Tag Archives: Western New York

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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Running the County Like Honduras

19 Oct

Dear Chris Collins and your patronage minions in the Board of Elections:

If you’re going to try and steal the election, you should be less obvious about it. You needn’t send the pre-marked ballots to actual people. Incidentally, how is Michael Mallia enjoying his new patronage job there? I guess the private sector isn’t good enough for some of you free marketeers.

Love, BP

He’s Trying! #notreally

25 Sep

Kudos to the Buffalo News’ Mark Sommer for exposing a convicted tax cheat and apparent charlatan for his disorganized joke of a “film festival”.

If I had a nickel for every time the disorganizer of some half-baked event or project denounced someone at WNYMedia in this way, I’d be a millionaire:

[exposing me for what I am] is not helping the area by doing this,” he said, warning negative press on him or the festival “would harm the region.”

No, promoting falsehoods and taking money you’re not entitled to from naive people is a bigger harm to the region. A more pervasive problem are the promoters of a relentless and uncritical positivity, which unwittingly helps to poison this region.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to disparage anyone who is making an effort to do something good for Western New York,” said Lockport Common Council President Richelle J. Pasceri.

No, he’s apparently lying to people and stealing from them. You should want to disparage him; that sort of conduct deserves disparagement.

Blind or uncritical positivity is the fuel of mediocrity and “good enough” stasis. In cases like this, it leads to apparent fraud and larceny.

What Could Have Been

19 Sep

Click to enlarge

So many words have been written about where WNY went wrong, mistakes we’ve made, how we’ve been a field town and not a HQ for much of the last century, and how we’ve ceded businesses, people, industry, and ideas to other parts of the country.

We’re trying to reverse that decline now through the growth and promotion of a knowledge-based economy.  Big, subsidized projects like the medical corridor and UB expansion on the one hand, and small business incubators and venture capital networks on the other, are slowly making a very real impact, helping to lurch this region out of a longstanding economic, social, and (hopefully, eventually) political morass.

But rewind some 60 years, and there was a plan in place that, had it been implemented, would have guaranteed that Southern Ontario and Western New York would have been an economic powerhouse.

Navy Island is an uninhabited green blip on the map, sitting in the Niagara River between Grand Island and the Ontario shore.  After World War II, as the United Nations was being formulated and ideas for its headquarters were being considered, Navy Island was a top contender.  Because of its location between – and easy access from – two friendly nations, Navy Island would have been a better symbolic choice for the UN than the East Side of Manhattan, and a less expensive, less congested one, as well.  Turning a small island over to a peacekeeping organization with deep pockets, turning it into an international zone employing and attracting tens of thousands of diplomatic, secretarial, and administrative staff to southern Ontario and western New York would have had a billion-dollar impact today.

The ancillary economic impact from all those well-remunerated people engaging in the local economy is unfathomable today, and would have attracted businesses, schools, investors, people, and money.

Instead, the UN is on the East River, on land bought with a donation from the Rockefellers.  Had the UN been located in WNY, I wonder how much different this region would be, how it would look, how it would have evolved.

Image courtesy of Niagara Falls, ON Library.

Ralph Lorigo and the Conservative Party Endorsement (UPDATED)

16 Sep

It’s no secret that I detest New York’s archaic electoral fusion system, which enables platform-free, principle-free minor parties to exert undue influence on the political system.

In one of my recent posts about Clarence politics, I wrote this:

Conservative Party chairman Ralph Lorigo was personally, directly involved in the now-abandoned plan to build a large Wegmans’ on Transit Road in Clarence, just north of Transit Road. Lorigo represents local developers like Benderson, but in this case Lorigo owned the real estate proposed to be used for the Wegmans project, half of which was zoned residential. The process was followed, the people (directly, and by & through their elected representatives) spoke, and Wegmans won’t be building there – that’s democracy how it should work. In less ethical places, the wishes of the politically-well-connected owner or developer might have taken precedence over the wishes of the public. Apparently, because Clarence went against Mr. Lorigo’s personal pecuniary interests, he retaliated against Mr. Bylewski by refusing him the Conservative Party endorsement; ironic, since following the law and democratic process is what one might expect a doctrinaire conservative to support.

This goes back to my entreaties to abolish electoral fusion because it’s rife with corruption from corruptables, and has very little – if anything – to do with political ideology.

