Let’s operate under the assumption that there is/are no god(s); that there is no heaven or hell, and that when you die you no longer exist. You are nothingness. There is no life everlasting where you get to see all your loved ones and hang out with all your heroes. These are all fairy tales that people made up to make death less scary, and with the advent of “hell”, we scare you straight. Then again, for a lot of people, you can apparently be a horrible miscreant 6 days a week so long as you go to services and confess or ask forgiveness on the 7th.
So, while operating that assumption you have the choice of being a good person, or a bad person. You have numerous chances each day to do the right or wrong thing. If you have faith, you figure doing the right thing will make your god happy, and you can ease your slide into heaven. But when you don’t have faith, being nice or good is something you undertake for its own sake; something you do simply because you choose it. Your only life everlasting is your memory and legacy – how you leave this world, and how you’re remembered. Joe Illuzzi, who died yesterday, was a very pious man.
About a year ago, it was revealed that Joe Illuzzi filed for bankruptcy. At the time, we were still writing for another website, and both Chris and I mocked him for being a deadbeat. He was incensed and, as usual, threatened to “reveal” some utter fabrication about me in an effort to shut me up. So I called him – it was Election Day. I told him to do his worst and print whatever he wants. But as we got to talking, he explained to me that he was hooked up to oxygen and was close to death. He told me that he was declaring bankruptcy because it was his last chance to not saddle his young daughter with his estate’s growing debt. I thought that was a rare show of humanity from someone I hold in low regard. Clearly, I have no problem with his daughter and thought that, in this case, he was doing a noble deed. I removed my posts and Tweets out of respect for that.
But make no mistake – as far as the political scene in western New York is concerned, Joe Illuzzi left a sordid, hateful, and sad legacy. I received numerous emails from elected officials and hopefuls who unloaded years’ worth of frustration. If you’re not already aware, what Illuzzi ran was a shakedown operation. I can’t tell you how many elected officials appreciated the things we wrote about him over the years – exposing his operation, and how little his site was actually read – because they were sick of being bullied by him. You can go to Glenn Gramigna’s site right now and see that the Illuzzi business model remains alive and well, although Gramigna is less of a bully and more of a nebbish.
Here’s how it works, in a nutshell: the politician buys an ad on the site. The website owner publishes the ad and agrees to publish all of your campaign’s press releases. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the website owner will take the advertiser’s side in any dispute with a non-advertiser. In the rare instance where both candidates advertise, Illuzzi would take the side of the more conservative advertiser, the one with bigger pockets, or the one who is aligned with either Steve Pigeon, Ralph Lorigo’s Conservative Party, or with the Erie County GOP.
Imagine that – in just 7 months, Mike Hudson leaves Niagara Falls for L.A., and Joe Illuzzi is gone. Which website will Steve Pigeon now use to get his message out? Will someone take over Illuzzi’s site? Will it be the Niagara Falls Reporter? Where will we now find supposedly earnest paeans to alleged Albany cults?
Without electoral fusion, and the transactional interference by minor parties in our political system, there would have been no Illuzzi website. Under the Orsini regime, you could only be assured of the IP line if you advertised with Illuzzi. No exceptions. Likewise, I’m aware of it being a condition precedent for candidates to buy an ad after securing a nomination from various parties at various times. A racket.
We were never able to convince a politician to record a conversation with Illuzzi to reveal the way he operates. Although New York has a one-party consent rule for recording phone calls, the political fallout was something no one wanted to risk. What Illuzzi did was commit extortion on a daily, casual basis. If you didn’t pay him, he’d threaten you, he’d print horrible rumors about you, he’d make up lies about you, he’d threaten to destroy you. It was truly a protection racket, and he was doing other people’s dirty work.
Because one thing about Joe Illuzzi is that he was always influential when it came to the horrible, transactional Independence “Party”. Back when the local racket was run by Springville barber Tony Orsini, Illuzzi would print whatever Orsini told him to write, and swaying the IP nomination was one way Steve Pigeon held onto his political influence after he was replaced as Democratic committee chairman. So it should come as no surprise that Illuzzi loved the legislative coup of 2010, he loved Golisano’s short-lived “Responsible New York”, which was so “responsible” it brought now-convicted-felon Pedro Espada to a position of great influence in the state Senate.
Illuzzi also hated Joel Giambra and was his biggest critic during the budget crisis of the last decade. (But – because of his backing by Pigeon – published all sorts of puffery about budget crisis bad actor Chuck Swanick just this year). Giambra is now an influential Republican consultant/operative who is very close to State Senator Mark Grisanti.
Speaking of Grisanti, Illuzzi also hated gay people. Last year, Grisanti’s vote for same sex marriage came very close in time to the death of Williamsville North freshman Jamey Rodemeyer. Illuzzi was a pious attendee of a local megachurch and was consistently, devastatingly homophobic. He wrote and said utterly horrible things about people who are homosexual, and about the homosexual community in general. When same-sex marriage was passed, he wrote terrible things. When Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life after being bullied for being different, Illuzzi sided with the bullies. It was one of the rare instances where Illuzzi found himself with public rebukes from people who demanded he take their ads down. He always refused, and the checks had already cleared, but he was unrepentant and swung back at his critics like a cornered animal.
It seems there’s some idiot tradition – completely unencumbered by facts or history – where people are expected automatically to be respectful of the dead, no matter what. I don’t understand that tradition. Just because someone stops breathing and descends into a box in the ground doesn’t mean we need to ignore the very real fact that the person led a life significantly pockmarked with crime, neglect, and hatred. Those are choices that person made, and we shouldn’t simply ignore them because he suddenly finds himself without any vital signs.
I wish Joe’s family well, and hope they find comfort in their grief.