STATEMENT BY ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE MARK POLONCARZ ON INDICTMENT OF UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN AND FORMER ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE CHRIS COLLINS

August 8, 2018

ERIE COUNTY, NY— The following is a statement from Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz

“Since the news broke that Congressman Chris Collins was indicted on multiple charges in federal court for securities fraud and insider trading I have thought not just about the specifics of the matter, but also the impact the arrest of another public official on charges of what is in essence an abuse of power would have on the public and their view of our democratic institutions.

As most know, Chris Collins and I have a long history dating back to when I was comptroller and he county executive of Erie County. It is not necessarily a good history, most clearly defined by when I ran against him for the county executive’s office in 2011. While our history has been at times acrimonious, nevertheless I do not take joy in watching him be accused of committing serious crimes, acts which could result in him being imprisoned, because every time a public official is accused of such crimes there is a tendency for the general public to believe all elected officials engage in such behavior.

It seems no week can pass by without another public official or member of government being arrested somewhere in the United States for a crime related to the abuse of one’s public office. Each time a public official is arrested or convicted of a crime the public’s trust and confidence in all elected officials is eroded. When the public loses confidence in their elected officials to act in the public’s best interest, not their own interest, our democracy is weakened.

While many in the public will often say all elected officials are “crooks” nothing could be further from the truth. There are many good men and women on both sides of the political aisle who enter public service for the right reasons and serve their entire careers with honor, dignity and integrity.

None of us is greater than the office we hold or the people we represent. When you leave office, and we will all eventually leave office, the only thing you take with you is your reputation. Every official should be dedicated to the proposition of leaving their community in better shape than when they were first elected and the people’s view of you as being an honorable, good steward for the greater community.

Ethics, integrity and honesty in office matter. That is one reason why I worked so hard to pass a new, strong ethics law for Erie County, and I was proud to sign that bill into law this year after its unanimous bi-partisan passage by our legislature. That is why the late Representative Louise Slaughter worked tirelessly to pass the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (“STOCK”) Act to ban insider trading among members of Congress. That is what government officials at all levels should do: pass legislation that strengthens the public’s trust in its officials, not act in a manner to weaken it.

The crimes charged against Congressman Collins are very serious. As an attorney I know it is a guiding tenet of our democracy that anyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and thus Mr. Collins is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. However, his alleged use of confidential information to benefit those close to him goes straight to the heart of whether we as elected officials serve the public or ourselves. If Mr. Collins is convicted or pleads guilty to a lesser charge he must immediately resign from office and offer an apology to his constituents for violating the trust placed in him by the people of 27th Congressional District. The people of his district, like the constituents for any office, deserve nothing less than to know their representative is working on their behalf.”

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This is our “A republic, if you can keep it” moment

By Mark C. Poloncarz

Today, Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News wrote a column addressing President Trump’s rejection of the opinion of the US intelligence community, including National Intelligence Director Dan Coats (a former conservative Republican Senator), regarding whether Russia interfered in our election and his taking of the word of Vladimir Putin instead. Zremski noted in his column and on his Facebook page, “It’s time to be a patriot, and that means more than supporting the troops and standing for the national anthem. It means that every one of us must focus on what’s happening in Washington, distasteful though it may be, and act as our consciences direct us in response.” It is an excellent column all should read, and you can do so here.

Zremski’s post called on all of us to start doing what our Founding Fathers expected we would do: be an informed and active citizenry. He then noted as examples of our Founding Fathers’ expectations quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams (now more famously known for the beer that carries his name) noting what true patriots must do: act in times of crises to protect our democracy.

There is no doubt our Forefathers expected more from the citizenry than what we generally see today, including being informed on the issues affecting our nation, listening to and considering multiple viewpoints and willing to take action to ensure the viability of the Republic. Zremski’s column though got me thinking about another Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, and one of his most famous quotes.

Today’s events are, in a nutshell, what Franklin meant when he responded to the question what form of government has been created at the Constitutional Convention: “A republic, if you can keep it.” In other words, if an informed citizenry acts to protect the institutions of democracy it shall succeed, if not it shall fail.

I believe we are at one of these “if you can keep it” moments. Our nation is predicated on the notion the people will act to protect the institutions of our nation (the rule of law, the separation of powers, the ideal symbolized by the quote “e pluribus unum”) in order to protect the nation. If institutions are no longer trusted, and the personality of one becomes stronger in the eyes of the people than the concept of the constitutional democratic as a whole, our republic will fail.

