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Monday, January 6, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Bellavia: Fall of Fallujah is a bitter pill to swallow for Iraq War vets

post by Howard B. Owens in David Bellavia

The way David Bellavia sees it, there's no real chance of going back to Fallujah, not that he and few of his fellow Iraq War veterans haven't mentioned the idea in conversation.

The news reports of al-Qaida-linked forces capturing Fallujah and Ramadi hasn't sat well with Bellavia, nor the families of those who lost loved ones in battles to secure those cities for Iraq's government, said the Batavia resident who was awarded a Silver Star for his role in liberating Fallujah from insurgents in 2004.

"It's a black eye for our foreign policy in the Middle East," Bellavia said. "It's the same group we backed in Syria and not a damn thing was said about it. The enemy in Iraq is the very force that has tried to overthrow Assad. It shows how absolutely difficult the Middle East has become. This administration has decided Iraq is not important. All of the focus is on Afghanistan, so as far as Iraq goes, it's a closed chapter and we move on. For the veterans of that war, it's a bitter pill to swallow."

Bellavia said he talks regularly with fellow veterans and he's also heard from three families who lost loved ones in Fallujah and nobody is happy about the turn of events. It does indeed cause some to ask "what did we fight for?" -- he thinks that's really the goal of al-Qaida.

Bellavia compared the fall of Fallujah to the fall of Saigon, saying Fallujah is his generation's Normandy. He said it was sacred ground.

"Fallujah has no tactical value to the enemy at all," Bellavia said. "It's nothing but a moral victory. If you want to take over Iraq, you capture Basra and Baghdad. Taking over Fallujah is nothing but a thumb in the eye to Americans."

What's particularly galling, Bellavia said, is the seeming willingness of Fallujah residents, who once welcomed the Americans, now supporting al-Qaida.

"Before last month, we believed people (in Fallujah) appreciated the sacrafice, but you can't say that now," Bellavia said, "especially when you hear the locals are taking al-Qaida in and housing them and helping them stand against the government. What do you say to that?"

Perhaps if the administration had more aggressively pursued a status of force agreement that allowed more air cover for government forces, al-Qaida wouldn't have felt emboldened to capture the cities of the Al Anbar Province.

As it is, it didn't take much for the Islamic radicals to capture territory Americans once fought so hard to free.

"You know there's a problem when you get a report that a city fell and there are only eight people dead," Bellavia said. "That means whoever was defending the city just left. They didn't want to risk their blood to defend the city."

One thing Bellavia doesn't see happening is U.S. troops returning to Fallujah.

"I don't think anybody wants boots on the ground," Bellavia said. 

Even with the change in circumstances, al-Qaida isn't in full control of the city. Sunni tribal forces are also asserting authority while the Shiite-led government of Iraq has seemingly abandoned its posts.

Eventually, Bellavia believes, Iraq will muster sufficient security forces to retake Fallujah. But then what? The Sunnis and the radicals will just want it back, and so on, with no end in sight.

But perhaps, Bellavia said, that's the enduring lesson of Iraq, with consequences for U.S. foreign policy throughout the region.

"We can't be there forever," Bellavia said. "Were we going to have permanent bases in Iraq like Germany or Japan? That's the tough lesson. If they choose not to fight, they choose not to fight. It doesn't make it easier for those who lost loved ones, but we can't go back. We're all now 10 years from the fight. We have families. We have children. Would we want our sons and daughters to go back to Iraq and finish the job we couldn't? Absolutely not. There's no way I would want my son to go through anything like I went through. We served our country, we did it with honor and an unflinching sense of duty, but we can't save the world if we are the only ones willing to die for the cause."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 12:51 am

Bellavia thanks volunteers, pledges support to GOP after primary loss to Chris Collins

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, kathy hochul, NY-27

In the end, David Bellavia expressed more regret for his volunteers than he did for himself.

"I’m just exhausted," Bellavia said. "I’ve been walking so many miles and...so many doors...and I’m just trying to think in my head, what could I have done more, what could I have done, but at the end of the day, I’m just so sorry to all of these volunteers who gave me so much time and effort. I just feel really bad that I let them down."

The decorated Iraq War veteran thanked several of his volunteers by name during his concession speech at the Clarion Hotel in Batavia on Tuesday night. He then pledged his support to the Republican party and the effort to defeat President Barack Obama and Rep. Kathy Hochul in November.

"I spoke to Mr. Collins and I congratulated him on his victory," Bellavia told his supporters. "I’m telling you right now, we are going to lock shields as a party. We are going to stand in the trenches shoulder to shoulder."

