Former Seneca president enters race

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BUFFALO, N.Y. – Seneca Nation citizens will now have two presidential candidates to choose from at November’s election.

Former president Maurice A. John Sr. announced Oct. 11 that he is running for the nation’s top position.

John is challenging Robert Odawi Porter, the nation’s general counsel, who announced his candidacy in July. John is running as an independent; Porter is supported by the Seneca Party, Seneca’s dominant political force that has provided eight of the nation’s last 10 presidents.

Seneca presidents serve two-year terms, rotating between the nation’s two main territories at Cattaraugus and Allegany. Barry E. Snyder Sr., the current president, is from Cattaraugus, so the upcoming November elections will select a president from Allegany. Both John and Porter are from the territory.

John served as president from 2006 – 2008 and previously served as the nation’s treasurer. He announced his candidacy in Niagara Square in downtown Buffalo. He said citizens in the 7,000-plus member nation deserve to have a choice for president because the tribe has been a democracy since 1848, according to a report on WNED television, a public broadcasting channel.

Without naming names or providing substantive facts, John made broad inferences during his announcement speech that coercion and intimidation tactics are being used on nation citizens.

“Senecas have the right to a choice and the freedom not to be railroaded into a decision forced by intimidation, fear of losing a job and with vote-buying,” John said, according to the report.

John also took a swipe at his opponent, according to the Buffalo News.

“There’s a difference between Porter and me. I haven’t sworn an oath to New York state,” John said, referring to Porter’s profession as a lawyer. “He’s a member of the New York State Bar Association.”

Porter is a law professor at Syracuse University and a graduate of Harvard Law School. He has published more than 25 scholarly articles. His 2005 book, “Sovereignty, Colonialism and the Indigenous Nations,” is an 816-page educational resource, which he wrote and edited that includes speeches, testimony, policy statements, legal cases, statutes, newspaper reports and scholarly analysis.

John, 62, described himself as a man at war with anyone who tries to diminish the nation’s sovereignty, the Buffalo News said. He’d like to see nation members receive a bigger percentage of casino slot machine revenues than the state.

The nation’s compact provides the state with 25 percent of net slot machine revenues from its three casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca. Currently, the nation is withholding more than $200 million from the state because it says the state has violated the exclusivity provision of the compact by allowing private businesses and state-run racetracks to operate slot machines in its territory.

John could not be reached for comment.

The Seneca government was not thrilled at what it called John’s “last-minute candidacy,” and responded with a prepared statement.

“The announcement of Maurice John Sr.’s candidacy for president is disheartening.” said J.C. Seneca, chairman of the Seneca Party on the Cattaraugus Territory and a tribal councilor.

“It’s an unfortunate occurrence that after his four years of service with the nation, as treasurer and president and as treasurer of the Seneca Gaming Corp., that the nation government and the people of the Seneca Nation are having to deal with his poor decisions and poor leadership.”

John left the government in a blaze of controversy in 2008. In August 2009, John was officially suspended as treasurer of Seneca Gaming Corporation, in a 10-0 tribal council vote and accused of misappropriation of nation funds.

“His last attempt in 2008 to gain the nomination for nation treasurer failed and since that time he has not been involved in the Seneca Nation government and it is questionable why he would announce his candidacy here in the final days before the Oct. 18 deadline,” Seneca said.

Seneca noted that Porter served as the nation’s counsel part of the time when John was president. Since 2003, Porter is also a tenured professor of law, dean’s Research Scholar of Indigenous Nations Law and director, Center for Indigenous Law, Governance & Citizenship, College of Law at Syracuse University, and he is currently on leave to campaign for office.