Tag Archives: City of Buffalo

Consider Sergio

25 Oct

As I explained yesterday, the Buffalo News editorial board endorsed Mayor Byron Brown in Thursday’s edition. Brown is running for his third term as mayor of a struggling, poor rust belt city who runs a hyper-politicized, allegedly corrupt petty fiefdom. With a million in the bank, he can steamroll over most challengers and has built an interdependent political machine, cavalierly flaunting the laws that ostensibly limit municipal employees’ electioneering, and his ability to compel it.

Byron Brown is a nice enough guy and people like him, but I don’t think he’s the mayor Buffalo needs.

Before you hammer me for not living in the city and opining on the election of its chief executive, I’ll concede the point. But I spend far more of my waking hours working in the city than at home, and I am a firm believer in regionalism. I believe that a strong and prosperous Buffalo is good for everybody. It is the region’s anchor – its entire reason for being, and it’s in everyone’s interests to care how it’s doing. 

I’m not a Republican, but I think that Sergio Rodriguez has run a strong, issues-based race against Mayor Brown, and he’s done so despite being forced to navigate a figurative minefield to do it. He has no support from the county Republican committee, and doesn’t have enough money to do much of anything. He’s bought some lawn signs, but doesn’t have the scratch to do a set of mailings, much less to get on radio or TV.  Instead, he’s been wearing out his shoes, going directly to voters, and he’s been using social media in a town where promotion on Instagram or Foursquare isn’t going to go far. 

Because of the feudal system that Byron Brown has inherited and enhanced, big donors know that helping Sergio is the kiss of death – Brown and his consiglieri would shun you, and no one wants to get sidetracked to discuss what’s happening. Being a Brown outlaw and attempting to do business in the City of Buffalo – any business requiring a permit or license – is untenable. The political class in Buffalo, which is dependent on Brown for its livelihood, knows better than to back Rodriguez. 

The Republicans? Some will privately say that they think Sergio isn’t ready for primetime; that they like him, but while he has good ideas, he hasn’t done much to see them through to completion. They’ll tell you his follow-through stinks, but they’d be in a unique position to help him out with this. What a coup it would be for them to take City Hall after a few generations! But they, too, have a business relationship with the Brown Administration, and it’s best to not rock that boat. 

Stefan Mychajliw is running for his first full term as County Comptroller. Despite the fact that he has literally no idea what he’s doing and treats every press release (and there’s one about every day) as an “audit”, and despite the fact that the “best and brightest” whom he’s hired have abandoned ship, he has charisma, name recognition, and a compelling backstory which will likely propel him back to the 11th floor of the Rath Building. Kevin Gaughan was the Democratic fallback candidate, and while he runs rings around Mychajliw on the details, he doesn’t even come close to touching Mychajliw when it comes to retail politicking. 

One of the reasons the Republicans won’t help Sergio has to do with city turnout; if there was a competitive Mayoral race, Democrats would vote; if city Democrats turn out to vote, they’ll likely vote for Gaughan. So, they sacrifice Sergio to help ease Stefan’s re-election. Sure, it makes perfect tactical sense, but it’s fundamentally cynical.

The News’ endorsement of Brown is astonishing because it has very little, if anything, positive to say about Brown’s accomplishments as Mayor. Almost all of the major projects taking place, representing Buffalo’s “boom” exist in spite of Brown, rather than because of him. More often than not, they come about when he gets out of the way. He gets to show up at the ribbon-cutting and make a proclamation, and then skulk back to the 2nd floor, behind armed guards, to oversee fiefdom. 

The boom that the Buffalo News identifies is illusory. For every new restaurant, medical building, and waterfront announcement, the city’s problems with poverty, crime, joblessness, hopelessness, and failing schools all continue unabated. The big-ticket items are good, but if a city can’t get the fundamentals right, what point is there? People point to positive changes along Grant Street, but gentrification without population or income growth is as unsustainable as sprawl without growth. What the city needs is a leader, not a caretaker. 

Can Sergio be that leader? I think he deserves more of a shot than he’s getting, and the forces aligned in halting him should be ashamed. Even tea party developer Carl Paladino knows that it’s better for him to back Brown and shun Rodriguez if Paladino wants his city projects to go smoothly.