After a campaign in which Bellavia characterized Collins as a "country club Republican" who was out of touch with the rural voters of the GLOW counties, the natural question for Bellavia after his speech: Did you just pledge to stand behind Collins?

His answer, "We’re going to talk. I stand behind the party and the process. I don’t make any excuse for whether it’s perfect today. We lost. I have kids and it’s important that they understand that you have honor when you win and you have honor when you lose. I have no excuses. I’m a Republican. I want to see Republicans win. Chris and I will talk in the future and we’ll move forward."

If Bellavia backs Collins, it's unclear if many of his GLOW supporters will follow.

But at the Clarion on Tuesday night, one of Bellavia's volunteers clearly said she won't vote for Collins in November.

Michelle McCulloch believes Collins was at least tangentially responsible for losing her staff position with State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer.

"You’re asking a person who lost her job because Chris Collins didn’t want me helping someone else in the race," McCulloch said. "I have never tried to work against my party, but I have no use for Mr. Collins. I know what he is and he knows what he is. He will never have my vote or my family’s vote."

Asked if she would help Hochul's campaign, McCulloch said, "I’ll see how things play out. I guess I’ll listen to Kathy Hochul and see what she has to say and go from there."

McCulloch was among the volunteers Bellavia singled out for thanks during his concession speech.

"Michelle McCullough has sacrificed so very much for me and on the side of honor, principle and integrity," Bellavia said. "Your family is beautiful. Your husband is an outstanding man. I’m so sorry for what you’ve had to endure and we’re going to make it right."

Collins will now face Hochul, who won her seat in a special election in May 2011 in which she attacked Collins ally Jane Corwin for her support of the Paul Ryan Budget Plan. Within an hour of Collins declaring victory on Tuesday, the Hochul campaign sent out a press release attacking Collins on the same topic.

Statement from Campaign Manager Frank Thomas:

"Chris Collins has made it a hallmark of his campaign to avoid taking positions on key issues. But one thing is clear, Mr. Collins supports Paul Ryan's budget; a plan that turns Medicare into a voucher program and makes seniors pay $6,400 more for their Medicare benefits to fund tax cuts for multimillionaires. He has even has said that it does not go far enough.

“It is time that Chris Collins comes clean with voters about his plans to take the Ryan’s budget further. What more could he do on top of decimating Medicare and protecting the super rich? We hope that now that he is the nominee he is willing to answer questions on the issues that matter most to the people of the 27th district.”

Previously: Collins landslide in Erie County sinks Bellavia in NY-27 GOP primary

PHOTO: Bellavia during his concession speech with his wife, Deanna, his children and parents (not pictured, his brother, Rand).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Collins landslide in Erie County sinks Bellavia in NY-27 GOP primary

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, NY-27

I imagine that by this point, anybody who cares knows that Chris Collins defeated David Bellavia in the NY-27 GOP primary. I spent the evening with the Bellavia camp at the Clarion Hotel in Batavia. I'll have pictures and quotes later.

Meanwhile, here are the available results:

With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, it's Collins 10,124 votes (60 percent) to 6,720.

Erie County dictated the outcome of the race, with Collins winning 5,889 votes to 2,094. Bellavia won every other county except Niagara.

Bellavia took Genesee County 1,105 to 683.

Wyoming County hasn't reported yet, but in Orleans and Livingston, it was Bellavia 758 to 389 and 854 to 679.

In the section of the district that covers Monroe and Ontario counties, it was Bellavia 1,048 to 586.

UPDATE: Wyoming County, Bellavia 734 to 623.

Monday, June 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Candidates make final push for GOP primary in Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, NY-27

Batavia, the heartland of the redrawn 27th Congressional District, became a hotbed of political activity today as the two candidates in the GOP primary engaged in some last minute campaigning with Buffalo TV news crews in tow.

Chris Collins stopped for lunch and handshakes at the Pok-A-Dot and David Bellavia stopped at GOP households along Naramore Drive, Batavia.

Collins and Bellavia both predicted victory and took a couple final swings at each other.

Collins on why Genesee County Republicans should vote for him rather than Bellavia:

"You need look no further than this campaign. We're spot on with the issues. We have a professional campaign, 100-percent positive, 100-percent focused and he’s taken a page out of the Barack Obama playbook -- divide and conqueror, vote against Chris Collins because he’s from Erie County. He’s insulted every resident in the county of Erie. He’s divided us just like Barack Obama, the haves, have nots, the ones, the 99s, we’re running on the issues. He’s running a negative campaign. People don’t like that."

