Archive | September, 2012

This Will All Be Over Tomorrow, Right?

28 Sep

In the Max-Panepinto-Zellner three-way battle to become chief cat-herder of the Erie County Democratic Committee, Max and Panepinto seem to be splitting the “not Zellner” vote, to the latter’s benefit. Part of the Max camp’s aim is to push Dennis Ward out of the Board of Elections. The pretext is some remote and perceived slight or another, and the real reason is who gets to control BOE jobs. So, Max sent this out yesterday:

Honorable Chairs:

It has come to our attention and is our belief that Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward, who also serves as Secretary of the Erie County Democratic Committee, has unfairly and intentionally manipulated the redistricting process in order to gain an unfair proportional vote that he controls at the upcoming Erie County Democratic Committee Reorganizational meeting.

As Party Secretary, he believes he will be running the reorganizational meeting September 29, 2012. The sole purpose of his running the meeting will be to secure another 4-year term as Erie County’s Election Commissioner.

The only hope of unifying the Erie County Democratic Party going forward is if all sides have faith in a fair and free election. Therefore, we ask the New York State Democratic Committee to intervene and dispatch either Chairman Miner or Chairman Wright to oversee the meeting. Only through such oversight will the integrity of this meeting be insured.

Your immediate response is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Frank C. Max Jr.
Erie County Democratic Chair – Candidate

The emphases are mine. It’s basically “do it my way, or else”. Yesterday, City of Tonawanda committee chair and county committee treasurer Gayle Syposs wrote on her Facebook page,

read and believe if you can from the guy whose strategy meeting last night was with Pigeon, Casey, Garner, Maybe we could call in the state police too and see if he can win that way. I guess threatening peoples jobs didn’t do it huh?

That’s Steve Pigeon, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Grassroots chair Maurice Garner. Threatening people’s jobs? Gayle continued,

What has been going on in Erie County the last few weeks and days will go down in history as the worst example of campaigning that could be in what is a Democratic Process. People who apparently feel that they can’t win this chairman race straight up now resort to threats to peoples employment, threats to families and political careers.

It is disgusting and shows me how proud I am to have been part of the administration of Len Lenihan, the most decent honest man that ever could have led us.

We will have our vote Saturday in a secret ballot and that is that. Majority rules and hopefully decency too. This ain’t Russia or China. This is Erie County New York and we will pick a Chairman because the bylaws say so.

Sounds like nothing else is working, so one candidate is resorting to threatening committeepeople. Andrew is right – maybe we shouldn’t judge the chair candidates on their pasts – sordid or clean as they may be – but on their present behavior.

Meanwhile, outgoing ECDC Chairman Len Lenihan wrote a farewell letter:

All good things must come to an end. On Friday when I leave Democratic Headquarters for the last time it will bring to an end an amazing ten year ride that has resulted in the reestablishment of the Erie County Democratic Committee as the dominant political force in Western New York.

This would not have been possible without your support, dedication and commitment. Regardless of what role you played as a candidate, contributor, party leader, volunteer, or just a great booster, we could not have done it without you. There are no words that can adequately express my appreciation to you for being there for us.

The numerous victories are hard to fathom. All three area congressional members are now Democrats, two of them being women. The restoration of the County Executive and the County Legislature to Democratic control. 11 of the last 13 Supreme Court Justices were elected on the Democratic line. The list goes on and on.

We had the best staff, using the most advanced techniques and strategies. Never once in our ten year run was there even a scent of scandal or impropriety. Our debt was greatly reduced, and the number of our volunteers were greatly increased.

In the end, what it all boils down to, are the values, principles, and ideals that bind us together as Democrats. Those principles have always been worth fighting for, and fight we did for ten years. I ask only that you give my successor the same level of support and dedication that you gave to me.

It has been a great honor to lead this great party, and an even greater honor working with you to achieve our goals. If ever I can be of help to you, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to seeing and working with you again in the future.

Sincerely,

 

Len Lenihan Chairman,

Erie County Democratic Committee 2002-2012

And this was, in part, the topic of Wednesday’s “One Thing” podcast with Brad Riter from Trending Buffalo.

