Archive | March, 2011

The Buffalo Special Economic Zone

31 Mar

Yesterday, I posted about the Partnership for Public Space’s Tuesday presentation, which I found to be largely based on supposition, incomplete, and improperly presented to the assembled audience. I can’t believe the ECHDC spent money on that, and all to shut a couple of loudmouths up.

A camel is a horse designed by committee, so while it’s nice that we crowdsource the 9,000th iteration of what the waterfront should be, we need a real solution to downtown’s problems. The central business district is a wasteland. We’re now talking about creating a new little shopping district at the foot of Main Street out of whole cloth. But even if we build it, how do you ensure that they come, and that it’s sustainable? Just being there for when hockey or lacrosse games get out isn’t enough. Just being there in nice weather isn’t enough.  It has to be something people want to come to, and people want to return to.

In an economically depressed and shrinking town where entrepreneurship is sorely needed – especially among disadvantaged populations – we can turn downtown Buffalo into something attractive not by centrally planning a waterfront, or doing a 2011 version of what really amounts to 50s era urban renewal. Two votes and a stroke of a pen is all that’s needed.

The area outlined in red ought to be designated a special economic zone. And yes, I use that term specifically to liken it to what China has done to help build and modernize its industry.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be opposed to all of Erie and Niagara Counties being designated special economic zones, but for the purposes of this argument, I’m just focusing on what should be Buffalo’s downtown commercial core.

There are myriad problems with downtown and planning that need to be addressed – above all, modernization and coordination of parking that is relegated to ramps and underground lots. Every parcel within that red zone that isn’t built on should be shovel-ready land. The zoning code should require parking for new development to be adequate and hidden. This means extra cost, but the benefits of locating to the special economic zone means lower taxes and streamlined regulatory processes.

Within the zone, the county and state would waive their respective sales taxes.  That means businesses outside the zone would still have to charge 8.75% on purchases, while businesses within the zone would be tax-free.  It’d be like all of downtown being a duty-free shop.

No, it’s not fair to merchants outside the zone. But life isn’t fair. Furthermore, most of the merchants in Buffalo and outside the zone serve the surrounding residents and will still be patronized out of sheer convenience.  Furthermore, the influx of people and businesses attracted by the SEZ will ultimately help those businesses thrive, as well.

Development would still be subject to Buffalo’s zoning and planning bureaucracies, but the rules would be simplified and permits & approval would be harmonized and streamlined. Property taxes would be reduced or eliminated, depending on the parcel. However, properties would be assessed not based on what they are (e.g., empty lots), but on what their value ought rightly be if developed.

By turning the central business district into a tax-free special economic zone, you give people 8.75 reasons to do business and conduct commerce in downtown Buffalo over anywhere else. Creation of a waterfront district while ignoring the decline and blight of the rest of downtown seems to me to be counterintuitive.

By executing a plan such as this, zoning the waterfront districts, and having the ECHDC or state spend public money solely on the improvement and installation of necessary infrastructure, transfer of title for all parcels to one single entity to speed development, institution of a design and zoning plan that cannot be deviated from, and – most importantly – remediating the environmental nightmares under the soil throughout ECHDC’s mandated districts, we can then auction the parcels off to qualified buyers.

That is how downtowns revive organically – through private initiative and private money.  Government can do its job and merely provide the private sector with the proper environment to do business and build. It doesn’t get faster, quicker, or cheaper than that.

Yesterday on WECK 1230-AM

31 Mar

I joined Corey Griswold for the free-wheeling, mid-day local micro-talk show “1230 at 12:30” to discuss the Partnership for Public Spaces’ remarkable PowerPoint presentaion and the power of 10 and how we prioritize matters in this city.

At 4pm, Brad Riter and Chris Smith interviewed Green Party candidate in NY-26 Ian Murphy.  Murphy is running what has long been my dream campaign – substance mixed with snark. He has a finely honed and profane disdain for things that suck and are stupid, and an articulate passion for things that he believes to be important.

Remember how a week or so ago, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said something about how Buffalo wishes it had our problems? I didn’t do a post about it because I knew that the usual local suspects would express outrageous outrage while ignoring the fact that, to a certain degree Bloomberg was absolutely right.  Not that we wish we had an overcrowded and overpriced island of millions, but that we have a crisis of too much supply and not enough demand, while New York has the exact opposite.