Bellavia on Collins saying he's run a divisive campaign:

"It’s very funny, because I’m not campaigning against Erie County. I’m campaigning against him and the handful of individuals who make up the Erie County GOP machine who embarrassed the Erie County Republic Party, who have almost ruined the party in Erie County and have done nothing but embarrass us and fail us. He should have beat Mark Poloncarz handily. He didn’t. He talks about the 64 percent of Erie County in the district that voted for him, but there’s never been a menu option and now there’s another entree on the menu and he’s going to find out that a lot of people held their nose last time. It’s not about Erie County at all. It’s about Chris Collins."

At the Pok-A-Dot, after I turned off my tape recorder, Chris Collins and I discussed the likely voter turnout tomorrow. I said it would be low. Collins said that he had a deal with Genesee County GOP Chairman Richard Seibert that he wouldn't do robo calls in Genesee County if Seibert promised to get out the vote.

Collins said he had the same deal with Livingston County.

Collins repeated the statement, no robo calls if Seibert got out the vote.

This sounded like a deal between Collins and Seibert, who is officially neutral in the race (and the county GOP did not endorse a candidate).

Reached at his office, Seibert said there was no such deal.

Seibert said he had a conversation with Collins about robo calls during the Jane Corwin campaign, that people were getting as many as 16 calls a day and it didn't go over well with Genesee County voters.

"I told him that robo calls were killing us," Seibert said. "That's not what our people want or like."

Collins said he wouldn't do robo calls in Genesee County, but Seibert said there was no promise to get out votes for Collins.

The county GOP is not doing any specific get-out-the-vote effort, Seibert said. Individuals are free to support and work on behalf of either candidate and are doing so, Seibert said, but he hasn't asked any Republicans to work for either campaign.

Reached later, Collin's campaign spokesman Michael Kracker said Collins did not mean to leave the impression that Seibert promised to deliver votes for his campaign.

"Dick Seibert has been very good at remaining neutral in this race," Kracker said.

As for the predicted turn out, Seibert said he doesn't think it's going to be has big as he had hoped.

With David Bellavia being from Genesee County, he thought the Bellavia campaign would work hard to get out the vote in Genesee County, and that to counter that move, the Collins campaign would match the effort. Neither candidate, Seibert said, has put any extra emphasis on Genesee County and he's not hearing many people around the county talking about the election.

Seibert ordered enough ballots to handle a 40-percent turnout among Republican voters.

"I've got a bad feeling I ordered too many ballots," Seibert said.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 8:52 pm

David Bellavia believes he can beat Chris Collins on issues, integrity and a sense of service

post by Howard B. Owens in David Bellavia, NY-27

David Bellavia wants to be your congressional representative because he has old-fashioned values -- honor, integrity and service.

He's a conservative Republican, but not the hardline hawk some might expect from a decorated Iraq War veteran whose book on his experiences is about to be made into a Hollywood movie.

In the GOP primary for the NY-27 congressional district, all he wants is a chance to debate his opponent, former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, because he thinks he can beat Collins on the issues.

"I want to be able to look him in the eye and say he’s not a true conservative," Bellavia said. "He can’t express these values. He doesn’t know these federal issues. And the only job he was probably most qualified for, he got voted out of office on."

Bellavia grew up in Orleans County and lives in Batavia with his wife and three children.

His top issues are jobs, agriculture, taxes and health care.

On jobs, he wants to reduce burdensome regulations, especially Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley, which he said makes it harder for smaller companies to raise funding and go public.

"No medium-sized business can compete if you have to pay for all of these compliance tasks," Bellavia said.

He would also like to end inheritance tax (aka, legacy tax or death tax) because, he said, it forces families to sell businesses.

"What better way to build a community than to have a business in the family for generation after generation." Bellavia said.

He also believes multinational corporations that are keeping a large portion of their profits overseas in order to avoid taxes should be granted amnesty if they bring the billions and billions of dollars back to the United States and use it to fund research and development and create jobs.

On taxes, he considers the capital gains tax unconstitutional because it taxes a person's money twice (once as earned income, second as investment income), and the corporate tax rate should be lowered from 37 percent to 25 percent.

Taxpayers should be able to choose, he said, between paying a graduated tax with deductions -- much like our current system -- or a flat tax with no deductions.

The first $20,000 a person earns should be tax free, he said.

Related to taxes is the need to reduce spending.

"We've got to aggressively slash entitlements in this country," Bellavia said. "If we continue to use the same principles as Europe, we're gong to wind up like France, Italy, Cyprus or Greece, the list goes on."

Bellavia supports the Ryan Budget Plan, at least the part that would block-grant Medicaid to the states. He said federal education funds should be handled the same way.

