Robert H. Meier
Consultant, Underberg & Kessler
Western New York Democratic politician
Buffalo, New York, United States
Should Steven Pigeon have been arrested sooner?
Gerald Steven Pigeon, usually cited in newspaper accounts as Steve Pigeon, is a Democratic politician from Western New York. One of the most controversial figures in contemporary Western New York politics, Pigeon was Erie County Democratic Chairman from 1996 to 2002.
- Should Steven Pigeon have been arrested sooner
- Early life and career
- Chairmanship 1996 2002
- Post Chairman career
- Wins losses
- Recent controversies
Today, Pigeon is a consultant at the Buffalo law firm of Underberg & Kessler. Recently, he was counsel to New York State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., and directed Tom Golisano's Responsible New York political committee.
Early life and career
Pigeon was born in 1960 in St. Louis, Missouri. His uncle was Donald Gralike, the majority leader of the Missouri State Senate, and as such, Pigeon was around politics from an early age. In 1972, Pigeon's father, an air traffic controller, was transferred to Buffalo, and the family moved to West Seneca. Pigeon's first campaign was in 1972, where he stuffed envelopes for Assemblyman Vincent Graber.
In 1977, at the age of 17, Pigeon worked on Mayor James D. Griffin's successful campaign for mayor. Griffin ran for mayor in opposition to party boss Joseph F. Crangle, and this began Pigeon's lifelong feud with Crangle and his supporters.
In 1984, aged only 24, Pigeon managed Gary Hart's presidential primary campaign in upstate New York. This was in opposition to Crangle, who was a key supporter of Walter Mondale both in New York and nationally.
Pigeon was elected to the Erie County Legislature from West Seneca in 1988, following a special election. In 1989, he won a full (two-year) term. He won controversy during his term for pushing an industrial park development in that town, which later was called North America Center. This began his association with future State Senator Anthony Nanula, who developed the project.
Pigeon was defeated for re-election in 1991 by Republican Sandra Lee Wirth, and went on to work for the Nixon Hargrave law firm.
Pigeon was a key player on Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign in upstate New York. He served on the Clinton transition team and was appointed special assistant to Secretary Donna Shalala at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
In 1994, Pigeon joined with Jimmy Griffin in an attempt to recall Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello. Pigeon ran for State Assembly the same year, but lost to his old opponent, Sandra Lee Wirth.
Pigeon was elected chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee in 1996. He was 36. Pigeon's election was engineered by County Executive Dennis Gorski, who at the time was consolidating his influence in the Democratic Party over rivals like Mayor Anthony Masiello. Pigeon replaced James Sorrentino, another Crangle opponent who had opposed Gorski's re-election as chairman and thereby lost Gorski's support.
Pigeon's tenure as chairman was mixed. While he personally gained influence through the support such political figures as Charles Schumer for U.S. Senate, Eliot Spitzer for Attorney General and Alan Hevesi for State Comptroller, the party suffered a number of losses on the county and local levels. Gorski himself lost his seat in 1999 to Joel Giambra, and Republicans won a number of county and judicial offices during this period. Republicans also carried the county for statewide office on multiple occasions. At the same time, Pigeon became known for supporting billionaire Tom Golisano, who had run as a third-party candidate (i.e. not a Democrat) in statewide elections.
All these actions generated considerable opposition to Pigeon's chairmanship among many Democratic leaders, such as Assemblymen Arthur Eve and Robin Schimminger, County Clerk David Swarts, and Amherst Democratic Chairman Dennis E. Ward. After the losses in the 1999 election, Pigeon was continually and publicly opposed by various factions in the party. In 2002, Masiello and Assemblyman Paul Tokasz decided to remove Pigeon, and he was replaced as chairman by Len Lenihan.
In 2002, Byron W. Brown was elected to the State Senate with Pigeon's support, and appointed Pigeon as a top aide. Brown later disassociated himself with Pigeon in the run-up to the 2005 mayoral election in Buffalo, which Brown won. Pigeon left the Senate payroll in 2004. Pigeon later became a consultant to the Underberg & Kessler law firm in Buffalo.
Pigeon was the top fundraiser in Western New York for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008, and later raised money for Barack Obama's campaign.
Pigeon was a major player in the 2009 New York State Senate leadership crisis, where he acted as Tom Golisano's representative. Pigeon later was hired as counsel to Pedro Espada Jr., who ended up as Senate Majority Leader at the conclusion of the crisis. Pigeon also was instrumental in delivering control of the Erie County Legislature to a Democratic-Republican coalition allied with County Executive Chris Collins in 2009.
Wins & losses
Here is an incomplete list of some candidates Steve Pigeon has supported or opposed, and how the elections turned out.
Controversies have dogged Pigeon over his entire political career.
Pigeon's personality has been called abrasive. Some point to major Democratic defeats under Pigeon's leadership, and Pigeon's support for Republican and third-party candidates and his opposition to endorsed Democratic candidates for public office. Others have said that Pigeon mixes his political and business lives in his job as a business development consultant for law firms, where he often wins government contracts from the very officials he supports.
On the other hand, Pigeon's supporters agree with his take-no-prisoners approach to supporting political candidates, and his early support of popular New York officials like Charles Schumer.
Mr. Pigeon's name has been mentioned in connection with an election scandal in 2007 of the county executive campaign of former West Seneca Supervisor Paul T. Clark.
Assistant Erie County District Attorney Mark Sacha published a complete statement accusing his boss, Frank A. Sedita III, of refusing to prosecute Steve Pigeon for election law violations.
Sam Hoyt's campaign spoksman Jeremy C. Toth filed a complaint against Pigeon and Responsible New York, which he sent to the district attorneys of Erie, Monroe, and Albany counties. Toth hopes that the circumstantial case he makes that Responsible New York staff coordinated its activities with the Barbra Kavanaugh campaign—a felony—will compel the DAs to take a closer look at Pigeon and company.
Erie County’s Republican elections commissioner has alleged that former Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon laundered thousands of dollars from Buffalo Sabres owner B. Tom Golisano’s political committee and others in an attempt to conceal the origin and circumvent contribution limits, in violation of state election law.
In April 2010, Pigeon was linked to a federal probe involving Senator Pedro Espada and accusations and tax fraud and money laundering. News reports linked Pigeon to the investigation based on payments made to an Espada-controlled company by a Buffalo-area firm.
On 28 May 2015, Pigeon's Buffalo waterfront house was raided as part of an ongoing campaign finance investigation.
On 30 June 2016, Pigeon was indicted on bribery, extortion, and 7 other charges.