2010: This Year in Fail

27 Dec

Every media outlet does a “this year in” retrospective. However, no one else will kick theirs off by pointing out that 2010 was a year of chaps-free Cejkas.  2010’s prowess is legendary.

County government started out 2010 having settled a longstanding dispute with ECMC over yearly contributions. Over at City Hall, the Karla Thomas / HR problem was just getting going, and I asked why it was, precisely, that it all happened in spite of CitiStat. As new Senator Kirsten Gillibrand got used to her new Washington digs, the New York City elites were scrambling to find someone – anyone – to primary her. (Tennessee’s most famous Wall Street ex-pol sent up a Pigeon-assisted trial balloon, to no avail). You see, she’s one of those upstate, northern women. They had written her off before they even gave her a chance. Now, she’s well-regarded for her leadership on DADT repeal, 9/11 health workers, and health care reform. What a difference 12 months make.

In the meantime, a so-called “reform coalition” was formulated in the county legislature, giving County Executive Chris Collins a de facto majority. Democrats Tim Kennedy, Christina Bove, and Barbara Miller-Williams broke away from the remainder of the Democratic caucus to form a coalition with the minority Republicans and help progress the Collins – Pigeon – Brown agenda. It was the embodiment of the alliance of the Collins and Brown political machines, and died hard just 12 months later. Some of our writing got a bit inside basebally, so Chris and I wrote  “Profiles in Fail” to help fill in some blanks. The legislature became what we termed an “orgy of transactional politics”, and we explained the legislature coup in some more detail here:

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The first WNY-based Republican to start sniffing around the governor’s race was Chris Collins. He was also the first WNY-based Republican gubernatorial-race-sniffer to say something really, really stupid. In Collins’ case, he said in 2009 that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (a despicable little toad, for sure) was the third anti-Christ, and then quickly followed it up in January by jokingly asking Laura Montante-Zaepfel – a politically super-connected Uniland bigshot – for a lapdance during Governor Paterson’s State of the State address. Collins, true to form, is too proud and perfect to admit he made a mistake, much less apologize.  Collins and Paladino were similar in their patent, unrepentant misogyny.

Speaking of Carl Paladino, February was the first time we caught wind of Carl Paladino possibly running for governor.

If nothing else, Paladino’s alleged candidacy would be entertaining, because he is unafraid to speak his mind. As wealthy as he is opinionated, he can self-fund any campaign for office. Likewise, he could easily commit daily Collinsesque gaffes and get away with it, thanks to his reputation for not having a filter between brain and mouth.

I like that Paladino has a “fire” in his belly. But it would be better channeled at treating the causes, rather than just the symptoms, of our malaise.

But let’s say he became Governor. Now what?

Our state government is not some kind of dictatorship where the governor can just parachute in, make fundamental structural and political changes, and then parachute out. Like it or not, there is a legislative process and the rules there give other people power, as well. If you run in like you own the place, you’re going to be met with massive pushback, and existing crises can be made more acute.

Not to say that’s what would happen, but if you multiply the dubious accomplishments of “steamroller” Spitzer by 100, you probably get close to the effectiveness a Governor Paladino might enjoy.

But the whole Paladino candidacy is part of our collective Western New York dysfunction – our penchant for top-down, silver bullet solutions to really big, really complicated fundamental, structural problems. Instead of the people taking charge from the roots and initiating complicated governmental change from the bottom-up, we expect and rely upon saviors to do it for us. Instead of building up a new entrepreneurial class – a bourgeois revolution redux, if you will – we expect our existing powerbrokers and loudmouth millionaires to do it for us.

After all, as I wrote almost two years ago, there’s not much difference between the problems ailing Cuba and the problems ailing WNY. And I’m not talking about socialism, per se. I’m talking about cynicism, stasis, and reliance on change from above.
Whether it’s Bass Pro, the Adelphia Tower, Chris Collins, or Carl Paladino.