New York Magazine asked Murphy about this, because frankly what else is a New York City-based journalist going to ask someone from Buffalo at this time?

Mayor Bloomberg recently apologized for saying that Buffalo is full of empty space and implying that it was not a very enticing place to live. Apology accepted?
No, he shouldn’t apologize for that. Buffalo fucking sucks. And everyone here knows it. There’s a lot of good things about Buffalo, but it is full of empty space, it’s full of urban decay, everyone’s leaving, and instead of putting on a cheery, happy face and denying it, let’s admit it to ourselves and make it better, yeah?

How do you think saying “Buffalo sucks” is going to go over with people who live in Buffalo?
Well, Buffalo’s not in my district, so Buffalo can kiss my ass.

Oh, I thought you had some northern suburbs of Buffalo in there.
Ah, we do, we do. I mean, I love Buffalo. I grew up here, and you better write that there’s a lot of good things about it because there is. But there are a lot of problems. There are a lot of empty buildings, there is a lot of empty space, and there are not a lot of economic opportunities. That’s one of the reasons I am running, is to bring that to the region. I don’t think that’s something to apologize for. I mean, did he apologize for calling Irish people drunks yet? Did he do that?

He kind of gave a half apology.
I was about three fifths into my bottle of scotch when I read that, and I was eating my potatoes, and, uh … I was mightily upset.

So you didn’t have a problem with that.
No, I think it was just a joke that didn’t go over, and I think people are just way too thin-skinned about everything.

Indeed. Murphy is absolutely right that Buffalo needs to stop strutting around like a peacock, pretending like it’s on exactly the right track, when the objective evidence proves the exact opposite.  While Mayor Brown whinges about being “pissed” about Bloomberg’s response, he should instead be focused on slowing – if not reversing – the precipitous decline of the city over which he presides. There’s civic pride, and then there’s mindless cheerleading. We need less of the latter.

Bringing us back to the WECK theme, when this Bloomberg thing became “news”, I talked with Brad Riter about it.  Fast Forward to 20:35.

A Long Hard Look

30 Mar

The sobering census figures for the Buffalo Metro region and all of Upstate New York should give us all pause, and induce a significant amount of self reflection. Judging by the disappointing comments from our local elected leaders, and pablum vignette coverage from the Buffalo News, none of this is yet occurring.

First, the local facts. Despite my sincere and secret hopes to the contrary, the City of Buffalo’s losses have not stopped, and hardly seem to have slowed, losing approximately 31,000 people (11% of the population), 27,000 of which were white. Erie County also lost 31,000 people, and gains in population in Clarence and Grand Island were offset by losses in Cheektowaga and Tonawanda. While it may be tempting to say that Erie County’s loss could be explained by the loss in Buffalo, there is no way yet to accurately generalize about the migration trends and determine how fair of a statement that is. Niagara Falls lost a similar percentage (10%) of population, and overall, the entire metro area lost 35,000 people.

Second, the under-reported facts for the rest of Upstate. While the cities of Rochester and Syracuse lost population, their metro areas grew. Overall Rochester inched up, offsetting city losses, and some of its counties were near the top for the state for growth. Metro Syracuse grew by 1.4% overall, and the city itself shrank by far less than expected. Albany grew by 4%, or nearly 100,000 people.  Utica, Schenectady, and Troy all grew as well. Even Binghamton held its own.

My inescapable conclusion from these data, the new reality that I see us faced with, is that metro Buffalo is no longer part of a broad upstate trend. The chains binding Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany are breaking, if not already shed. We can no longer blame our population depression on the state – its unbearable high taxes, bad business environment, and policies unfriendly to all but New York City. The other areas of upstate have found a way to overcome those challenges and grow. We have not. There are no more scapegoats – we have no one to blame for our losses but ourselves. We are now uniquely bad in New York.

Albany has made a convenient foil to pass our problems off on. Byron Brown and Chris Collins mouthed the same tired excuses when the census numbers were announced. But Rochester, Syracuse and Albany face the same hurdles, and they have turned the corner while we dither and fight the long defeat.

