Archive | October, 2011

Lying Liar Chris Collins

31 Oct


Going to the voters of Erie County to debate, speak, and listen to them at candidates’ forums? Absolutely not
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Go on Obamaphobic proto-fascistic Fox News and lie through your dirty whore mouth? Absolutely.

Having watched Chris Collins lie lies in the video, I won’t dignify it with an embed or even a link. Collins’ hysterical whining should stay on an obscure Sunday cable news show I’ve never heard of where it belongs.

Chris Collins quite literally lied every time he opened his mouth when speaking to the Obamaphobe network on a show nobody saw.

But now I understand why Collins doesn’t want to attend candidate forums and avoid real questions from real people – because he’s intemperate, rude, and finds it easy to make shit up out of whole cloth.

You may critique me or Poloncarz all day for jumping the gun on blaming a Republican for faking the Collins ballots, but Collins is no better going on “national” TV and directly blaming Poloncarz AFTER the Sheriffs’ office has expressly absolved both campaigns of involvement or blame. Which is more egregious?

The only thing missing from this campaign is Collins BOE patronage hack Michael Mallia assaulting a senior citizen. Shame on Collins and his clearly spooked, desperate campaign of failure and lies. Thankfully, the video isn’t in the news, and nobody saw it.

Happy Monday!

Escape the Urban: A Last Season’s Run

30 Oct

Last Sunday I guided two rafting trips down the Genesee River in Letchworth, from the Lower Falls to St. Helena, hitting Lee’s Landing, New Wave Beach, and Wolf Creek in transit. In the morning in my raft I had a father/son pair, the dad a firefighter from Rochester. In the afternoon I had two brothers and their young wives/girlfriends, mid-twenty something’s helping their greying father celebrate a birthday. I took my own father and brother-in-law on the morning run as well. Such an abundance of family is not coincidental; the river tends to draw people in such clumps, and even among the river guides ourselves are several husband/wife, father/son, and father/daughter combinations.

Wolf Creek (photo by Chuck Evingham)

The sun was a brilliant on a mid-autumn day, warming our black wetsuits by its mid-day crest. The foliage colors were at a peak, and blanketed the ridge tops, gorge rim, and isolated gullies in a ruddy gild. Even the water was high, a product of recent rain and a scheduled release of the Rushford Lake dam upstream. Score and combine each factor, and it may have been the best day on the Genesee all year, the best way possible to end an incredible season.

I remember the start of my rafting season distinctly, a mid-February evening trip to Batavia to meet with my future employer for the first time, my application having already been accepted and approved via email. The 2011 rookie class met for hot chocolate and soup at Coffee Culture, listened to the training manager discuss the driest boater safety and gear management study material imaginable, and then split up for another six weeks, waiting for the ice to break. I left Coffee Culture in a whiteout, and mentally lost in my own thoughts, wondering if rafting wasn’t going to be quite as exciting as I thought, I got physically lost trying to get on the thruway. In the blinding snowstorm I went east and not west, and after nearly twenty minutes of slowly plodding through the slush, made an illegal u-turn through the median to get back home. An inauspicious start to my year.

The days got much better from there. Early season runs on the high-water Cattaraugus, tiny icebergs floating by our rafts and frozen waterfalls tightly clinched along the Zoar Valley gorge walls. Fast runs down the swollen Genesee in mid spring, a chocolate milk runoff mix that roller-coastered us down the 5.5 mile course in less than an hour. And then, as the Catt season wrapped up in early June, and water ebbed on the Genny in July, big water returned on the Salmon River, draining the reservoirs of the Tug Hill Plateau, rapids with names like Titanic, Lusitania and Black Hole, the size of which we hadn’t seen since April. Only now the trees were lush and green, the water was warm tannin-stained tea, and bikinis and swim trunks replaced neoprene and dry-suits. Still, the season was only half over, and we ran the Genny through til October, the water rising as the drought broke, the season climaxing in last weekend’s top run.

Eight months on, four months off. Time to clean and repair the gear, carefully store it for next year. As I stood over my stationary tub in my basement, rinsing out my NRS Titanium gloves for the final time, I noted how far I had come. When I started eight months ago, I didn’t even know the name of most of the equipment now stowed in my rafting bag. I wore a borrowed lifevest, flimsy shooting gloves, horrid cotton socks. Laughable now, how ill prepared I was for working on a river. Now I have a new Astral Greenjacket rescue vest, multiple sets of neoprene layers of all descriptions, my own rope and throw bag, water shoes and wool EMS mountaineering socks. I bet every dollar I made on the river I spent on gas and gear. But then again, the money had little to do with it.

