Incumbent Democrat Utica Councilwoman Katie Aiello is questioning why her own party isn't backing her re-election campaign and is raising questions about a $500 cash gift that was offered by the fiance of the party's new pick for her seat.

Aiello took to social media last week to call attention to the $500 cash left for her by Russell Pelli, an owner of commercial property in Utica, along with a note asking for help getting a form to apply for city grant funding. Aiello says an envelop with five $100 bills was left for her at her business, Character Coffee, in February of 2022. Ultimately, she returned $470 to Pelli, she said.

Aiello shared this photo with WIBX, showing the cash Pelli left, along with a note seeking assistance with a form for grant funding:

Photo submitted by Katie Aiello showing money and note left by Russell Pelli in Feb of 2022 at her downtown Utica coffee shop
Photo submitted by Katie Aiello showing money and note left by Russell Pelli in Feb of 2022 at her downtown Utica coffee shop

For his part, Pelli - the fiance of Mirela Pekmez, whom WIBX has learned has received the Democrat committee's endorsement for Utica's 1st Ward seat - tells WIBX that gift was left for Aiello to 'Pay It Forward', and as a way to support a local business that, like many others, were devasted by the COVID-19 pandemic (read Pelli's full response to WIBX 950 below).

On Monday's Keeler in the Morning Show on WIBX, Aiello stopped short of calling the $500 gift a possible bribe, but said voters in Utica will have to decided the intent of the money themselves. However, the first-term councilwoman said she hopes to shed light on the backroom dealings involving local politics.

Pelli, meanwhile, responded to WIBX explaining his side of things, and taking direct jabs at Aiello:

I am not sure why Katrina Aeillo aka, Katrina Martin Aeillo, aka Katie Martin aka, Katie Martin Aeillo continue to attach me.
Ms. Katie Aeillo is making very false claims against myself, friends, and chair members.
Her latest attach against me was to go on Social Media and claim I bribed her which could not be further from the truth. 
As you can see the "bribe" she is referring to was over a year ago in which I left a monetary donation to "Pay it Forward" to any patron who walked into her coffee shop. She is failing to include her own signed letter THANKING me for the gesture and kindness. This was done during covid and a time when many small business were feeling the effects of the slowing economy.
I have been very blessed through hard work and like to give back to the community any way I can. This was no different as she obviously agreed at the time. Had Ms. Katie Martin Aeillo felt it was anything other than a kind gesture she should have said something a year ago or filed a complaint last year which she is required to do by law.
Ms. Katie Aeillo also fails to show the proof that During Covid I had asked for a form to fill out to help a Non Profit called the MV Latino Organization. The MVLO had looked at an empty space I had that needed much repairs after being destroyed from non paying tenants during Covid.  
It clearly shows that I am trying to advocate for the benefit of the Latino community which she failed to do.
Never did I demand or ask for anything other than a form to fill out.
Afterall, that was Ms. Katie Aeillo district and I find it odd that she refused such a small request to help the Latino population and a building in her district.
Perhaps Ms. Aeillo is upset with me because she thinks I was behind her failed attempt to get endorsed? 
That could not be further from the truth. 
She was NOT endorsed because her constituents were upset with her decision to transform Genesee St into 1 lane. 
They were upset why she was so adamant about spending 2 million dollars on a Skatepark that wasn't even in her district. 
They were upset about spending over $200,000 on art murals near her coffee shop when it could have been done for free in a collaborative community effort.
They were upset about the lack of communication about her role in her family and friend receiving a $950,000 grant to renovate their building in which her own coffee shop sits. Then receiving $25,000 for her coffee shop in Rome NY and all the other little perks.
They were upset with the fact that she committed perjury on the stand and lied about living in their district (which I have included in this email proof that she could not and did not live in the 1st ward as she claims on Lafayette St.
We still have NO IDEA where she is claiming to reside to this day?
Ms. Aeillo refuses to address any of the concerns of the voters and chooses to cyber bully and continue her pattern of lying and deceiving the public.
The constituents felt as though there needed to be change and wanted a new voice which was more reflective of the neighborhood.
She can throw mud, dirt, tantrums, kick her feet, cry to her mommy, none of it will change the facts. And the facts are we want better.
On WIBX Monday, Aiello addressed several of the counter allegations made by Pelli, saying she is not the daughter of, or in anyway related to, Christine Martin, who is the President of Foster Martin Interactive Marketing, and who was involved in the purchase and renovation of what was formerly known as the Rite Aid building into loft apartments, a small grocery and sub shop.
Further, she says the $200,000 for new brick work on the building that is home to Utica's Sunburst mural - across from her downtown coffee shop - was not money she steered toward the project, but that it was a city project with funding allocated to address safety concerns over a crumbling wall.
Additionally, Aiello also said she does not have any ownership interest in any coffee shops in Rome.
Listen to the full Keeler in the Morning interview with Aiello from Monday's show below.
WIBX also sought a response from Frank Meloa, a sitting Utica councilman who also chairs the city's Democratic committee. Meola would only say "...discussions with he executive committee and city committee are privy to members only. We will be announcing the endorsed Democrat candidates within a week."
We also reached out to Mirela Pekmez, whom we've been told will received the committee's backing instead of Aiello. Pekmez said the allegations came as a surprise to her and would make a statement in the near future.
Listen to Monday's discussion on Keeler:

World's Largest Dish of Pasta, and a Wedding - Utica, NY, Feb 14, 2004

The Guinness Book of World Records affirmed in 2004, that the World's Largest Dish of Pasta was made in Utica, NY with the Keeler Show. Now with WIBX, Keeler worked with Tony's Pizzeria and other to create a dish of pasta weighing over 7,000 lbs. and the event included an actual wedding. The dish of pasta weighed 7,355 lbs. (3,336 kg) and lasted in the Guinness Book for several years. The dish was assembled and the wedding was held at Sangertown Square in New Hartford, when Keeler was hosting a 6 night a week television show, The Keeler Show, on FOX 33 TV in Utica and FOX 68 in Syracuse.