I will start the self-reflection, if our public figures so far refuse to. I see two main truths we must first confront before we can move on to solve this problem. First, at the most basic level, people find our oldest urban environments less and less pleasing to live in. They vote with their feet, despite pleas about the benefits of city and/or Buffalo living. For this point, I see little distinction between Buffalo and Lackawanna, Cheektowaga or Tonawanda – the line on the map matters politically, but less so when it comes to the age and desirability of the housing stock or population migration. Those that wish to leave and can clearly are. Less people are moving in. Fewer and fewer people find our city (not New York, not upstate, but our city) a satisfactory place to live. Why?

The second truth is that the valiant efforts of Buffalo’s boosters and promoters have been superficially successful but fundamentally in vain. What do I mean by this? Buffalo has succeeded in reinventing its image as an architectural destination. You can’t go a week without reading about Buffalo’s magnificent masterpieces in national media. Likewise, community organizers are succeeding in rebuilding rotting homes, bringing hope to downtrodden neighborhoods and converting lands to urban farming. Developers are bringing loft apartment living to downtown, UB and Kaleida are building a mecca health and research campus doing national work, non-profits have reinvested in and revitalized our historic park system, festival organizers are making national tourism events out of gardening and chicken wings, and entire neighborhoods (such as the Hydraulics) are being reborn from the ashes. All of these hard working, principled, well-intentioned organizers and leaders have successfully completed their projects. They have changed the “spirit” of Buffalo. And yet. And yet the combination of all these efforts is not enough to convince more people to live here. At the most fundamental level, we still fade away. Why?

I say we must address these two questions – the dichotomy of the undesirability of the urban space and the success of individual revitalization projects and programs – to finally move our community towards growth. “Why is growth even required”, you ask? “I love Buffalo just the way it is.” As I have argued before, the Buffalo you love will not be present much longer without growth. Growth means we stop all gnawing off the same bone. Growth means one more dollar for the Albright Knox doesn’t have to mean one less dollar for Shakespeare in the Park. Growth means a job for me without taking one away from you. Growth increases the size of the pie so the Broadway Market, our numerous historic churches and inner-city neighborhood development aren’t all hanging on by the flimsiest of threads. Growth encourages investment. Growth enables healthy risk. Growth lets us all exhale.

We aren’t yet close to Growth. But Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany already are. Why?

Placemaking: Canal Side Buffalo

30 Mar
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Fred Kent of the PPS

On March 29, 2011, Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces donned LL Bean gear and presented to the assembled crowd of about 400 people the proposals developed by three distinct citizens’ committees set up by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.  The PowerPoint itself is shown immediately below, and I took several photographs which are featured below, culminating in a view one gets at 6:30 pm while exiting the HSBC Arena.  If you’ve been following Andrew Kulyk’s posts comparing Canal Side with other arenas throughout the country, you’ll find that quite infuriating.

I’m not 100% sold on “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. It all sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus, none of it ever having been subjected to any objective studies, and it’s astonishing that the development of four or five city blocks (not including the Outer Harbor or Buffalo River areas) can cause such consternation and controversy. I get the sense from some of this that we’re throwing stuff at the wall to see if it will stick on the one hand, and selling our waterfront short on the other.  I like some of the ideas (marketplace, bistro, toilets) but detest others (“flexible lawn?” “multi-use square?” “central square?”). Frankly, open space and green space doesn’t seem like much of a draw or improvement to me.

Kent talked about “triangulation” (“Triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other”) and the “power of ten“; ten destinations with ten places with ten things to do will naturally bring people. That sounds great, but he admitted in the next breath that that theory has never been tested. So, WTF? How much is this guy getting paid for this?  And what’s such a great draw about a lawn under the Skyway? Are two lawns better?

Four takeaways for me:

1. Kent said, “people attract people, cars attract cars”.  That got a predictable round of applause from the assembled car-haters. Problem is, cars bring people. That’s just a fact.

2. That area has been open space for decades. I don’t believe that simply making the open space under the Skyway prettier is the highest and best use for that property.

3. The Mayor of the City of Buffalo was nowhere to be seen. There were almost 500 people in downtown Buffalo to talk about developing the waterfront, and Mayor Brown was a no-show. In mentioning this to someone, we remarked that we didn’t expect him to come.  That’s somewhat sad. Brown didn’t need to give a speech or grandstand or insert himself into the process.  But it would have been nice if he had been present for the event and to chat with attendees, to have shown an interest.

