Tag Archives: ethics

Esmonde Goes For Disclosure

25 Sep

In response to this article I wrote about a week ago, Donn Esmonde adds this to a column about killing skunks

Mea culpa: I wrote three columns in the last two years concerning or mentioning the efforts of charter school advocate Steven Polowitz. In them, I failed to note that Polowitz – whom I have known for more than 20 years – and I became partners in 2010 in a Florida investment property. The business relationship did not influence my stance on charter schools, which I have supported for more than a decade, nor did it affect my view of Polowitz’s charter school activism, which I had previously written about. Nonetheless, I should have disclosed the association.

To anyone wondering why I keep writing horrible and mean things about Donn Esmonde, consider this piece he wrote in late May about the Clarence school budget fight, and this quote in particular:

“Make no mistake: Come budget-approval time, officials in every school district are masters at pushing parents’ emotional buttons and propping up false choices. It goes like this: Vote for the budget, or you will force us to cut (choose your poison) sports/music/field trips/foreign language.”

Guess what? Turns out, it wasn’t false. They got cut. 33 clubs, 13 teams, and these courses: 

So Donn Esmonde can take his self-righteous bucket of hypocritical geographic animus and shove it up his ass. He hates Clarence because it’s just like his neighborhood, only not in his neighborhood. He hates kids in Clarence because they’re just like his kids, only not in Buffalo. 

Now? A shitload of parents are working their asses off to try and raise money to fix what Donn Esmonde knowingly helped to break.

When an influential columnist comes by your house and intentionally propagandizes to do palpable, real harm to your kid’s education, you get back to me on that.

Do you have information about Donn Esmonde that you think I should know about? I figure non-disclosure of a business relationship with a longtime source is just the tip of the iceberg – smoke from a larger fire. Let me know what you know. buffalopundit[at]gmail.com

Esmonde’s Exceptional Ethics

19 Sep

Let’s get something clear, here. Donn Esmonde is a hypocrite. He is a semi-retired former-and-current City/Region columnist for the Buffalo News. Donn Esmonde thinks your kid deserves a quality education, including (but not limited to) charter schools; however, that right to a quality education miraculously ceases to exist, in his mind, at precisely the borders of the city of Buffalo. To Donn Esmonde, there is no greater sin in the world than the sin of “choosing to live outside Buffalo city limits.” The evidence for this was most starkly measured when he devoted two or three columns specifically to convince Clarence taxpayers to do genuine harm to the quality of that town’s school district. He succeeded in this mission. 

Make no mistake – the “Donn Esmonde is an ass” series stems directly from that, and if I wasn’t writing for Artvoice it would be named something profoundly more profane. Esmonde went on and on about the evil, greedy teacher’s union while failing to disclose that his wife belongs to one. He went on and on about how unconscionable it is for union workers to enjoy good wages and benefits, given that he and his wife have enjoyed union benefits for most – if not all – of their work-lives. He went on and on about these things without disclosing his own conflicts and biases. 

I don’t write about stuff in which I have a personal financial interest without disclosing it. 

Part of Esmonde’s shtick has been to promote the advent and growth of charter schools within city limits. In some instances, charters help kids in underperforming traditional schools to get a good education. In some instances, charters help the wealthy and well-connected families living within the city to provide their kids with a suburban school experience without packing up boxes and renting a U-Haul. In some instances, charters simply fail

Whatever. You do what’s right for your kids and their education if you care enough and have the means to do it. There’s no second chances, and you don’t have the luxury of waiting around for stuff to get better. You move to where schools are good, you apply for a charter school, you get your kids to take entrance exams for schools that need it, you go parochial or private, or you just stay put and try hard to make sure that your kid’s education – and every kid’s education – is as good as it can possibly be.  These are not just personal choices, but societal ones – as a general rule, we want well-educated kids because the alternative is horrible. For everyone. 

I don’t begrudge any parent’s choice regarding what he thinks is best for his kid. So, what does undisclosed bias have to do with anything? 

In 2000, Esmonde wrote a column about the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s effort to help charter schools in Buffalo start up.  

