In Erie county executive debate, candidates tackle DPW probe
The two major party candidates for Erie county executive squared off in a debate Wednesday night that covered a wide range of topics, including the recent revelations of an investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz focused on his record, touting the county’s unemployment rate, job creation and his performance during a series of severe snowstorms last year.
Poloncarz's challenger, Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter, raised questions about the state attorney general investigation, first reported by City & State yesterday. Walter also questioned whether Poloncarz deserved credit for economic development brought on by large-scale state investment and touted a pair of tax plans he has recently announced, but the focus of the debate repeatedly shifted to the attorney general’s probe into reporting irregularities on road construction projects during the administration of Poloncarz’s predecessor.
After the City & State report was published Tuesday, both candidates called press conferences to address the claims made by sources in the story. They also responded to the attorney general’s acknowledgement that there was an investigation, but that it was closed.
Asked during the debate about comments at his press conference yesterday, Walter walked back his assertion that Poloncarz’s failure to make the now closed investigation public was a cover-up.
“I don’t think Mark’s done anything wrong here,” Walter said. “I think that what this shows is that there needs to be a level of accountability in county government and we haven’t seen that.”
However, Walter suggested that there still may be more to the story. “I hope that there’s more to come out about this because I think there is,” he said.
During his press conference on Tuesday, Poloncarz said that employees of the Erie County Department of Public Works had been questioned as late as early 2015. The Poloncarz administration initially investigated the reporting irregularities before handing the findings over to Schneiderman’s office in January 2013.
A spokesperson from the attorney general’s office declined to comment when asked by City & State when the investigation officially ended.
When pressed by debate moderators, Poloncarz repeated much of what he said at his press conference, characterizing Walter’s attacks as premature and a sign of questionable judgment.
“Leadership is not jumping to conclusions,” Poloncarz said.
Poloncarz maintained that he was acting responsibly in allowing the state’s top prosecutor to conduct the investigation without alerting the public, a move that could have compromised the investigation, he said.
“I wanted to get to the base of this,” Poloncarz said. “The attorney general said the investigation is closed and I take them at their word.”