That is the moment we are in: a time when we must stand up, regardless of political party, to demand that all the facts of the Russian interference in our 2016 elections be revealed and determine if any Americans were complicit in that interference; to stand up to a president who took the word of an autocratic former KGB officer over our own intelligence community and state our love of country is greater than our love for any one president; and to confirm that the principles of our democracy are worth defending, even if that means rejecting a president who is wildly popular with members of his own party.

During my lifetime our nation has seen some of its best days and one of its worst. Following that worst day, September 11, 2001, our nation rallied together because we were attacked by a foreign enemy. No one was a partisan democrat or republican, was not called a “libtard” or a “deplorable,” but just an American in the days and months following 9-11. However, in 2016 one of our nation’s most sacred institutions, the election of our president, was attacked by a foreign enemy and our president and a significant part of our population just shrug it off. If we as a nation do not stand up to protect this most sacred right – the right to ensure a free and fair election – how can we expect the institution of our democracy to survive.

This is our “A republic, if you can keep it” moment. It’s up to all of us, not as partisan democrats or republicans, but as Americans to ensure the Mueller investigation continues until such time as all questions about Russian interference are answered and then hold those accountable for their actions, regardless of what office they hold or power they have. A country founded under the principle that we the people are greater than any one person can only survive when the people enforce the laws against those that broke it, whether it be one or many. It is that important.

Mark C. Poloncarz is the County Executive of Erie County, New York
Copyright 2018

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Speech Delivered by Mark Poloncarz at the Buffalo and Erie County March For Our Lives

Speech of Mark Poloncarz as prepared for delivery for the March For Our Lives Buffalo on March 24, 2018.

We are here today to send a message to Congress, including Congressman Chris Collins and Tom Reed of WNY, that the madness of continued mass shootings must end, to let our fellow Americans know we care for them and we must stop the insanity of the endless mass slaughter of innocent persons.

This seems to be an endless cycle of violence. Every time there is a mass shooting the leadership in the White House, House and Senate offered their thoughts and prayers for the victims.

But thoughts and prayers are not enough. The definition of insanity is doing nothing and hoping for a different result. Well if we do nothing we will see more of the same. We need action because our right to live is greater than a person’s right to own any weapon of their choice.

How can we claim we are the greatest country on Earth when we see the slaughter of patrons at a movie theater, party-goers at a club, representatives on a baseball field, attendees at a concert, students at a high school, and, still unbelievably, kindergartners in their classroom, and be told we have to accept this because the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is so sacrosanct that it matters more than my or your right to live?

Our right to live outweighs a person’s right to own any weapon they want.

Common sense gun laws are supported by a large majority of Americans. No one is talking about taking away shotguns or hunting rifles, but prohibiting the sale of weapons of mass death and destruction and preventing those who should not own any gun, like the mentally ill, from having them.

I come from a family of hunters and I have many friends that are hunters. I’ve fired a shotgun myself at targets. But no matter who I talk to I cannot find anyone who thinks it makes sense to have complete and unfettered access to guns that can kill dozens, perhaps hundreds, in the time it took me to read this paragraph.

Truthfully, if you need an AR-15 to go hunting you shouldn’t be hunting in the first place.

I had the great honor to attend President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2013 as guest of Congressman Higgins. It was one of the thrills of my life but also a very solemn one because this address was the one following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

I met survivors of the Sandy Hook. I was given this green ribbon in their honor and I wore it proudly in the Chambers as it seemed our nation would pass common sense gun laws.

And here we are today, 5 years later and nothing’s changed. Innocent men, women and children have been gunned down indiscriminately, often with the same weapon that caused so much death at Sandy Hook Elementary – the AR-15.

Well folks we can do something.

As the survivors of the Parkland Florida shooting remind us we must do something.

We must re-instate the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, a ban which outlawed the AR-15 and similar weapons that cause mass death and destruction.

The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms in not absolute, limits can be placed. Even Justice Scalia in the Heller decision noted the type of guns can be restricted.

So it is time we do more than just offer our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families of this senseless gun violence.

It is time we took our nation back from the very few who believe their right to own whatever arms they want is more important that our right to live.