Brown hasn’t even deigned to compete against Rodriguez, which is the ultimate insult – denying voters a race they deserve. But whether or not you think Sergio is the leader Buffalo needs, he has spent months talking about the fundamentals – talking to residents and business owners (small ones, the ones who serve the community rather than big-money interests) about the problems that they face on a daily basis. It’s not pretty – Brown is busy on the radio promoting jobs at Geico way the hell up in north Amherst, so you’re all set if you have a reliable car. Buffalo needs jobs for Buffalonians in Buffalo. There’s no regional plan for much of anything, and one would expect a Buffalo mayor to focus on the quality of life basics, not to ensure his re-election, but to make sure his constituents are better-off.

If you’re one of the preservationist elites, Mayor Brown has had almost 10 years to develop a strategic plan to market and help people finance the purchase and renovation of dilapidated and vacant city-owned foreclosed homes. Just yesterday, a vacant city-owned house near Grant Street was demolished, and no one knew it was for sale because the city doesn’t put up signs or list them properly.

Sergio Rodriguez may deserve your vote, if you’re so inclined, but at a bare minimum he deserves your attention. He’s talking about the bigger picture, and recognizes that a leader requires a vision. In a town where the mayor has touted the number of demolitions he’s overseen, Sergio has instead addressed the issues of joblessness, crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, vacancies, and crime – things that don’t particularly matter to big developers with Rolls-Royces. But Sergio is also the guy who says City Hall will be open and inviting to all, and where good ideas will find a home. It will be inclusive and transparent, rather than an impenetrable fortress. Is it Sergio’s time? That’s up to you. But he certainly deserves your attention and your thoughtful consideration. I think he’s talking about the important things no one wants meaningfully to discuss, and his party affiliation shouldn’t be held against him. 

Conservative Party Defames Sergio Rodriguez

6 Sep

When you have to attack and defame a poorly funded grassroots candidate who doesn’t even have the financial or organizational backing of his own party’s county committee, you have to wonder just how weak and pathetic your own fusion party is. 

What on Earth could Sergio do differently from Byron with respect to the 2nd Amendment? Does this have to do with the NY SAFE Act? 

He does pay his bills. All of these debts were satisfied in full. If Sergio is the only person who has ever found himself in school debt that he was temporarily unable to pay back, then this might be effective. Sergio came from nothing, served our country as a Marine, and got a college education. To hell with anyone who would do this to him. Seriously. 

Finally, 

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Click to enlarge, enrage

Rodriguez’s campaign says,

All this to deny voters a choice. Lorigo has now resorted to ugly, dirty, slanderous and baseless politics that people have grown to detest. I am a U.S. Marine who served honorably and with distinction, and will not back down from Lorigo’s shameful tactics. If somehow this chairman and his party’s out-of-touch leadership think for one minute that I will back down, they have another thing coming.

 

Lorigo Cracks Knuckles in Rodriguez’s Direction

8 Jul

Pity poor Republican candidate for Buffalo Mayor Sergio Rodriguez. The Erie County Republican Committee won’t back him, and the impotent city committee was slow to endorse. He’s even supposedly getting a challenge for the Republican nod from professional Grisanti hater and perennial candidate Matt Ricchiazzi

Because of electoral fusion, Rodriguez has the option to run on a minor party line. The established minor parties have, naturally, endorsed the incumbent. They scratch each other’s backs. So, Rodriguez has to mount a write-in campaign for the Conservative line, and may opt to pursue an independent nominating petition, which enables Rodriguez to create a one-off party line (think Jack Davis’ “Save Jobs Party” and Chris Collins’ “Taxpayers First Party”). 

The independent party line is to be called the “Progressive Party”, according to this blog post, and would enable Rodriguez to reach out to Democrats (who outnumber Republicans 7:1 in Buffalo) without requiring them to fill in a GOP box on their ballot. 

But notice this passage: 

None of this, however, is sitting well with Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo, a strong Brown backer. The chairman said he likes Rodriguez, but the effort will not help his relationship with the often influential minor party.

 “That could potentially destroy a relationship that can be built in the future,” he said. “It would be difficult to fight, but we would.”

