Archive | May, 2011

Collins Finds New Enemies

31 May

The big question going on in local politics-land is Who is Doc Maelstrom?

Whoever it is, it’s an insider with ties to a growing, bolder anti-Collins contingent of the local Republican Party.

Collins can see the planets starting to lineup against him, alliances forming where none existed before, all because Hochul’s team showed a way to victory. That and the fact someone is talking on the inside.

Chris Collins has good reason to wonder what’s up. Collins has created plenty of enemies over his term and none more than in the Rath Building. His iron fist has come down on those he opposes but also on some who had supported him. For that reason it’s tough for Collins to look everyone in the eye he passes in the halls. However, now Collins must look for that face wearing the smile, wondering if its owner is friend or foe.

Apparently, it’s not just Democrats who have a problem with our county executive.  It was the Collins brain trust that mismanaged Corwin’s loss in a +6 Republican district. It was the Collins campaign crew that sent Michael L. Mallia to harass an old man in a parking lot and then giddily posted it to YouTube. It was Collins’ people who expected the Corwin race to be a cakewalk dry run for November against Poloncarz. The fact that it wasn’t has them in finger-pointing disarray.

 

When even some in Collins’ own party are ready to throw him under the metaphorical bus, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that some of the people Collins can count among his most loyal supporters are a couple of Democrats in the legislature.

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Openly Supporting A Latter-Day Himmler

28 May

Ratko Mladic was a butcher in the tradition of Pol Pot and Himmler. The random rape and murder of women and children. The separation of civilians for random extermination based solely on their ethnicity or religion.  If you haven’t read about the Srebrenica massacre and how closely it follows what happened on a much bigger scale to Jews during the Holocaust, or “enemies of the state” under the Khmer Rouge, you should. It is a particularly dark event dreamed up by exquisitely ruthless and vicious people in support of a Nationalist-Socialist regime.

But Ratko Mladic has his fans in Fox News viewers.

So, there’s that.

As to the name Mladic used while in hiding, Serbia’s Blic suggests this:

Here is how it is believed that Mladic has made a game of letters:

  • 1. Mladic used the false name of Milorad Komadic
  • 2, If the first four letters are crossed out we get Rad Komadic
  • 3. When the shift is made between letters O and M we get Radko Madic
  • what is very similar to Mladic’s real name.

That was probably acceptable to him because in this way he kept a part of his real identity, his ego that he is so well known for.

 

The Sky is Falling!

28 May

This is a great comment from a Gawker thread regarding the President of the United States and how the Fox News Republicans have dealt with him:

There’s been no major scandal because of all the little ones that Republican pundits and talk show hosts keep pushing. They’re lobbing spitballs at the President instead of saving up for a pipe bomb.

Seriously:

Arugula
Mustard
Birth Certificate
Teleprompter
Ipod gift to the Queen
Flag at Ground Zero
Flag Pin
Expensive Hotel meals in NYC
$200 million/day trip to India
Michelle not wearing at hat in Ireland
Not saluting or doing the hand over heart thing during the anthem
Showing up too early to a disaster
Showing up too late to a disaster

etc…

Half of them are false, half of them are unimportant. They’ve wasted their ammo on bullshit and are now screwed. Even with a major scandal, no one of consequence will believe you or pay attention.

They’re like the screw up in class. They start playing pranks on the teacher. The first few times it’s funny. You are conditioned to make fun of the teacher. It’s us against her. After a while, it gets old, so you stop laughing. Then she helps you on your homework or gives you extra credit and you start to feel bad for her when she sits on a tack for the 20th time because she can’t turn around and slap the kid. Eventually everyone turns on the the kid who lacked the social insight to know when the tide turned and everyone realized he was a bully.

 

Grassroots vs. ECDC in Thunderdome

28 May

This Buffalo News article is exactly right.  Especially this line:

The gamesmanship and speculation leading up to the final vote is transparently self-serving and hard to take. Indeed, Perry’s commission cut off public input by disbanding before holding its final three hearings.

