Niagara Gazette

November 3, 2012

Six vie for Seneca presidency amid gambling dispute

The Associated Press
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — The Seneca Indian Nation, whose three Western New York casinos make it one of the region's largest employers, will elect a new president Tuesday from among six candidates.

The winner's reach will extend beyond the 8,000-member tribe to Albany, where Seneca leaders have clashed frequently with state government over matters of finance and freedoms, including perennial state efforts to tax cigarette sales at tribal smoke shops.

The new president will step in amid a standoff with New York over gambling rights that has stalled the Senecas' payment of $460 million in casino proceeds to the state and cities of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca. The Senecas say the state's installation of slot machines at nearby race tracks violates a 2002 compact promising the Senecas exclusive casino rights in exchange for handing over 25 percent of slot machine revenues.

A three-person panel chaired by former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye was appointed in September to mediate the dispute.

"New York state should give the nation 25 percent of their earnings since they will be in our exclusivity area," said Cyrus Schindler, a Seneca businessman who was president when the compact was signed and is running again for another two-year term.

He and the other candidates list protecting the nation's rights against the state among their top priorities.

Another former president, Barry Snyder Sr., who served his last term from 2008 to 2010, is also running. Snyder ran the nation's gambling arm, the Seneca Gaming Corp., as chairman from 2004 to 2009, when the tribe began withholding payments to the state and host cities.

The Seneca constitution prohibits the president from holding consecutive terms. The presidency rotates every term between the nation's Allegany and Cattaraugus territories. The other candidates for president are:

—Richard Nephew, chairman of the Seneca Nation Council, who is endorsed by outgoing President Robert Odawi Porter. Nephew said he is focused on diversifying the nation's business interests and continuing to protect treaty rights, tribal sovereignty and economic interests.

"To be sure, it has been nothing but an uphill battle with outside entities," Nephew said, "from the state, the feds and big tobacco."

—Aaron Pierce, who runs cigarette businesses and manufactures bullets. Along with winning the gambling arbitration, his focus is on expanding housing for Senecas and expanding the economy, according to his website.

—Cochise Redeye, a former SGC chairman and a former Erie County sheriff's deputy. "The constant assault from New York state and the federal government combined with the rapid erosion of our language and culture has made the future of the Seneca Nation perilously uncertain," Redeye said in announcing his candidacy.

—Shaun Humphrey, a Seneca member and long shot candidate. He could not be reached for comment.

The Seneca Indian Nation employs nearly 5,200 people, including 2,700 at the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel in Niagara Falls, 1,100 at its Seneca Allegany Casino and hotel in Salamanca, 75 people at the temporary Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, and 1,300 in the nation's government, according to the tribe.

Seneca leaders recently announced they were exploring construction of a 400,000-square-foot outlet mall off the New York State Thruway in Chautauqua County southwest of Buffalo. The tribe also is pursuing control of the hydropower operation at Kinzua Dam in northwestern Pennsylvania. The project was built on lands the United States seized from the Senecas.

In addition to president, Seneca voters will choose a treasurer, clerk, eight members of the 16-member Tribal Council, along with police marshals, highway commissioners and assessors.