Genesee Gorge (photo by Chuck Evingham)

Beyond the thrill, beyond the undeniable fun of throwing a raft through the whirlpool eye of swirling froth, the point was to undertake and meet a new challenge. In March I couldn’t you the difference between a guide stick and a yard stick. I didn’t know how to teach a boat full of rookies how to paddle while already in their first rapid, only seconds from launching. I didn’t know how to fill and toss and repair and hump and stack and spin and ride 150 pound rubber rafts. I didn’t know how to hand a woman a size extra-large wetsuit without insulting her (still tricky). I didn’t know how to kick the nose around at Mystery Rock, to let the buffering pillow wave lull you to the hole, spinning your raft and surprising your passengers in a last second flip, standing the raft on its side. I didn’t know how to guide. I just knew I liked the thrill – the deeper pleasures came later.

I still have plenty to learn. I have a guide certification test to take this winter, and an in-depth water rescue course to complete next spring. But that doesn’t detract from the solemn satisfaction in having met a major goal. A year ago, when I put in my application, I was just hoping for a call back. Now I can say I’ve been guiding rivers all season, teaching first timers how to paddle and kids about geology, helping the timid face a challenge they didn’t think they had the guts for, introducing the wonders of the natural world to the city-bound and outdoor-adverse. Next March can’t come soon enough.

Regarding a Political Opinion Poll

28 Oct

Hey, about those phone calls that voters are receiving purporting to be from the Poloncarz campaign, we’ll have some video up later, but here are a few issues:

The Collins campaign has it all figured out.

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1. Here’s an audio recording of the outgoing message you hear when dialing the number at issue: (716) 250-7491:

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Now, if you Google that phrase: “If you received a call from this number, you were contacted regarding a political opinion poll“, you get this result – the same exact message, same exact voice comes up if you call (858) 634-5689.

2. At a press conference Friday at 1:00 pm, County Legislator Kevin Hardwick indicated that he had received what he thought to be a perfectly reasonable call from that same number, asking him to support Poloncarz, and reading from a script that outlined that Congressman Brian Higgins and Congresswoman Kathy Hochul had endorsed him.   That’s odd, since Hochul & Higgins didn’t formally endorse Poloncarz until October 28th, but the call Professor Hardwick received came on October 26th.

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I asked Peter Anderson from the Poloncarz campaign, and he adamantly denied that the campaign – or any of its surrogates – was making these calls.

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The smoking phone!

Hey, Chris and Stef – which union is busy making calls to San Diego County, California, and Erie County, New York?

The Food Trucks Propose a Law (UPDATED)

28 Oct

The following document was filed with the Common Council today. It represents the law the food trucks would like to see enacted to regulate their business in the city of Buffalo.

UPDATE: The document I posted below was missing a page from the proposed bill. Here is the entire document: 

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Note that they are adamantly against – and will oppose – any distance restriction beyond a 100′ from an open kitchen, or 500′ from a festival.  Apart from that, no additional restrictions are proposed. The definition of a food truck is clarified to exclude hot dog vendors and trailers, and the statute is rather succinct in requiring a license, health inspections by the county, and the aforementioned radius from brick & mortar restaurants. That’s it.

The ball’s now in the Common Council’s court. This proposal was filed so that the Council could consider it at its November 1st meeting.

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How to Suck

28 Oct

Former WNYMedia.net writer and current fellow at the Atlantic Cities, Mark Byrnes (you may remember him from such blogs as “All Things Buffalo“), now expatriated to Baltimore, MD, comments on Brian’s thought-provoking postmortem on the big preservationist conference that rolled into town last week. I reprint it here because I think it’s spot-on, but also because it’s a very clear and concise rebuttal on the “at least they’re trying” coddling of mediocrity in which we engage too often here in Buffalo.

Let’s look at stuff done by local firms only so KPF’s courthouse design is excluded.

The two things that stand out to me as genuinely good architecture by a local firm is 285 Delaware (by HHL) and the Northhamton Lofts @ Artspace, also by HHL (although I believe they recieved significant assistance from a Toronto firm on that design). Cannon is technically local but they know their market well, they know Buffalo is fine with crap so they usually give their clients crap (I’m oversimplifying for the sake of my argument but w/e).

Niagara Center was right before Buffalo Rising, and if that site existed, maybe they would not have gotten away with such crap. But with that location and those clients and that scale of a project-its the most embarrassing building done in Buffalo in my lifetime.

And the Avant is an amazing project that you can’t question. But if you want to pick nits, the curvy form on delaware that pops out is awkward and could have been handled infinitely better (the original drawing was much worse). I feel bad critiquing it because its such a great project but there are some subtly laughable design elements inside and out to those who care.