We need to stop relying on gimmicks, one-shots, and silver bullets, and start attacking problems at their source. All the Paladinos in the world aren’t going to change Albany if you still have people in office like the dynastic Dale Volker or the hackish Bill Stachowski in office.

The execrable Antoine Thompson hemmed and hawed about how he’d vote re: expelling his slash-happy colleague, Hiram Monserrate. Later in the year, he got belligerent with Ron Plants, of all people.

Chris Collins decided he had had enough of poor working mothers having subsidized day care so they could go to work and earn a living. Eric Massa turned out to be something of a weirdo. Shame, that.

Collins and Sheriff Tim Howard found themselves targets of a federal inquiry into the extraordinarily high number of suicide incidents in the county jail system – an issue that still hasn’t been fully resolved. In response, Collins bitched and moaned that anyone who had a thought in his head that wasn’t in complete synchronicity with his own has an “agenda” and is in favor of the “status quo”. Shorter Collins: suicides, schmuicides.

But I never did end up writing that “Chris Collins should drop dead” post.

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Meanwhile, development in Buffalo was as inactive a laughingstock as ever. The Statler has stood empty all year – worthless, empty, crumbling, anachronistic. It is symbolic in many ways of Buffalo itself, a shadow of its former glory, struggling to find relevance in a world that’s largely passed it by. Rocco Termini’s Lafayette Hotel project moved forward in fits and starts, but that 10 year-old Artvoice billboard on the side of AM&A still serves to underscore that building’s emptiness.

Canal Side started making news in 2010 with talk of a living wage mandate for workers hired by businesses located within the project. It’s a requirement being pushed by the Canal Side Community Alliance and Coalition for Economic Justice, and backed by a handful of city councilpeople. Naturally, we can leave it to Carl Paladino to discuss it reasonably. Later in the year, Mark Goldman and the Fishers decided to sue the state because it was using public money on the Canal Side project, ignoring some patent irony.

Paladino’s campaign donned some makeup and sent up another trial balloon in the form of a nasty open letter to Brian Higgins on the issue of health care reform. He made his run official just a week later, coinciding nicely with the start of the 2010 WNYMedia.net Tournament of Political Failure. The complete rundown is shown here, and congratulations – you won!

At least Volker opted to bow out.

Carl held a big party in early April with all his employees and friends, appropriating the cry of madman Howard Beale as his campaign slogan.

A glowing, lengthy bio piece in the News revealed the existence of an extramarital child – a revelation that would sink mere mortals within minutes. Yet Paladino was unmoved, instead lecturing people about welfare queens and teh gayz, claiming, “I bring values, resiliency, a thick skin and I’m not afraid to be confrontational.”

Yet his values were non-existent, his skin was thinner than parchment, and we outed him as being a bit crazy when it came to forwarding emails. At least once a year, we break a big story – this year, it was Carl’s emails, and that story had some legs, still being talked about right up through election day. But contrary to popular belief, we never said Carl was racist.

But we had a great deal of fun with him, and the growing cleave within the local tea party groups. Rus Thompson, partly due to his close working relationship with Paladino, who was now accepted by the Republican establishment, drew criticism from former friends. But the “tea party coalition” did mighty battle against the “TeaGOP”. In the three-ringed circus of WNY politics, Allen Coniglio proved himself time and again to be its clown shoes. Again. And Again.

Although I later changed my mind twice, I originally predicted Paladino would never win.

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His campaign turned out to be quite touchy indeed; perhaps the touchiest ever. Andrew Cuomo officially announced in late May. Paladino ended up choosing a renegade Queens Republican as his running mate.

I went down to Westchester for the Democratic Convention, which was largely uneventful, save for a marathon session to permit all the AG candidates to remain on the September ballot, and an entertaining visit from “King Cuomo II”, i.e., Curtis Sliwa.

Somewhere, there is a place where competent government and taxation intersect. It behooves us to find that crossing whenever possible to at least avoid irreversable catastrophe.