TBOneThing09-26-12.mp3

Questions, Questions

27 Sep

From the Buffalo News story about the food trucks’ issues in Amherst

In light of recent events, Ketchum and Police Chief John Askey said they’ve instructed their people not to disrupt food truck operations. If they do enforce the permit requirements, they said, they’ll simply issue a court appearance ticket and let a judge decide how to handle it.

Askey also said he was embarrassed to learn that the “anonymous complaint” lodged with the Building Department against the Lloyd Taco Truck on Monday came from one of his own officers, who has relatives in the restaurant business and called in the complaint as a private citizen.

“I spoke with him today,” Askey said Tuesday. “I specifically told him to have no interaction with those trucks. We are not, independently – through back channels or forward channels – going after these people on their own. I can’t fix what happened, but I can make sure we’re reasonable going to forward.”

Please tell me which officer, and which restaurant, are implicated by emailing me at buffalopundit[at]gmail.com. I have some questions for them. 

The llluzzi Legacy

26 Sep

Let’s operate under the assumption that there is/are no god(s); that there is no heaven or hell, and that when you die you no longer exist. You are nothingness. There is no life everlasting where you get to see all your loved ones and hang out with all your heroes. These are all fairy tales that people made up to make death less scary, and with the advent of “hell”, we scare you straight. Then again, for a lot of people, you can apparently be a horrible miscreant 6 days a week so long as you go to services and confess or ask forgiveness on the 7th. 

So, while operating that assumption you have the choice of being a good person, or a bad person. You have numerous chances each day to do the right or wrong thing. If you have faith, you figure doing the right thing will make your god happy, and you can ease your slide into heaven. But when you don’t have faith, being nice or good is something you undertake for its own sake; something you do simply because you choose it. Your only life everlasting is your memory and legacy – how you leave this world, and how you’re remembered. Joe Illuzzi, who died yesterday, was a very pious man. 

About a year ago, it was revealed that Joe Illuzzi filed for bankruptcy. At the time, we were still writing for another website, and both Chris and I mocked him for being a deadbeat. He was incensed and, as usual, threatened to “reveal” some utter fabrication about me in an effort to shut me up. So I called him – it was Election Day. I told him to do his worst and print whatever he wants. But as we got to talking, he explained to me that he was hooked up to oxygen and was close to death. He told me that he was declaring bankruptcy because it was his last chance to not saddle his young daughter with his estate’s growing debt. I thought that was a rare show of humanity from someone I hold in low regard. Clearly, I have no problem with his daughter and thought that, in this case, he was doing a noble deed. I removed my posts and Tweets out of respect for that. 

But make no mistake – as far as the political scene in western New York is concerned, Joe Illuzzi left a sordid, hateful, and sad legacy. I received numerous emails from elected officials and hopefuls who unloaded years’ worth of frustration. If you’re not already aware, what Illuzzi ran was a shakedown operation. I can’t tell you how many elected officials appreciated the things we wrote about him over the years – exposing his operation, and how little his site was actually read – because they were sick of being bullied by him. You can go to Glenn Gramigna’s site right now and see that the Illuzzi business model remains alive and well, although Gramigna is less of a bully and more of a nebbish. 

Here’s how it works, in a nutshell: the politician buys an ad on the site. The website owner publishes the ad and agrees to publish all of your campaign’s press releases. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the website owner will take the advertiser’s side in any dispute with a non-advertiser. In the rare instance where both candidates advertise, Illuzzi would take the side of the more conservative advertiser, the one with bigger pockets, or the one who is aligned with either Steve Pigeon, Ralph Lorigo’s Conservative Party, or with the Erie County GOP. 

Imagine that – in just 7 months, Mike Hudson leaves Niagara Falls for L.A., and Joe Illuzzi is gone. Which website will Steve Pigeon now use to get his message out? Will someone take over Illuzzi’s site? Will it be the Niagara Falls Reporter? Where will we now find supposedly earnest paeans to alleged Albany cults

Without electoral fusion, and the transactional interference by minor parties in our political system, there would have been no Illuzzi website. Under the Orsini regime, you could only be assured of the IP line if you advertised with Illuzzi. No exceptions. Likewise, I’m aware of it being a condition precedent for candidates to buy an ad after securing a nomination from various parties at various times. A racket. 