Nothing like a minor party boss trying to intimidate and bully a hard-working, young Republican candidate for Mayor 0f Buffalo. That people like Ralph Lorigo have any political power whatsoever is the root of New York corruption and dysfunction. Ask yourself why the so-called “Conservative Party” might be backing the Democratic mayor instead of a Republican challenger. Ask yourself whether that’s based on principle or something completely not principle at all. 

The Antoine Thompson Hire: Look on the Bright Side

11 Dec

The Buffalo Employment and Training Center (BETC) is a Buffalo city agency that exists to help people find jobs. It works with applicants to try and match them with prospective employers, and has a roster of companies and agencies with which it works. It would make sense that the person whom the city retains to operate BETC would have some significant and meaningful experience in the field of hiring, human resources, or recruiting. 

Antoine Thompson spent his political adolescence being groomed by the Grassroots political club to be the next Byron Brown.  His ambition often seems to be in adverse proportion to his abilities; he started out in the Common Council as Brown’s appointed replacement, and within just 4 years was sniffing around Louise Slaughter’s congressional seat because he was upset that the party leaders had not picked him to replace then Mayor-elect Brown in the senate. Thompson eventually made it to the senate in 2006 when, with the support of Brown and Grassroots, he defeated Marc Coppola. It should come as no surprise that the Thompson/Coppola battle of 2006 forms the genesis of the hostility between the Lenihan and Brown political factions. Thompson then defeated then-Democrat Mark Grisanti in a primary race for the 60th Senate District seat in 2008. Grisanti ran as a Republican in 2010 and defeated Thompson that year. 

Since leaving government, Thompson has worked on the periphery of politics, nominally a real estate agent but also operating a newspaper and writing web pieces for former Joe Illuzzi associate Glenn Gramigna.

Actual ad on BlackWNY.com

 Throughout his short walk in the wilderness, Thompson has been seen at so many fundraisers and political gatherings that it was merely a matter of time before he jumped back into the life. In recent months, Thompson and Grassroots had been estranged from Byron Brown and his city hall political faction. Apparently, there’s been a rapprochement. 

This week, Mayor Brown appointed Mr. Thompson to become the head of BETC. The job pays almost $80,000 – more than what a state senator makes, exclusive of per diems and lulus – and Thompson’s experience in the private sector amounts to the last two years during which he’s been working as a real estate agent. Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney surmises that this hire gives Brown some cover against charges that his administration is overwhelmingly Caucasian. Perhaps, but this also placates Thompson and effectively removes him from politics, and therefore as a threat to Brown. It releases a pressure valve that would have conceivably seen Thompson challenge the Mayor in 2013, or one of the mayor’s allies in some other race. 

What can’t be forgotten in this instance is that Antoine Thompson’s tenure in the state senate was pockmarked with scandal. There was the bizarre  junket to Jamaica, where Thompson claimed to be on a trade mission, paid for with campaign funds. During the short-lived and wildly corrupt Democratic leadership of the state senate, Thompson’s behavior became brazen and strange. He got his staff to lie for him, had been accused of accepting money in exchange for influence on Racino management, and developed a reputation for being thought of as a statewide laughingstock.  He stiffed groups that relied on his member item handouts.  In his own life, Thompson stiffed his creditors to the tune of $5,700.  Thompson gave $1000 to the legal defense fund for convicted fraudster and woman-slasher Hiram Monseratte.

Thompson arranged for a $400,000 subsidy to Howard Milstein’s Niagara Falls Redevelopment, an outfit run by a billionaire chairman of the Thruway Authority that has redeveloped absolutely nothing. When Thompson suffered a minor pulled-muscle injury in a car crash and discovered that he wasn’t hurt enough to meet the tort threshold and file a personal injury suit, he tried to change the law

Then there was this

They claimed to have nobody on staff called John Taylor. They said the Albany staffer is Shawn Curry, a recent hire as a legislative assistant.

So who is John Taylor? That’s what we wanted to know. So we called him up.

The Post: “Hi, is this John Taylor?”

“Yes”

The Post: ” But isn’t your name really Shawn Curry? And if so why are you giving out a fake name from the Senator’s office?”

“Could you hold please . . .[in the same voice] This is Shawn Curry.”

The Post: “Why are you using a fake name from the Senator’s office, Shawn?”

“I am very busy, I have business to attend to, I can’t answer your question.”

Just the strangest.  