Frankly, since the de facto legislature “majority” is already doing his work for him, it might be better to just amend the Charter to have the County Executive submit a map, run it by the lawyers, and throw it to a vote. As an alternative, maybe it would be better to excrete four or five different maps out of the redistricting commission, bypass the legislature and executive altogether, and just let people vote on them.

This episode should shame the shameless Barbara Miller-Williams, and the redistricting commission should have been disbanded before it was ever put together. What a glaring example it is of dysfunctional politics and government. And I’m not just blaming the people on it who were aligned with Collins and Miller-Williams.  I’m also talking about the people on the Democratic side. There was so much ridiculous and embarrassing rancor and resentment.  All over maps!  It never should have been handled this way.  By comparison, the Charter Revision Commission from 2006-7 was downright professional and thoughtful.

In the meantime, the Democrats should be energized and unified given the incredible Hochul win and the momentum it brings. What a great opportunity to set aside personal and factional bickering and celebrate the fact that our party has its shit together and the Republicans are in disarray.  Instead, short-sighted and power-hungry politicians like Barbara Miller-Williams are busily scuttling that momentum – in an election year, no less. She is handing cushy districts to her Republican allies while throwing fellow Democrats Mazur and Loughran under the bus. (I wouldn’t mind if that happened due to some objective reality, or as a result of a truly independent commission, but this entire process has been hyper-politicized, and those running it are to blame).

So, again, the Republicans in the legislature have dummied up because BMW is doing their work for them, stabbing the Democrats in the back.  I, for one, am sick and tired of the factionalism in the Democratic Party and wish a wand could be waved to just re-assign an (R) after these turncoats’ names.

I’m not talking about cutting deals with Collins and the Republicans, as long as it benefits one’s constituents. I’m not talking about one Democrat primarying another – that’s part of the process. What I’m talking about is the systematic and constant kneecapping between ECDC Democrats and Grassroots Democrats.  Under normal circumstances, Grassroots would try and take control of the party apparatus by convincing people it could do a better job.  It would run candidates for county chair who would win. But they don’t do either. Instead, they just sabotage headquarters day in and day out, and then whine like babies when headquarters tries to undo or counter the damage. Just. stop. it. You couldn’t get the incumbent Antoine elected in a heavily Democratic district last year, but downtown just got Kathy elected in an (R)+6 district against two multi-millionaires and Karl Rove. ‘Nuff said.

Yes. This is undoubtedly small potatoes shit. This is definitely engaging in an Albanian blood feud over scraps. This underscores the political impotence of a legislature that only controls about 10% of the money it handles, and the rancor that comes with anything that affects political influence. It would be better if the county was run by a nonpartisan professional manager who didn’t hyperpoliticize everything. It would be better if we had no legislature, since its functions are mostly ministerial anyway. It would be better if elections were held and funded in a way that didn’t so strongly benefit incumbents. It would be better if state law was amended to make it easier for candidates to access the ballot and run for office.

But in the meantime, under the system we have – not the system we want – people who call themselves Democrats should start acting like it.

Legislature Downsizing & Hoyt for Marriage Equality

27 May

Needless Collection of Humans

Jerry, let me tell you something, a man without hand is not a man.  I got so much hand I’m coming out of my gloves. – George Costanza, “The Pez Dispenser

1. I haven’t written much of anything about the county redistricting clusterfiasco because NY-26 has been a preoccupation. Most of what I’m going to write sort of re-hashes what Chris posted yesterday, but I want to add some additional thoughts about how we got here and what it means.

The process was broken from the get-go. It was ground zero for the blood feud between Chris Collins and the Democrats, and Grassroots “Democrats” against the party apparatus led by Len Lenihan. Predictably, it degenerated into ugliness, and the redistricting commission became a joke and a sham to ram through whatever Chris Collins wants; and there were people who call themselves Democrats who were going along with this.