4. This process is almost a decade old, and even with the advent of ECHDC, the three waterfront districts still haven’t figured out who owns what, who controls what parcels, and what parcels need serious environmental remediation. Tick tock, folks.

There were some good ideas, and the PPS presentation didn’t quite make clear that the committees were charged with coming up with ideas that can be implemented very quickly – by this summer or next. These don’t appear to be permanent plans for redevelopment of Canal Side, an effort that continues until the canals – faux thought they may be – are re-watered, the Donovan Building is brought down, and the entire district is shovel-ready to be made awesome.

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About 3/4 of the crowd

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Fred Kent addresses the crowd

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Flexible Lawn: Inner Harbor

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Multi-Use Market: Inner Harbor

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Bistro

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Inner Harbor - click to enlarge

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Do Not Demolish! Click to enlarge

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Grain elevators: click to enlarge

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WHERE IS IT?! Click to enlarge

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Woof? Click to enlarge

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Just relocate them! All done problems! Click to enlarge.

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Passive-aggressive notes dot com: click to enlarge

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Shut down the Skyway: click to enlarge

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Don't forget!: click to enlarge

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Green dot: Click to enlarge

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As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

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As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

W-Tea-E-N

29 Mar

Some tea party.

Aren’t tea parties supposed to be dress-up make-believe events staged by toddler girls with their little friends and maybe some stuffed animals?  Instead, we have Rus Thompson and birther Allen Coniglio yelling past each other on the idiot concern-trolling local tea party radio station.

But this struck me from Jim Ostrowski’s insertion into the debate on his site:

I also believe that this discussion will convince many skeptics of the absolutely crucial importance of electing Jack Davis to Congress on the Tea Party line.

The only “crucial importance” of Ostrowski and DiPietro getting Jack Davis elected (they’re both on his campaign payroll right now) is that this is the first-ever political race where name recognition and money are not issues. They have a blank check to buy their way out of any and all problems and impediments that have beset tea partyish candidates in the past, and Davis is a known quantity, not some professional rabble-rouser. If Davis loses, they’re out of excuses. The only importance for these guys in getting foreigner-hating Davis elected is to establish themselves as serious political consultants.  If Davis had his way, DiPietro’s and Ostrowski’s ancestors would have stayed in fricking Italy and Poland, respectively.

#NY26: Bellavia, Twitter & Murphy

29 Mar

David Bellavia appears to have disqualified himself from running for congress by failing to timely submit a form accepting his nomination from the “Federalist Party”. After all that, he’s off the ballot because he couldn’t follow the rules?

The problem for Bellavia is that he (a) either took a deal of some sort to remove himself from the ballot after all, or (b) can’t get it together to follow the rules. Either way, it’s not good. With that said, I think that the Election Law should be construed liberally (ironic, when discussing a conservative candidate), and that there should be a presumption in favor of including Bellavia on the ballot; he shouldn’t be disqualified for failing to file a form a day late. The rules, after all, are deliberately Byzantine to help keep people like him off the ballot.

I received a robocall yesterday from the execrable Jack Davis campaign, asking me to call his campaign with any ideas. Click here to listen to the call. He sounds all grandfatherly and sincere as he asks you to basically give him ideas about what his platform should be. Aside from hating on foreigners, that is.

Twitter has become a new sort of battleground for campaigns, and every candidate except the Green Party’s Ian Murphy is being parodied by a fake Twitter account. The fun started with fake Jack Davis

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followed by fake Jane Corwin, (no Tweets yet), and topped off by fake Kathy Hochul

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There’s even a fake Chris Collins for his countywide race.

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Sometimes, fake Collins’ Tweets are given support by the guy jokingly referred to around the Rath Building as County Executive Loomis:

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Finally, there’s been some buzz in the last day about Jane Corwin’s flip-flop on high speed rail for upstate. As an Albany pol, she liked the idea of high speed rail linking western New York with Albany, New York City, Boston, and Toronto. With gas prices rising and airports a hassle, now is a great time to examine the possibility of whizzing people around the Northeast with the speed and efficiency seen all throughout the rest of the industrialized world.