But it’s not just architecture. Web design is awful in Buffalo because no one cares to pay for a good website, so the good web designers leave (12 Grain Studio is a rare exception). There are no standards for typography or print design in general (Hero, White Bicycle, Montague/Fraser/, Block Club, Martin Group are rare exceptions).

Basically, Buffalo’s problem is that no one is allowed to say that something sucks as long as someone really tries (see what happens when someone tells Newell on BRO that his writing is atrocious). I was not a good designer until I left because I couldn’t find people who had the background or the balls to tell me my stuff was shitty. No one felt comfortable telling me my writing needed serious improvement until I moved away. Buffalo needs to be okay with being told we suck as long as it comes from a good place that is meant to help point us in a better direction.

All of that is so incredibly true. Something to think about. Have a nice day.

Podcast the Fourth: Dirty Republican Telephone Tricks

28 Oct

A press release from the New York State Democratic Party’s Executive Director, Charlie King:

“The State Democratic Party is asking Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III to investigate reports of widespread and fraudulent phone calls that specifically target Democratic voters in Erie County.”

“Republicans clearly recognize they cannot win their upcoming elections on their own merits and are resorting to their usual playbook of unethical and reckless tactics. This is voter suppression at its most deceitful. Those responsible for these calls should be forced to answer to the proper authorities. No issue should be taken more seriously than the attempt to tamper with the democratic process so that people can cast their vote fairly.”

Click to Subscribe via iTunes

Harassing phone calls from someone purporting to be from the Democratic challenger for County Executive aren’t just taking place here in Erie County to suppress the Poloncarz turnout.  It’s also happening in an almost identical way to a very similar candidate down in Suffolk County. There, Democrat Steve Bellone’s campaign is battling against harassing phone calls being made to his supporters purporting to be from his campaign.

I had an opportunity to speak with Poloncarz spokesman Peter Anderson about this issue. If you’re receiving harassing phone calls that purport to be from the Poloncarz campaign, please let me know at this email address. If you can, record them.

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TEDxBuffalo: SmartCode and Beer

28 Oct

Two great TEDx talks from TEDxBuffalo.  First, Ethan Cox from Community Beer Works talks about embeering America:

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Next, Chuck Banas talks about the new Green Code that is being implemented in the city of Buffalo. This will represent the first overhaul of the city’s zoning and land use regulations in generations.  You can attend “Planning Day in Buffalo” this Saturday at a Green Code open house at Erie Community College’s City Campus, 121 Ellicott St from 9:30am – 3:30pm.  The code will be formally presented at 9am, 10:30am, and 1pm.

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County Executive Race Friday

27 Oct

Mark Galvin is what you might call a hack’s hack. A former Erie County Parks employee in charge of administering Derby Beach under Joel Giambra. Was very active in the Keane campaign in 2007. When that failed, he was ousted from county government, but landed a cush job at the BOE as a “thank you” for his work in county government and for Keane.  He is now suspected of allegedly sending absentee ballots that were pre-marked for Chris Collins to several individuals in Lackawanna.

A motive? Unknown.  What we do know is that Galvin has no ties whatsoever to the Poloncarz campaign. A review of his contributions via the Board of Elections shows contributions made almost exclusively to the party committee and to Jim Keane.  Apart from that, $25 to Michele Iannello in 2009, and $250 to Sam Hoyt in 2010.  He gave $500 to Brian Higgins in 2008. He lived in Derby until an apartment opened up in Marine Towers, which is notorious for being the housing project of choice for the politically connected.

Here’s other stuff we know:

1. The first information that leaked about a possible suspect involved a Democrat from Lackawanna. Obviously, if that was true, it would be easy for the Mychajliw/Collins crew to draw some connection with Lackawanna native Poloncarz.  As it turns out, the BOE employee from Lackawanna didn’t do it. Interestingly, several sources are telling me that Galvin, the suspect, is a long-time source for web outlets associated with Collins campaign; sites that loudly touted the supposed Lackawanna connection, allegedly fed to them by Galvin himself to redirect the heat.

2. The Sheriff’s office has made it quite clear that neither campaign had anything to do with this attempted fraud by an alleged habitual leaker of information.

While law enforcement takes care of the scummier, stupider underbelly of local politics, on to other issues relating to this race:

Telephone Harassment

Who is routing calls through numbers beginning with (716) 250-xxxx in an effort to embarrass the Poloncarz campaign? Hundreds of people have complained of getting multiple harassing calls per day asking them to vote for Poloncarz. The Poloncarz campaign had this to say:

We’ve gotten some reports of harassing calls coming from someone claiming to be associated with my campaign. They are not. If you get one of these calls please take the phone number down, the date and time of calls (including if you get many in one day) and contact the campaign at information@markpoloncarz.com or 896-2680.