The Tapestry Charter School was one of Buffalo’s three finalists, but didn’t make last month’s final cut. Tapestry’s Steven Polowitz said their grass-roots effort could have used a Partnership loan fund.

“I can’t say for sure it would have made the difference (in getting a charter),” said Polowitz. “But it would have eliminated a significant question.”

In 2007, he wrote a column blasting a tax incentive given to big-money waterfront condo owners

“This is not a marginal neighborhood where you’re trying to induce people to buy [with tax breaks],” said community development attorney Steven Polowitz. “How do you reconcile giving away the store for high-end condos in a coveted area?”

In 2011, Esmonde again pimped the charters as a way to bypass failing Buffalo schools. 

“Charters are the only option that lets you make the fundamental structural changes that give these schools the best chance for success,” Steven Polowitz said.

Polowitz is a longtime charter advocate who 10 years ago co-founded the successful Tapestry charter. He is now with Chameleon Community Schools Project, a nonprofit that develops charter schools. Polowitz laid out a charter turnaround plan for James Williams just before he left as superintendent. Interim successor Amber Dixon said she is open to the charter option. I think she — and the School Board — ought to be.

These seven schools need more than cosmetic surgery. That translates into — among other things — a longer school day; smaller class sizes; an expanded school year; more classroom aides; social workers and counselors on staff; and keeping the building open for everything from after-school tutoring to child care. It will not happen in a district where contract rules stifle options and slow-track change. It only comes with restriction-lite charters.

“You can interchange parts,” Polowitz said, “but if the fundamental structure remains, it won’t make much difference.”

In fairness to Buffalo teachers, counteracting the baggage of broken homes and battered neighborhoods these kids carry into the classroom is a near-impossible job. Schools, to some degree, don’t “fail”; they simply get overstuffed with desperately needy kids. Which is why it makes sense for hurting schools to be taken over by the academic version of a SWAT team: flexible, fast on its feet and able to use every educational weapon, from alternative curriculums to business partnerships.

If schools are reinvented as charters, kids stay in the same building. Teachers either move to another school or reapply for their jobs, likely with similar pay and benefits — but without seniority and job protection. Granted, charters are only as good as the people running them. But if you need change — and these seven schools are at cliff’s edge — charters are the Extreme Makeover.

In 2012, Esmonde effectively dedicated an entire column to Steven Polowitz hagiography

“We are concerned about education in the city,” said Steve Polowitz, “and have been for years.”

Polowitz is part of the pack of reformers who are trying – against all odds – to transform two of Buffalo’s 28 failing schools into public charter schools. The folks behind the nonprofit push are taking fire from a Board of Ed that has yet to grasp the enormity of its failing-schools crisis. On the other parapet is a teachers union determined to protect its ever-shrinking turf.

If every verbal blow the reformers have taken were a punch, Polowitz would be a walking bruise.

He is 61, a rail-thin attorney with silvery hair and impeccable school-reform credentials. Eleven years ago, he and four others founded Tapestry Charter School. It is arguably the most successful charter in Buffalo. The public charter school, which since expanded through high school, last year got 1,200 applications for 200 spots.

Here’s a dissenting voice

After all Polowitz and Co. are all ready running Tapestry Charter School, you know the one with the fewest students receiving reduced price lunches of any school in the city limits, the school whose students must have private transportation, wink nudge, and we know who that’s going to keep out of the lottery don’t we ? Essentially this guy and his crew are running a private school full of middle to upper middle class kids with the ever present charter spectre of “counseling out” a.k.a. “expelling” any kid who shows a learning, emotional or behavioral issue. If you can shoot fish in a barrel your aim doesn’t have to be all that good.

Who is Steven Polowitz? Damned if I know, except from these Esmonde columns, a guy who helped start Tapestry Charter School, and someone who is a “community development attorney.” Just, y’know, random school advocate guy. 

Random guy? 

Donn Esmonde and Steven Polowitz (and their wives) are co-owners of a property in Spring Hill, Florida, just north of Tampa. 