Now that there seem to be two competing maps that are to be voted on by the legislature next week, and that one map is being promoted by the Chris Collins – Republican – Miller-Williams coalition, and the other one is being promoted by the Legislature Democrats. Regardless of which map wins, the people have already lost. The process has been farcical and hypercharged with political idiocy. (Here is the Republican map) (Here is the Democratic map)

Reader and commenter RaChaCha forwarded to me an editorial on the process that was published in the Bee Newspapers. It excoriates the redistricting committee that was chaired by Adam Perry for failing to hold three promised public hearings in more remote parts of the county. I have emailed the Bee to ask whether I can reprint it in its entirety, but offer this key passage:

The committee could have used the opinions and concerns of the public to draw a map that would best serve the people.  Instead, we got a map that best serves the interests of politicians, with continued gerrymandering.  Lines weren’t drawn to best represent the communities but to boost the chances for re-election among the legislators.

In the end, the concerns of the people were overshadowed by the concerns of the politicians looking to remain in office and hold on to a slice of power.

The committee failed us.

Neither plan is perfect, but the Democratic plan is less un-perfect than the Republican/Miller-Williams plan. One has to imagine that Collins will veto the Democratic plan if it passes, and this would set up a very interesting County Executive race in November. Right now, of the three Democrats who are aligned with Collins as part of the ridiculously named “reform coalition”, Miller-Williams is definitely voting for the Republican plan, and Tim Whalen is definitely voting for the Democratic plan. Everyone is waiting to see what West Seneca legislator Tina Bove will do, as she is the swing vote and is probably milking that fact for all it’s worth. We’ll find out next Wednesday at 2.

But remember this: right now, ECDC has hand. Time and time again over the past two years, nominal “Democrats” on the County Legislature have collaborated with Chris Collins against the interests of their own constituents. Real Democrats worked damn hard in 2009 to ensure that the Legislature retained a Democratic majority to check King Collins’ power. Unfortunately, three so-called “Democrats” align themselves instead with Collins when convenient in exchange for a growth of personal power, and at the expense of their constituents, and Democrats who helped them get elected. These people who act out of self-interest to help themselves and Chris Collins aren’t Democrats. Barbara Miller-Williams has become, for all intents and purposes, a mere Collins puppet. Now that ECDC has quite a bit of momentum coming out of the Hochul win, her shenanigans have weakened her and her cohorts considerably. It’s time for Miller-Williams to recognize that (a) she’s the chairwoman of the Legislature; and (b) she sticks a (D) after her name. It’s time for her to consciously decide to act like she is both of those things.

2. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt penned an excellent editorial to the Buffalo News in support of marriage equality.  I’m sure Sam won’t mind if I reprint it here in its entirety:

New York State is at a crossroads. The Legislature is presented with the opportunity to pass a bill that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, granting them access to the same rights already afforded to straight couples. This comes at a time when national and statewide polls have shown an enormous increase in public support for marriage equality. More New Yorkers than ever recognize that denying our gay and lesbian family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors the right to marry is simply not fair.

Marriage equality is about fairness. It is about ending discrimination. It is about the freedom to marry the person you love and the legal rights that go along with it.

Throughout my career in public service, I have worked for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers. It is an issue that is close to me personally, but beyond that it is a public issue that has the power to change society’s perception. I believe that as an elected official, I have an obligation to help the people in my district who need it the most. It is time for us as representatives to acknowledge the will of the people both in New York and beyond and pass marriage equality legislation.

Some opponents argue that civil unions are a compromise solution that would allow gay and lesbian couples some limited rights. Yet a recent evaluation of the civil union system instituted in neighboring New Jersey showed that the two are not equivalent in practice. Couples joined in civil union faced bureaucratic hurdles that married couples did not. The two institutions were in effect separate, but not equal. Civil unions are not the answer. There is just no substitute for marriage.

To be clear, this legislation expands the legal definition of marriages recognized by the state. No religious institution would be forced to perform marriage for gay or lesbian couples, nor would any religion be compelled to recognize their marriages.