It is time our nation, as a civilized society, stands up and passes common sense guns laws that prevent those who should not have guns from buying them.

It is time we require all sellers of guns, including unlicensed sellers at shows and through internet sales, require background checks for all sales.

It is time we pass legislation that values our unalienable right to our life over the right of some person to terrorize us no matter where we are: a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a concert in Las Vegas, or, once again, a school in Parkland, Florida.

It is time we take back our country from the tyranny of the minority represented by the NRA and Gun Lobby.

I thank you all for being here today. Together we will change our country. Thank you.

Copyright Mark C. Poloncarz, 2018

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Now is the time for winter preparations – now is the time to get ReadyErie

A weather emergency can strike in an instant – floods, snow storms, or as we saw this past year, even tornadoes. As Erie County residents we all know what lies ahead in the weather as the calendar turns to November. It’s time to prepare for the eventual Lake Effect snowstorms and ensure that we take care of ourselves and others. Personal planning for potential weather emergencies is important, and just as our county Department of Public Works plans to keep the roads clear when the snow flies, so should residents make a plan with the “ReadyErie” app.

ReadyErie is a free smartphone or tablet device that allows users to do a number of things, such as receive critical information and emergency alerts through push notifications, locate Erie County’s emergency shelters, view up-to-date evacuation route maps, and create a personalized Emergency Preparedness Plan. ReadyErie gives users the information they need when they need it, helping them respond to emergencies in a safe and organized manner.

Users who create a personalized Emergency Management Plan can store the Plan on their device and share it with family and friends. Every individual’s Plan includes an Emergency Supply Kit Checklist tailored to their needs; a Customized Emergency Food Supply Shopping List; an Emergency Communications Plan to notify loved ones of the individual’s status; and information to prepare your home for impending disaster. ReadyErie is free, is quick and easy to download for Apple or Android devices and is a great way to keep you and your loved ones safe in an emergency. ReadyErie can be downloaded for FREE here: http://www2.erie.gov/emergencyservices/index.php?q=ReadyErie.

The Erie County DPW Highways’ Division is also gearing up for winter, with 10 brand new plow trucks ready to go; there are 2 new trucks in each highway district so you’ll see them when the snow comes. In addition, 40 county plow trucks are now equipped with auto vehicle locators, improving our ability to monitor each truck’s travel speed and location. My administration has added 25 new dump trucks to the Highway Department fleet as well and we are in the process of buying three snow blower implements for high lifts, to be strategically located in the event of storms. The high lifts will be deployed to locations ahead of an anticipated event to help assist stranded motorist and tow truck companies.

Elsewhere, we have invested $1.5 million in three new salt storage facilities at the barns in Clarence, Harlem Road, and Hamburg. This investment replaces aged facilities with new, high-capacity barns that allow for the storage of an additional 4,500 tons of salt. Countywide, our fifteen salt storage facilities are filled with 20,000 tons of salt and sand mix in readiness for the winter.

Our Public Works Department is ready for the winter. Now it’s your turn to get informed, get a plan for your family, and get ReadyErie!

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Tyranny of the Minority

By Mark C. Poloncarz
October 3, 2017

On October 2, America woke up to the terrible news of the slaughter of innocent concert-goers in Las Vegas. As we all know, 59 persons were murdered and more than 500 injured in a fusillade of bullets that lasted minutes, but must have seemed to be a lifetime to those seeking shelter. A sniper unleashed terror from 32 floors in the sky, ending the lives of dozens of innocent people and destroyed countless families with a rage I will never understand.

As the day progressed we learned the shooter had stockpiled nearly 20 guns in his Mandalay Bay hotel room, many of which were capable of firing as many as 9 rounds a second. Since 1986 the purchase of newly made automatic weapons (an automatic weapon being one in which the squeezing of the trigger releases multiple bullets at a time) has been banned in the United States, though weapons made before the “ban” was enacted can still be purchased. Semi-automatic weapons (squeezing the trigger only releases one bullet) are widely available across the United States and sometimes can be modified to mimic automatic weapons. Regardless of whether the shooter used automatic or semi-automatic weapons, in a very short period of time he murdered in cold blood 59 innocent people and shocked the world.

