It's the Environment – not the Details – that Count

21 Aug

One Sunset has blown into a full-blown scandal.  All that’s missing is the suffix “gate”.

In a nutshell: the city’s main economic development agency lent money to Leonard Stokes (left) when it shouldn’t have; Barron helped manage the joint; and the venture was “doomed to failure,” in the words of the report.

The audit said $90,000 of the $160,000 in public financing is unaccounted for and nearly $39,000 in inventory and furniture is MIA.

“There was an ongoing infusion of public money,” said SanFilippo. “Frankly, none of these loans should have been approved.”

The city’s Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation gave loan after loan after loan to a failing business that had no leadership or plan for success, and the Buffalo News’ Jim Heaney has been hammering at this story for months now.  When the FBI gets involved, and the DA gets involved, you’ve got a real, genuine problem on your hands.

In a normal place, this would not bode well for the current city administration’s re-election.  But Buffalo is hardly a normal place, and the scandal-plagued Mayor will most likely sail to re-election.  That there is a fundamental problem with that fact is glaring, but beside the point, for now.

Not a Godwin violation

Not a Godwin violation

Mayor Brown deflects, using the Sergeant Schultz defense.  The problem isn’t, however, whether Mayor Brown knew all of the intimate details of the BERC handouts to One Sunset, or that a BERC employee, now fired, all but managed the restaurant for a time, or that the putative owner didn’t invest what he was supposed to invest to qualify for the handouts, or that a lot of the money either got spent irresponsibly or simply disappeared.

He’s probably telling the truth.  He had no idea.

But he is to blame for bringing about the environment that permits this to happen.  When you operate an administration that values political considerations above merit, this kind of thing is inevitable.  When you promote unqualified sycophants and political supporters to positions of fiscal power, failure will result.  When your software program that’s supposed to keep an eye on efficiency is instead used for political purposes, failure will result.  When people with no business experience counsel people with no business experience, failure is the only possible result. When you operate a hyper-political operation that is more concerned with obedience and politics than good policy, you’re doomed to fail.

In a macro sense, Buffalo really can’t afford this kind of thing anymore. Unfortunately, too many people are too focused on the micro aspect of how city government affects them and the economy.

Byron Brown and his administration may not have micromanaged the One Sunset deal.  But they created the system that led to it.  This is a gross violation of the public trust, and firing Michelle Barron is scapegoating.  There’s far, far more blame to spread around.

11 Responses to “It's the Environment – not the Details – that Count”

  1. Ward August 21, 2009 at 7:37 am #

    And Mayor Urkel will win the Dem primary by 85-15%, and run unopposed in the general.

    Ho-hum. Pass the Kool Aid.

  2. Terry August 21, 2009 at 7:47 am #

    “and the scandal-plagued Mayor will most likely sail to re-election. That there is a fundamental problem with that fact is glaring…”
    Innocuous observation or ignoratnt racism. Discuss. What is that “fundamental problem”?

    • Alan Bedenko August 21, 2009 at 8:50 am #

      @Terry – I was thinking about pay-for-play, the powerful political machines, the ineptitude and fecklessness of the opposition party in the city, the limp challenge mounted by Kearns, the entrenched interests supporting Brown, and the tinpot Machiavellian escapades of Steve Casey and Steve Pigeon.

      You’re the one who brought up race. Innocuous observation or ignorant racism?

  3. K9 August 21, 2009 at 8:18 am #

    Mayor Brown is on the Board of Dirctors of BERC (

    Mayor Byron W. Brown
    Deputy Mayor Donna Brown
    Mr. Clifford Bell
    Mr. Kevin Brady
    Mr. Brian Davis
    Mr. Michael Kubala
    Mr. Thomas Kucharski
    Ms. Carolyn Murray
    Mr. Michael Welch
    Mr. Adam Walters
    Mr. Frank Mesiah

    If he had no idea of what was going on as a board member, it makes you wonder how good an idea he has of what’s happening in the rest of the City.

  4. Becky August 21, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    2 questions:

    How is Mayor Brown different than any of the past mayors, or for that matter most politicians?

    Was Leonard Stokes merely a figurehead, a public name and face, for a crew with an idea, that really tanked? Bringing up the obvious, if so, who’s really behind the fiasco?

    • Alan Bedenko August 21, 2009 at 9:12 am #

      @Becky, well he’s not. That’s the point – that Buffalo can hardly afford this sort of rank political idiocy at the expense of a genuine plan for real economic and civic revival.

  5. mike August 21, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    This sounds a lot like the sopranos “Bust Out” episode, but with public money.

  6. Ward August 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm #

    Careful, Pundit–it appears that only a racist, mean-spirited individual would criticize these people–or bring up the fact that Michelle Barron was promoted to Vice President by Mr. Brown’s own political appointee, Tim Wanamaker, despite the fact that she lacked the requisite education for the position. And then was given additional responsibilities by Brown’s other appointee, Brian Reilly, even after the One Sunset mess came into the open.
    Clearly, “Your honor, these crooks is innocent.” And their critics are racists.

  7. jld August 22, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    Even if Brown was clueless…like when his son was driving that car…his ineptitude further proves he is unable to manage a city..let alone trust some of his appointees to act responsibly.
    Race was already brought in to this , when “over the top” rationale was used to grant these loans to Stokes …… a minority businessman?

  8. Buffalo Hodgepodge August 22, 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    The government should not be in the business of making loan and venture capital decisions. Instead, the government should create pools of capital to support economic development through loans, investments, or grants, that are administered by experienced, private sector venture capitalists or banks. The entities themselves could operate either as for-profit or not-for-profit organizations. The government could oversee appropriate use of its money through a Board seat and, ultimately, by forcing private investment firms to compete for its money. The mixing of politics into these decisions is inevitable when government appointees hold the purse strings.


  1. Buffalo Rising - August 22, 2009

    One Sunset is One Big Mess…

    It hasn’t been a good week for the Brown Administration.  City loans and assistance provided to failed restaurant One Sunset has turned into a full blown scandal and criminal investigation.  Mayor Brown says he didn’t order his staff to off…

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