"Why is federal government holding the strings on education?" Bellavia said. "Let teachers teach and give powers back to the communities to control their own destiny."

On agriculture, the first order of business is to fix the worker visa program so that dairy farmers, in particular, can hire and retain workers.

"People in the city think crops grow at waist level," Bellavia said. "Farm work is hard work and we need to help workers come here from other countries. They don't want to be citizens. They don't consider themselves workers. They think of themselves as professional farmers who want to make a living, do their jobs and take care of their families back home."

The Environmental Protection Agency, Bellavia said, is "out of control." The regulations it puts on dairy farmers add high overhead and makes it harder for dairies to grow to meet new demand.

On health care, Bellavia believes that the Supreme Court will find Obama's health plan -- the mandate for health insurance -- unconstitutional.

But, he said, there's an easy fix: competition. Allow health insurance to be sold across state lines, with people -- not employers -- choosing where they purchase insurance, and creating a system of community-based healthcare cooperatives.

He also said tort reform would help bring down healthcare costs.

On foreign policy, Bellavia fears the United States will be dealing with problems in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan for another generation or more.

"It breaks my heart," Bellavia said. "I don’t want my babies to have to experience anything like I went through."

Afghanistan, he acknowledged, is looking a lot like Vietnam, an endless drain on American resources.

The U.S. has no strategy in Afghanistan, he said, and while the news media tends to portray the enemy as the Taliban, the groups that engage the U.S. military are more diverse than that, from tribal war lords to drug runners.

"We're not there to die and sacrifice and look good for the world," Bellavia said. "The mission is not worth it if we can't defend our brothers and protect them and do what we need to to bring them home.

"Right now, these men and women do not have rules of engagement they can follow. All this administration does and all Congress does is say, 'Oh, we've dropped another bomb and killed X number of people.' "

On trade, Bellavia says, "China is our enemy," and believes China needs to be confronted over currency manipulation.

He also believes foreign goods that compete with U.S.-made goods should be taxed.

Every component needs to be made in the U.S., he said, in order to avoid extra fees.

"If every one of those boxes isn't checked, another and another VAT," Bellavia said. "You can't call it a tariff. That's a bad word. Call it a value added tax, add it on. I'd like to see a Hyundai Elantra become a $70,000 car."

If Bellavia makes it to the general election, he knows there will be huge sums of money spent on his behalf trying to defeat Kathy Hochul. While Bellavia said he will have no control over these independent expenditures, he won't stand, he said, for ads that are nothing more than mud slinging.

"I have standards and honor is important to me," Bellavia said. "I’m a father. I'm an example to my children. I’m a husband. If I have an ad where an organization is showing representative Hochul throwing an elderly woman off a cliff, you better believe the next day after that commercial airs, I will stand up and say this is completely repugnant and unnecessary.

"I can beat her," he added. "I will beat her, but I’m going to beat her the old-fashioned way. With issues. We’re going to talk to the people. I don't need to smear Mr. Collins or Mrs. Hochul. I think their records stand for themselves."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Bellavia knocks Collins for seeking funds from Obama's stimulus package

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, NY-27

According to David Bellavia, when it comes to fiscal policy, his GOP primary opponent in the NY-27 race, Chris Collins, isn't conservative enough.

His proof: Collins said President Barack Obama's multibillion dollar economic stimulus spending was good for Erie County.

Collins was county executive for Erie County in 2009 and his office put out a newsletter saying as much, Bellavia said in a press conference today at his new campaign headquarters on East Main Street, Batavia.

"I can't find one fiscal conservative who agrees that Obama's stimulus was a good thing," Bellavia said.

Bellavia said Collins loved the stimulus plan so much that he asked that a total of $1.9 billion be channeled to Erie County.

In an effort to fact check Bellavia's statement, a Google search turned up a press release from the City of Buffalo in which Collins and Mayor Bryon W. Brown say they want to see Erie County and Buffalo receive the stimulus funds.

Collins quote:

“At a time when county resources are scarce, a possible injection of federal dollars could have a tremendous impact on Erie County’s aging and neglected infrastructure. Funding for even a fraction of these projects would represent a significant investment in our community, the opportunity to hire thousands of local workers, and reduce our need for capital borrowing in the future.”

Bellavia also said Collins used $85,000 in stimulus money to balance the Erie County budget.

Ask for a response via email, Michael Kracker, spokesman for Collins, wrote:

Chris Collins balanced the budget in Erie County the old-fashioned way -- by reducing the size of government, vetoing hundreds of additional spending requests from liberal Democrats and making government more efficient. Mr. Collins was actually threatened with a lawsuit by Democratic politicians like Louise Slaughter and Kirsten Gillibrand for NOT spending the stimulus money. Mr. Bellavia has his facts wrong.