But when campaigning for Congress, it seems that good ideas fall by the wayside in favor of tea partyish nonsense, pretending that a big investment in infrastructure improvement doesn’t create private sector jobs and motivate the economy. The whole flip-flop reminded me of this three week-old post:

It was also revealed that Chris Collins appointee Chris Grant – who once upon a time did occasional guest-blogging stints for this very blog right here – took an unpaid leave to go work for the Corwin campaign. As I described in Chris Charvella’s comments section here, earlier this week Chris Grant engaged me on Twitter about an effort led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for New York to accept federal money for high speed rail that Florida has rejected. Grant replied that federal local reps should have competed for that money in the first place. I agreed, citing the fact that Mr. Christopher Lee probably could have worked harder for it too, were it not for his Craigslist preoccupation.

He then accused me of blaming the Republicans for everything, to which I responded – earnestly – that I thought Republicans were against EVERY PORTION of Obama’s StimuSocialismKenya plan, and that I was somewhat surprised (pleasantly) to see him advocate in favor of high speed rail funding for New York.

Grant’s Tweets on the subject then mysteriously disappeared. Would that I had taken a screencap. Because I think it’s significant for a candidate when her campaign manager is busy on Twitter arguing in favor of Obama’s stimulus plan and its application for high speed rail throughout New York State.

In the meantime, Ian Murphy has been mounting an unsurprisingly sarcastic and funny, but surprisingly substantive campaign talking about issues that will resonate with progressive types. He’s the only candidate who has brought up the fact that certain American corporations – profitable corporations that have seen billions of dollars in profits – make it their business to avoid paying a cent in taxes on that profit. We can talk all day about how our corporate tax rate should be like Ireland’s, but why would we do that? Politicians’ races are funded by these big corporations whose lobbyists ask for changes to laws that benefit them, and there’s no political will to change the status quo because everyone’s happy. Yet Bank of America – bailout recipient – made $4.4 billion in profit last year and will not pay a dime in taxes.  General Electric’s worldwide profit was $14.2 billion, $5.2 billion of which was from solely American business activity. GE won’t pay a dime in taxes, instead receiving a refund.  If you want to talk about reducing deficits and paying for important programs that provide medical care to those who need it, and improve our infrastructure, how about we start with changing the rules so that even corporations pay their fare share of taxes like you do?

So far, when it comes to talking about important issues, the advantage goes to the “joke” candidate, Ian Murphy of the Buffalo Beast.

Escape the Urban: Unexpected Discoveries

27 Mar

I have a bias towards novelty. Given the chance to forge a new trail or return to an old friend, I chose the unknown. And while this makes me not unlike most Americans (humans?), it does mean I miss some delightful surprises when an old dog shows new tricks, as Counterfeiter’s Ledge reminded me earlier this month.

As a review, Counterfeiter’s Ledge is a Nature Conservancy property east of Akron where I volunteer at preserve steward. That fancy title means I keep an eye on the place and stick my nose into as much ecology and restoration work as I am allowed, being an enthusiastic amateur naturalist (really, the only kind). On a recent weekend Ethan (Community Beer Works mogul) and I did an end-of-winter visit, dodging half-frozen puddles instead of snow drifts to see how the landscaped fared over the long dark cold. We noted freshly downed trees brought low by ice and wind, evidence of hungry bear ravaging a dead tree stump to eat the termites inside, and piles and piles of deer pellets, signs of a significant herd. We also found a sheer cliff that stopped us dead in our tracks. I literally had no idea it was there.

Now I was well aware that a ledge existed, the name “Counterfeiter’s Ledge” referring to the craggy limestone exposed during the last Ice Age. When Lake Ontario (not to be confused with Ontario Lacus) was known as Lake Iroquois, and drained out the Mohawk and Hudson rather than the ice-dammed St. Lawrence, the shoreline extended much further to the south. As the ice shelf retreated and the lake drained, it created a series of shorelines, digging out the loose material through wave action at each successive point. Each of these shorelines became a different escarpment, the most famous of which produces Niagara Falls. But there are a series of smaller escarpments south of the main ridge, one of which produces Counterfeiter’s Ledge and Akron Falls.

So while the ledge was not unexpected, the size and impassability were. In other locations the ridge is an annoyance but not a transit deal breaker. This was not scrabbling and bouldering terrain – slick with ice and a vertical wall, Ethan and I walked to the edge of the dark precipice slightly dumbfounded, our scouting of the east perimeter suddenly cut short. We weren’t going any further that way that day. As we were forced to retrace our steps I was reminded that even well-worn and oft-trodden lands have new secrets to share.