Antoine Thompson’s qualifications to run BETC are non-existent. Given his track record in elected office, I am at a loss to explain what position he may be qualified to hold in any arena. This is clearly a patronage hire, and a lucrative one, at that. But it’s the mayor’s position to fill, and he can select whomever he pleases. If Thompson’s track record of ineptitude continues, it will be Buffalo job-seekers who will be victimized by it. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those patronage scandals where a new position is created out of whole cloth in order to placate or reward a political associate; he is being hired to fill an existing position. 

Perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps containing Antoine Thompson is the best way to limit the damage that he can do. Think of it this way – while this hire may be simply horrible for people who turn to BETC for help, it may be good for the community at-large. With Antoine Thompson running a city agency for a decent salary, he has been effectively removed from the world of elected office. That means that we won’t have him running around trying to position himself for a return to the state senate or some other representative office.  Micro loss, macro win. 

There’s much more about Mr. Thompson’s past performance at our archives. Back in 2009, when asked why we need a state senate, Mr. Thompson gave this answer: 

 Maybe we collectively dodged a bullet here, folks. 

The Common Council’s Holiday Spirit

28 Dec
Occupy Buffalo

Occupy Buffalo, by Flickr user dhnieman

Each Buffalo Common Council member is allocated a certain budget to hire staffers. Some have two, others have three. North District Councilman Joe Golombek is leading a charge to limit the number to two, citing the legacy costs for a third staffer.

The Council members with three staffers are Kearns, LoCurto, and Rivera, and it’s a longstanding tradition that Councilmembers are free to staff their offices however they see fit. One council staffer tells me that the legacy costs for the three-staffer offices are negligible, since these three staffers share a pot of money in such a way that they are very poorly paid, many of whom work part-time, or are interns, never incurring any legacy costs at all. As to those who do incur legacy costs, it’s not breaking the city’s bank.

The joke of this is, as Mickey Kearns pointed out, that the city budgets for 200 – 250 vacancies every year. The incoming Fontana-led majority, (which I’m told Golombek agreed to join after being assured that he could make an issue out of this no-three-staffers issue), also plans to slash the pay of some key council staffers, and will add a $2,500 stipend to the President pro Tempore.

In other Common Council news, while the members were bickering and nickel-and-diming each other, the council punted again on proposed Food Truck legislation, sending it to the Legislative Committee, which meets next on Wednesday January 4th at 2pm.


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Photo by dhnieman.

 

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Placemaking: Canal Side Buffalo

30 Mar
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Fred Kent of the PPS

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

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

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

Four takeaways for me:

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

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

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

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

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

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About 3/4 of the crowd

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Fred Kent addresses the crowd

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Flexible Lawn: Inner Harbor

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Multi-Use Market: Inner Harbor

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Bistro

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Inner Harbor - click to enlarge

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Do Not Demolish! Click to enlarge

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Grain elevators: click to enlarge

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WHERE IS IT?! Click to enlarge

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Woof? Click to enlarge

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

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Passive-aggressive notes dot com: click to enlarge

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Shut down the Skyway: click to enlarge

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Don't forget!: click to enlarge

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Green dot: Click to enlarge

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As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

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As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

Buffalo, Steady As She Goes

23 Nov

Each quarter, I like to post the latest Metro Monitor Report to check on the relative health of the WNY economy and take a look at where we stand as compared to our regional and national peers.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution publishes a quarterly document titled The MetroMonitor.

The MetroMonitor is a quarterly, interactive barometer of the health of America’s 100 largest metropolitan economies. It examines trends in metropolitan-level employment, output, and housing conditions to look “beneath the hood” of national economic statistics to portray the diverse metropolitan trajectories of recession and recovery across the country.

Essentially, this report serves as a planning resource and a measurement tool for metropolitan progress.  While the Brookings Institution is the home of the dreaded “third way Democrats”, their data collection and research on metropolitan areas is valuable in innumerable ways.

Surprisingly, Buffalo rates as the 5th strongest performing metropolitan region in America.  Yes, you read that right.

The data can be interpreted to demonstrate that since Buffalo did not participate in the “boom” of the last twenty years, we didn’t really have a bubble to burst.  Or it can be interpreted to show that other cities have fallen so far that we now have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from Southern boomtowns and initiate a slow growth cycle.  I think it’s a mix of the two.  Our economy is resetting itself and the self-perpetuating high growth sprawl policies of the south and west are no longer proving to be sustainable strategies for economic development.