While still in office, Collins did an interview with Buffalo's Art Voice and explained that Buffalo was receiving $75,000 in stimulus money, available through the efforts of liberal Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer, to offset anticipated shortfalls, as a result of the recession, for Medicaid expenses.

The other ongoing dispute between Bellavia and Collins is over the conditions of any debate.

Numerous times, Bellavia has said he wants a chance to debate Collins on the issues, but he claims Collins keeps dodging a debate.

On Tuesday, there was a debate scheduled in Clarence that Bellavia did not attend because, he said, the whole format was set up to favor Collins. Bellavia says the scheduled moderator is an Erie County legislator who has received substantial financial support from Collins, and that Collins wouldn't allow a reporter from the Buffalo News on the panel. Bellavia also asserts that the Erie County GOP was handing out tickets to only 200 Collins supporters. In addition, Bellavia wanted the debate to be televised.

Bellavia said that the no-debate stance by Collins is a strategy to marginalize the Bellavia campaign since Bellavia doesn't have a personal fortune to spend, as Collins does, on campaign ads.

Here's the response from Kracker on behalf of Collins:

As for the debates, Mr. Bellavia once again demonstrates an aversion to the truth. In May, Mr. Bellavia enthusiastically agreed to the debate sponsored by the ECFRW -- in front of over 100 people. It was only afterwards that his campaign made up numerous stories to cover for his ducking of the issues and Mr. Collins. His claims are simply untrue -- pure and simple. Of the five candidates invited to participate -- including all three U.S. Senate candidates, Mr. Bellavia was the only one who took issue with the terms and refused to participate.

UPDATE Thursday, 7:31 a.m.: Here's a link to a Buffalo News article on what happened with $41 million of the stimulus funds. (Link provided by the Bellavia campaign.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Chris Collins stops in Batavia to speak out against Hochul and Obama; Bellavia, not so much

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, kathy hochul, NY-27, politics

Kathy Hochul supports Obama, Obama is destroying the country, and only Mitt Romney in the White House and Chris Collins in the NY-27 seat can put things right, Collins told local reporters outside Batavia City Hall today.

“We have to defeat a representative who does not represent our core values," Collins said. "My core values are smaller government, personal accountability, local decision making, fiscal discipline, serving taxpayers and respecting future generations.

"These are not only the core values of the 27th Congressional District, they’re the core values of America. They are not President Obama’s core values. They are not Kathy Hochul’s core values."

Not once during his five-minute speech did Collins mention his GOP primary opponent, David Bellavia.

Asked about it, Collins said he is entirely focused on defeating Hochul on Nov. 6. Even if he loses the primary -- which he said he would win -- he will still be on the Conservative Party line and he said he intends to continue campaigning against Hochul right up until the general election.

"Kathy Hochul supports Obama," Collins said. "She is totally out of sync with the values of the 27th District. She won’t even admit she’s a Democrat."

According to recent reports, Hochul has a voting record that has not been in line with Obama or the Democrats.

The Buffalo News reported over the weekend that "Hochul is bucking the party line," noting that "Hochul voted with the Democratic Party line 81 percent of the time and with the Obama administration 78 percent of the time," which is less than other Democrats.

"Politico" noted that Hochul has not been the lapdog for Obama's health care policies that Democrats expected when she beat Jane Corwin -- in part because Hochul latched onto the GOP's Medicare reform plan as a wedge issue.

Still, Hochul did tell the Buffalo News she will vote for Obama, even though she won't attend the Democratic convention and, the News said, "she gives the president mixed reviews."

For Collins, however, Hochul and Obama are inexorably linked. 

The hook of Collins's remarks today was a statement by Obama that "the private sector is doing fine."

Collins said, the private sector isn't doing fine, not when there is 8.2 percent unemployment, China is cheating at trade and corporate tax rates are too high.

“We’ll keep talking about jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy," Collins said.

With Romney as president and Collins part of a GOP majority in Congress, Collins said policies would be enacted to put Americans back to work, most specifically, lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

He also said the nation's debt is too high and promised smaller government if the GOP is given a chance to lead the way.

"Small businesses have a lack of confidence in the future of our country," Collins said. "We have a president who let that happen because he needs to keep going to China to borrow money. We cannot continue to borrow $4 million a day, $1.4- $1.5 billion a year and have small business invest in our future. They don’t know where the future is going."

One point Collins and Hochul seem to agree on: Trade. 

