A man at the center of controversy in the Utica council endorsement kerfuffle fired back on Friday, saying sitting Councilwoman Katie Aiello is lying and is not liked by members of the Democrat committee.

Aiello, a Democrat completing her first term on the council, raised allegations about Russell Pelli, an envelop of money and federal ARPA funding after Pelli's fiance, Mirela Pekmez, received the party's endorsement from Democrats for Utica's 1st Ward seat. The two will now face off in a primary in June.

Regarding the $500 Pelli gave to Aiello, he says it was not a bribe, but an ask for help in filling out an application for possible funding regarding a commercial building he owns in the city. Further, on Friday's Keeler in the Morning Show on WIBX, he asked why, if Aiello thought it was an attempted bribe or something else inappropriate, did she wait until after she lost the party's endorsement to talk about it.

Pelli says he liked Aiello's downtown Character Coffee shop and thought she could use the money to 'pay it forward' to her customers:

"She could have returned it. Should could have text me, my number was on the card. Should could have reported it. If she really thought it was a bribe, she should have reported it," Pelli said.

"But, what did she do, she held onto it and later decided it was an opportunity...
She can't throw any mud at her opponent (Pelli's fiance Mirela Pekmez), so instead she's dragging me into it," he added.

When pressed about the suggestion that the endorsement went to Pekmez because of a backroom political deal, as Aiello has suggested, Pelli called her a liar.

Listen to full interview with Russell Pelli:

"One-hundred-percent she's lying. She claimed she lived at 412 LaFayette Street, and later admitted she only spent one night there. It's all smoke and mirrors," Pelli said.

Lingering in the air amid the allegation of a backroom deal is Pelli's history, including an arrest for placing an incendiary device under a vehicle after a dispute with a local restaurant. Pelli did not deny he's had criminal trouble in the past, but said it's not the person he is anymore.

"I do (have a criminal record), but I'm not sure how that plays into this right now. I grew up in a very blue collar, tough Italian neighborhood. We don't back down. If someone hits you, we were taught to hit back and hit back harder.

"Is it the right way? No, absolutely not. It's an adjustment that I had to make - sometimes I'm not right... Pelli said. "I've been in my share of street fights but I'm older now and I'm learning to handle myself differently."

Regarding Aiello's claim that she was told by the executive committee that she would receive the party's endorsement in her re-election bid, Pelli - who is not a member of the committee - had his own take on what unfolded.

"The executive committee recommended (Aiello's) endorsement - they were for her," but said the representatives in Aiello's own district "don't like her."

"When it came time to vote on it, one member said yes and it was up to Katie to second her nomination, but she didn't. If you're not gonna fight for yourself, how do you expect people behind you to stand up and fight for you. Katie didn't even wanna vote for Katie," he said.

During a recent interview on WIBX, Aiello did acknowledge she didn't second her own nomination saying she believed something underhanded was going on and that a decision had already been made to back Pekmez instead of her.

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