Tag Archives: Legislator Maria Whyte

Election Night Interviews

11 Nov

I’m still catching up on sleep and recovering from Election Night, and I’m still mulling over what I think Tuesday meant for our body politic, and for WNY’s near future.

So, in the meantime, here are interviews I conducted early Wednesday morning in a noisy and raucous Buffalo Adams Mark Hotel (which is quite literally a journey back in time to Hotel 1989). I spoke with Poloncarz spokesman Peter Anderson, County Clerk candidate Maria Whyte, and County Executive-elect Mark Poloncarz.

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Podcast the Third: Candidates’ Night

26 Oct

As promised, the podcast I recorded featuring interviews with Maria Whyte, Ed Rath, and Mark Poloncarz.

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You can click here to subscribe to it on iTunes.

The 2011 Clarence League of Women Voters Candidate Forum

25 Oct

Last night I attended the always entertaining Clarence candidates’ forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. I interviewed a few participants last night and will have a podcast of that up later on. Here’s what I saw:

1. Chris Collins lives in Spaulding Lake, which is about a 1/2 mile from Clarence Town Hall, where the debate was held. Mark Poloncarz lives in the city of Buffalo, about 25 miles away.  Poloncarz was there last night, but no one from Collins’ campaign bothered to show up. There was just one piece of lit. Poloncarz had the floor and answered tough questions from the audience about library financing, whether he’d take a salary (yes, and so does Collins, BTW), infrastructure, the Bills, volunteer fire departments, and cultural funding. He answered all with aplomb, got in some shots at his opponent’s hyperpolitics and mismanagement, and in the end reminded the audience that someone asking for their vote should have the balls to come before them and do it in person. Astonishing that Collins can’t be bothered to talk to us commoners.

2. Councilmember Joe Weiss showed up and, even though he resigned from the town board in September and is only on a minor party line, decided to take an opportunity to “debate” Bob Geiger and Bernie Kolber in the council race. Weiss took the opportunity to mock Geiger, to call Kolber always late and unprepared, and to denigrate Scott Bylewski with obnoxious falsehoods. He insisted he isn’t a bully, and no one in the room was having it. Weiss ambushed everyone and a large audience saw just what a dick he is.

3. Ed Rath met his opponent Toni Vazquez. Ms. Vazquez talked about her knowledge of health care issues and how the county is instrumental in administering and paying for health care for the needy. Rath talked about his record. The first question – why do we need a county government. Awesome – but Rath sort of punted and answered much like Antoine Thompson did when we asked the same of the state Senate, reciting what the county does, but not answering the larger existential question. We clean that up in the upcoming podcast.

4. Maria Whyte is an energetic campaigner, and she’s running for County Clerk.  This is a largely ministerial position and the best anyone can do is make it less of a horror for people to use the clerk’s office. Both she and her opponent, Chris Jacobs, pledge to innovate and reform so that people’s involvement with county government is as swift and un-horrible as possible. Jacobs touted his foundation (I’m rich!), which donates scholarships to underprivileged kids to attend private and parochial schools in the area. Interesting, that. First of all, it has nothing to do with anything – so, he’s loaded and wants to help poor inner city kids. That’s great. So would I if I was born into billions. But secondly, the only elected office Jacobs has ever held has been in the City of Buffalo’s board of education. He can’t run on his record there, so the best he can do is point to the fact that he has helped kids escape the horrible learning conditions in the city schools over which he helped preside. Not a winning strategy, IMO, and look for Whyte to capitalize on this.

5. The Clarence Supervisor’s race between David Hartzell and incumbent Scott Bylewski. It’s no secret that Scott is a friend of mine, so my bias is quite clear. At one point, Hartzell needed a question repeated to him – “what is your vision for Clarence”? Bylewski had answered about how he wants to preserve the town’s rural and agricultural character, and cited our master plan and other growth strategies to achieve that. Hartzell mocked Bylewski’s answer, and then gave his own – that his vision was business development. As the debate wore on, Hartzell’s only answer to everything was to give stuff away to businesses. He’s a consummate beancounter who sees everything as a balance sheet, rather than something that has a positive or negative net effect on people. But his counting? Not so good. When asked about volunteer fire department consolidation (a non-issue in town, by the way), Hartzell said he had studied similar suburban towns throughout the country, and all of them were just like Clarence; that they all had about 3 fire districts.  The crowd murmured at that – we have 6 VFD special districts in town, one overarching fire district. He doesn’t have his facts right.  Another big issue is a prospective ice rink proposed by Eastern Hills Mall. It would ultimately cost the town money, and it’s in the early planning stages. Weiss and Hartzell enjoyed complaining (a) that the process was going too slowly; and (b) it shouldn’t cost the town money and should go to referendum. That’s quite a dance.