Hochul kept her campaign promise and voted against free-trade agreements supported both by the GOP leadership and President Obama.

Collins said he would push for tarriffs on China if the nation continues its current trade policies, which include not letting its currency float on the open market, and giving Chinese businesses a 30-percent price advantage over U.S. companies.

Collins's message for China, "Float your currency, respect our IP, open your own markets -- or else. They need us more than we need them."

Monday, June 4, 2012 at 11:54 am

Former aide files ethics complaint against Sen. Ranzenhofer

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, michael ranzenhofer, NY-27

UPDATED at 1:08 p.m. with response from Sen. Ranzenhofer. UPDATED 2:15 p.m.: Response from Ranzenhofer clarified regarding cooperation with commission.

A former member of Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer's staff who claims she was fired for backing the wrong congressional candidate has sent a formal complaint to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

The complaint alleges that Ranzenhofer violated Public Officers Law 73, 17(c) by requiring paid legislative staff to work on political campaigns.

Michelle McCulloch, a 45-year-old Attica resident and mother of four children, was on the state payroll as an aide to Ranzenhofer until April 30.

McCulloch said she was never given a reason Ranzenhofer terminated her employment, but she believes it was because she backs rural Republican David Bellavia while Ranzenhofer is closely allied with the Erie County GOP and that county's candidate, Chris Collins.

(Previously: While Ranzenhofer claims neutrality in congressional race, petitions for Collins seem to tell a different story)

Reached earlier today, Ranzenhofer said he had not yet seen the complaint and "I find it ironic that you've seen it before I did."

He said any response he would have at this point would be the same as May 11 when he denied asking staff to do anything out of the ordinary, but said he couldn't discuss McCulloch's dismissal since it's a personnel matter.

He said he might comment further after he's had a chance to read the complaint.

The ethics complaint, McCulloch said Sunday, isn't really about her firing, though.

"Honestly, I've been asked many times if I'm crazy for going forward with this and I am afraid of retribution," McCulloch said. "I happen to know a lot of people who are in the same situation I was in and everybody is afraid to speak up.

"Constituents are supposed to be able to believe in their elected officials," McCulloch added. "It's an honor to serve constituents and when elected officials don't behave in an ethical way, it needs to be brought to public light. I hope this will inspire others to come forward and stop what is going on."

McCulloch believes Ranzenhofer's alleged violation of the public officers law is "pretty black and white."

The law reads:

No state officer or employee shall, directly or indirectly, use his or her official authority to compel or induce any other state officer or employee to make or promise to make any political contribution, whether by gift of money, service or other thing of value.

According to her complaint, which was delivered Friday to the commission and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Ranzenhofer forced staff to deliver signed petitions for the Conservative Party line to the campaign of Collins.

Collins, a businessman and former Erie County executive, is running against Iraq War veteran and Batavia resident David Bellavia for the GOP nomination in the reconfigured NY-27.

McCulloch, a lifelong resident of Attica and longtime member of the Wyoming County GOP Committee, is supporting Bellavia for the nomination.

Wyoming County is outside of Ranzenhofer's senate district.

According to McCulloch's sworn statement, some time in late March, Jon McNulty, a field representative for Ranzenhofer and an ally of Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, informed Ranzenhofer staff members that the senator wanted each one to determine a time when they could commit to circulating petitions on behalf of the Collins campaign.

"We were to use either personal time or comp time to fulfill this obligation," said McCulloch, who added she felt no choice but to comply.

It was up to Ralph Mohr, an Erie County GOP Committee member, to determine the locations of the petition drive.

On or about April 1, Mohr arrived at Ranzenhofer's legislative office with a packet of prepared Conservative petitions and lists and maps of registered Conservative Party voters in the Town of Newstead, Village of Akron and a portion of the Town of Clarence.

Mohr allegedly told staff members that Ranzenhofer requested the petitions.

"At this time, I and another staff member indicated to Jon McNulty that we did not wish to pass petitions for Christopher Collins," McCulloch wrote. "Mr. McNulty told the staff this was a team effort and the senator expected cooperation from the full staff."

According to McCulloch, passing petitions for Collins wasn't a novel requirement. Staff was required, according to McCulloch, to volunteer for Collins during his failed bid to win reelection as Erie County executive.

The chief reason, according to sources, that taxpayer-paid legislative staff members often have notary certificates is so they can collect signatures on minor party lines. According McCulloch, McNulty directed staff members to ensure their notary qualifications were up to date.

On April 4, the Republicans in Wyoming County endorsed Bellavia, and McCulloch subsequently passed Republican petitions for Bellavia outside of Ranzenhofer's district.