You can read the full report here and you can read a more focused report on the Great Lakes region here.

Here are some infographics built from the data in the report:

This first graphic demonstrates data based on four factors: “employment change from peak; unemployment rate change from one year ago; gross metropolitan product change from peak; and housing price index change from one year ago.”

The graphic below displays changes in employment for each of the 100 largest metro areas from: (a) the metro area’s peak employment quarter to the most recent quarter, measuring the extent to which employment has recovered from the recession’s full impact; and (b) the previous quarter to the most recent quarter, measuring whether employment is moving toward recovery.

The graphic below displays, for the 100 largest metro areas, the: (a) percentage of the labor force that is currently unemployed (not seasonally adjusted) in the last month of the most recent quarter; (b) change in the unemployment rate from the same month three years ago; and (c) change in the unemployment rate from the same month in the previous year (the same month is used in change calculations to account for seasonality):

This final chart shows the change in Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP)–the total value of goods and services produced from each metro area’s peak GMP quarter to the most recent quarter, measuring the extent to which output has recovered from the recession’s full impact.

Some addtional data drawn from the report:

  • House prices fell in the second quarter in all but six metropolitan areas, with Buffalo leading the nation in sustainable home prices.
  • Only 19 metropolitan areas had faster output growth in the second quarter of 2010 than in the first quarter. Buffalo was third fastest growth market.
  • We’re the market in the country with the fewest percentage of foreclosed homes.

I think the trend lines in this document are telling and can serve as a precursor to a larger discussion about our regional strategic priorities and how we can best position Buffalo for the coming new economy.  We see that the bust is still hitting Florida, California, and the entire Southeast and Southwest especially hard.  We see that many areas around the Great Lakes and Midwest are relatively stable.  Is our predictability and stability an asset?

If we had a big picture Mayor or County Executive, we might be chewing on the data and building a strategy focused on how to best position ourselves for growth.  Unfortunately, we’re (as usual) mired in petty political battles and barking at who gets to eat the last crumbs on the table.

If we had a proactive business community or regional development authority, we might be putting together a list of priorities to capitalize on weakness in other regions of the country rather than simply seeking public funding for pet projects.

Since none of the above is likely to happen due to our habit of (generally) electing mouthbreathers and half-wits to public office, how do we capitalize on general national economic weakness and make sure that we begin a period of slow growth rather than continue our decades long state of stasis/decline?  When do we stop focusing on the minimal out-migration of knowledge from our regional economy and instead focus on in-migration of highly educated people?  We’ve held steady through the past two recessions fairly well. Rather than just surviving, how do we capitalize?

If I were Mayor, I would start by identifying our differentiators from the regions glowing in red and marketing ourselves to the people and businesses of those regions.  I’d continue to align our public policy, planning documents and zoning code to capitalize on the opportunities presenting themselves and assemble a team of tacticians who can best build a better future for Buffalo.  I’d lean on the local University talent to help build a blueprint for success with measurable goals over five years.

After all, complex problems are not always complicated.

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If we prioritize, identify action items, separate them from eventualities and focus on attainable, measureable, incremental goals, we can start inching towards competence.

Does this data tell you anything interesting?  How do you see it as presented?

Council Punts on Derenda

14 Jul

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And in the end, the Buffalo Common Council punted on Daniel Derenda’s bid to become Police Commissioner. The Legislation Committee voted 4-2 to hold the issue until such time as they can inquire of the absent city HR director regarding the supposed, too-little-too-late “national search”.

As with many things in Buffalo City Government, a skeptical council faces off against an obstinate executive office and instead of something good or something bad happening, nothing happens.

As an aside, Councilman Joe Golombek, who is running against Sam Hoyt for State Assembly, is currently allied with the Mayor and voted in favor of the Derenda nomination whilst making concern-trolling mouth-noises to maintain a Saran-wrap-like sheen of “independence”.

Buffalo City Council Hearing Re: Daniel Derenda (UPDATED)

13 Jul

WNYMedia.net is streaming this live today via USTREAM.