As majority whip, I will do all that I can to ensure that true marriage equality passes for a fourth time in the State Assembly. But once again, the State Senate will be the battleground for this vote. My colleagues in the State Senate must understand that this discrimination against lesbian and gay couples and their families cannot continue any longer. They must understand that a “yes” vote for marriage equality is a “yes” for justice, equality and fairness.

New York State was once a progressive leader in civil rights. It is time for our State Legislature to stand up and make our state a leader once again. We must end this injustice that has gone on for too long by making marriage equality law.

 

 

Redistricting Nonsense-apalooza Begins

26 May

Note: This article looks much different from the version published at 1PM.  We use a scheduling system for posts and this was supposed to be released yesterday at 1PM, not today.  It has been updated to reflect reality.  Sorry for the confusion. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, all the better. 🙂

Yesterday, the Erie County Legislature hosted a public hearing to debate the merits of two competing redistricting proposals.

The first proposal (Local Law 3-2011), was assembled pursuant to the efforts of the Erie County Redistricting commission, which was chaired by Hodgson Russ attorney Adam Perry. The law is sponsored by Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller Williams.  This proposal also has the support of the six member Republican minority and the tentative support of West Seneca Legislator Christina Bove, who together make up the remnants of the much ballyhooed “reform coalition“.  Click here for a link to the map of the proposed new districts.

The second proposal (Local Law 4-2011), was designed by the Democrats and is sponsored by Betty Jean Grant. Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan was able to pull rogue Democrat Tim Whalen out of the “reform coalition” to support this proposal.  This bill has the support of the ECDC-loyal Democrats in the legislature, which gives them seven votes.  Most notable in the proposal is the redistricting punishment that will be given to “Reform Coalition” leader Barbara Miller-Williams.  Click here for a link to the map of the proposed new districts.

So, the battle is for the vote of Christina Bove, who again finds herself the subject of a political tug of war. Whichever group offers her the most comfortable level of “protection” and/or “lulus” will undoubtedly secure her vote.  If the Democrats can bring her back to their side, this will put County Executive Chris Collins in the unenviable position of vetoing the plan for downsizing and redistricting that was so central to his re-election plans.  A veto would provide a sizable political victory for Lenihan, the Democrats and County Executive candidate Mark Poloncarz leading into the fall.

So, Tina, what’s it gonna be?

We’ll find out at a special meeting of the Erie County Legislature in Old County Hall, 4th Floor, 92 Franklin St., in the City of Buffalo, N.Y.  14202 on Wednesday, June 2nd at 2PM when the final vote is taken on the competing proposals.  We’ll stream that meeting here on WNYMedia.

Ratko Mladić Apprehended? (UPDATED)

26 May

Serbian and Croatian media are reporting that the war criminal and genocidal butcher Ratko Mladić may have been captured. Mladic is an indicted war criminal who personally ordered what amounted to genocide in Bosnia & Hercegovina during the Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s. He’s been on the run, largely protected by gangsters and their enablers in the Serbian and Bosnian Serb governments. Belgrade’s B92 (via Jutarnji List) says that the Serbian interior ministry’s SWAT teams apprehended someone using the name “Milorad Komadić”, and DNA testing is underway to determine whether Komadić is, in fact, Mladić. The Serbian interior ministry says it will know for sure within three days. Mladić was apprehended in, of all places, Srebrenica – the site of his most vicious crime. UPDATE: Tadić says Mladić was apprehended on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, but didn’t reveal where. Tadić also took a subtle swipe at Croatia, where the recent Hague conviction of General Ante Gotovina has resulted in numerous angry demonstrations.

If so, a monster is caught and Serbia can start putting a very ugly past more firmly behind it. Mladić’s political counterpart in war crimes, Radovan Karadžić, was found and apprehended in Belgrade in 2008, living as a homeopathic healer under an assumed name and a very long beard. His case in the Hague is underway.