The most powerful part of this debate? When Scott cited Hartzell’s own endorsement of him on LinkedIn:

Scott Bylewski is an excellent supervisor. He loves Clarence, and is always working for the good of the town. Prior to his assuming the office of Supervisor, he excelled as a committeeman. Scott was well known for his preparation, presentation and firm grasp of local issues. As supervisor, Scott is constantly fighting to keep taxes down. Scott is an unusually successful politican…able to reach across the asile to work with members of both parties for the good of the town.

Scott will not retire as Supervisor of the Town of Clarence…his energy and talent will carry him far from the confines of One Town Place.The citizens of the Town of Clarence are lucky to have a man of Scott’s caliber to steward the continued growth and development of this special place called Clarence, New York.” January 9, 2009

2ndDavid HartzellPresident and CEO, Cornell Capital Management
was with another company when working with Scott at Town of Clarence

Bylewski read excerpts from it out loud, and said he was proud of that and agrees with it. Hartzell? He mouthed some nonsense about it being 4 years ago, and that Scott was now a “career politician”. People laughed.

November 8th is election day, and you should be attending as many of these candidates’ forums as you can to see these people up close. Watch them answer questions and offer their visions and plans. It’s quite eye-opening.

As I mentioned earlier, a podcast will be up shortly.

Scenes from the Verizon Strike

11 Aug

A series taken during yesterday’s rally at the Verizon building in downtown Buffalo, where the Communications Worker’s Union, (CWA) is on strike against Verizon.

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Maria Whyte to Chris Collins: Come Out And Plaaaaaaay

13 Dec

Forgive the allusion to the epic film, “The Warriors“, but Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte (D, Buffalo) is essentially banging three beer bottles together and asking  Erie County Executive Chris Collins and his gang to come out of hiding and back up their assertion that the amended Erie County Budget raises taxes.

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“Chris Collins is a schoolyard bully and we’re here to say enough is enough”, says Legislator Whyte.  “Collins has repeatedly said in his radio commercials and in robo-calls to voters that the amended Erie County budget raises taxes, he hasn’t shown anyone how that is true”.

Legislator Lynn Marinelli (D, Kenmore) added, “We’re a ‘show me”, not a ‘tell me’ legislature.  We’ve shown line by line how our budget returns money to the taxpayers and fully funds all cultural organization, the Erie County library and the Erie County Comptroller’s office, Mr. Collins has not shown us anything to the contrary.”

Today, the Democrats provided a full line by line accounting of the adjustments made to the County Executive’s proposed 2011 budget and distributed it to the media.  Click here to see the numbers.

Within the Spreadsheet you will find various worksheets. The sheet titled “2011 Legislature Amendments” is a compilation of all of the cuts that were approved to the Budget along with an explanation for each line. The sheet titled “FB Analysis” shows current and historical analysis of the amounts the Legislature approved for several fringe benefits lines in County Departments. The remainder of the worksheets simply break out the information included in the “2011 Legislature Amendments” worksheet by category.

The Legislature made some significant cuts in order to fully fund libraries, culturals and the several other departments. Most notably, cuts to salary for the Deputy County Executive, County Attorney and a reduction in the county risk retention fund and workers compensation account.

The County Executive had set aside $3 Million in the risk retention fund (used for defending the county in lawsuits) whereas the Legislature funded that line item at $1 Million for 2011. The legislature committee defended the cut by producing evidence that the remainder of the 2010 risk retention fund would roll over to 2011. The fund currently has $5.5 Million in deposits and the actual amount spent per year over the last three years was $2.69 Million.

“The Democrat Majority did not raise taxes.  No one should raise taxes in these tough economic times,” said Legislator Christina Bove (D-West Seneca), “and our amendment package reflects that priority.”

The County Executive was not present during the hearing and has yet to provide any document which provides this level of clarity on individual budget lines.

Also, the County Executive did not send anyone to the hearing from his budget team, including his Director of Budget and Management, Greg Gach, who is on vacation…during the budget crisis. Mr. Collins did have his Chief of Staff send a text message to the Legislature’s Chief of Staff to inform them that he would not be attending the meeting due to his work on his upcoming State of The County Address.

Priorities.

After the Legislature met, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz held an impromptu press conference

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Shortly thereafter, the Democrat majority held their own press conference.

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Essentially, Maria Whyte is calling the bluff of Legislator Kevin Hardwick (R, Tonawanda) who said he would support the amended budget if it could be proven that it did not raise taxes.  Hardwick would be the critical tenth vote to override any of the potential vetoes from the County Executive.  Whyte feels she has done the work to demonstrate that and it is now up to Collins to prove otherwise.

Now, we wait to see if Collins comes out to play…

Working Families Face Subsidy Cut

21 Jan

TANF Marketing Poster

Last week, during my interview with Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte, we spoke at length about a significant change to a local subsidy program for the working poor, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. (TANF).