I wasn’t talking out of turn there, either. I’ve heard from several sources whom I consider to be beyond reproach that Lorigo was proudly proclaiming that he’d withhold the Conservative endorsement from Bylewski because Wegmans didn’t go through. Beyond. Reproach.

Color me intrigued when Mr. Lorigo sent me this email yesterday:

I know you and I are politically on opposite ends of the spectrum but you have your fact wrong about Clarence . First it was the town committee that made the recommendations for endorsements and it was Wegmans that withdrew in the face of neighborhood opposition .

What I’ve learned is that, in politics, there’s the reason something happens, and then there’s the real reason.  Lorigo has just lost his best friend on the Clarence Town Board – Joe Weiss, who was trounced at the polls on Tuesday and abruptly resigned on Thursday (effective the 28th).  The local committee’s recommendation is often, and routinely, overruled by the county committee.

I asked Bylewski for his reaction to Lorigo’s email, and he sent this along:

I did not receive the local endorsement.  However, the County Conservative Party has stepped in the past in our Town’s local elections to either give the endorsement to someone else or open the line for a Primary.  This was recently done in a local judicial contest where the local committee endorsed one candidate and the County endorsed another.  This year, the Town Board race was opened up for all three candidates.

I had called the Chairman multiple times to talk with him.  However, he never returned the courtesy of the call.  When I saw the Chairman at a Conservative fundraiser, I reminded him of my calls and that I thought it would be best to meet and clear the air.  He agreed that it was a good idea and would call me.  At that same fundraiser, other high level Conservatives indicated they were working on my behalf.  Well, unfortunately, I am still waiting for that call.

As to the Wegmans’ project, we, as a Town, on multiple occasions wanted to and expressed a desire to work with the applicants.  However, it appeared that the applicants were unwilling to reconfigure their project more than a few feet.  This inability presented us with a project that would not work based on our Master Plan and extensive efforts internally to amend the Master Plan.  We provided detail developed by a UB Planning professor as to how the project could work on the existing site.  The applicants still refused.

I would receive calls from the applicant an hour or two in advance of a Town Board meeting.  Even though I was busy preparing for other matters, I took those calls because I wanted the process to work.

Ultimately, the process did work and the Master Plan has been adhered to.

If the Conservative Party was about conservative values, it wouldn’t hesitate to endorse Bylewski – a hard-working consensus-builder who has kept spending and taxes down, worked hard to promote the town’s best interests, and has expertly, calmly navigated some of Clarence’s biggest crises and development issues. A competent, meritorious Democrat in a Republican town is jarring to people who can’t see beyond labels. His opponent, meanwhile, is busy lying to the voters, treating them like uneducated, illiterate morons.

That the “Conservative Party”, which in the same breath endorses same-sex marriage proponent Tim Kennedy, and then heaps scorn and derision on same-sex marriage proponent Mark Grisanti, exerts any control or influence over our electoral politics in WNY is truly one of the reasons why this region (and state) is so rife with pay-to-play petty corruption and patronage. The electoral fusion system is perpetuated by the dealmaking that leaves both parties happy – the minor party gets favors and jobs, and the elected officials get re-re-re-elected with their help. It breeds cronyism and a dirty system in which the interests of the populace-at-large is left by the wayside.

Frankly, I won’t be fully convinced of Governor Cuomo’s reformist bona fides until he takes this dirty system on.

Ralph Lorigo may think he’s on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me, but it’s not because I’m a liberal and he fancies himself a conservative.  Instead, it’s because I’m for competent, good, meritorious government and he (and his party) is (are) looking out for number one.

It’s. Enough. Already.

UPDATE: Wegmans statement

When Wegmans was interested in building a new store in Clarence, there were obstacles to us moving forward; while we worked to make progress towards that end, we discovered that a better option for us and our customers was to stay right where we were and expand the Wegmans at 8270 Transit Road instead.  We are still in the early phases of making that happen, but this is the direction that we are taking toward our goal of offering expanded service and products to our customers in that area.

Theresa Jackson, Consumer Affairs Manager, Wegmans Food Markets

Labor Day Weekend 2001

6 Sep

I moved to Buffalo exactly ten years ago this past weekend.

Are we better off now than we were then? Worse off?

When I moved here I knew nothing about this place except the stereotypes – the caricature of Buffalo and WNY. I learned quickly that we had a lot of bad politics, bad politicians, and bad policies. We have too many governmental entities that end up fighting with each other when they should be working in unity.