The calls are being routed through a service called “bandwidth.com“. They aren’t coming from Poloncarz. I wonder who would do such a thing? Harass identified Poloncarz voters? 

Collins Snubs Voters 7 Times

From a Poloncarz press release: In the worst spirit of the season, Chris Collins once again pulled a nasty trick on voters by failing to show up for yet another candidates forum in Hamburg last night, the seventh time he has disrespected voters across Erie County. Scheduled throughout the season and the county by various groups interested in learning more about both candidates and their platforms, each forum provides an opportunity for open dialogue between residents and candidates.

“If Chris Collins thinks he can stay in hiding and win this election, he’s sorely mistaken,” said Peter Anderson, spokesman for the Poloncarz campaign. “He spends his time hiding behind misleading commercials and blowing off residents who deserve to know what he stands for. These people care. They showed up. Why didn’t Chris Collins?”

To date, Mark Poloncarz has participated in seven candidate forums, talking with concerned voters from Buffalo and Eggertsville to East Aurora and Hamburg. Collins, meanwhile, has avoided any public appearances after his disastrous debate performances, and his stony silence regarding the real issues is eroding confidence.

“After missing seven scheduled opportunities to interact with voters, it’s painfully obvious that Chris Collins doesn’t care what voters have to say, or what their concerns are,” Anderson continued. “He’s totally out of touch with Erie County. He doesn’t deserve the support of county residents if he doesn’t care enough to show up at these important forums and discuss the issues directly with his bosses – the people of Erie County.”

Recent Candidate Forums Held in Erie County Not Attended by Chris Collins

  •  Tuesday, October 11 – Eggertsville Candidate’s Night – St. Paul’s Church, 4007 Main St., Eggertsville
  • Friday, October 14 – Southeast Works Candidate Forum, Depew
  • Tuesday, October 18 – St. John the Baptist Holy Name Society “Candidate Nite” – 1085 Englewood Ave., Tonawanda
  • Wednesday, October 19 – Candidate Forum, WNY Independent Living – 3108 Main St., Buffalo
  • Monday, October 24 – Clarence League of Woman Voters Candidate Forum – Clarence Town Hall
  • Tuesday, October 25 – East Aurora League of Women Voters Candidate Forum – Aurora Senior Center
  • Wednesday, October 26 – Hamburg League of Women Voters Candidate Forum – Union-Pleasant School

TEDxBuffalo: Stacey Watson, Drop In Nation

27 Oct

The videos from TEDxBuffalo 2011 are being uploaded to YouTube, and I’m going to post some of them here over the next few days. TEDx is about “ideas worth sharing”, and there were many presented at the Montante Center a few weeks ago.

This talk from Drop In Nation‘s Stacey Watson is perhaps the most compelling, relevant, and important given that day. It addresses the tragic state of education in the United States in general, and Buffalo in particular. There are thousands of kids dropping out of school and ending up on the streets with no education and fewer prospects. A lost generation of sorts. Watson is a dynamo who has devoted her life to changing that – to helping these kids get their lives back on track. In my opinion, her program is a model that could – and should – be replicated throughout the nation.

Drop In Nation‘s motto is “Innovate, Motivate, Educate”. You can donate to its mission via this PayPal link.

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The Sausage-Making of a City’s Remaking

26 Oct

Do you think Mark Sommer even waited for the conference to happen to declare it a success? Or did he write the article weeks ago and just held off on plugging in quotes?

I tease, but only a little. By all accounts, pre-ordained or not, last week’s National Preservation Conference here in Buffalo was a great event that met its key objective: impress lovers of architecture who are in a position to influence other lovers of architecture. This makes me genuinely happy. I have heard about this conference nearly continuously since I moved back a couple years ago, and I hope it was everything its organizers wanted it to be.

But our community’s collective multi-year focus on the economic potential and saving grace of one conference still unsettles me. I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with Colin Dabkowski, the outspoken arts columnist at the Buffalo News. Dabkowski and I rarely see eye to eye – ten days ago he did all but declare the future of the local arts scene contingent upon this November’s County Executive race. (If our culturals are truly in existential jeopardy from a $500K cut and change in funding priority, then they can’t be near as robust as we’re led to believe. And while we’re at it, why only bash the county when the city is running a surplus too and has zero arts funding mechanism? But I digress.)