Serbian President Boris Tadić is expected to hold a news conference at 7am EDT.

UPDATE: Tadić just confirmed that Mladić has been arrested, and extradition is underway.

Hopes Dashed

26 May

And so may end 161 years of waterside Buffalo banking. It was apropos that HSBC’s much anticipated big announcement on the Webster block was a surprise reorganization, potential sell-off and withdrawal from Buffalo all together. Here in Buffalo our eventual, seemingly mandated, disappointment is only matched by our brief fiery optimism before the fall. Before we hoped for a mixed retail/business Canalside anchor, a new ten story building filling an empty parking lot. That dream has tumbled to a new reality of thousands of jobs in jeopardy. Sounds about right for Buffalo. The Chicago architect designing the HSBC Webster options can file their drawings next to Ciminelli’s waterfront hotel.

When considering HSBC’s realignment options, I think the stakes for Buffalo, and our overall powerlessness to affect the situation, have actually been under-reported and under-stated. Following a now familiar Buffalo path, Marine Midland Bank rose to prominence long enough to build an iconic albatross, and then sold out to oversees interests. Bethlehem Steel dwindled to ArcelorMittal too before finally expiring and leaving millions of square feet of rust on our waterfront. HSBC was Buffalo’s window to a global financial world. It helped make us an international city on the top playing field. HSBC’s acquisition of Marine Midland in some ways looked like a validation of our financial strength – we produced something desirable by a banking giant. Now, slow and steady for 20 years, even through the Great Recession, is not enough to be worth the bother. Detroit is still mentioned as an HSBC hub. Buffalo is labeled an “under-performer.”

Seven months ago, when considering HSBC’s potential move of back office operations to Chicago, I made the following prediction:

Buffalo is so far out of its league in this competition, it is merely the pawn in a larger game. . . When HSBC moves 4000 jobs to suburban Chicago, it will be a surprise ambush on the front page of the paper, with no foresight of the bomb possible. . . . All of the sound and fury of the Mayor and Common Council, Erie Canal Development and the Webster Block, may in the end signify nothing.

The bomb dropped, and it was unexpected. Mayor Brown drips goodwill about working well with HSBC. County Executive Collins is “on pins and needles.” Neither are Big Time enough for the HSBC leaders who will make this decision to even know their names. What will happen, will happen.

And what is that? HSBC is Buffalo biggest deposit holder, a relic of its Marine Midland history, with 71 local branches, and 184 throughout Upstate. The worst case scenario for Buffalo is that HSBC’s upstate holdings are liquefied piecemeal. First Niagara will fill in its footprint in several communities. Key Bank will do the same in a few targeted locales. M&T likely buys zero. Evans, Financial Institutions, and Warsaw each buy a couple. Local Albany and Syracuse banks pick up the rest. But in a shrinking community and a saturated banking market, 71 local branches become 40, and 184 upstate branches become 120. Of the 5000 local HSBC jobs, the 3200 in back-office operations largely disappear (First Niagara doesn’t need to hire many more to handle ten more sites), and the 1800 at local branches become 1000. Four thousand jobs lost.

If Buffalo is lucky, we get the New Haven deal. Seven months ago I also noted TD Bank as a possible snatcher of First Niagara, if John Koelmel didn’t get FNFG’s stock price up quick enough. Jon Epstein in the Buffalo News also lists TD Bank as a possible suitor, and we could do far worse. TD has offices along the East Coast and across Canada, but no footprint to connect the two. The Canadian dollar is strong, and Canadian companies are taking advantage of buying American assets. Buffalo is recruiting Canadian companies aggressively, and TD could find a worse place to put significant US back-office operations. It was only a couple weeks ago David Robinson was crowing HSBC wouldn’t move their jobs because our low labor costs are so favorable. If TD snatched up the upstate HSBC network, we could see the retention of most branch jobs, and perhaps half the back-office ones as well. TD becomes the largest bank in WNY, and First Niagara’s head is off the chopping block for at least one possible acquirer.