We were never able to convince a politician to record a conversation with Illuzzi to reveal the way he operates. Although New York has a one-party consent rule for recording phone calls, the political fallout was something no one wanted to risk. What Illuzzi did was commit extortion on a daily, casual basis. If you didn’t pay him, he’d threaten you, he’d print horrible rumors about you, he’d make up lies about you, he’d threaten to destroy you. It was truly a protection racket, and he was doing other people’s dirty work. 

Because one thing about Joe Illuzzi is that he was always influential when it came to the horrible, transactional Independence “Party”. Back when the local racket was run by Springville barber Tony Orsini, Illuzzi would print whatever Orsini told him to write, and swaying the IP nomination was one way Steve Pigeon held onto his political influence after he was replaced as Democratic committee chairman. So it should come as no surprise that Illuzzi loved the legislative coup of 2010, he loved Golisano’s short-lived “Responsible New York”, which was so “responsible” it brought now-convicted-felon Pedro Espada to a position of great influence in the state Senate. 

Illuzzi also hated Joel Giambra and was his biggest critic during the budget crisis of the last decade. (But – because of his backing by Pigeon – published all sorts of puffery about budget crisis bad actor Chuck Swanick just this year). Giambra is now an influential Republican consultant/operative who is very close to State Senator Mark Grisanti. 

Speaking of Grisanti, Illuzzi also hated gay people. Last year, Grisanti’s vote for same sex marriage came very close in time to the death of Williamsville North freshman Jamey Rodemeyer. Illuzzi was a pious attendee of a local megachurch and was consistently, devastatingly homophobic. He wrote and said utterly horrible things about people who are homosexual, and about the homosexual community  in general. When same-sex marriage was passed, he wrote terrible things. When Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life after being bullied for being different, Illuzzi sided with the bullies. It was one of the rare instances where Illuzzi found himself with public rebukes from people who demanded he take their ads down. He always refused, and the checks had already cleared, but he was unrepentant and swung back at his critics like a cornered animal. 

It seems there’s some idiot tradition – completely unencumbered by facts or history – where people are expected automatically to be respectful of the dead, no matter what. I don’t understand that tradition. Just because someone stops breathing and descends into a box in the ground doesn’t mean we need to ignore the very real fact that the person led a life significantly pockmarked with crime, neglect, and hatred. Those are choices that person made, and we shouldn’t simply ignore them because he suddenly finds himself without any vital signs.

I wish Joe’s family well, and hope they find comfort in their grief.  

The 47% and Irony

26 Sep

Let’s personalize Mitt Romney’s denigration of the 47%. 

Cindy Nerger went to her local Kroger’s to pick up groceries for her family. She paid using her food stamps, but the cashier and then the store manager said that she still owed $10. Ms. Nerger replied that this was not possible, because she knew that food stamps covered everything she had bought. To this, the store manager replied, “Okay, just give it to her.” Nerger said, “see, I told you it was covered by food stamps,” to which the manager replied, “excuse me for working for a living and not relying on food stamps!'”

Granted, it was likely one of the few times the manager of a Kroger’s in the middle of Georgia was able to lord it over anyone else, but still.

When the manager insulted her in that way, Nerger turned and saw the other people in line, felt humiliated, and left the store in tears. 

Moocher. 

But here’s the thing

Nerger said she started receiving food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, when she became eligible for Medicare and Social Security Supplemental Income because of kidney failure in 2008. While she waits for a kidney transplant, she cannot work because of daily 12-hour dialysis treatments. Her husband runs a carpentry business. “If he doesn’t get a call [for a job] we don’t have any extra money for the month,” she said.

Food stamps have been a hot issue in the presidential campaign, with Republicans labeling President Barack Obama the “Food Stamp President” and charging that Obama has deliberately increased dependency on government. The Great Recession and its aftermath have pushed SNAP enrollment to 46.6 million, up from 34 million at the same time in 2009.