What I’ve witnessed in my first decade here is a lot of two steps forward, one step back. I’ve seen incremental positive changes, but the overall culture of political patronage and silly fights hasn’t changed much, if at all. In fact, in the past few months it’s gotten worse.

What will Labor Day Weekend 2021 look like?

Things WNY Does Right

28 Jul

1. Summertime Festivals 

Along with Sabres games, they put the lie to the notion that suburbanites won’t come to downtown Buffalo because of all the scary bums/[insert ethnic group]/emptiness/one-way streets/lack of parking.

If you give people something fun to do, something to see, something to buy and shop for, they’ll come. The festivals bring a mass of people downtown several times a year, so we’re not talking about one store making a difference – it has to be big enough and novel enough and, above all, fun.

So, festivals are something WNY does right, and efforts being made to grow downtown Buffalo ought to learn some lessons from them.

Canal Side’s Potential

5 Jul

Yay Shack

Last Friday, Tom Dolina, and I attended the ceremonial ribbon-cutting of the Erie Canal snack shack, ironically dubbed “Clinton’s Dish”. (We’ll have video up shortly.)

Friday’s weather was glorious, and there were hundreds of people outside enjoying the green space right along the boardwalk. The Pride of Baltimore II replica schooner was in town, the naval museum was open, there were some painted Adirondack chairs available for people to relax in – some shady trees helped keep people out of the hot sun – and there was, of course, the shack itself and a small sandy area before representing a “beach”.

It’s obviously a huge improvement over what used to be there, a parking lot, but I was struck by how many people were there given that the only real thing available to do was to just hang out. The shack itself? Perry’s Ice Cream, hamburgers and hot dogs, chips and sodas – usual shack fare, and on opening day it was quite slow and disorganized. It’s nice that it’s there, but it’s sort of a clone of the Hatch.

Reporters listened to the politicians’ pronouncements, and afterwards cornered Congressman Brian Higgins to press him on issues like the Peace Bridge and the federal deficit, and Mayor Byron Brown to press him on the delay with the Naval museum restaurant.

What I wanted to know was – what’s next? The ECHDC has done an awful job of explaining to people and reminding them that, despite all the jokes about the massive self-applause over a somewhat pitiful shack, there’s a lot more to come. Again – people were there with nothing to do; imagine if there was something to do. Imagine if there were shops and a public market, perhaps a few restaurants and bars, or a gallery or museum space. There is such huge potential there, and you kind of have to go down there on a nice day to be reminded of it.

One thing that stood out – when standing around on the boardwalk by the water, the Skyway is absolutely a non-issue. There was negligible traffic noise, and it was far enough overhead that I didn’t even think about it until I consciously sought it out to observe it. It’ll be nice to someday be rid of it, and it’ll be nice to have the at-grade crossing to the Outer Harbor, but its removal is not a prerequisite to developing and enjoying the Canal Side area.

I was also struck by the fact that a snack shack and some deck chairs were, so far, the net sum of the six-figures paid to Fred Kent and his traveling crowdsourcing circus. That right there is some taxpayer money that is owed back to the people.

So, we asked ECHDC President Tom Dee and Congressman Brian Higgins to remind us what’s coming next. When are the RFPs? Why don’t we just sell off the parcels to private developers and let them do what they want, within design and engineering regulations? What is the benefit of having one unified developer at Canal Side versus several different developers, or one for each parcel.

Coming Soon (?)

The snack shack doesn’t deserve the hype it got. We ought not pat ourselves on the back for things that should have already existed – for no-brainers. We should get excited about the stuff that’s coming and frustrated by the fact that the banners had until recently touted Canal Side opening in May 2011. Well, the newly-cobbled streets are open, but we’ve got a glut of cobbled streets with little to do around them down in that area.

The snack shack is definitely anticlimactic.

But, it may bring you down there and you may enjoy a nice stroll along the water, or take a seat in the “sunset chairs” and hang out. As you do so, imagine how great it’ll be in a few years when the city blocks between you and the HSBC tower have re-watered replica canals and loads of shops and restaurants.  Seriously, it will be great.

As for the process, the ECHDC is talking about building an underground parking garage underneath the Canal Side development. The area needs it, and the tenants will demand it. By placing it underground, you keep it out-of-sight and it doesn’t become a blight on the area. I predict that this will be the next major source of conflict and strife over the coming months, but a refusal to implement underground ramps will only result in the perpetuation and further propagation of private surface lots in the nearby areas.  That’s something we don’t need.

