BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Republican Erie County Executive candidate Chrissy Casilio is under fire from her incumbent opponent Mark Poloncarz after appearing at a campaign event hosted in part by a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an “antigovernment movement.”

Casilio spoke in front of a group in Blasdell and answered audience questions Thursday night. According to her campaign, she was invited to speak by SCOPE, a local Second Amendment advocacy group. But the event was also hosted alongside the Constitutional Coalition of New York State, which the SPLC has included in its list of hate and antigovernment groups since 2021.

The SPLC designates the Constitutional Coalition of NYS as an “antigovernment movement.” It defines antigovernment groups as “part of the antidemocratic hard-right movement,” saying associated groups “believe the federal government is tyrannical, and they traffic in conspiracy theories about an illegitimate government of leftist elites seeking a ‘New World Order.'”

Casilio’s campaign told News 4 that the candidate was not available for an interview, but the candidate released the following statement.

“Last night, I had the opportunity to speak with a Second Amendment organization about my commitment to defending our Constitutional freedoms,” Casilio said. “If Mark Poloncarz considers it hateful to support our Constitution, that should tell the voters everything they need to know.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the incumbent Democrat who is running against Casilio in November’s election, criticized the Republican’s decision to appear before the Constitutional Coalition.

“The Constitutional Coalition of New York State, that’s based here in our region, is a fairly well known antigovernment group,” Poloncarz said. “Those were individuals who protested me but have been involved in other activities that are very questionable in nature. When you’re running for office, you need to know who you’re talking to.”

Poloncarz said he has turned down prior speaking opportunities based on the organizations hosting the event.

In her statement, Casilio called Poloncarz “an angry hothead who attacks anytime he’s challenged, especially by strong women,” and refuted his characterization of the group.

“If Mark Poloncarz considers it hateful to support our Constitution, that should tell the voters everything they need to know,” Casilio said.

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Marlee Tuskes is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.

Justin McMullen is a Western New York native who joined the News 4 team in 2023. You can read more of his work here.