1600 jobs lost and a more stable First Niagara – that is Buffalo’s best day.

How Hochul Won #NY26

25 May

Today, the local spin masters are out in force, explaining how Kathy Hochul, Democrat, was able to beat Republibot5000 Jane Corwin for a Congressional seat once held by Jack Kemp and Tom Reynolds.

Republicans believe the reason that Corwin lost is clear; Jack Davis. Corwin and her surrogates assert that Davis appealed to independent and conservative voters in the district…in other words, a vote for Davis, would’ve been a vote for Corwin. When asked for comment on this assertion, Jack Davis replied with the following:

However, the numbers do not back up the Republican position. As the support for Jack Davis eroded in the last two weeks of the race from 23% in a Siena Poll to 9% in the election booth, the majority of those votes broke for Kathy Hochul. Using the final poll numbers, if Davis had not been in the race, Corwin would’ve needed to receive 76% of Davis’s votes to overcome Hochul’s margin of victory. That does not fit with the overall trend of the race.

Last night, several Republicans argued that if the race had been Hochul/Corwin, the results would have resembled the 2006 Davis/Reynolds election. Hochul received roughly the same percentage of the vote as Davis did in 2006 and Corwin would’ve received the same support as Reynolds did. Firstly, if the queen had balls, she’d be the king.  Secondly, Hochul was a much better candidate with an energized base and a competent field operation, two things Davis never had. For instance, in 2006, Reynolds beat Davis in Livingston County by a margin of 60-40. In 2011, it was a dead heat. Hochul picked away at the margins in the fringes of the district while shoring up her base in Erie County.  Thirdly, Medicare.

Which brings us to the national spin from the Democrats, that this election was a referendum on the Paul Ryan budget which would’ve turned Medicare into an episode of “Extreme Couponing” whilst giving massive tax breaks to people like Jane Corwin. Unsurprisingly, the voters in the rural areas of the district and the working middle class families of Erie and Monroe counties thought this was a pretty shitty proposal.

So, was Hochul’s win due to the Medicare issue? Yes and no. I haven’t seen any objective exit polling data to support that position, but it’s clear through anecdotal voter information and pre-election polling that it was a major factor.

Most importantly, this came down to campaign organization, messaging and field operations…as it always does.  The message is important, but the candidate who runs the tightest combined effort campaign ALWAYS wins.

Kathy Hochul took her time to assemble her campaign team, raise the necessary money, build support amongst the county chairpeople, reach out to important constituencies and gather grassroots support. She defined herself early in the race, stayed centered, never got rattled and ran a field operation with textbook precision.

Jane Corwin was rushed through the process because she could “self fund” and left a lot of the fundamental campaign organization to “her people”. Essentially, she outsourced her campaign “like a business”. She let tinpot Machiavellians like Nick Langworthy and Chris Grant run her operation into the ground. Their failures resulted in over $2MM of NRCC/Astroturf national republican money being spent on a race that should have been a cakewalk for the Republibot5000 candidate. Corwin should have stepped in and asserted leadership over her team, especially after “Operation: PunchOut” with Jack Davis, but she’s not that kind of politician.  And now she’s on her way back to oblivion as a minority member of the State Assembly, doomed to a life of ribbon cuttings and press conferences with the likes of Jim Hayes.

So, what’s next? A continued battle for the soul of the Republican Party in Erie County between Joel Giambra and Chris Collins. Leading to an exquisitely fun battle between Mark Poloncarz and Chris Collins for the office of Erie County Executive.  Collins’ braintrust, which fell on their face last night, are trying to sell Chris on the fact that they did a fine job and Jane would’ve won too, if it weren’t for that meddling Old Man Davis!

I’m sure Poloncarz is ready to prove them wrong…

Recap #NY26

25 May

Here is the Cover it Live replay, for those of you who missed it:

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And the Buffalo News has the county-by-county breakdown. Erie County and Niagara County were huge for Hochul.