Heartbreaking, right? Well, here’s the other thing:

However much the campaign issues might resonate in her personal life, Nerger said she doesn’t have cable and hasn’t been following politics or the presidential election. Still, she doesn’t think much of either Obama or his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.

“They’re all gonna kill us,” she said. “Most of the people that we have to choose from — Obama with his spending and his health care reform, and then Mitt Romney, he just wants to let poor people die, so either way we’re doomed. So I don’t see any point in voting.”

Scroll back up to the part where she’s a Medicare recipient. She is a beneficiary of a federally run single-payer health insurance program and denigrates Obamacare and “spending”.

WTF, people. 

Joe Illuzzi Dead

25 Sep

Joe Illuzzi, owner of the Illuzzi Letter and assorted websites, is dead. 

For now, I offer you this open thread. 

UPDATE:

Reaction from Michael Caputo

“May he rest in peace, safe from the pain of his illness – and may he meet a forgiving God.”

Send anonymous / confidential remembrances and stories to buffalopundit[at]gmail.com

Maybe Tuesday Will Be Better, AMIRITE?

25 Sep

Liberty Building in Downtown Buffalo, NY

1. Jeremy Zellner vs. Frank Max. If you care about this in any way, chances are you rely on a government job, are an elected official, or you’re a candidate. The average western New Yorker is completely unaffected by it, and couldn’t care less. I happen to think that Lenihan did a great job as party chairman, and if his successor is half as successful as he, everybody should be pleased. The fact that certain people and factions held grudges over slights – real and perceived – and couldn’t suck it up and be big boys and girls and follow what the majority of the party committee wanted is par for the course. I wish Jeremy and Frank good luck and best wishes.  Everyone should just relax and concentrate on what a party committee is supposed to do – elect Democrats. 

2. “While Kathy Hochul distorts the truth, what do people who work for Chris Collins say?” That’s the actual opening line of an ad for Collins for Congress.  That bitch is such a liar, OMG. Here’s what people whose very livelihood is dependent on me have to say about me. That’s not an ad – that’s an out of control ego. Embarrassing. 

3. Coming back to the “everyone’s horrible” theme – the NFTA Surface Transportation Committee is made up of very wealthy and influential people, none of whom are likely to actually use NFTA surface transportation on any sort of regular basis. Jim Eagan – Democratic money guy who was until recently running to run ECDC, big firm lawyer Adam Perry, and restaurateur Mark Croce are all quoted in this story, all identified as committee members. Meanwhile, the people who use the LaSalle Metro station every day have dealt with a broken escalator for four months with no fix in sight. The NFTA committee members started yelling at each other like children over whether the work should be done by the regular maintenance contractor or sent out to bid. Just fix the escalator, and it’s high time the NFTA was run by people who actually use the service.  

4. The reason Mitt Romney is doing poorly? He’s exactly what the tea party, evangelicals, and very rich Republican benefactors always wanted in a candidate. 

5. Third time’s the charm. Since August, food trucks the Cheesy Chick, the Knight Slider have been chased away from the town of Amherst in the middle of service. Last year, a battle was waged to implement a law allowing and regulating food trucks to work the streets of the city of Buffalo. In reputedly business-friendly Amherst, however, no such regulation has been implemented. Yesterday, the Lloyd Taco Truck boys Tweeted this: 

That’s odd, because the truck was operating with permission on private property. The town has no food truck legislation or regulation, so no one is quite sure what Lloyd is alleged to have violated. The town’s code enforcement officers have been chasing the trucks away, and the town leadership was caught completely unaware.  

The only current regulation that could feasibly apply to food trucks is a transient vendor permit that is costly, only good for 90 days at a time, and specific to a location. If Lloyd wants to operate its north Amherst and Ridge Lea private property regular locations, it would need two licenses, each renewable every 3 months for $100

Just a few weeks ago, the Amherst town board passed a resolution to address and change the local law to specifically update the transient business permitting process to better reflect the current reality including food trucks. 