On April 9, Bellavia asked McCulloch to be among the Wyoming County Republicans on his steering committee.

"I personally felt he was the best candidate in the race," McCulloch wrote.

On April 17, Bellavia announced the names of those on his steering commitee, which included McCulloch and another Ranzenhofer aide, former Genesee County Legislator Jerome Grasso.

Soon after the announcement hit the Web, the wrath of McNulty and Langworthy came down on McCulloch, according to her statement.

She described McNulty, who was in her office when he got a test message about the committee, as "visibly angered."

During the course of the day, McCulloch said, there were several conversations about Grasso and McCulloch supporting Bellavia and McNulty felt Ranzenhofer should "lay down the law" and demand that Grasso and McCulloch withdraw their support of Bellavia.

On that same day, Grasso and McCulloch met with Ranzenhofer's Chief of Staff Kathleen Donner. Donner, according to McCulloch, told the two staff members that she didn't think Ranzenhofer would have a problem with their participation in Bellavia's campaign. An hour later, she called McCulloch back into her office and said that at the direction of Ranzenhofer she was to discontinue her support of Bellavia.

At about 6 p.m., Ranzenhofer called McCulloch.

"He indicated he was very disappointed in my participation with the Bellavia Campaign Steering Committee," McCulloch wrote. "He stated his political consultant Mr. Hook had contacted him regarding this issue and that Mr. Hook was not happy, either. He also stated I was not to do anything political, at any time, without informing him. This included any actions I may take as a committeewoman with the Wyoming County Republican Committee."

McCulloch was an elected member of the committee.

On April 26, Bellavia contacted McCulloch and informed her he would be attending a fundraiser hosted by Wyoming County Republicans and asked if McCulloch and her husband could provide some introductions to local GOP members. She said she introduced Bellavia to no more than eight people.

The next day, believing she was following Ranzenhofer's instructions, she emailed the senator and informed him of her political activity.

On April 30, McCulloch was summoned to Donner's office. 

"She was visibly upset," McCulloch wrote. "She said this was the hardest thing she has had to do and then she informed me the senator was no longer in need of my services effective immediately."

It was a tough decision, McCulloch said in last night's interview, to go forward with the ethics complaint, but she's received a tremendous amount of support from fellow GLOW Republicans.

"When I did my own thing and in my own county, that’s when I was chastised, McCulloch said. "If they can do that to me, who else can they do it to, and who might be afraid to speak out?"

GLOW Republicans, McCulloch believes, are getting fed up with the Eric County GOP trying to dictate politics in rural communities, and she hopes that if her ethics complaint is upheld by the commission, it will send a message about the end of power politics locally.

"I went back to school in 2001 and graduated in 2006 because I believe we need a voice out here as much as any community, maybe more," McCulloch said. "We are good, hard-working people in Wyoming and Genesee counties. We shouldn't be beholden to Erie County."

The complaint against Ranzenhofer is the second big case sent to the new joint ethics commission, which was formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo about six months ago.

The other case, a complaint against the second most powerful man in the Senate, Sen. Thomas Libous, has created some controversy for the commission because of an alleged leak about the status of the case.

The commission, charged with fostering a more transparent government,  operates in secret and leaks of its proceedings are criminal acts.

Ellen Biben, the commission's executive director, has the power to open a preliminary investigation on her own, but a full investigation requires the support of eight of the 12 commissioners, including at least one of the three Republican senators on the commission.

The commission has 45 days to decide whether to proceed.

If there is an investigation, McCulloch, Grasso, McNulty and other staff members would likely be asked to provide sworn testimony.

Ranzhenhofer can choose to be represented by an attorney. He said today that he would cooperate completely with the commission if there is an investigation.

The commission will not publicly disclose whether an investigation is taking place and only its findings would be made public. If the commission finds against Ranzenhofer, any potential sanctions are the purview of a legislative committee.

Ranzenhofer is facing a reelection challenge from Democrat Justin Rooney.

Meanwhile, according to sources, Ranzenhofer, who has publicly proclaimed neutrality in the race between Collins and Bellavia, appeared at two events that Collins also attend in Genesee County on Friday -- a fundraiser for Genesee Cancer Assistance at Batavia Downs and a Rotary Club function in Le Roy. Grasso typically is with Ranzenhofer at any appearance he makes in Genesee County. Grasso, who remains on the Bellavia steering committee, has not returned a call seeking comment and clarification.

Today, Ranzenhofer said any attempt to tie his appearance at these events with Collins was "one of the most ridiculous things I've heard."