A guy walked in a few minutes ago wearing a black t-shirt and holding a huge placard reading “Stop Police Corruption”. Derenda isn’t scheduled to speak until 3:15 4:00 at the earliest. Much of the criticism leveled against him has to do with the fact that the city promised, but evidently failed, to conduct a nationwide search for the police commissioner of the second-largest city in New York State.

Albany, on the other hand, performed just such a search, and even let the press write about the top nine candidates.

Compare and contrast.

UPDATE: Derenda begins his opening statement at around 4pm, going through his qualifications as commissioner. He is a HS graduate without a college degree, but claims that his police experience, together with his command experience, more than make up for that. Touts improving crime statistics in the City of Buffalo.

Derenda’s opening statement concludes with, “I am a city resident and have been; lifelong.”

Councilman Golombek is criticizing the Brown Administration for saying it would perform a nationwide search, but then not doing so. He also wonders why the mayor didn’t at least provide the qualifications of all of the interviewed candidates, even if the names themselves aren’t revealed. Olivia Licata, from the city’s HR department, states that there was a national search and 40 resumes were received and reviewed. That’s all the information she will provide. It was not until May 2010 that the nationwide search was begun, given the maximum 6 month deadline for an acting commissioner to serve, which began in December 2009. Golombek states that he will vote to confirm Derenda based on his qualifications, not on issues concerning the city’s search and transparency.

Mickey Kearns quizzes Derenda – how many servicepeople are in the BPD – the figure is 774, and Derenda breaks it down. 150 civilians work for the department. Derenda doesn’t know what the department’s budget is. Derenda created a BMHA housing unit for the BPD. From January – June 2010, there have been 27 homicides in the city of Buffalo, including one at a BMHA housing facility. Derenda likes two-man cars, and uses them to respond to hotspots. Supports precincts over districts, but recognizes that there are union issues.

I have to leave, and there are 7 additional councilmembers to go. Watch the WNYMedia.net feed on USTREAM.

The Three Dollar Job Killer?

17 Mar

In Buffalo, we don’t so much have progress as we have differing degrees of failure.

In Buffalo, we don’t so much have problems as we have problems of our own making, oftentimes plunged through with the best of intentions.

The Canal Side project on the inner harbor will exist thanks to massive expenditures of public money. $300 million in public money to build an open-air shopping center with pretty bricks. As a result, the city’s Common Council has unanimously passed a resolution, which amounts to a condition precedent to the city transferring the Bass Pro site to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. The city wants a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in place to ensure that there are green buildings, minority-owned businesses, affordable housing, and that workers at certain businesses earn a living wage.

Jim Heaney thinks the CBA is an important positive step. Brian Castner thinks the CBA will kill the deal. Specifically, Brian cites the “living wage” provision that would kick in for workers at any business employing more than twenty people (read: Bass Pro). He says the living wage is a “completely unrealistic number not paid by retail establishments anywhere in the country”. The details of any CBA have yet to be worked out, but here is how Buffalo defines a “living wage”:

Buffalo’s Living Wage Ordinance was passed unanimously in 1999 and amended in 2002 and 2007. It provides that certain workers must be paid a living wage. As of January 1, 2010, the rate is $10.57 if the worker receives health benefits from the employer and $11.87 if the employee does not. (The 2009 rate was $10.31 with benefits and $11.57 without).

The Ordinance applies to all City employees. It also applies to employees working under contracts with the City when the contract is for more than $50,000 and the employer has more than ten employees. Subcontractors are covered as well.

The city has made the policy determination that its employees, and employees working under city contracts, should earn what amounts to a couple of dollars more than what the McDonalds on Sheridan pays. The minimum wage in New York State right now is $7.25 per hour.

Is a $3 – 4 difference in hourly wages a dealbreaker for a Bass Pro, which is looking to be the recipient of millions of dollars in incentives, as part of a $300 million outlay of public money? I somewhat doubt it. Is it the best news to come out of City Hall in forever? I doubt that, too. But I think it’s unfair to criticize a city council as succumbing to special interests when the whole project is being publicly funded.

If someone wants to ensure that Canal Side is successful and return retail to Buffalo’s central business district, the creation of a sales tax-free zone, as recommended by the late, lamented WNY Coalition for Progress in July 2005, would be the best first step.

Hopefully, the CBA provisions will be negotiated in such a way that everyone can claim to be satisfied. Luckily, Buffalo is a major producer and net exporter of hope.