6. You aren’t a “pet parent”. Please. 

Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo

24 Sep
Cuyahoga at Lake and Rail Buffalo NY

Cuyahoga at Lake and Rail Buffalo NY by tark9, on Flickr

1. Shorter Buffalo News piece on Deputy Mayor Steve Casey: he’s a dick who terrorizes staff and throws Democrats under the bus in favor of Chris Collins, but he’s the Mayor’s dick

2. The Buffalo News calls this Hochul ad misleading. How so? It doesn’t say Collins got rich off of Ingenious’ Balance Buddy. It says he makes more money by outsourcing the manufacturing in China rather than building the device in western New York.

Statement A:

Asked why Ingenious would contract with a manufacturer in China, Collins said that it would be too expensive to make the product in the United States. ’It would not be feasible to have that product made and packaged for $7 in the U.S.,’ Collins said. (Cannot link directly to Buffalo News story because of its wholly unusable web presence). 

Statement B: 

China manipulates its currency, steals intellectual property from American companies, subsidizes government-owned businesses that compete with firms in the United States and closes its markets to foreign products.

“It’s not OK,” he said.

If the trade inequities with China are removed, “those jobs come back,” Collins said.

That’s patently true – by Collins’ own admission – and not at all misleading. In fact, the Buffalo News’ “fact check” is misleading. Also – perhaps more egregiously – he conducted Ingenious business from the 16th floor of the Rath Building, and so badly screwed over the initial investors that they’ve sued him.  

3. If there’s one thing Donn Esmonde loves to do, he loves to pat himself on the back. He loves being the official organ of Buffalo’s development/preservationist intelligentsia. So, he twists and contorts to the conclusion that the Liberty Hound‘s success somehow prove that the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” scam is the best thing ever. What the Liberty Hound’s success – as well as the success of a lot of Canalside’s summertime programming – really establishes is that the waterfront will be a popular place if you give people something to do there. Lighter, quicker, cheaper didn’t give us Liberty Hound – that was a big project done with a state agency,  a partnership of two successful restaurateurs, a museum, and  an assist from big political players. Lighter, quicker, cheaper gave us the Fred Kent “placemaking” sideshow, the snack shack, and brightly colored Adirondack chairs. The ECHDC was bullied into doing it by a supposedly earnest man endlessly pushing solar-powered carousels who wasn’t so quick to disclose that his interests in the matter also involved how Canalside might affect the bar and restaurant business in Black Rock and Allentown.  

The Morning Grumpy – 9/24/12

24 Sep

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 

1. Have you been enjoying Jim Heaney’s outstanding work at Investigative Post? If so, click here to become a supporting member of his organization and sponsor the best journalism in Buffalo.

Nearly a century ago, British press baron Lord Northcliff declared: “News is what someone, somewhere wants to suppress, everything else is just advertising.”

Investigative Post is not in the advertising business.

We’re in the business of producing hard-hitting investigations and in-depth analyses and training young journalists to do likewise.

Investigative journalism is costly, labor-intensive work. Unlike our media brethren, we’re not underwritten by advertisers or other commercial interests. We rely largely on donors, both big and small, who recognize the value of high-quality journalism.

Seriously, you haven’t clicked yet? What are you waiting for?

2. If you missed this essay by Paul Wolf in this week’s print edition of Artvoice, you’re missing out. Paul presents us with a stark and disappointing fact; Mayor Byron Brown is flush with a $1,000,000 in his campaign account. The grim reality that number presents is that an ineffective, caretaker mayor with no strategic vision nor leadership skills will walk to re-election in 2013.

The fact that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has $1 million dollars in his campaign war chest is good news for the mayor but bad news for the citizens of Buffalo. It means there will not be a real election for mayor of Buffalo next year. No challenger will be able to compete in a significant way against $1 million and the power of incumbency. Sadly, there will not be a real debate about the future of Buffalo.

The fact that the mayor of the third poorest city in the nation can build a war chest of $1 million dollars shows you how much campaign dollars are about the legalized bribery of “pay to play.” Incumbents, no matter what office they hold, hold many advantages, including:

• the ability to get free and taxpayer-paid-for media attention;

• campaign funds and volunteers from government employees;

• campaign funds from people and companies that do business with government.