There were other races, as well. Republicans fought to replace Volker. Marc Coppola announced he was running against Mike Ranzenhofer AND electoral fusion. Rory Allen tried to ride roughshod over Antoine Thompson. In a golf cart. The Democrats fought to replace Stachowski, with Tim Kennedy ultimately winning. In the summer, NYPA ponied up some more money to Canal Side, which was starting to talk Bass Pro again, and outer harbor connector.

The Buffalo News all but banned commenters, and then inexplicably forbade Jim Heaney from blogging about the goings-on in city and county government.

As the Republican gubernatorial primary “heated” up, it came down to: who hates Muslims and the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” more? Paladino won that argument. Handily. The execrable, ambiguous, mulleted freak heard daily on WBEN from 9 – 12 went along for the Mooslim-hatin’ ride, because he’s a conspiratorial bandwagon-riding cretin, and an intellectual coward, to boot.

Paladino then decided it’d be swell to throw welfare recipients into decommissioned prisons.

We found out this summer that finally, Bass Pro wasn’t coming to Buffalo, ever. All done. Enough. But now, HSBC was throwing a monkey wrench into the works.

The Buffalo News published Mark Goldman’s prissy “Obstructionist Manifesto”, and we responded with the “Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto”. The Coalition of Enough Already was reborn, and Chris and I punctured the myth of the singular Buffalo elite. I later wrote “New Buffalo’s” obituary.

The summer also saw the City Grill get shot up, and all hell broke loose. Will you also surrender to Rich Newberg?

Right before primary day, Rachel Maddow hosted our own Marc Odien, (more here and here), and there were rumors afloat about Antoine Thompson being vulnerable. Nothing came of that, but Paladino obliterated Rick Lazio. David DiPietro fought in court to stay on the ballot despite losing the GOP primary to Pat Gallivan. On the Democratic side, Cynthia Appleton ran a valiant race against the former Sheriff, Gallivan, and the bellicose tea partier, DiPietro. On the county side, we continued to question Chris Collins’ ideas and motivations.

Suddenly, Paladino was thrust into the national and state media spotlight. Despite a few missteps, the response from a Democratic side that was unprepared for his victory was so anemic that I went ahead and predicted Carl’s victory. It was all a big temper tantrum, though, and Paladino’s media handling was quite adept.

All that was needed was another opportunity for Carl to be caught unawares.

We got that opportunity when Carl decided he’d threaten to kill the New York Post’s Fred Dicker. On camera. Suddenly, Paladino was on the defensive again, and got ever-touchier.

In October, the Board of Elections claimed that the legislature downsizing ballot question could not be put before the voters on a technicality. That was defeated.

Carl Paladino tried to get back on-message after the Dicker fiasco, and bought some TV time to set the record straight and get back to “issues”. Instead, the 5:13 to Nowhere was just a whine-fest and little more. Featuring Nancy Naples, of all people, pointing her bejeweled finger at you, shaming you into giving money to Carl.

The final nail in the coffin of the Paladino campaign was his bumbling, fumbling handling of the Yehuda Levin anti-gay controversy. Having read remarks someone else handed him, Paladino said horrible things about gays, only to retract them days later. We decided that his invocation of “pornographers and perverts” in discussing gay marriage was particularly egregious. Paladino also insisted that all the gubernatorial candidates – even the fringe ones join in any debate. He got his wish, resulting in Jimmy McMillan’s 15 minutes of fame coming and going.

Even Carl’s friend David DiPietro got into the Carl email fun.

By the end of October, Carl’s race was all but over. He became less and less credible and relevant with each passing day. As it turns out, Carl’s gay nephew, who allegedly prompted Carl to flip flop on the Hasidic/gay thing, is something of  an asshole, but an asshole who should have the right to marry any other asshole.

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Not to be outdone by an imploding Carl Paladino, Antoine Thompson did everything he could in his re-election bid to become an even less relevant laughingstock. The last straw was his anti-lawyer vitriol directed at all-around-nice-guy Mark Grisanti. In the “race” in NY-27, Higgins’ opponent Lenny Roberto turned out to be a rank homophobe with questionable campaign funding.

