WEST SENECA, N.Y. — Up until Tuesday of last week, three senior staffers for Assemblyman Pat Burke thought they were doing a good job.
"I think we did the best with the hands that we were oftentimes dealt, you know, we worked hard," Matthew Dearing said.
The three staff members claim a disagreement with Burke’s response to the racially motivated mass shooting on Jefferson Ave., where 10 black people were killed, is what led to their firing.
In a statement to 2 On Your Side, the assembly member said they were fired for insubordination.
Dearing was the community relations director for Burke.
He was fired on May 17 along with legislative director Nicole Golias and communications director Brendan Keany.
"He called myself and Matt on Sunday night, and it seemed like he was going to take a strong stance," Keany said. "He said he wanted to give a speech on the assembly floor the following day, and that he wanted to name names."
Keany says he and Dearing stayed up late Sunday night researching the topic for Burke to deliver remarks. That speech shifted from the assembly floor to a press conference with the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Ascian Legislative Caucus in Albany.
"Everything in our power should be rooting these right-wing extremists out of our government and out of our community," Burke said during the speech. "They are facilitating white supremacy, it needs to stop."
His former staff says they didn’t write a speech, nor did they know Burke planned to participate in that press conference last Monday.
"None of us were aware of it," Dearing said. "Frankly [Pat Burke] goes to a room where it's comfortable to say to his black and brown friends that white supremacy is bad, but he didn't tell us about it, because he knew that we would ask him to publicize it on social media, and he wouldn't do it."
Tensions rose between Burke and his staff Monday afternoon, prompting Burke to return to WNY on Tuesday.
"We were told, quote, 'I know, emotions are high because this happened in Buffalo, but we need to stick to our program,'" Dearing said.
Keany said Burke wanted other lawmakers to tackle the issue.
"It really felt like he was afraid about reelection just because of the district," Keany said.
The 142nd district contains portions of South Buffalo, Lackawanna, West Seneca, and Orchard Park.
"Matt had suggested an idea of doing a hands across the district event," Golias said. "We just imagine that wouldn't happen, what you show up for is also a really important part of your job."
Burke allegedly told his only Black staff member that he was being emotional over the domestic terror attack on Jefferson Ave.
"Finally I said, you know, Pat, I am emotional because I had to sit with my mother in her bedroom for two hours, consoling my four Black sisters, about the fact that they're afraid to go to school, they're afraid to leave the house, they're afraid to get on the bus," Dearing said.
Dearing said this is where the conversation got heated.
"What I said was, you didn't have to have that conversation last night, because you have three, in the news article I said lily-white, three white children," Dearing said. "You live in Orchard Park, and you didn't have to have that conversation."
Burke is married to a Puerto Rican woman, whom he has three children with.
Dearing was then asked to resign and by his admission challenged Burke to fire him, which Burke did. Burke then fired his Keany and Golias for insubordination.
Both Dearing and Keany say that Golias didn't say a word during the team meeting with Burke, and say she wasn't offered the chance to resign like they were.
"I did not say anything, so any claim of my insubordination is really mind-boggling to me, and not accurate," Golias said.
2 on your side asked Burke’s office on Friday for a response and gave them the weekend to set up an interview. Instead, we received a statement saying:
"In a discussion with these staffers, I found their accusations bizarre, offensive, and completely off base considering my long history of speaking out against white supremacy and my actions and statements over the past week. It was clear that they no longer believed in me or the decisions I make. I cannot retain a staff that I no longer trust or that no longer trust me and had to make the difficult decision to fire them."
For now, a sign now hangs in the assemblyman’s West Seneca office citing unforeseen circumstances for its closure and the requirement of an appointment.
"I knew that ultimately, I was standing up for the right thing," Dearing said.
Golias said the whole incident is an example of using whatever position you have in order to make sure you've heard.
"We were in a position of power from our service for the assembly member and to not use it would be a detriment to our souls, honestly," Golias said.