Mayor Brown’s campaign war chest, like those of most incumbents, is built on contributions from people who personally benefit from government in the way of jobs and contracts.

Let’s be honest, the kind of money that Mayor Brown has at his disposal makes a primary challenge against hizzoner nothing more than a quixotic adventure. You might be able to round up a group of well-meaning activists and put together a spunky and fresh campaign strategy, but Mayor Brown will overwhelm you with cash, paid organizers, and all other sorts of professional campaign apparatuses. We’re making progress in this city in spite of the Mayor, but it would be pretty great if we had a leader.

3. Many politicians use his songs as campaign themes, but few resonate with an audience the way Bruce Springsteen does. So, what can progressives learn from Bruce and his politics of meaning?

That in order to organize and engage the masses of people we need, progressives have to expand their notions of what makes people tick, of what they need, of what they value and long for—-from a simplistic liberal emphasis on economic justice and equity to a broader view of human needs that include needs for recognition, meaning, connectedness, and agency.

Bruce Springsteen’s music and his performances do just that.  They suggest the possibility of a relationship with oneself, with others, and with the social world that elicit and cherish just these kinds of values and needs in his audience.
 
Rural voters and the poor vote with Republicans not because of a connectedness to their economic policies, but in spite of them. They vote with Republicans for the values those policies represent. Country, service, respect, responsibility, patriotism. Progressives have seemingly lost the ability to connect with red state voters on this level. Let Bruce show you the way.

4. The end of “eds and meds” as an economic development strategy? Someone should inform the economic development planners in WNY, as it looks looks like we may be chasing a ghost.

In the last few decades, as suburbanization and deindustrialization devastated so many cities, they turned to two sectors that seemed not only immune to decline, but were actually growing: universities and hospitals. The so-called “eds and meds” sectors, often related through university affiliated hospitals, became a great stabilizer for many places.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these sectors have come to dominate so many cites’ economic development strategies. It’s harder to find a major city that isn’t touting some variation of a life sciences “cluster” as a strategic industry than one who is, and local medical schools and hospital complexes feature prominently in this.

Yet in reality, overreliance on eds and meds is problematic. Firstly, these tend to be non-profit, and thus reduce the tax base in cities that are dependent on them.

But for cities hanging their hat on eds and meds growth, a more fundamental problem now looms: these industries are at the end of their growth cycle. Spending on healthcare and college tuition costs has been skyrocketing at rates greater than inflation for years.  Here’s a chart, via Atlantic Cities, showing job creation by sector since 1939:

As the US starts to groan under the weight of spending on health care and higher education, it’s clear that, as a society, we need to be spend less, not more on these items as a share of national output.  Some cities with unique strengths, like Boston, with its many specialized biotech firms, or Houston, with the world’s largest medical center, may thrive in this environment, but the vast majority of cities are likely to be very disappointed in where eds and meds growth will take them.

Honest question, do you think that anyone in a leadership position in this town reads articles like this? Do they incorporate data put forward by think tanks and research firms like this into our regional strategy? Or do they simply plug headlong on the same path until they hit a brick wall? I’m not proposing that we abandon our current direction, but there is a great amount of research and data available in economic development circles that this “eds and meds” cycle is coming to a close and that progressive and innovative cities are already looking for the next big thing.

5. If only solar power, wind farms, and biofuels received this kind of support, we could truly have a “free market miracle” like the natural gas industry is currently enjoying.

It sounds like a free-market success story: a natural gas boom created by drilling company innovation, delivering a vast new source of cheap energy without the government subsidies that solar and wind power demand.

“The free market has worked its magic,” the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry group, claimed over the summer.

The boom happened “away from the greedy grasp of Washington,” the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank, wrote in an essay this year.

But those who helped pioneer the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, recall a different path. Over three decades, from the shale fields of Texas and Wyoming to the Marcellus in the Northeast, the federal government contributed more than $100 million in research to develop fracking, and billions more in tax breaks.

Subsidies and tax credits for renewable energies have skyrocketed under the Obama administration, but the oil and gas industries have the advantage of ten decades worth of funding, research subsidies, manufacturing tax credits and infrastructure support from federal and state governments. We need more investment in renewables, way more than we have now, if the industry is to ever get a foothold against fossil fuels.

