembly primary turnout in the Cheektowaga portion of Kennedy’s Senate district could only benefit the incumbent, according to political observers. That is especially true if Kennedy once again faces a stiff challenger from Buffalo.
Those factors prompt some to observe that, in addition to the serious harassment accusations, politics also may have contributed to the events leading to Gabryszak’s resignation.
“It could all be a coincidence,” said Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner. “But there definitely could be validity to the idea that politics is going on here in the advantage for Tim Kennedy to have a primary in the fall.”
Zellner is not expected to endorse Kennedy this year after the senator worked against some organization Democrats in 2013.
The notion of political overtones also has not escaped Gabryszak’s attorney, Terrence M. Connors.
“There are political considerations that need to be explored,” Connors said, without elaborating.
Kennedy eked out a razor-thin primary victory in 2012 over County Legislator Grant after spending about $400,000 on the race compared with her approximately $20,000.
Grant and former State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, both Buffalo Democrats and both African-American, are said to be exploring a race against Kennedy this year.
Meanwhile, G. Steven Pigeon – a political ally of Kennedy – helped organize Gabryszak’s female accusers. The former Erie County Democratic chairman also recognizes the political realities stemming from the situation, and he emphasizes neither he nor anyone else pulled strings behind the scenes against Gabryszak.
“I laugh about that,” Pigeon said about suggestions of his involvement. “Clearly, it was his own behavior that led to this.
“People are delusional if they think there was a wider plan,” he added.
But Pigeon did acknowledge that several of Gabryszak’s accusers came to him recently with their concerns. He referred them to a close associate, Niagara Falls attorney John P. Bartolomei, who is now handling the case for the women.
One of the accusers, political operative Kristy L. Mazurek, is a Pigeon associate who last fall administered the WNY Progressive Caucus fund that gave about $267,000 to several anti-organization Democrats favored by Pigeon. Mazurek did not return a call seeking comment, but Pigeon said she is among those seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Gabryszak.
Other contributors to Pigeon’s political committee include Kennedy, who gave about $85,000 to the fund that also targeted Grant. She later complained to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission investigating public corruption, but never received any acknowledgement of her charge. The Erie County Board of Elections, however, is probing the Pigeon committee, which also received more than $100,000 in contributions from Pigeon.
The former chairman, who remains active in many area and statewide campaigns, said Gabryszak’s departure could mean good news for Kennedy.
“A primary in Cheektowaga would be helpful,” he said. “He’s going to need to get out his South Buffalo-Cheektowaga base.”
But Pigeon also said the gravity of the harassment charges points to a “chronic” problem for Gabryszak that had to be addressed, and that he was ethically bound to help guide the women through the complaint process.
“It was beyond the pale; too many charges, too many women,” he said. “And there was no gamesmanship in order to have a primary.”