While Esmonde touts his city-resident cred, he co-owns a very suburban, very sprawltastic single-family home in a subdivision outside of Tampa, Florida. It’s unit 12 in that particular subdivision, and has a market value of around $86,000, but possibly as low as $75,000 – it’s okay, though – the mortgage is for $66,000. With an area of just over 2,000 square feet, the house was placemade in 2004 and began to matter for Esmonde and Polowitz in 2010.  The annual property taxes are a low $1,400, and the home has 3 bedrooms. Here it is: 

Could use some better landscaping. Maybe some flowers or something. 

Sadly, the previous owners bought the place for $210,000 – Esmonde and Polowitz got it for a steal, and the prior owner took a hit of $130,000 at the time – in fact, Deutsche Bank moved to foreclose on the property in 2009.  The previous owners were a husband and wife from Buffalo who owned a paving company here, and their 2005 mortgage was for $168,000 – twice what the property is now worth. 

I don’t care about Donn Esmonde’s sprawly vacation home, or that his kids went to an exam school (away from the riff-raff), or that he is a massive hypocrite who harbors a geographical animus towards children. But one would suppose that, if I was to write a glowing blog post about someone with whom I co-owned a vacation home, I’d let you guys know about it one way or another.

Donn Esmonde hates the suburbs, except when he lives in them.  

McCarthy's Quote of the Week: Roll Call

18 Nov

Why won’t Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy cite his sources?

In Sunday’s column, he writes

• Quote of the Week comes from Congressman-elect Chris Collins, who while in Washington a few days ago mistakenly found himself in a caucus room with people like Nancy Pelosi – and not John Boehner.

According to one congressional source attending, Republican Collins – breakfast plate in hand – suddenly rushed over to him and asked: “Wait … what meeting is this?” – only to be told he was in the Democratic caucus.

“Oh s***, I’m in the wrong meeting,” Collins was quoted as saying. “Where are the Republicans meeting?”

New Chief of Staff Chris Grant seems to be getting the hang of Washington spin.

“Congressman-elect Collins believes very strongly in reaching bipartisan solutions to fix this country’s problems,” Grant said. “What better way to accomplish that than introducing himself to his colleagues on the other side of the aisle?”

Quoted where? To whom? Why did McCarthy so cavalierly write this up without mentioning his source; that it was printed online several days ago? The way in which he writes it for the News, you’d think it was his story – that some source of McCarthy’s provided him with these quotes. 

Well, if you read AV Daily, you’d have known on Thursday that the story came from the “Heard on the Hill” section of Roll Call. The byline for that story is Warren Rojas, and every single quote that McCarthy co-opts as his own come from Rojas’ story posted last Wednesday. An NYU handbook for journalism students explains

“Sources” may also be defined as research material, including newspapers, magazines, books, research reports, studies, polls, radio, television, newsreels, documentaries, movies, audio podcasts or video from the Web. All such sources, particularly secondary sources, should be carefully vetted. Good journalists don’t simply extract information, or claims, from written or broadcast material; they check that material against other or similar material for accuracy. Just because something is published doesn’t mean it’s accurate or fair. Wikipedia, for example, is not always an accurate source and should not be cited as such. 

The reporter must clearly indicate where information comes from. Failure to disclose your reliance on someone else’s work is unethical, and can leave readers or viewers in the dark about the legitimacy of the information. This does  not hold true if something is a well-known fact that is beyond reasonable dispute. For example, it would not be necessary to cite a source for “John Adams was the second president of the United States.”

McCarthy’s quote of the week comes from Roll Call, not Chris Collins. Omitting the source for his material is unethical. 

McCarthy’s Quote of the Week: Roll Call

18 Nov

Why won’t Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy cite his sources?

In Sunday’s column, he writes

• Quote of the Week comes from Congressman-elect Chris Collins, who while in Washington a few days ago mistakenly found himself in a caucus room with people like Nancy Pelosi – and not John Boehner.

According to one congressional source attending, Republican Collins – breakfast plate in hand – suddenly rushed over to him and asked: “Wait … what meeting is this?” – only to be told he was in the Democratic caucus.