Fact Of The Day: Until 2008 Walmart de Mexico was paying its employees with vouchers only redeemable at Walmart.

Quote Of The Day: “Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.” – Ambrose Bierce

Video Of The Day: Sam The Sheepdog

Song Of The Day: “Plenty” by Guru

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Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

Governor Cuomo, First: Do No Harm.

21 Sep

Has a penny of the billion-dollar grant been spent yet? Is it in anyone’s account yet? Is there a plan for how it will be spent yet? 

The reason I ask is because that billion dollar grant that Governor Cuomo announced for Buffalo several months ago sure sounds great, but what’s going on with it? Who from this committee, which is in charge of the money, is communicating with us about what’s going on with it? There’s this PowerPoint from Brookings, and this paper, which is fantastic, but now what? What’s next? Jim Heaney from Investigative Post gave an update where the committee has decided to make a decision, but the whole process isn’t user-friendly, isn’t particularly well-publicized, and has neither the efficiency of a dictatorship nor the legitimacy of a democratic process. 

And another reason I ask is that Albany inaction has been in the news twice now in recent days. First, this report from the Buffalo News placing the blame on the delay in negotiating a new Bills lease squarely on the Cuomo Administration. The deal doesn’t get done if Albany, the County, and the Bills aren’t at the table, and Albany has been unready or unwilling to move on this. The reasons why? What reason would make sense? Why would Governor Cuomo – who has placed a billion dollar bet on Buffalo – risk losing the only NFL team that plays home games within New York State? There’s no scenario within which that makes any sense. 

A second example of Albany dragging its feet to Buffalo’s detriment? This story from WGRZ reporting that Rocco Termini has abandoned his ambitious ($60 million) – and fully leased – plan to renovate the AM&A building on Main Street. As detailed in this interview with Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney

Heaney:The AM&A’s building. It’s next to the Trico Building. It’s probably the biggest hulking vacant space in downtown. You’ve got an option that’s expiring soon with that property. Where do things stand?

Termini: Well we’re waiting for the tax credit bill to be signed by Albany.

Heaney:The bill would raise the cap on tax credits …

Termini: From 5 to 12 million dollars.

Heaney:And you need that much additional to make the project work?

Termini: Yes.

Heaney:The project is how much?

Termini: $60 million.

Heaney:Is this a spec project or do you have tenants?

Termini: The building is 100 percent leased by various businesses that we’ve already been in contact with.

Heaney:You probably don’t want to name individual tenants, but give me a flavor – is this hotel? Is this retail? Is this office? Is this high-tech office? What’s the tenant mix?

Termini: It’s all of them. But a lot of it is tech companies that are looking for what I call “Googlized space” – cool space – which there isn’t any cool space downtown. And we are filling that niche in downtown of providing cool space for tech companies.

Heaney:When does your option expire?

Termini: In a couple of weeks, and if it’s not signed in a couple of weeks we’ll get a move on to another project because we don’t want to lose our tenants.

Heaney:So you’re going to walk away from the building and they’ll be back to ground zero after that?

Termini: That’s right.

Heaney:Any indication from the governor’s people as to which way he’s leaning at this point?

Termini: None.

Heaney:How are the local politicians? Are they in support of this? Are they not in support of this? Are they sitting it out?

Termini: Every local politician is in support of this project. They all voted for it. They’ve had press conferences about it. They know the importance of this bill to Upstate New York. It’s not just Buffalo, it’s every city along the Thruway, which are faced with the same problems.

Heaney:So basically Cuomo signs or you walk.

Termini: That’s right.

Cuomo didn’t sign. Termini walked. 

Hey, Albany & Governor Cuomo: Buffalo and WNY are all FUBAR as it is. We don’t need you to make it worse. This is bad politics and bad policy, and there’s no reasonable rationale for this kind of governmental malpractice. Some are saying this has something to do with the chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Committee. That can’t be right, though, can it? Seriously, you would harm the entire community over Frank Max? That’s not just malpractice, that’s reckless and wanton. 