EXCLUSIVE: DEMOCRATS IN ERIE COUNTY MAKE PEACE (UPDATE WITH STATEMENT)

8 Jun

I have heard from several sources tonight that our long nightmare of Democratic factionalism is over.

I’ll expound later, but the deal appears to be sealed. Len Lenihan will resign as Chairman of the Democratic Party.  Sources say he will be replaced by John Crangle – Joe’s nephew, current Town Committee Chair in Tonawanda, who works for the Clerk’s office.

All of the various factions in Erie County have bought into this global settlement of all outstanding grievances. The Democratic Party, therefore, moves into the 2011 campaign season as a united front against Chris Collins and the Republicans.

This, folks, is huge.

UPDATE: The official word just came in:

Lenihan to Retire as Democratic Chairman

Erie County Democratic Chairman to Accept Senior State Democratic Committee Role

Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan today announced that he is retiring as County Chairman in late July and will accept a senior position with the New York State Democratic Committee.

State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs announced today that winning the seven major county executive races this November is a top priority for the state party and that Lenihan has agreed to lead the state effort. “Coming off the incredible upset victory in the 26th Congressional special election, I can think of no one better for this important task,” said Jacobs.

“The state party is grateful to have him sprinkle the Lenihan magic around the state, and he will leave behind an Erie County Democratic Committee that is stronger than ever before” said Charlie King, Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Committee.

There are major county executive races this fall in Suffolk, Erie, Monroe, Broome, Dutchess, Ulster and Albany Counties which Lenihan will be involved in.

Lenihan, who was first elected Democratic Chairman in September 2002, said, “The Erie County Democratic Committee has accomplished so much in the past 9 years.  Serving our community and our party each and every day has been a privilege.  I have had the honor of working with some of the greatest community activists in the country, right here in Erie County.  Just last month we showed the world what we can do when we elected Kathy Hochul to Congress.”

Under Lenihan’s tenure as Chairman, 3 Democratic Members of Congress have been elected in WNY, 11 out of the last 13 State Supreme Court Justices have been elected as Democrats, Mark Poloncarz was elected and reelected as the first Democratic County Comptroller in over 30 years, and the first ever super-majority of Democratic Legislators were elected.

Lenihan said “Timing is everything and leadership requires us to make tough choices.  After consulting with my family and close friends, I have decided that now is the right time to hand over the reins of the County Committee to new leadership and to focus my efforts on this exciting new challenge. I will guide our Democratic Committee through the petitioning process and in late July 2011 I will retire as Chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee.”

Lenihan concluded, “I look forward in my new State Party role to helping Mark Poloncarz defeat Chris Collins in the fall and assisting our Party and community.”

Prior to becoming County Chairman in 2002, Lenihan served as Erie County Personnel Commissioner and, before that, as an Erie County legislator and Chairman of the Legislature.  His 9 year tenure makes him the longest serving Erie County Democratic Chairman since Joe Crangle left in 1988.

 

Corwin’s Brazen Hail Mary #NY26

20 May

Photo credit: blog.nj.com

Today was the day.

Today was the day that someone finally went about and politicized the crash of Flight 3407.

The tragic, preventable accident happened in Clarence Center in February 2009, and through all the heartache and pain, through all the tireless investigation and recommended changes to air safety regulations, every single elected official touching this thing made sure that their efforts were about helping the families directly affected by that tragedy, and helping to ensure that events like this are prevented however possible. That means more training for pilots, more rest for pilots, clearer notification of codeshare flights on regional airlines, etc.

All of the elected officials involved in the effort to support air industry changes sought by the 3407 families have avoided playing politics with this.  They have avoided taking individual credit for any of it – this was a team effort, and everyone was on the same team.

It has brought together with a unity of direction, action, and goal, such politically diverse people as Louise Slaughter and Chris Lee; Brian Higgins and Chris Collins. Our US Senators have likewise tirelessly advocated on behalf of the 3407 families.  This was a multipartisan effort, blind to political whims and prejudices. And while, yes, all of these people seek re-election, none of them have tried to upstage the other. All of them share in this battle; all of them cheer its successes as one, and they decry its failures as one.

It wasn’t until Jane Corwin, with help from Speaker John Boehner, that someone sought such blatantly direct political credit for a 3407-related win. And at such a pivotal time.

