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What is Tom Golisano thinking?

Tom Golisano has built a good reputation in this town since he bought the Sabres five years ago and became an adopted Western New Yorker in the process.

He's run the franchise in a smart, fan-friendly way and otherwise has displayed an interest in the community. In a town generally lacking in genuine leadership, he's been a welcome addition.

But, given the past month, I've got to ask: What is Tom Golisano thinking?

Golisano3His reputation -- in the political community, anyway -- appears to be taking a big hit over the tactics his Responsible New York is using in the effort to unseat  Sam Hoyt.

I blogged and reported Friday on how Golisano's organization, managed by Steve Pigeon, has tried to mask their involvement in the latest spate of attacks under the banner of "Mothers and Fathers Demanding Answers." Real gutter-level stuff.

Despite protests to the contrary, is there much doubt about Responsible New York's complicity in Joe Illuzzi's initial publication of incriminating e-mails between Hoyt and his girlfriend and and his demand that Hoyt quit the race or face continuing revelations?

Hoyt is not universally loved, by any means. And let's face it, his past personal conduct has made him vulnerable to the smear tactics being used against him. But there's a widespread feeling in the political community that Golisano and Pigeon have crossed a line. It's been that vicious.

Golisano is not the author of the dirty work. Pigeon has a reputation for that, however. It's one reason why he got run off as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party.

Tom Golisano is no dummy. He's a smart businessman, a self-made billionaire. He knows what he has in Pigeon. He's got to know what Pigeon is up to. After all, he's the one writing the checks.

It's not just the barer-than-bare-knuckle tactics used on Hoyt. It's Golisano's use of an independent, unauthorized committee as the vehicle for supporting candidates. It gets Golisano out from under a lot of limitations, such as what he can spend to assist candidates, provided Responsible New York doesn't coordinate activities with the office seekers.

Problem is there are several instances of political operatives flipping between Responsible New York and the campaigns of candidates Golisano is helping. Hoyt's not the only one with a beef. That, coupled with Pigeon's reputation, leaves a lot of people skeptical that Golisano is indeed operating on the straight and narrow.

To some, he comes off as a rich kid who doesn't want to play by the rules. And by surrounding himself with political operatives, tossing around a lot of money and recruiting candidates who in some cases have very thin resumes, Golisano has left some wondering if his real intent is to push reform or simply make himself into a 900-pound gorilla.

I mean, he's endorsed 39 incumbent state senators. What's that about?

That said, I think Golisano is sincere in his desire to reform state government. He's certainly no Tommy Come Lately to the cause. Rather, I think he's fallen into the trap of "the ends justify the means."

In the long-run, that undermines his stated objective, because dirty politics rarely result in good government.

As for Tuesday's primary between Hoyt and Barbra Kavanaugh, it's likely the winner will emerge as damaged goods.

That's obviously the case for Hoyt. His stature has been diminished in the community -- personal humiliation will do that, and make no mistake, that's part of his enemy's MO. There's also a real chance that Shelly Silver strips him of his committee chairmanship, as a CYA move, if nothing else.

A victory by Kavanaugh would come at a price for her, as well.

She and Hoyt have historically shared much of the same base, and many of those voters are going to come away sore, in some cases, bitter, with her because of the company she's kept in this campaign and the blood-letting they've done on her behalf.

Regardless of whether his candidate wins or not, Golisano is unlikely to come away unscathed. To some degree, the damage already has been done.


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