Those Numbers are People

25 Mar

Here’s all I have to say about the census figures.

I am aware of two recent political races where a very young man made a run for a very big race.

They are smart guys who had good ideas, new ideas, bright ideas. Matt Bova, who just this week moved to California, ran in 2004 against George Maziarz for state senate, and ran to become the mayor of North Tonawanda when he was just 18 – a senior in high school.  He’s a hard worker and a bright mind. Regrettably, in 2006 he became embroiled in illegalities related to gathering petitions for Jack Davis’ “Save Jobs Party”, and left politics forever. But his departure is western New York’s loss. After all, he’s a bright young guy who lived in the city, paid taxes, and held a very good job indeed. He left earlier this week.

Max Tresmond ran against Jack Quinn III for state assembly in 2006 when he was just 18. Another bright kid, ran an almost impossible race as a Democrat in Hamburg against the son of a very popular former Congressman. He’s bright, ambitious, and brought new ideas and blood to local politics.  He recently moved away from the area, as well.

They both have very bright futures. Just not here in western New York.

Not everybody moves because of taxes.

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Census 2010, The NY Results

24 Mar

 

We’ll have some analysis up tomorrow morning after we’ve had time to comb through the data, but I wanted to post a link to the full statewide results for your perusal.

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These numbers are fascinating for many reasons as they influence everything from political redistricting formulas to rates media outlets can charge for advertising.

The long and short of it?  The numbers are predictably terrible for Buffalo, pretty bad for Erie County, mediocre for Rochester and Monroe County and generally not-so-good for all of New York State.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers and the percentage change between 2000 and 2010:

  • Erie County’s population decreased by 31,225 people or 3.2 percent
  • The City of Buffalo’s population decreased by 31,338 people or 10.7 percent
  • Niagara County’s population decreased by 3,377 people or 1.53 percent
  • Cattaraugus County’s population decreased by 3,638 people or 4.3 percent
  • Chautauqua County’s population decreased by 4,842 people or 3.5 percent

I think you get the idea, lots of people moved.

Here is a sampling of the responses we’ve received via email from various planning groups and politicians:

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown:

All upstate cities have lost population, Buffalo is still the second largest city in New York. That’s why I’ve focused such attention on making Buffalo competitive.

Lou Jean Fleron, Cornell University ILR School and co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good:

It’s important that we don’t use population figures to measure the health and success of our city. For our 93 partner organizations, the key question is not how many people live here, but what is the quality of life for those who do

So, the early noise out of the gate is that it’s quality, not quantity that matters. Alrighty then.  However, I would like to note that population loss isn’t necessarily an “upstate” problem.  Counties in the eastern and central portions of upstate remained relatively static or grew while Western New York hemorrhaged people.  You’ll notice that as you go over the data…interesting, eh?

More tomorrow.

Where Collins & Paladino Innocently Discuss #NY26 with David Bellavia

24 Mar

Two Saturdays ago, the Tea NY faction of the local tea party movement held a candidate’s forum for the NY-26 race. The two candidates who showed up were crazy xenophobe Jack Davis and Iraq War veteran David Bellavia. Davis was set to speak at 3:00 at the Comfort Zone Coffee Shop on Elmwood, and Bellavia was set to speak at 4:00.

The head of the Tea NY group, Rus Thompson, was running the program. He knew that top Erie County Republicans wanted to talk to the Batavian Bellavia and try to find out why he was ruining Jane Corwin’s sure thing, and hopefully get him to pull out of the race. Rus, seeing an opportunity with Bellavia in Buffalo, took it upon himself to contact Carl Paladino and Chris Collins to come and have a friendly conversation with Bellavia.

When Davis got through pontificating about how immigrants are ruining America, Rus summoned Bellavia to come in to start his presentation, and says he told Bellavia at that time that Carl and Collins were waiting to speak with him. Bellavia reportedly disputes this; it was relayed to Glenn Gramigna that he felt completely blindsided and cornered. Bellavia’s camp says that, when he was done with his presentation, Rus’ wife Jul convinced him to hang around and have a cup of coffee, at which point he was led to a back room where Paladino and Collins were waiting. Rus tells me that it wasn’t exactly like that; that Bellavia knew the two were there, and there was some discussion with Bellavia’s people about who could attend the meeting.

