Byrnes calls allegations false, lashes out at Errigo

Democrats seeking to flip the 133rd state Assembly District from Republican to Democrat are going after Marjorie Byrnes on ethics.

The Conservative and Republican candidate for the November election, Byrnes was the subject of an ethics charge by rival Joseph Errigo, the incumbent Republican assemblyman who she defeated in a September GOP primary and who is now enveloped in his own public corruption cloud.

Errigo accused the Byrnes campaign of making a $20,000 payment to Jason McGuire, the Livingston County Conservative chairman, in advance of receiving the Conservative Party endorsement over the summer.

The money was discovered on campaign filings as payment for "Consultation," although Democrats say McGuire had never done any paid political work in the past. Later statements by the Byrnes campaign suggested McGuire, whose previous work had always been done on a volunteer basis, had been hired as campaign manager. McGuire returned the money.

The Livingston County District Attorney’s Office referred the criminal complaint to the Public Integrity Bureau of the State Attorney General’s Office on Aug. 7, and there have been no public announcements regarding the case since.

Errigo turned down a debate offer from Byrnes in August, citing the Attorney General's office of Public Integrity investigation of the campaign’s $20,000 payment made to McGuire.

“A debate in our view will only add fuel to this dumpster fire! Politics, especially here in our district has never, and should never, be practiced like this,” Errigo wrote.

Errigo was arrested last week and faces federal fraud and bribery charges, accused of accepting at least $5,500 to introduce an Assembly bill that stood to benefit a Rochester area development project. Despite getting shut out of the Republican and Conservative lines, Errigo’s name remains on the ballot as the candidate of the Reform and Independence parties.

The Democratic chairs from three local counties issued this joint statement Monday: “This is the second time in two years that the Assembly members from the 133rd have had to answer to federal charges rather than to the voters.”

Republican Assemblyman Bill Nojay was facing federal prosecution when he committed suicide in 2016. Republican officials turned to Errigo to run after Nojay won the primary despite being dead.

After prosecutors detailed the charges against Errigo last week, Byrnes has called on the veteran assemblyman to resign from office. Democratic candidate Barbara Baer, who like Byrnes is an attorney, said Byrnes is in no position to dictate how the legal process plays out. Baer called the allegation against Byrnes “a serious charge.”

“I think both Errigo and Marge Byrnes are ethically challenged,” Baer said last week.

Baer’s Democratic allies in Steuben, Livingston and Monroe counties want the Attorney General’s Office to resolve the charge against Byrnes before the voters go to the polls.

"Here we go again? Don't we deserve better than that? We hope the attorney general can get to the bottom of this very soon, but voters have to wonder if the Republicans deserve another shot at this seat that has seen such abuse at their hands in recent years,” said Shawn Hogan, chair of the Steuben County Democratic Committee and former mayor of Hornell.

The 133rd Assembly District includes the City of Hornell.

“Barbara Baer offers a true alternative to the politics as usual that has served us so poorly,” Hogan added.

Judith Hunter, chair of the Livingston County Democratic Committee, said Baer holds up better under ethical scrutiny.

"We cannot have yet another person under an ethical cloud representing us in Albany,” Hunter said. “We deserve an Assembly member of honesty and integrity, and the people of Livingston County must know more.

Brittaney Wells, chairperson of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, said she hopes “the Attorney General's Office can provide the voters with some clarity before (election day) Nov. 6.”

She added, “Voters deserve an answer to these charges when looking at the Republican candidate.”

Byrnes called the allegations false, and lashed out at Errigo.

“I absolutely will cooperate with any investigation done by anybody. I know that when Mr. Errigo brought these allegations, they were a complete lie,” she said. “It’s pretty ironic that the guy who’s accused in federal court of bribery would have the gall to accuse me of doing it.”

Byrnes, a former Rochester City Court judge, said McGuire was brought on to do a job, nothing else.

“I hired him to be my campaign coordinator after – a month or more after – I had gotten the endorsement of the Conservative Party in Livingston County,” Byrnes, a Caledonia resident, said. “I reported it in my financial reports, just like you’re supposed to do for all of your campaign expenses.

“It was just absurd that he even made that allegation to begin with, so anybody who wants to investigate me is absolutely welcome. I have no qualms whatsoever.”

Byrnes joined the county Democratic chief in calling for a quick resolution of the matter.

“I also hope the attorney general’s office will get this cleared up because the people of the 133rd do deserve to know from the attorney general that everything was above board and totally clean like it is,” she said.