Our nation’s Constitution is built upon the premise that our laws must protect the individual from the “tyranny of the majority.” In Federalist No. 10, part of the entirety of writings we know today as “The Federalist Papers,” James Madison argued for the passage of the Constitution because a representative republic would best protect against the non-land owning majority of citizens taking action against the minority landed gentry. He feared a true democracy in which everyone has a vote and say in the running of the country.

Federalist No. 10 was often used as the legal argument for not only passage of the Constitution, but the enactment of the first 10 amendments to it – the Bill of Rights – which truly did guarantee many of the rights that form the bedrock of our country. Madison did in fact champion individual liberty, but his reasoning for it might not always be as glorious and “American” as we wish it to be. The common good matters, but not if it conflicts with the minority that actually owned land, property (including slaves) and ran the economy. Thus, protection from the tyranny of the majority was a necessary evil.

But what happens when a right adopted in 1791 is so bastardized that a person in 2017 can legally acquire weapons of mass death and destruction and mow down helpless citizens?

What happens when we are told, repeatedly, we are helpless to stop the slaughter of patrons at a movie theater, party-goers at a club, representatives on a baseball field, attendees at a concert, and, still unbelievably, kindergartners in their classroom because the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is so sacrosanct that it matters more than my or your right to live?

What actually happens is you have tyranny of the minority because it is only a small minority of Americans that support the unfettered right to purchase and own arms which are created for one purpose: the murder of as many people in as short of period of time as possible. Study after study show a large majority of Americans support restrictions that are designed to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

For example, in June of this year, the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan and highly respected research and polling entity, released the results of a nationwide poll that showed:

• 89% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans favor legislation that prevents the mentally ill from purchasing guns;

• 85% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans favor legislation that prevents gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists;

• 90% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans favor legislation that requires background checks for individuals purchasing guns at private sales and gun shows; and

• 80% of Democrats and even 54% of Republicans favor banning assault weapons.

Yet, none of this legislation can pass through Congress because of the tyranny of the minority represented by the National Rifle Association (NRA), other pro-gun organizations and gun and arms manufacturers, known on Capitol Hill as the “Gun Lobby.” Through the donations it has made, and threats of retribution it will make if representatives do not vote the way they want, the Gun Lobby owns the majority in Congress lock, stock and barrel. They own it so much that the only piece of gun legislation that is presently being considered is not a measure to restrict guns, but a law to legalize silencers.

Our Constitution is a wonderful document, but it is not perfect. Its original construct denied women the right to vote and legalized slavery. Court decisions based on it will change over time. Legal precedent is not carved in stone for all eternity, but can and often change based on the will of the people. That is why the Plessy v. Ferguson decision providing for separate but equal facilities for African-Americans and whites is no longer the law of the land. That is why almost every major law and interpretation of the Constitution has changed over the years, including interpretations of the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment is not unlimited. The Supreme Court has held you do not have a right to own a weapon that can inflict mass casualties, like a bazooka, artillery or tank. Banning of assault weapons and other devices that can end so many lives in an instant is constitutionally legal.

So why is it we as a nation continue to offer only our thoughts and prayers when a person opens fire into a crowd? When are we as a nation going to say enough is enough, a civilized society does not permit the massacre of its citizens under the “justified” response that it is the price we pay for freedom?

Common sense gun laws are supported by a large majority of Americans. No one is talking about taking away shotguns or hunting rifles, but prohibiting the sale of weapons of mass death and destruction and preventing those who should not own any gun, like the mentally ill, from having them.

I come from a family of hunters and I have many friends that are hunters. But no matter who I talk to I cannot find anyone who thinks it makes sense to have complete and unfettered access to guns that can kill dozens, perhaps hundreds, in the time it took you to read this paragraph.

It is time we do more than just offer our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families of this senseless gun violence.

It is time we took our nation back from the very few who believe their right to own weapons of mass death and destruction is more important than our right to live.

It is time our nation, as a civilized society, stands up and passes common sense gun laws that prevent those who should not have guns from buying them.

It is time we require all sellers of guns, including unlicensed sellers at shows and through internet sales, to perform background checks for all sales.

It is time we pass legislation that values our unalienable right to life over the right of some person to terrorize us or end our life no matter where we are: at school, a church, a movie theater, or as witnessed in Las Vegas, a concert.

It is time we take back our country from the tyranny of the minority represented by the Gun Lobby.

Mark C. Poloncarz is the Erie County (NY) Executive.

Copyright Mark C. Poloncarz 2017

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