Members of the UB community donated at least $30,525 in 2023 to the two candidates running for Erie County Executive, according to data from the New York State Board of Elections.
The lion’s share of that money, $25,525, went to incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz, who is running for a fourth term.
The Spectrum only identified one donation from a UB community member made out to the campaign of Republican challenger Chrissy Casilio: a $5,000 contribution from Nick Sinatra, the founder and CEO of Sinatra and Company Real Estate, a Buffalo-based development firm. Sinatra also serves as a professional advisor for UB’s Real Estate Development program, according to the UB School of Architecture and Planning. Sinatra did not respond to a request for comment.
Most of the UB community members who donated to Poloncarz are current or former adjunct faculty members, although his largest UB-related donor was Savarino Companies CEO Samuel Savarino, who gave $5,125 to Poloncarz. (Savarino Companies, a development firm, announced it was going out of business in August, according to The Buffalo News.) Like Sinatra, Savarino is a professional advisor for UB’s Real Estate Development program and did not respond to a request for comment.
Poloncarz’s other largest donors include Aaron Glazer, a former adjunct law professor who gave $5,000 to the county executive’s reelection campaign; Paul Ciminelli, a former UB Foundation board member who also gave $5,000; Erie County Attorney Jeremy Toth, who, according to payroll records from seethroughny.net, served as an adjunct law professor for a number of years until 2020 and donated $4,900; and Walsh Duffield Insurance chairman John Walsh III, an emeritus board member on the UB Foundation who donated $3,500. The four did not respond to requests for comment.
Rounding out the contributions to Poloncarz’s campaign are $500 donations from four other UB faculty members: pediatrics professor Peter Winkelstein, adjunct architecture professor Adam Walters, adjunct finance professor Joshua Pennel and adjunct law professor Scott Bylewski.
Bylewski told The Spectrum that he has “personally and professionally” known Poloncarz for about 20 years. The county executive has been a guest speaker in Bylewski’s local government class “many times” and has “always presented himself extremely well.”
“I have been thoroughly impressed with how he has governed the County,” Bylewski said in an email.
Winkelstein doesn’t have that personal connection to Poloncarz, but says he was simply “impressed” by the incumbent county executive’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and last December’s blizzard, which claimed the lives of 46 Erie County residents.
“He strikes me as sensible and very public-service oriented,” Winkelstein said in an email. “I believe he is an important asset to us in Erie County.”
Donations in this election cycle pale in comparison to the more than $58,000 UB community members gave to the 2021 mayoral election, a hotly contested race that garnered national media attention. The total contributions from UB community members in that race were buoyed by five-figure donations from three former UB faculty members.
Poloncarz has touted a record of balanced budgets, low unemployment and emergency management during the 2022 Tops shooting and last December’s fatal blizzard. Poloncarz’s critics have hounded him for his handling of the blizzard, the new Bills stadium contract negotiations and for his decision to welcome asylum seekers from New York City into the county. Casilio has criticized him in recent months over allegations that he grabbed and restrained a woman during a domestic incident, according to The Buffalo News. Poloncarz denies the allegations, which were recorded in a police report but did not result in charges.
Casilio, a political newcomer, is running on a platform to drastically cut taxes, “shrink government" and bus asylum seekers in Erie County back to New York City, among other issues. She garnered criticism shortly after launching her campaign for several since-deleted tweets reported by The Investigative Post, including one where she called Damar Hamlin’s injury a “potential fake PR stunt” and several others where she suggested that the Jan. 6 capitol riot was a false flag operation.
Poloncarz and Casilio both hold degrees from UB. Poloncarz graduated with a bachelors in 1989 before working in the private sector and then attending law school in Toledo, Ohio, according to a short biography from Erie County. Casilio graduated with a bachelors in 2008, according to her LinkedIn profile. Casilio also wrote for The Spectrum in 2007 and 2008.
Several notable UB alumni have also made large contributions to the race for Erie County’s top job. Dennis Vacco, who graduated from the UB Law School 1978 and served as the attorney general of New York State from 1995 to 1998, donated $2,000 to Casilio’s campaign. Francis Letro, who graduated from the UB Law School in 1979 and became the namesake of O’Brian Hall’s Francis M. Letro Courtroom after donating $1 million to the school, gave $10,000 to Poloncarz’s campaign. (Neither Vacco nor Letro’s donations were included in the $30,525 calculated by The Spectrum.)
Poloncarz raised about four times the overall campaign cash that Casilio did in 2023. The incumbent’s fundraising totals from the year sit at just over $720,000, compared to Casilio’s more than $179,000.
All three of UB’s campuses are located in Erie County.
Quinn Kennedy contributed to this reporting.
Grant Ashley is the editor in chief and can be reached at email@example.com
Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley.