Generalissimo Chris Collins' Bloodless Coup

9 Dec

I could go into paragraphs’ worth of pop psychology as to why regular people – in particular consumers of mainstream news in this town – buy into Chris Collins’ style of neo-dictatorship, but that’s not the point of this post.  Buy into it they do, and I can’t quite figure out why that is.

The most likely answer is that people perceive Collins as being a real aggressive tax-cutter and cost-cutter.  They think he’s up in the Rath Building battling on the taxpayers’ behalf against the forces of evil that conventional wisdom says have brought Erie County to waves of fiscal, economic, political and social crises.  The fact that the narrative that people like Sandy Bauerle and Tom Beach push day in and day out is overly simplistic and not 100% true is beside the point.  Your average Collins supporter takes it as gospel truth that it’s, e.g., the yoonyunz who are completely at fault for the decline of this region, and if we just break their backs, and the backs of their supporters, everything will be better.

As an aside, I’m in the middle of reading Power Failure by Diana Dillaway.  The conventional wisdom’s assessment is only a fraction of what’s gone wrong in Buffalo over the past half-century.  The business community and other power elites bear far, far more of the burden than the unions alone, and the mistakes of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s get made in the same style today.  Over and over again.  This area just never changes, just doesn’t get it, and continually repeats the same substantive and procedural mistakes.

I can’t find it now, but if I remember correctly Chris Smith once posted about how the election of Chris Collins as county executive represented a fundamental shift in power from old money interests and entrenched Buffalo elites to the nouveau riche elites out in Amherst and Clarence.  There’s definitely some truth to that, but Collins seems to be emulating the old monied interests as best as possible.

Add to that the fact that the County Executive who ran to be anything but the “chief politician”


Well, the chief politician is busy cutting deals, as follows:

1. Deal with Byron Brown to suppress city turnout in general election, with no Republican mayoral candidate.

2. Deal with Byron Brown, Steve Casey, and Steve Pigeon to manufacture a “bipartisan” Collins-friendly legislative bloc where a few opportunistic Democrats join with Collins-beholden Republicans to elect Barbara Miller-Williams as chair.  (Miller-Williams’ request for $300,000 for the Colored Musicians’ Club was notably the only legislative funding increase that Collins didn’t kill).

3. Allegedly cutting additional deals to help other Democratic candidates who are allied with the Pigeon/Casey forces in future races.

4. Let’s never forget how he conveniently appointed Kathy Konst to a county appointment (for which she has no background or qualifications) solely to manufacture a win for Dino Fudoli in LD-5.  Fudoli and Collins worked tirelessly to keep Konst’s replacement, Diane Terranova, off the ballot, prohibiting her ability to campaign until one week before the election.  (That is, in a nutshell, a display of Collins’ lack of character, as far as I’m concerned.)  What’s the over-under on how many months into 2010 Konst will remain in her job, now that her real work is done?

All of this culminates into this week’s legislative wrangling over the 2010 budget, Collins’ vetoes, and the legislative override.  Specifically, Collins vetoed every single increase, maintaining funding of all currently funded culturals at last year’s levels (with the notable exception of the Colored Musicians’ Club, as mentioend above), vetoed a proposal to fund a PUSH program to stabilize vacant homes in the county, and informed some new recipients like the Botanical Gardens hat they’d get no funding.

The legislature met to override Collins’ vetoes.

Collins announced that he will not sign checks to those culturals in excess of what he set forth in his veto, and declared some of the legislature’s allocations to be “null and void”.

The people who love Chris Collins and buy what he’s selling are probably cheering him figuratively flipping off the Erie County Legislature.  I’m also quite mindful of the fact that it’s completely possible and feasible that Collins might be right about the current funding being perfectly adequate.  Taxes are high enough, and even though the legislature only gets to play with 12% or so of its own budget, it should be hyper-vigilant about what it spends that money on, and every million counts.

But this is a democracy; the legislature is a duly elected municipal governmental branch, and those legislators are as much elected by their constituents as was Collins.  Collins’ decision to pretend that the legislature did not override his veto is fundamentally undemocratic and goes against everything that our system of government stands for.

This is not a dictatorship (or, for example, Volland Electric or ZeptoMetrix), where what Chris says, goes.  Collins’ intent and opinion was expressed through the veto, and under our system that opinion was overruled through legislative override.  Collins is quite literally behaving like bemedaled strongman in a banana republic by pretending the legislature doesn’t exist.  If we’re to not have a legislature, that’s fine, but let’s do it the right way and abolish it through legislation, together with the remainder of county government.

If the legislature was majority Republican and the CE was a Maria Whyte, the Republicans who will predictably moan and whinge, or roll their eyes about this post would be screaming bloody murder. Also, ACORN.

When given the chance, Erie County Executive Chris Collins continually opts to behave like some Latin American despot.  Oh, he has your best interests in mind (note the rhetoric: instead of the “people”, it’s the “taxpayer” for whom he’s toiling), and when he thinks the legislature is wrong, he will forge ahead without regard to its very existence.  And come 2010, he won’t have the rubber-stamp legislature he so wants, but it’ll be pretty close as apprenticeship aficionado Tim Kennedy, odd newcomer Christina Bove, and the oft-tardy or absent Barbara Miller-Williams join with the five Republicans to do whatever it is that Collins wants.

In the meantime, notions of good government and real, fundamental changes to the way the county does business or pays for crap will be completely disregarded for another 2 years.  We won’t have charter-mandated performance-based-budgeting or examinations of ways in which the county can minimize the cost of doing even its state-mandated tasks.

