NY fire union accuses commissioner of voter fraud

The Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association says Fire Commissioner William Renaldo voted in the Town of Tonawanda while saying he lived in Buffalo


Deidre Williams
The Buffalo News, N.Y.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo firefighters union has filed a complaint with Erie County Board of Elections alleging that Fire Commissioner William Renaldo committed felony voter fraud by voting in the Town of Tonawanda while saying he lived in Buffalo.

But an elections commissioner says law enforcement or the state board might be better suited to handle the complaint, the latest escalation in an ongoing feud between the union and Renaldo.

The Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association has accused Fire Commissioner William Renaldo of committing felony voter fraud, saying he voted in another town while claiming to live in Buffalo.
The Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association has accused Fire Commissioner William Renaldo of committing felony voter fraud, saying he voted in another town while claiming to live in Buffalo. (Photo/Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282)

The Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association has maintained at least since the summer that Renaldo has been violating residency requirements by living outside the city since he was appointed to the position in June 2018. They have said it is "outrageous," particularly since firefighters are required to live in the city.

But union leaders took it up a notch in a letter President Vincent Ventresca said he delivered Wednesday to Ralph Mohr, the Republican elections commissioner, and Jeremy Zellner, his Democratic counterpart.

The letter accuses Renaldo of committing "the felonies of False Registration under Election Law Section 17-104 and Illegal Voting under Election Law Section 17-132." It says he "must be held to the same standard as any other citizen in relation to the laws protecting the integrity of our election system" and should be "investigated and prosecuted" like any other citizen.

Informed of the latest union allegation, the Brown administration had not responded by late Thursday.

Renaldo told the Common Council's Civil Service Committee on October 20 that he had moved from Louvaine Drive in the Town of Tonawanda into a house he had built on Taunton Place in Buffalo six months after he was appointed in June 2018, and after the residency waiver from the city expired in December 2018. But, he added, he had been traveling between the two residences, maintaining both until he was able to sell the home in the town, which he said is expected to close by the end of this month.

Ventresca provided records to The Buffalo News that the fire union obtained from the Board of Elections under the Freedom of Information Law. On a 2015 voter registration form, Renaldo listed his address as the Tonawanda home. A report of Renaldo's voting history shows the commissioner most recently voted in the November 2019 general election. But Renaldo's voter registration application shows that he did not register with the Taunton Place address in Buffalo until July 7, 2020. There were no other voter registration forms for Renaldo between 2015 and 2020, Ventresca said. Elections officials, tied up with early voting, did not immediately respond to The News' attempts to verify that on Thursday.

Based on Renaldo's "public declarations" that he was a resident of Buffalo as of January 2019, and records showing he voted in November 2019, but didn't register as a city resident until July 2020, Renaldo committed voter fraud, Ventresca's letter alleged.

Both Mohr and Zellner said they had not seen the complaint because they have been out in the field at polling sites all day. Zellner added that it's not clear when they would be able to look at the complaint, given the crush of election business, and that it might be something that would be handled by a different agency anyway.

"Voter fraud ... is something that should be filed with law enforcement, I think, (or) the state board where they have oversight on such a thing," he said. "But certainly when I can take a look at whatever was filed (the county board) will take it seriously."

The letter from Ventresca — who is up for re-election next month — to the elections board is the latest salvo against a commissioner with whom the union has been fighting.

In February, the union pushed back on the "dynamic staffing" model that allows the city to pull a fire company out of service if at least five firefighters — out of what it says are roughly 127 on any given shift — call in sick. The union says the practice puts citizens and firefighters at "heightened risk, even though it agreed to the model in its 2013 contract.

In July, the union demanded that Renaldo be removed from his position immediately, claiming he had been violating residency requirements by not living in the city full-time. The move was sparked by a detailed — but anonymous — 74-page report delivered to the firefighters union that it said showed Renaldo was living at the Louvaine Drive home in the town, not in the city. Renaldo said he had been in the process of selling the Louvaine Drive residence.

Renaldo, a 30-year department veteran who retired as a battalion chief in 2012, has said he received a waiver from the state to come out of retirement to work for the city. He collects retirement and a salary from the city. The commissioner position has a budgeted salary of $139,770.

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(c)2020 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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