"I'm an elected official," Ranzenhofer said. "I got invited to the cancer event by Joe Gerace and the event in Le Roy was at Grasso's Rotary Club. The events were on my schedule. I have no control over who else shows up at these events."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Bellavia knocks Collins for cribbing ideas from former congressional reps

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, NY-27

Press release:

The campaign of GOP congressional candidate David Bellavia today criticized former Erie County executive Chris Collins for borrowing the ideas of former Western New York Republican Congressmen in his Small Business Bill of Rights but failing to give credit where it was due.

In 2010, Congressman Chris Lee (NY-26) co-sponsored H.R. 5109, titled the Small Business Bill of Rights. (bit.ly/KIWkKL) The bill was meant to stimulate growth and innovation in small businesses, much like Mr. Collins' initiative of the same name announced today. Rep. Lee's Small Business Bill of Rights included provisions for tax relief, limiting government regulations, protecting the secret ballot, lowering health care costs, and protecting intellectual property.

Also in 2010, Rep. Lee unveiled "Manufacturing for Tomorrow," a five-point plan to strengthen manufacturing in Western New York. The initiative called for tax relief and fairness for U.S. workers and manufacturers, tort reform to address job-killing lawsuit abuse, and customs reform to stop intellectual property violations. (scr.bi/Lg8olA) Collins' Small Business Bill of Rights, meant to bolster small businesses in the 27th Congressional District, mirrors the key points of Rep. Lee's plan, but without giving him credit. Mr. Collins advocates tax relief for small businesses ("right to lower taxes"), tort reform ("right to be free of frivolous lawsuits"), and intellectual property protection. (bit.ly/LGBjyE)

During his time in office, Rep. Lee was one of two representatives from New York State who opposed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which denied workers the right to a secret ballot. (bit.ly/KZMoLi) Another tenet in Mr. Collins' plan is the "right to secret ballots for union elections."

"A large portion of Mr. Collins' Small Business Bill of Rights comes directly from the work of Rep. Lee," Bellavia campaign manager and former Lee staffer Paul Cole said. Cole also charged Collins with borrowing the ideas of former Congressman Tom Reynolds.

In the document, Collins also states that "China needs to play by the rules." Mr. Collins advises that China must float its currency in order to end currency manipulation and protect the U.S. from unfair trade practices that harm American-made products and small businesses. He failed to credit Rep. Reynolds (NY-26) for that idea. Reynolds co-sponsored the Chinese Currency Act, which aimed to end Chinese exchange-rate manipulation and insulate American manufacturers from being harmed by currency manipulation. (bit.ly/NfBIuv)

"By failing to give credit to former congressmen Lee and Reynolds for their ideas, Mr. Collins is violating his own call for protecting intellectual property that he outlined today in this very plan," said Cole, who also worked for Rep. Reynolds. "For a candidate who touts his business experience as his sole qualification for Congress, he sure has a problem coming up with his own policy prescriptions."

"Some points in Mr. Collins' initiative are principles all Republicans espouse -- eliminating the death tax and government regulations, simplifying the tax code, balancing the budget, and repealing Obamacare," Cole said. "But once you compare the ideas of congressmen Lee and Reynolds with Mr. Collins' small business platform, it's quite clear that the other five solutions Mr. Collins offers are lifted from former the congressmen."

"At the very least, Mr. Collins should have the dignity to give credit where it is due," Cole said. "Anyone familiar with the policies of congressmen Lee and Reynolds would recognize these proposals in a hot second."

Cole noted that Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy, who is leading the Collins campaign, also worked for Lee and Reynolds.

NOTE: Chris Collins appeared in Batavia today to announced a "Small Business Bill of Rights," which The Batavian would have covered had the Collins campaign bothered to contact The Batavian in advance of the event.

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 11:46 am

Bellavia campaign invites Collins to set debate schedule

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, NY-27

Press release:

BATAVIA, NY – The Bellavia campaign today invited Collins campaign officials to negotiate the details of a series of debates leading up to the June 26th Republican Primary in New York’s 27th Congressional District.

“It is unfortunate Mr. Collins took so long to assent to the wishes of voters,” Paul Cole, campaign manager for Bellavia for Congress, wrote in a letter to Michael Hook, general consultant for the Collins campaign. “But there is still time to assure the constituents of all eight counties are all afforded opportunities to see the candidates discuss the vital issues of the day.”

On March 27th, Bellavia challenged Mr. Collins to a series of eight debates in the eight counties of the 27th District. Saturday, 47 days later, Collins acquiesced and agreed to debate. The text of Cole’s letter to the Collins campaign can be found below.

Text of letter after the jump (click on headline to read):

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