And yet, despite these past differences, Dabkowski hits the nail on the head in his latest column in this Sunday’s paper. Venting a bit of frustration that the current arts scene “floated under the radar” among conference attendees, he notes that without “Buffalo’s active culture” (emphasis his), then “our storied edifices would serve merely as pretty headstones.” Or to put it another way, we should invest “not only in what makes our city look good, but in what makes it breathe.”

Image courtesy bestsoylatte.blogspot.com

Dabkowski is an advocate for the arts, so he is standing up for the theaters, small galleries, and indie performers. But any active current culture could substitute – sports, business, entrepreneurial, outdoor, foodie – and his point would remain. I have argued for a while that what happens inside the buildings is at least as important as the buildings themselves, and it’s this matter of emphasis, brick vs blood, that has lain as a subtext of many Buffalo debates the last ten years.

Ironically, some architecture buffs agree – the pulled out, bolded quote from Sommer’s piece was from conference attendee Denis Superczynski, city planner from Frederick, Maryland: “I’ve lived in a lot of cities in the United States, and Buffalo is a special place. And it’s because of the people.” A throw away compliment is nice, but this wasn’t the National Trust for Special People coming to visit, and the Buffalo boosters aren’t selling cultural tourists on the opportunity to see a bunch of nice folks. The point is the pretty edifices, and Dabkowski is right to note that we should focus on what being is created here now, not just what is left for us as a legacy to enjoy. 

Dabkowski has an uphill battle, however, as do all not firmly (solely?) on the architecture bandwagon. In Sommer’s article, conference attendees noted that cab drivers and wait staff at local restaurants gave impromptu tours and history lessons. When did we become such an architecture-phile city that such a thing is possible? In stereotypical New York and LA, every waiter and waitress is an out of work actor looking for their next big break. Is Buffalo now a city of cornice buffs, where our equivalents are docents in waiting?

City’s have distinctive flavors and cultures, even our over-homogenized America, and I find watching Buffalo transform itself an endlessly fascinating exercise. It’s messy, it’s argumentative, and the process is without rules, standards or easily identifiable goal posts; perhaps a reason this conference, as a distinct measurable event, drew so much interest. How do you remake a city? Who gets to decide what a city becomes? Pittsburgh is regularly lauded for transforming from a steel town into the first Eds & Meds Rust Belt success. Who got to decide Pittsburgh was throwing in with its hospitals and universities, and not another industry? Who sets the agenda?

Image courtesy kitchenproject.com

Buffalo certainly used to be a hard working manufacturing mecca, and we still do make a lot of stuff.  But white collar jobs have out numbered blue collar ones around here for quite a while, and that self-image is hard to shake. As we wallow in past identities, former glories, and a wishy washy future, how did architecture stick all the way down to our cab drivers? There have been other efforts, other successes, that could have captured our imaginations. Dabkowski wants Buffalo to be known as a Rust Belt-chic funky arts town. We have our own constantly under-appreciated Eds & Meds effort, one that has generated far more economic development than architectural tourism, but is largely overlooked in plain sight. Newell Nussbaumer has tried to get the College Town label to stick on Buffalo, but some student housing ventures failed to take off, his estudentnetwork.com site morphed into Navigetter, and no matter how correct the statistics (70K+ total students), unfortunately the vibe never resonated.

A place as large as New York City can afford to claim a number of identities: cultural capital, Wall Street, immigrant melting pot of opportunity. A provincial city like Buffalo doesn’t have the resources to invest in a number of images. There is a finite supply of capital, our best and brightest only have so many hours in a day, and our collective imaginations have a short attenti0n span. If Architectural Queen is what we’re going with, there won’t be lot of room for other nuances. If tourists are going to come see our crumbling castles (read: grain elevators), then it’s good our cab drivers have been studying up.

Ultimately, given a certain level of economic freedom to be mobile, each individual needs to decide what kind of city they want to live in. Buffalo is becoming an architectural destination. Renovations and restorations are going to (have been, continue to) divert political and economic oxygen from other projects and initiatives. No matter the personal reality you create – your family, your house, your job, mite hockey games on the weekends and a show at Shea’s when “Wicked” comes to town – the public discourse in the Third Room is increasingly about architecture. If an entrepreneurial spirit and access to venture capital is most important to you, I am sorry to say Buffalo is not trying to transform into Silicon Valley. I wish we had a broader outdoor culture, we are making real important gains, and I try to do my small part to encourage it, but Buffalo’s isn’t becoming Boulder or Santa Fe any time soon. If you love progressive politics and electoral reform, may I introduce you to Seattle. The bike rack bound for Portland is on your left.

Buffalo is morphing before our eyes, and while the messy sausage making in the middle is not complete, it is becoming clear to me that our community is on board with the final destination.