Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Reporters touched by the Cote story

   It's a rare sight to see a room full of news reporters with tears in their eyes.

   But that was pretty much the scene at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center on Thursday, as members of the Cote family spoke of the 17-month ordeal that ended in the recent death of Jonathon M. Cote, a hostage taken in Iraq.

   Most of the reporters in the room could be seen dabbing tears away as Francis L. Cote spoke of the death of his son, and Christopher Cote lamented the loss of his brother.

   Buffalo journalists have been amazed by the strength shown by the family since Jonathon … working as a private security contractor … was abducted in November 2006. They have handled an impossibly difficult situation with
dignity and class.

   Cote's stepmother, Nancy Cote … resident agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration … and other family members also attended the press conference.

   She thanked the Buffalo and national media for not revealing her identity over the past 17 months.

   "We were worried that Jon would have been subjected to even worse punishment if [the abductors] knew Nancy worked for the government," Francis Cote said.

   One of the most emotional moments of the press conference came when Christopher Cote was asked what he would ask his brother if he ever had the chance to talk with him.

   "I would ask, "Do you forgive those who did this to you?'‚ Cote said. "If he can, I can."

   -- Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel

City got it right in cracking down on rusted ship

   The city's crackdown on the Lansdowne, the rusting hulk moored on the Outer Harbor south of downtown, needs to be the rule in how City Hall deals with negligent property owners … whether on water or on land.

   After some prompting, the mayor threatened the eyesore's owner with a $1,000-per-day fine. The old hulk, not coincidentally, was towed away Thursday. We do not have to guess what would have happened had City Hall turned its back. A similar eyesore floated in the same spot for 12 l-o-n-g years under ex-mayor Tony "Too Soft" Masiello.

   One of Buffalo's best assets is its fine stock of older buildings … not just the historic landmarks, but the kind of character-laden structures seen throughout downtown. Their worth was underlined in recent years as developers converted the vacant structures into upscale apartments.

   Sadly, too many of those buildings rotted in plain sight -- and some still are rotting -- because of City Hall's reluctance to crack down on negligent owners. Let the Lansdowne be a lesson: Getting tough is good business.

   -- Donn Esmonde

Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses

   WASHINGTON … Once upon a time 40 years ago, presidential primaries were nothing more than beauty contests, and every delegate was a "superdelegate" -- a party insider who got to go to the convention and choose the presidential nominee.

   And now, the long and contentious battle between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama has turned the last primaries into beauty contests, of a sort, which will serve as guideposts for the 306 remaining superdelegates who will decide the Democratic presidential nomination.

   In other words: meet the new bosses -- same as the old bosses (although, granted, there are fewer of them).

   Talks with superdelegates and other sources Wednesday showed that those undecided superdelegates are not likely to be swayed by Clinton's 10-point win in the Pennsylvania primary.

   Instead, the Pennsylvania results are more likely to simply freeze this race in place for at least another two weeks, as the superdelegates watch what happens in the May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.

   In other words, after five months of primaries and caucuses and tens of millions of dollars in campaign spending and maybe 30 million votes cast, the Clinton-Obama contest will be decided by 306 people.

   That's Democratic, under the party's rules.

   But how democratic is it?

  -- Jerry Zremski

Big Brother is watching on more city street corners

   The electronic eyes are watching.

   They're perched in 43 spots throughout the city … and will grow to 100 pairs of eyes by the end of the year.

   Buffalo's long-touted crime camera surveillance program is now up and running following what Mayor Byron W. Brown described as a successful eight-month trial period. Brown and Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson are convinced the high-tech devices will be powerful tools in fighting crime.

   Some block club leaders agree, saying they've already noticed fewer troublemakers on street corners where the devices have been installed.

   But some critics are skeptical. They point to studies suggesting that state-of-the-art surveillance devices have done little to curb violent crime in some cities. And they worry that the cameras might be used in ways that could violate the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

   The mayor and police commissioner repeatedly have assured residents that the cameras will not be used in ways that trample on people's privacy. The city has no desire to "play Big Brother," Gipson told reporters Tuesday as officials showed off a new surveillance monitoring room in police headquarters.

   What do you think about the new surveillance blitz?

   -- Brian Meyer

A bird and a fish determine Peace Bridge design

   Thank you, snail darter, from all the common terns and emerald shiners around here.

   The snail darter, a small fish in East Tennessee, became legendary in the 1970s when lawsuits were filed to protect it from the Tennessee Valley Authority's plan to build a dam.

   Thirty years ago, the case reached the Supreme Court. In the end, the dam was built anyway. And the snail darter, described recently by the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel as a "not-so-beautiful, little brown bottom-hugger," has survived.

   The snail darter case helped shape environmental law that came after it.

   And today, that law has prompted state and federal environmental agencies to reject the idea of a cable-stayed bridge as a Peace Bridge companion span across the Niagara River.

   They say Christian Menn's two-tower concept would be too tall for the common tern to fly over. And the piers near the shorelines would disrupt the swimming grounds of the emerald shiners.

   Federal and state regulators say they'll approve only a new bridge that's slightly taller -- not a lot -- than the existing Peace Bridge.

   That's likely to disappoint those who campaigned for a signature bridge like the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay.

   What's your opinion?

   -- Patrick Lakamp

Prosecution or persecution?

   When Steven Kurtz's wife Hope died of heart failure in their Allentown home in May 2004, he had no time to mourn.

   FBI agents, called in by Buffalo Police who responded to the 911 call, soon blocked off Kurtz's street and donned protective suits as  they spent almost nine hours searching the home.