But coming up, heady times for political leeches and opportunists and battles for political control, without regard to governing.

Every time the Failboat seems to be coming back to the dock, it sets sail again, oftentimes stronger than before.

18 Responses to “Generalissimo Chris Collins' Bloodless Coup”

  1. buffaloobserver at 8:17 am #

    Well said,pundit. Pride and arrogance will be the downfall of King Chri$.

  2. Chris Smith at 10:07 am #

    Yes, I did say that Collins represents a fundamental shift f the balance of power from the urban center to the suburbs, but meet the new boss, same as the old boss. While the balance of power has shifted, he’s making all the same bad decisions as the old leadership.

    • Ethan at 10:39 am #

      I think the whole Colored Musicians funding thing just blows your theory out of the water, yeah?

      • Alan Bedenko at 10:41 am #

        How so?

      • Ethan at 11:45 am #

        Ah, I meant his theory about who CC hates, not the shift of power thing. It was, I guess, meant to be a cheeky aside, as if throwing flunky funding around actually falsified the generalized notion that CCs “policies,” such as they are, do seem to negatively impact certain demographics more so than others.

      • Alan Bedenko at 12:13 pm #

        I don’t think Chris Collins hates black people. I just think he hates the poors, and especially the poors who populate the ground floor of the Rath Building applying for government services.

        But above all, Chris Collins loves power. It trumps all other emotions and ends.

  3. Fat Tony at 10:07 am #

    There can be no doubt that even if Chris Collins is right on the issues, he has fundamentally no understanding of the separation of powers. This to me is just one more step in what essentially has been the United States on a path to becoming a banana republic. Collins simply ignores the Legislature….what’s next, he disbands the Legislature and prevents them from entering the chambers?

    Be it three men in a room in Albany, the job ACORN has done in corrupting elections, the criminal State Legislature best epitomized by Joe Bruno…..and what I believe is equally dangerous, the Kevin Gaughan crusade to make sure that power at the most local levels of government is consolidated into the fewest hands possible all by selling it to a populace as less expensive government….we are clearly no better than the Third World countries we all have scoffed at our whole adult lives.

    And Collins is far worse than the old Buffalo monied interests who wanted the community, particularly the city, to thrive even if for their own best interests. These folks attempted to work and strengthen existing institutions much like the David Rockefeller model in New York City. Collins, however, clearly believes he is the savior sent from above because the masses of Erie County need him and no one should challenge his divine destiny.

    Next, comes the Kool Aid and the Nike sneakers…..

  4. Eric Saldanha at 12:53 pm #

    “…the job ACORN has done in corrupting elections…”

    Thanks for putting that early in the second paragraph so I knew when to stop taking you seriously.

  5. Pete at BuffaloStuff at 1:47 pm #

    He’s a rich, rich guy. He has achieved all he can in that arena. It’s like Chris Lee and Tom Golisano. So rich they need another challenge. Alot of our government (federal, state and local)is now run by rich elites who made it to the top and now need another mountain to climb. They care less about doing the right thing for us, and more about doing the right thing for their egos.

  6. RaChaCha at 4:10 pm #

    We’re so full of fail here, that poor FAILBOAT keeps getting overloaded and capsizing. Perhaps time to bring in some backup — like the FAILBALLOON:

    Hoax, full of hot air, playing to the cameras — no end of analogies for our elected leadership.

  7. Don Eppers at 4:34 pm #

    I’m a regular reader of this blog and enjoy the insights of BP and the regular contributors. I don’t remember if I voted for Collins but I’m one of the people who has bought into the style of Cris Collins. I do read the criticism of his work with interest – I have a healthy cynicism when it comes to elected and appointed leaders. In reading the comments I’ve skipped over the labels strongman in a banana republic, Generalissimo Chris and savior with a devine destiny.

    I read that he needs a challenge and is doing the right thing for his ego. He loves power. I think people run for office in government, for the most part, for power. They want to lead and set the agenda. If they do it well they get reelected. If they don’t there will be many interested in capturing that power. He makes deals with Byron Brown and manufactures friendly legislative blocs. I don’t see this as a valid criticism – it is what he is expected to be doing.

    Maybe I can’t be helped. Having read the post and the comments, I don’t know why I should conclude that notions of good government are being completely disregarded and that Collins is some sort of evil force, a man who hates the poor of Erie County and who replicates all of the bad decisions of old leadership.

  8. Colin Eager at 7:35 pm #

    What’s his address?

  9. Starbuck at 8:19 pm #

    As long as the means he uses are legal, I agree with Collins in opposing the legislature majority’s addition of $300K to the botanical gardens for operating funds and what sounds like their last minute grant of $100K to PUSH. He’s wrong to agree with their addition of $300K for the musicians’ club.

    If we tally it up, Collins is wrong on 1 of those 3 while the legislature majority is wrong on all 3.

  10. Mark at 9:56 am #

    reading power failure is great way to really feel hopeless about this region. a fascinating read albeit maddening and depressing

  11. Diane at 4:15 pm #

    Well said Alan. It’s a great disappointment to see Democracy completely disregarded by Collins. Why he thinks that only he has the foresight to change Erie County, is a mystery. His vision for Buffalo is so fatally flawed especially for the citizens who need the services he is so bent on getting rid of.


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    […] Buffalo News’ editorial board is so in the tank for Chris Collins that they characterize his abrogation of the democratic process as “vaguely […]

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