GOP job offer to Rodriguez a possible felony

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

Sergio Rodriguez told me in an interview that airs Saturday morning on WGRZ’s Daybreak that unnamed higher ups in local Republican Party circles “strongly encouraged” him to drop his candidacy for mayor. He further asserts that they dangled a job as an enticement.

Not so, Erie County Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy told WGRZ’s Scott Brown. In fact, he said it’s “silly” to even be discussing the allegations.

Believe who you want. I wasn’t in the room and therefore can’t say for sure what transpired.

I’ll say this much, however: I found Rodriguez to be a refreshing interview. He strikes me as earnest and, in several other instances, seemed to offer honest answers when the normal reflex for a politician is to dodge the question or outright lie.

Let me also add this: If Rodriquez is telling the truth, someone in the GOP broke the law.

“If Sergio or any other prospective candidate was offered a job in exchange for not running, the person who made that offer could be found to be guilty under New York State Election Law Section 17-158, entitled Corrupt Use of Position or Authority,” said Tim Lovallo, a Buffalo attorney whose expertise includes state election law.

Seems like a job for the local public integrity units of the New York Attorney General or United States Attorney.

Then again, how often do you ever see them go after corrupt politicians?

Here’s the exchange that became the basis of the WGRZ story posted above:

Heaney: Let’s talk about the Republican angle for a minute. It’s been widely reported in the press that the Erie County Republican Party is not happy with the prospect of having a Republican running for mayor in November. There are other countywide races that they would like to see as low a turnout as possible in the city. Tell me about the discussions you’ve had with the Republican Party leadership and what they are telling you.

Rodriguez: Well, Jim, I think one thing that is important to understand is that these have been private discussions. They’ve been uncomfortable. And, certainly, we are in disagreement with where I feel the party should go in terms of going forward.

Heaney: Have they asked you point blank to not run?

Rodriguez: I’ve been encouraged not to run. Strongly encouraged.

Heaney: Have they offered you anything in exchange for not running?

Rodriguez: There have been some things that have come to my awareness in order for me to stop running.

Heaney: Like a job?

Rodriguez: You know what? There have been offers made, sir.

Heaney: There have. Alright. Yet, you told me right before you came on camera that you’re committed 100 percent. You’re not backing down. You’re running?

Rodriguez: 100 percent. I’m not doing this because I want a job out of this or any type of opportunities like that. I really believe that with the right leadership and vision, the city of Buffalo can go into a more prosperous future.

Why wouldn’t the Republicans want to field a candidate? Bob McCarthy of The Buffalo News explained in a recent column.

Running for mayor of Buffalo on the Republican line has become a heavy lift. Outnumbered 7 to 1 by Democrats, it’s pretty much impossible in the 21st century to elect a Republican in this town and others around the Northeast. In fact, you have to go back 52 years to find the last GOP type to be elected Buffalo’s chief executive.

So a few years ago, Erie County Republicans recognized reality and saw the opportunity to turn weakness into strength. Fewer and fewer Republicans began appearing on the city ballot, especially when the GOP was concentrating on big countywide contests. Then, in 2009, the party failed to field any mayoral candidate for the first time since 1855, when good old Lewis L. Hodges appeared on the brand-new line.

The idea (though nobody would ever say it out loud) was to suppress turnout in the heavily Democratic city. Why draw thousands of Democrats to the polls with a contest for mayor? And why not boost countywide candidates with the advantage of all those Republican votes in the suburbs?

In this case, two countywide Republican incumbents face re-election in November, Sheriff Tim Howard and Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. So, if ever there was a year for the GOP to follow through on its unspoken policy, this would appear to be it.

UPDATE, 7:30 p.m. – I contacted Rodriguez earlier in the day in an effort to get him to tell me who in the party encouraged him to not run and offered him a job. He responded via e-mail through his campaign spokesman, saying in part:

I feel that further engagement on this topic will serve as nothing more than a distraction to what I hope to accomplish with my campaign …
Since you have brought up the fact that there could be legal implications, I feel that it is in the best interest of the campaign, and our efforts to focus on the issues that matter most to residents living in the city, to abstain from making further comments unless otherwise advised under legal counsel …

I will continue to maintain my integrity and my honesty, and will put this above anything else. I will not sacrifice these values in order to protect or shield anyone from taking responsibility for their action.
Investigative Post will post the full 17 minute interview that triggered the story, along with a transcript, after highlights are broadcast Saturday around 6:45 a.m.  on WGRZ Daybreak.