Make no mistake – Corwin is hoping that this does for her what the October Storm did for Tom Reynolds.

Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Schuster, a Republican, had been pushing an amendment to an FAA reauthorization bill which would have made it far more difficult to enforce the changes that the 3407 families had sought, fought for, and won through the political process.  Today, he abruptly withdrew his support for that amendment, and Jane Corwin was the first to know.  Schuster called her. Boehner was ready with a press release. This was a calculated politicization of the 3407 tragedy, and it represents Jane Corwin making a brazen attempt to take credit for the work of the entire Western New York federal delegation.  Here is the full text of Corwin’s press release, sent Friday morning at 11:08 AM:

“I just received a call from Congressman Bill Shuster. He informed me that he asked Chairman of the House Transportation Committee John Mica to withdraw his amendment from consideration in the conference committee.

“The Flight 3407 Families have been a driving force to implement long-overdue aviation safety reforms. These actions are proof that a community can come together and make a difference.

“The fight to fully implement these much-needed reforms has just begun, and I will continue to work to implement ‘one level of safety’ in our skies.”

Statement from John Kausner, who lost his 24-year old daughter Ellyce in the Flight 3407 tragedy:

“We are very pleased to hear that the Shuster provision has been dropped from the FAA Reauthorization Bill.

“We are very appreciative of Jane Corwin for supporting us and arranging the meeting with Speaker Boehner, and to the Speaker for hearing us out on the significant safety issues associated with the provision, especially with regards to the objections to it by the NTSB and FAA.

“We also would be remiss if we did not thank the entire Western New York congressional delegation and everyone else in Congress who came out against this provision and supported us from the get-go.

“We must remain vigilant as we move forward to ensure that the FAA is allowed to effectively implement the bipartisan aviation safety legislation from last Congress.”

Of course, the rest of the delegation – which has been working full time on this issue for months while Jane has been NOWHERE on it – was caught unawares.  Being good representatives, and good citizens, they praised the outcome. After all, that good result is tantamount in importance.  But the lobbying to get this done has been constant and incessant from all sides.

Why exactly did Schuster pick today to take this action? Why was the first person who learned of it Jane Corwin, of all people? Why didn’t anyone actually in Congress representing WNY get word of this first?

What this smacks of is a ploy by the Republicans to artificially maintain the Schuster amendment in the FAA reauthorization bill until the Friday before the special election. Then Schuster could withdraw it, and Corwin could make a splash with it, essentially donning the mantle of NY-26 representative without first being elected or inaugurated.

While I also am  pleased with the outcome, I am absolutely disgusted by this blatant politicization of this tragedy, I am flabbergasted by the grandstanding by this empty campaign, and horrified that this all may have been timed in a very politically calculated way.  Jane Corwin and John Boehner should be ashamed of themselves. Schuster should be ashamed of himself for promoting the watering-down of air safety regulations.

Here, contrasting Corwin’s self-promotion, is Kathy Hochul’s press release (1:23 pm):

“Today’s victory is not a Democratic or Republican victory, it is a victory for our entire community and the families of Flight 3407.  The Shuster amendment would have put our nation and citizens at risk, and undone so much of the hard work that these families have put forth to increase airline safety.  We should all join together and applaud the reversal of this terrible legislation.  Once elected to Congress I will continue to work to ensure that these families’ voices are heard and this legislation is never again revisited.”

“I’d like to thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, and Representatives Higgins and Slaughter for all of their hard work on behalf of the 3407 families. I look forward to continuing to join them in that work in Congress.”

Higgins (12:04pm):

“This is welcome news for the Flight 3407 Families, Western New Yorkers and all Americans concerned with aviation safety. It means the reforms and safety improvements we fought so hard for last year will be implemented. Defeating this amendment was a bipartisan effort that I was proud to help lead. I will continue to be vigilant on this matter until we confirm that this damaging amendment is in fact ultimately and officially dropped from the bill and all of our aviation safety reforms are implemented in full.”

The Shuster Amendment was adopted during House consideration of the FAA Authorization bill in April. It would have required a number of duplicative and difficult reviews before the aviation safety reforms Congress passed last year could be implemented. These reforms, signed into law last August, will improve pilot rest and training requirements, two major factors in the crash of Flight 3407 near Buffalo in February 2009.

Some work hard and rise above the fray. Others take personal credit for things that have very suspicious timing.