A New Convention Center?

20 Sep

During the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last month, County Executive Mark Poloncarz angered a lot of people when he Tweeted about how much nicer Charlotte’s convention center is, compared to Buffalo’s. Jim Fink ripped Poloncarz in Business First, but now admits he was wrong – he thought Poloncarz was comparing our convention center to the Time Warner Center

It’s time to start talking about a new convention center in Buffalo. Why? Back in March the city lost a convention which would have had a $1.6 million economic impact. The reason given: 

“Your Convention Center did not meet the expectations of the site selection committee and did not measure up to the level of convention centers visited in the other cities,” she wrote. “There was also concern from the site selection committee regarding the abundance of vacant storefronts surrounding the Convention Center and the host hotel.

“Our attendees place a high value on the ability to access bars, restaurants, shopping and other entertainment options within walking distance.”

This is why blind, uncritical Buffalove is harmful. Downtown is a mess, made worse by bad planning, bad administration, bad policies, and multiple layers of regulation. Here’s a quick look at the convention center’s immediate surroundings: 

There’s absolutely nothing appealing for a casual convention-goer who doesn’t much care about architecture or the realness or authenticity about a place. Our downtown is a disgrace, and the convention center looks like someone took the Sedita City Court building and laid it on its side. The convention center is a brutalist monstrosity that blocks off Genesee Street, resembles a German Normandy bunker, and goes out of its horrible way to make downtown look even uglier and less inviting – less human.

Here’s Charlotte’s convention center:

It’s not perfect, but it’s not a Stalinist apartment block, either

It’s absolutely time to start talking again about improving downtown – which has been happening slowly, in fits and starts. We need a plan for smart parking and land value taxation to de-incentivize lazy maintenance of our sea of surface parking lots. We also need a new, attractive convention center that can attract business and visitors, and be a showpiece for a new Buffalo. One that’s welcoming. 

Perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone and demolish the existing convention center, make that land ready for development – on two parcels, re-establishing that stretch of Genesee Street. The convention center could be located perhaps on the site of the current Adams Mark, which should also be demolished. Perhaps we could demolish them both on the same day and hold the biggest fricking celebration Buffalo ever had. 

The last time Buffalo looked into a new convention center was 1999. Poloncarz told Fink,

“If we needed one in 1999, we definitely need one now,” he said. “Maybe, it’s time to open that debate again.”

He notes that a new convention center in Niagara Falls, ON has had a $110 million impact on that city already. 

So, I’ll revisit my original idea, which has been actually picking up supporters and steam. It was most recently echoed by Rocco Termini in an interview with Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney.  

Termini: That’s a small segment of what is out there. We need to develop the whole concept of the Toronto market. I’m going to be in Toronto over the weekend talking about this very thing.

Heaney: What’s your thought on how to capitalize?

Termini: I think what we need to do is form a sales tax free zone downtown. We need to take over the first floor of every building downtown and we need to put in there an outlet mall type, high-end retail. And then you will get people coming into Buffalo from Toronto. And then they’ll go to the restaurants, they’ll stay at the hotels, they’ll make a day of it. I just called for a hotel room in Toronto and Trump Tower is $750 a night. You can come and stay at probably a better room at the Lafayette for $149, so a person from Toronto can come down to Buffalo, have dinner, shop all day, and stay in a hotel here.

Heaney: Doesn’t that put local existing merchants at a disadvantage all of a sudden? “I’m selling, the guy downtown is selling; I’ve got to collect a sales tax he doesn’t.” Aren’t you in a stealing from Peter to pay Paul scenario?

Termini: Not really. They’re getting a small fraction of the people coming from Canada. And don’t forget, they already have an advantage. They have expressways going right to their malls; they have free parking, something that we’ve paid for as city residents for many years. And now it’s time for the city to get what they deserve and they deserve a chance to get restarted. Nothing else has worked. We talked about so many things to bring retail back to downtown and nothing has worked. I think this will work because people travel to the Indian reservation to save $5 on a carton of cigarettes and they’ll spend $6 worth of gasoline. But when people think they’re getting a deal they will come.

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.

BuffaloCBD

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.