Gramigna reports that Paladino and Collins, (whom he doesn’t name) tried to convince Bellavia to leave the NY-26 race, going so far as to allegedly offer him an Assembly seat – presumably Steve Hawley’s in A-139. Rus says that this never happened; that it was a friendly conversation, and that the only thing Collins and Paladino told Bellavia about the NY-26 race was that Corwin would spend millions. Bellavia acknowledged that fact, and explained that he was in this race because ECGOP Chair Nick Langworthy had promised him that the NY-26 race was his when Chris Lee was done in Congress. That day came sooner than anyone expected, and Bellavia feels betrayed by the Corwin pick.

Channel 2 did, in fact, make an appearance as the meeting was taking place in the back room of the coffee house. Gramigna reports, and sources tell me, that Bellavia called them from the bathroom. Nothing came of it, but I’ve heard that hilarity ensued as Paladino and Collins scrambled to evacuate the Comfort Zone coffee shop undetected by HD cameras. Rus says it was nothing like that, and that Bellavia and his handler went out first, with Rus, Collins, and Paladino following soon afterwards.

Rus Thompson tells me that during the meeting, Bellavia played for his assembled hosts a voice mail he had received and saved.  The voice, whom nobody recognized – and was not Michael Caputo – promised Bellavia $70,000 if he would leave the race, and I also hear that the message included information that could only have come from Bellavia’s own credit report, with the voice urging Bellavia to take the money and better his financial situation.

The use of the gossip sites to try and affect the Bellavia candidacy is a huge tell. Before Kathy Hochul could even announce her candidacy, Jane Corwin and the NRCC jumped all over her, calling her a liberal lobbyist tax-hiker. The fact that Bellavia is in this race with some genuine right-wing Tea Party support, and the fact that Jack Davis is positioning himself as the whackjob Tea Party candidate pulls wingnut votes away from Corwin; Corwin, whose first public proclamation upon being selected by her party bosses involved calling out President Obama for not defending the stupid, stupidly named, and likely unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. Corwin has to call the gays gross in order to protect her right flank from a war hero and a deep-pocketed nut.  What a sad indictment of the Republican Party that is.

Bellavia is a man on a mission, he’s pissed off and has something to prove. He’s not burning any bridges because they’re already smoldering in the creek below.  I may disagree with every opinion he has, but I don’t have any reason to believe that Bellavia is not a man of honor and integrity. Unlike so many others involved in politics in this petty, nasty area, he can’t be bought off. This is remarkably frustrating to hyperwealthy Republicans who are used to people trembling at the sight of their checkbooks.

Rus agreed to confirm his side of the story on the record, and he confirms many of the details contained in Gramigna’s post. Rus says he tried to set Bellavia up with Paladino and Collins for noble reasons, to foster a discussion. He says he didn’t intend to ambush Bellavia, and I take him at his word. But it would appear that Bellavia felt ambushed, enough so that he alerted the media.

There’s also the matter of Caputo. Some have expended a lot of energy accusing him of being the person who tried to solicit $50,000 bribes for Bellavia to exit the race.  If Bellavia had a phone message on his voice mail – confirmed – that offered him a $70k bribe to do just that, why the hell would he need Caputo to go out and hustle for $20k less? It makes no sense.

It makes no sense because the Caputo-bribe story is utter nonsense. Apparently, when the Corwin pick was made, a strong effort was undertaken to get Bellavia to sit this out.  It was thought that, should that happen, big money people might host a fundraiser to enable Bellavia to retire his campaign debts. This is so common as to be completely uncontroversial, and not at all a bribe.

So, good for Bellavia for sticking to his guns, for not being intimidated by powerful, wealthy men trying to influence his decision-making behind closed doors under peculiar circumstances. Note that Bellavia is standing on principle, and can’t be bought.

Corwin is scared. Collins is scared. Paladino wants people to be scared of him. How fascinating that Chris Lee’s shirtless tranny hunting let all of WNY see that political party for what it really is.

Make sure to read Chris Charvella’s companion piece, as he contacted Hawley to see whether he knew that Collins and Paladino supposedly offered his seat to Bellavia.