Candidates assail former DA during four-way debate

Aug 26, 2016

Thursday's debate among the candidates running for Erie County District Attorney didn't feature the back-and-forth attacks that are so often heard. Instead, the common target was former DA Frank Sedita, who was often accused of allowing politics to influence office policy.

Al Vaughters, standing far right, moderated Thursday's debate among the candidates for District Attorney.
Credit Mike Desmond/WBFO News

Sedita recently departed the District Attorney's office for the ultimate political prize: State Supreme Court judge. After party chairmen cleared the path to victory, he ran virtually unopposed and was elected to a 14-year term and an annual salary of $174,000.

His departure has made for a contentious campaign among four candidates: acting DA Michael Flaherty, former assistant DA Mark Sacha, Tonawanda attorney John Flynn and Joseph Treanor III.

The tone of the campaign made for a lively debate at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Sponsored by Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, it was moderated by local broadcast journalist Al Vaughters. 

In answering a question regarding the fight against the opiate epidemic, Flynn fired an accusatory salvo.

"We used to have aggressive task force with the State Police, where wiretaps were used and it was an aggressive operation to get to the heart of the people who were peddling this poison. That was dismantled under the Sedita-Flaherty administration."

Sacha also weighed in on the issue. 

"I would become involved in both the prosecution and diversion of appropriate people who had drug problems, depending on their circumstances and do anything I could to help the situation for everyone, no matter what community," said Sacha, who departed the DA's office under controversy. He had publicly criticized Sedita for failing to prosecute political operative Steve Pigeon for election law violations. Pigeon, of course, was recently indicted on bribery and extortion charges.

As acting District Attorney, Flaherty was also the target of the three challengers.

Asked whether he would prosecute a cop for killing a civilian, Flaherty says Governor Cuomo changed the rules to make that a decision for the state attorney general.
"Had Executive Order 147 not been filed and the law was the same as it had been forever, I would absolutely promise the citizens that we would treat every police shooting or death of a civilian from a police officer seriously and would not sweep it under the rug," Flaherty said.

Under that order, a DA investigates a cop shooting only if the Attorney General opts against an investigation.

The debate touched upon several topics, including each candidate's professional experience.

Asked about goals if elected, Treanor cited his long experience as a lawyer in the Air Force before retirement.
"You have good people. You make sure that they are trained, they are equipped, they are supported. You give them the mission and give them your philosophy and you get out of the way and you let them do their job," Treanor said. 

"You trust your people. And, if they need help, you are there to help them. If they need to be held accountable, you hold them accountable."