“Oh s***, I’m in the wrong meeting,” Collins was quoted as saying. “Where are the Republicans meeting?”

New Chief of Staff Chris Grant seems to be getting the hang of Washington spin.

“Congressman-elect Collins believes very strongly in reaching bipartisan solutions to fix this country’s problems,” Grant said. “What better way to accomplish that than introducing himself to his colleagues on the other side of the aisle?”

Quoted where? To whom? Why did McCarthy so cavalierly write this up without mentioning his source; that it was printed online several days ago? The way in which he writes it for the News, you’d think it was his story – that some source of McCarthy’s provided him with these quotes. 

Well, if you read AV Daily, you’d have known on Thursday that the story came from the “Heard on the Hill” section of Roll Call. The byline for that story is Warren Rojas, and every single quote that McCarthy co-opts as his own come from Rojas’ story posted last Wednesday. An NYU handbook for journalism students explains

“Sources” may also be defined as research material, including newspapers, magazines, books, research reports, studies, polls, radio, television, newsreels, documentaries, movies, audio podcasts or video from the Web. All such sources, particularly secondary sources, should be carefully vetted. Good journalists don’t simply extract information, or claims, from written or broadcast material; they check that material against other or similar material for accuracy. Just because something is published doesn’t mean it’s accurate or fair. Wikipedia, for example, is not always an accurate source and should not be cited as such. 

The reporter must clearly indicate where information comes from. Failure to disclose your reliance on someone else’s work is unethical, and can leave readers or viewers in the dark about the legitimacy of the information. This does  not hold true if something is a well-known fact that is beyond reasonable dispute. For example, it would not be necessary to cite a source for “John Adams was the second president of the United States.”

McCarthy’s quote of the week comes from Roll Call, not Chris Collins. Omitting the source for his material is unethical. 

Massa’s Shock Disclosure: He Curses When Drunkedly Joking

8 Mar

Via Rochester Turning, Eric Massa (NY-29)explains what all the “sexual harrassment” fuss is about:

I have to come find out that on New Year’s Eve, I went to a staff party — it was actually a wedding for a staff member of mine. There were 250 people there. I was with my wife, and in fact we had a great time. She got the stomach flu, I went down to sing Auld Lang Syne. And with cameras on me — I’m talking three of them — filming me, I danced with the bride, and I danced with the bridesmaid. Absolutely nothing occurred.

I said goodnight to the bridesmaid. I sat at down at the table where my whole staff was, all of them, by the way bachelors. One of them looked at me and — as they would do after, I don’t know, 15 gin and tonics and goodness only knows how many bottles of champagne — a staff member made an intonation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the bridesmaid. His points were clear and his words were far more colorful than that.

And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and I said, ‘What I really ought to be doing is frakking you,’ and then tossled the guy’s hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where I shouldn’t be there.

Was that inappropriate of me? Absolutely.

Is that even remotely similar or comparable to, e.g., what Mark Foley did? Absolutely not. Top top it off, Massa went on the radio yesterday to allege that the ethics inquiry is politically motivated to push him out of the House in order to get final resolution on health care reform. Massa has been a no vote for anything not containing a strong and vibrant public option. He even suggested that he might rescind his resignation.

So, now that we know the genesis of the sexual harassment claim against Massa, I wholeheartedly condemn his drunken use of the word “fuck” to connote sexual intercourse with a man in a joking manner after a wedding reception.

In the meantime, I reiterate my earlier statement. I’m disappointed in his retirement, and saddened by the news that his cancer has re-appeared. Best wishes to him – a principled and honorable guy.

H.E. Duke Pedro Espada de Mamaroneck

5 Jan

The Mercedes-Benz S600 sedan is the luxury carmaker’s most expensive.  The 2010 S600 has a starting price of $150,000.  The 2005 model ranged between $75,000 – $125,000 when new.  It is the top of the line. The state of the art.  About as expensive (if not more so)  than the median home price in Western New York.

Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. is the majority leader of the New York State Senate.  He attained that position after helping to hold the senate hostage for a few months last year, and collecting perks and promises in exchange for his return to the Democratic fold.   He is the head of a “non-profit” health care business that paid him a salary of $460,000 in 2007, but is delinquent on withholding taxes.   Although he represents a district in the Bronx, it is common knowledge that his real home is in Mamaroneck, in Westchester County.

Pedro Espada is scumbag di tutti scumbags.  A phony, lying, manipulative, self-centered, power-hungry boil on the ass that is Albany politics.

His reason for being is to enrich himself on the public teat.

The Senate Majority Leader parked his Mercedes S600 in front of a fire hydrant in a neighborhood in the Bronx that has had some tragic fires lately, displaying some sort of parking permit, which, regardless of its validity, does not permit him to block a hydrant under any circumstances.

Aside from the fact that parking in front of a fire hydrant is illegal (for everyone) for a purpose, and aside from the fact that deliberately hindering the work of first responders is a scumbag thing to do, this is emblematic of a certain subset of the political class in New York State.  This is not the first time I’ve posted about political hacks abusing parking rules that apply uniformly to all, and conduct like this conveys a holier-than-thou, more-equal-than-others mindset that certain apparatchiks and hackerati have in this state.

Here’s what I wrote about the practice in Buffalo in 2005:

All of these illegally parked vehicles have one thing in common – the imprimatur of officialdom. Whether we’re talking about a dark blue Plymouth minivan (AZR-6294)with a placard that reads: “Mahoney State Office Building Parking : 60th District” or a Ford pickup (CYX-6137), sporting a huge “Brown for Mayor” sign on the side, or a gold Toyota Camry (BNS-9769) there for “Official Use: Office of the Comptroller”, or a green Jeep Cherokee (6DJ-104) with a placard that reads: “Official Use: NYS Executive Department”, it’s bad form.

A white Ford SUV (DGE-2198) purports to be doing official Comptroller business has been spotted, as has a Honda Sedan (AKR-6606). A Green Chevy Malibu (BVP-6921) has thought nothing of parking illegally, as well as a Black Chevy Trailblazer (APP-3758).

Other placards that have been sighted include: “Official Police Vehicle” and “Official State Senate Business”. Another Trailblazer (1906-AMT) was there for “Official Business – Buffalo City Council.”

Average schmucks who commute in cars downtown don’t enjoy the same privilege.

Yet people who work for us in an official capacity (or, at least, have dash placards that say so), take it upon themselves to act above the law. When they park illegally they’re blocking deliveries, or in some cases blocking the curb-cuts for the handicapped. They obstruct driving lanes on the streets.

Sure, this is petty and not a huge issue in the vast scheme of things, but it underscores a perception that we average folks have of our state and local officials having an arrogant sense of their own power – of entitlement and privilege. Their own personal convenience trumps everyone else’s, and the city’s rules, to boot.

And, by the way, when a non-placarded car tries to pull the same stunt, it gets a ticket while the “official” vehicle remains unmolested.

Is this the kind of “leadership” Buffalo is in for if Senator Brown becomes Mayor Brown?

Five years on, we know that it is.  Oh, how it is.  In Espada’s case, it’s not unexpected, and it just adds to the ethical failure he is.

What more must this person do before he is prosecuted by a district attorney or by the Attorney General?

(Photo by BoogieDowner)

Bruno Indicted

24 Jan

Former State Senate majority leader Joe Bruno was indicted yesterday on 8 delicious, corruption-laden charges. The Albany Project suggests it indicts not only Bruno, but New York’s entire ethics scheme.

While I’m sure everyone is shocked – SHOCKED – that a state lawmaker would use his public position for personal gain, it’s great to see Bruno flail around about it all like a fish in a bucket.

A Petition Regarding Palin’s Ethics Violation

13 Oct

Contrary to unpopular belief, you don’t have to be a 1st Amendment scholar to conclude that Sarah and Todd Palin improperly and unethically abused her power in order to fire a cabinet member who wouldn’t improperly fire a state trooper against whom the Palins had a personal vendetta.

So, a petition is here for your perusal and signing.