A New York Observer piece named WNYMedia.net, “the site that saved Andrew Cuomo.” In November, the WNYMedia.net writers collaborated on our endorsements, as Carl Paladino threw his buddy DiPietro deep under the bus.

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Cuomo made his final argument, Kerplunk went the turd, and the vote was over. We WNYMedia.net types finally made the FCC-regulated airwaves to cover election night with Brad Riter on WECK 1230.

With the election season behind us, it was time to start bikeshedding development issues again. It started, more or less, with a call for the ECHDC to “pause” a decade-long process. We thought everyone should just relax. Seriously. We WNYMedia.net types came up with our own recommendations, and we attended the open houses. We saw the videos, and commented on them. “Lighter, Faster, Cheaper” was the mantra being thrown around, and became moot when the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation called Goldman’s bluff.

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I started reading the My View column out loud, most recently, one penned by Stefan Mychajliw.

Finally, the year was topped off by the Erie County Legislature doing battle with Chris Collins over 0.1% of the county budget. The regular fights and protests from the culturals came to fruition, and if there’s one bright spot, it’s what appears to be the demise of the detestable “reform coalition”. There’s got to be a better way. Some sort of solution should be discussed in earnest.

Thanks, everybody, for a great 2010 & have a great 2011!

9 Responses to “2010: This Year in Fail”

  1. Max December 27, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Great piece, Alan! As usual, well executed and rich in content and after reading it, it’s hard to believe we endured all of that in the space of one year.

  2. Ward December 27, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    Those teddy bears talk exactly like Bedenko and Smith.

  3. Scott Bylewski December 27, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Dear Alan, I do not think I can ever look at an Ewok the same way again. That’s a fine Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year indeed, sir.
    Thanks for putting a completely different take on “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”. 😀
    Scott

  4. Chris Charvella December 27, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    Rape Ewok? Nah, that’s the Public Service Ewok. He’s just reminding folks to have their regularly scheduled colonoscopy.

  5. BobbyCat December 27, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    I think the biggest story of the year – the one that local media would rather not talk about – was the national disgrace and embarrassment heaped on Buffalo by the atrocious candidacy of Carl Paladino. I think the national dialog came to the inevitable conclusion: “How could anybody support such an awful candidate, except in Buffalo? ”

    The Buffalo News, in particular, their political columnist, Bob McCarthy, seemed to treat Paladino like just another candidate. McCarthy seemed to be in the tank from the get-go. But the New York press and eventually the national media called Paladino a creep . They screamed “How could any candidate be that bad?”, but week in and week out, McCarthy missed the story. McCarthy was standing next to Fred Dicker and Paladino when Paladino threated to “take him out” and McCarthy didn’t ask Paladino a question about that explosive remark. He was mute. How in the holy hell did he miss that opportunity?

    Buffalo still feels the sting of bad publicity from the Blizzard of 77 and subsequent storms but the Paladino fiasco gave us a national black eye that will do more harm than any snowstorm, or OJ or Tim McVeigh. People around America must be asking “What kind of people live in Buffalo who would support such a man?”

    I have heard no one offer a rational answer.

  6. jhorn December 28, 2010 at 3:24 am #

    bobbycat- in no particular order- alvin green, christine o’donnell, hiram monserrate, larry craig, rod blagojevich, chris collins, david vitter, sharron angle, marion barry, jan brewer, pedro espada, mark sanford, william jefferson, alan hevesi- embarrassing assorted constituencies across the nation. And, saving the poster child for last, i wonder how the citizens of wasilla felt after the katie couric interview?

  7. jhorn December 28, 2010 at 3:27 am #

    bobbycat2- almost forgot this- check out the you tube video of phil davison, stark co. treasurer candidate

  8. peteherr December 28, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    WOW. That was a big year in FAIL. The one non-fail of 2010 that Alan listed. Apparently Artvoice made the billboard buy of the decade.

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