   They found windows covered with tin foil and petri dishes growing bacteria cultures. Kurtz, an art professor at the University at Buffalo, explained the bacteria were harmless and were part of the couple's artwork.

   Three years after 9/11, it was understandable that officials should get alarmed. But after tests showed there was no public risk, the case did not die.

   Instead, federal prosecutors indicted Kurtz on mail fraud and wire fraud charges, felonies. His fellow academics raised hell and $250,000 to fight the charges.

   Monday, the case appeared over. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said the facts did not fit the indictment and dismissed the charges. A co-defendent, a very ill Robert Ferrell, a genetics researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, took a misdemeanor plea in February for selling Kurtz the bacteria, and was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation.

   Did the government go too far by continuing to prosecute Kurtz and Ferrell?

  --- Michael Beebe and Dan Herbeck

What should the state do about Buffalo school district dysfunction?

    Things have gotten so bad in the Buffalo Public Schools that the chancellor of the State Board of Regents is exploring possible state intervention, including the dismissal of all nine members of the Board of Education.

   "There are a lot of issues here," said Chancellor Robert M. Bennett. "They're disturbing, to say the least."

   Bennett Monday asked State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills to spell out steps the state can take, including a top-to-bottom dismissal of the troubled board.

   The state - for both philosophical and practical reasons - is traditionally reluctant to get directly involved in governance issues in individual school districts. So while it remains unclear what will come of Bennett's request for a list of options, the request itself underlines a very deep concern in Albany.

   Bennett mentioned controversies at McKinley High School, Discovery School 67 and City Honors School, along with dismal test scores across much of the district and an ethics commission report concluding that at least one board member lied under oath about leaking information to The Buffalo News.

   But Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said action should be taken against Superintendent James A. Williams, not the board.

   Is Bennett on target? Is the board so dysfunctional that it should be replaced? Or should the state take less dramatic action, or none at all? Where does Albany come into the picture as questions about city schools multiply?

   --- Peter Simon

The man who made National Air Cargo come clean

  To the government lawyers who prosecuted National Air Cargo, Mark Oehm is a hero who helped stop millions in overbillings by blowing the whistle on his former employer, now the biggest commercial shipper of war materiel to Iraq and Afghanistan.

   To National Air Cargo's lawyers, and many of its employees, Oehm is more of a traitor, who took advantage of complicated air freight regulations to complain about the Orchard Park freight forwarder. They say he's a petty crook who took company software with him to his next job.

   Nonsense, say his lawyers, who helped Oehm win a $3.3 million settlement as part of the $28 million the company paid in U.S. District Court.

   Add U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn to Oehm's supporters. He said the government's investigation rought the felony charge against National Air Cargo, not Oehm.

   What do you think?

--   Michael Beebe and Dan Herbeck

Behold -- a manifesto for affordable government

   That local governments are  increasingly growing unaffordable to property taxpayers is hardly news to anyone owning a home in New York.

   For a generation, there has been hand-wringing over what to do about it. But with property taxes dominating the talk at so many kitchen tables, a state panel thinks now might actually be the time to do something about it. 

  A 15-member group with a long name -- the New York Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness -- thinks it has the ideas for making the hodgepodge and overlapping network of local governments simpler. In the end, that means cheaper.

   It also might mean some glimmer of hope for controlling the rate hikes that have made New York No. 1 in a dubious category of taxes.

   The ideas are not startling new. But they are included in a report, due out in a about a week,  put forth by a group composed of both the private and public sectors, state and local governments. 

   A  draft copy of the report obtained by The Buffalo News contains 76 different recommendations, looking at everything from making it easier for local governments to consolidate services, to having government workers pay more for health insurance coverage.

   But will anyone listen?

   Former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer created the commission, and no one really knows the appetite that the new governor, David A. Paterson, will have to take on some of the entrenched interests that will line up to kill the panel's ideas. Moreover, it's an election year, which does not always bring a sense of logic to governing. 

   When the full report comes out, look carefully at how Paterson parses his words to either fully embrace the ideas, or if he offers kind of a blow-off response like, "The ideas will be carefully considered by my administration." 

   Look, too, at how aggressively public employee unions, school boards, local mayors and
supervisors react.   

   From all that, an early indication will emerge whether the past year of work by the 15-member board and its six paid staffers was worth the effort or will simply result in just the latest set of ideas to improve government that will gather dust in the reference shelves of the state archives.

  -- Tom Precious

Hungry children by the thousands

Week days are long and tiring for families. During the day, the kids are in school, parents are at
work; at night, there is dinner to get on the table, homework to finish, and family time to
squeeze in.

That schedule doesn't apply for all families, especially those with parents who work several low-paying jobs or whose grocery budget is so taxed, it's not possible to put a hot, nutritious dinner on the table every night.

The staff at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo noticed a few years ago that as one official explained, the kids at five of the city-based clubhouses were "beyond" hungry by dinnertime. The agency is now serving dinner to children who attend its after-school programs, which is the focus of a Page 1 story today written by News reporter Deidre Williams.

By the end of the year, the agency plans to serve hot, nutritious dinners to 8,500 kids per week at
16 clubhouses in Buffalo, Amherst and Cheektowaga.

The parents working long shifts and struggling to make ends meet are grateful their children are getting a square meal and doing their homework in a safe, supervised place.

But the fact that thousands of local children would otherwise go without a good dinner most days is deeply disturbing.

Tucked safely in our homes enjoying dinner with our families, we should think about these 8,500 children. And we should be asking ourselves how we can help.

-- Susan LoTempio

« Older Entries Newer Entries »