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TANF is a central pillar in the “welfare to work” programs popular in the last two decades which have ideological roots running back as far as the Nixon Administration. It’s a Republican welfare reform program crafted and co-opted by Bill Clinton back in his Triangulation days.

Until recently, the program provided subsidies to families at 200% of the federal poverty level. With the state deficit reaching epic levels, Erie County currently spends nearly $10MM more than allocated to the county by New York State’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Under the new plan proposed by Erie County Executive Chris Collins, the income ceiling for eligibility is lowered to 125% of the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four earning $27,563.00 would be ineligible for the program. This will result in an estimated 1500 children, 42% of current recipients, being removed from the program and their families no longer being able to work. In most cases, those families would then transition back to the direct welfare program.

Last night, there was a public hearing on the proposed reduction of daycare subsidies at the Delavan-Grider Community Center on Buffalo’s East Side. The comments from the community confirmed what many think would be the result of enacting these cuts, a return of many families to the public assistance rolls and an increase in unemployment.

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These people do not receive free daycare, they receive a subsidy and pay for the services they need. Without the subsidy, recipients working in low wage service or manufacturing positions simply won’t be able to afford to work.

There have been numerous studies (here’s one from CQResearcher) conducted on whether these workfare programs (or means tested benefits) provide a proper safety net for families or afford them the ability to permanently remove themselves from public assistance. What often works best are a mix of these temporary programs, nutritional subsidies, earned income tax credits and education/job training programs.

We’re now at a point where these programs are being cut and will result in an increase in need for direct welfare and unemployment subsidy. If you’re scoring at home, that’s not a net positive for municipal governments.

Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte

18 Jan

As Chris writes, we here at WNYMedia.net have started a series of interviews with Erie County Legislators, discussing small-picture issues such as the reform bona fides of the “reform coalition”, the involvement of Steve Pigeon in its creation, as well as big-picture issues such as regionalism, reform, spending priorities, and my personal favorite – the need for a county government at all.

I have come to the conclusion that 99% of the things that the legislature does is ministerial.  You could literally program a computer and tell it to fund various programs that the state or federal governments mandates, and you’re all done.

So I eagerly await each legislator’s discussion about why we need 15 people and staff to argue about things that generally wouldn’t and shouldn’t be argued about.

Firstly, Maria Whyte discusses why the Collins Coalition’s decision to change the income maximum for county-subsidized day care will result in more people unable to work, going back to straight welfare.

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Secondly, she discusses the fact that Chris Collins has deepened the rift between suburb and city more than any other countywide leader in history, why the idea that the Collins Coalition is one pushing “reform” is a joke, Pigeon’s promises, and the kicker – Whyte had sponsored a bill that would have professionalized the hiring process for legislative staff.  “Reform Coalition” member, and current legislative chair Barbara Miller-Williams strangled the bill to death in committee for two years.

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If you have specific questions you want asked of any particular legislators, let us know.

Interview With Maria Whyte

18 Jan

Last week, I sat down for a lengthy interview with Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Maria Whyte.  This is part of a new series in which we’ll interview each sitting legislator and ask about the reform coalition, policy, spending, the need for county government and several “big picture” issues like regionalism, publicly financed elections, regional planning, IDA consolidation, etc.

In the first part of the interview, Legislator Whyte takes Erie County Executive Chris Collins to task for his proposal to cut the day care subsidy for low income working families in Erie County.  This is a central pillar in the “welfare to work” programs popular in the last two decades with ideological roots running back to the Nixon Administration.  Until recently, the program provided subsidies to families at 200% of the federal poverty level.  With the state deficit reaching critical levels, Erie County currently spends nearly $10MM more than allocated to the county by New York State’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.  Under the new plan proposed by Collins, the income ceiling for eligibility is lowered to 125% of the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four earning $27,563.00 would be ineligible for the program.  This will result in an estimated 1500 children, 42% of current recipients, being removed from the program and their families no longer being able to work.  In most cases, those families would then transition back to the direct welfare program.

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In the second part of the interview, we delve into matters of politics.  Legislator Whyte takes on the idea of the “reform coalition”, the involvement of Steve Pigeon in the process, the hiring of a sitting party boss to the legislature staff, the hiring of a Pedro Espada staffer onto the legislature staff, her plan (buried in committee by Barbara Miller-Williams for two years) to professionalize the hiring process at the legislature, the urban/suburban divide in county politics and regional planning.

While Maria Whyte is the nominal Majority Leader of the Legislature, she is distinctly in the minority as three of her Democratic party members have built a majority coalition with the Republicans. She also reveals that Steve Pigeon had called each of her Democratic colleagues and offered them the position of majority leader if they were willing to join and legitimize the “reform coalition”.

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