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A final farewell

   As mourners filed into Our Lady of Victory Basilica to pay their last respects to a local political legend, many shared colorful tales about a man who had many faces.

   James D. Griffin: grain mill scooper, insurance agent, tavern owner, lawmaker and - of course - Buffalo's longest-tenured mayor.

   About 1,100 people paid their last respects to Griffin inside Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.

   Friends and admirers remembered "Jimmy" as a man who was never shy about speaking his mind. He branded homosexuals "fruits," called Common Council members "goofs and loons" and once even suggested a federal judge didn't know if "he was on foot or horseback."

   Former Rep. Jack Quinn thinks Griffin's candor "perfectly fits" the region.

   Even longtime political foe Joseph Crangle, who waged many battles with Griffin when Crangle headed the Erie County Democratic Party, had good things to say about the former mayor as he arrived at the funeral. In reflecting on Griffin, Crangle told reporters, "We need more people like him."

   "He felt very strongly about things. You've got to give him a lot of credit for perservering. he certainly was a guy who wanted it his way or no way, and that's understandable in politics. He was a great credit to the community."

   What do you think? Has Griffin's death colored people's recollections of his 16 years in office?

  --- Brian Meyer

How could unfounded allegation now become indictable offense at School 67?

   When a teacher reported seeing her aide fondle an autistic kindergarten student in the lavatory of Buffalo's Discovery School 67 last  November, school officials ruled the allegations unfounded.

   But an Erie County grand jury took a far more serious view of the incident.

   The teacher's aide, John Colazzi, was charged Wednesday with felony sexual abuse, a charge that can bring a prison term of up to seven years upon conviction.

   There were other developments after the incident came to light in Buffalo News stories.

   Joy Trotter was dismissed as the school district's director of human resources for bungling the internal investigation. Superintendent James A. Williams admitted receiving a certified letter from the teacher, but said he passed it on unopened to a staff member.

   The boy's parents and law enforcement officers were not notified of the incident for nearly four months. In the meantime, Colazzi was allowed to remain in the same classroom, with the pupil he allegedly fondled and the teacher who reported it.

   School district officials wouldn't answer questions Wednesday, saying the case will be decided in the courts. But District Attorney Frank J. Clark said he plans to prepare a report documenting how the school system "broke down" in handling the case.

   What happened here?

   How could school officials and the district attorney reach such dramatically different conclusions? Did the school district make a good faith effort to examine the case, or simply
sweep it under the carpet?

   … Peter Simon



Tiger in your tank keeps getting fatter and fatter

   Stop the presses: Gas prices hit another record high for the Buffalo area Wednesday, soaring to a $4.07 average for a gallon of regular, according to the AAA of Western and Central New York.

   The records -- both locally and nationally -- keep coming as a wide variety of economic factors has driven the price past another psychological milestone, $4 per gallon.

   In response, drivers are becoming more creative in their search for the Holy Grail of cheap -- or cheaper, anyway -- gas.

   Some rely on tips from friends or co-workers. Others turn to the AAA's Field Price Finder Web site …  or to find deals.

   Still more go to the Tuscarora or Seneca Indian reservations to get a deal, though drivers complained the savings aren't as great as they were in the recent past.

   It's all a far cry from when Robert Vallone, an 82-year-old Cheektowaga resident, first started driving as a high school student in the early 1940s.

   "Then it was 18 cents a gallon, and you got a six-pack of Coke," said Vallone, a retired civil engineer, who was topping off his immaculately maintained 1978 Chrysler New Yorker at a Delta Sonic in Cheektowaga.

   Today, $2 gas seems as much of a distant memory as 18 cents, so we're wondering how you're coping with these high prices.

   How do you find the best deals in town? Do you have a favorite place to buy gas, one that's reliably cheap? And how high do you think prices will go by the end of the summer?

-- Stephen T. Watson

Memories of Jimmy

   There's something special about an Irish wake in the way they bring out all the old stories.

   There's something even more special abut the wake for James D. Griffin, the 56th mayor of Buffalo who died Sunday on an undisclosed cause.

   It's possible that no other citizen of the Queen City has ever generated so many yarns, the ones that friend and foe alike today are calling "Jimmy stories."

   They told them in the line outside Reddington's Funeral Home in South Buffalo on Tuesday, where the former mayor's calling hours resume from 2-8 p.m. today before his 1:30 p.m. funeral Mass in Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna on Thursday.

   They also told them all around Western New York on Tuesday - at lunch tables and in bars and bowling alleys - the kind of places where the mayor always conducted his most important business.

   Griffin's friends recounted countless stories about the man who served 16 years in the big office in City Hall … longer than any other. And since Griffin was a man who gathered his share of enemies along the way, those stories found their way into local conversations as well.

   All agreed that Griffin was a force, and a significant figure in the history of our city.

   If you have a favorite "Jimmy story," you are invited to share it here via The Buffalo News blog.

   --- Robert J. McCarthy

An idea whose time might be here

   As we complain bitterly about the price of gasoline, it makes sense to look at  alternatives … like perhaps building homes or living in places where the things we need are close at hand. Maybe we should transform existing communities into places that serve people, not cars.

   A design movement known as the "walkable community" could reduce our dependence on automobiles and driving. It's new to most Western New Yorkers, though it's been around for 20 years and hundreds of successful walkable communities exist elsewhere in the United States.

   Try visiting this site and you'll watch a visual transformation of traffic-choked landscapes into walkable ones. Visit and listen to a report by National Public Radio reporter Elizabeth Shogren's story called "Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint." It's about a walkable community called Atlantic Station.

     Do you think the walkable community has a future in Western New York? Why? Would you or wouldn't you choose to live in such a development?

   --- Irene Liguori

The value of playtime

Try sitting in your seat at work and paying attention to what your boss is saying for six hours with a half hour lunch break. How hard is that?

   Now imagine you're 10 years old. Substitute school for work, and teacher for boss, and it's easy to see why children get antsy and have trouble paying attention at school. While most teachers vary learning activities and children don't spend the whole day at their desks, educators say they still could use a break outside.

   With the prevalence of computers and electronic games at home, as well as the increased fear of strangers and reliance on structured activities, children have less free play outside of school, as well.

   One expert warns the growing disconnection could lead to a "generational amnesia" about the value of nature and unstructured play.

   No Child Left Behind — the 2001 education law signed by President George W. Bush blamed for reducing recreation time by increasing standardized tests — has given way to the No Child Left Inside campaign.

  How can society ignore the sentiments of a San Diego fourth grader: "I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are?"


State-supported schools escape scrutiny

   As a taxpayer, you're helping to fund St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo, but you aren't allowed to attend any of their board meetings, or to look at any of their financial books.

   But since the school is a non-profit organization, St. Mary's, like many similarly classified schools in New York State, is required to file annual financial statements with the IRS.

   By looking at those reports, called 990s, The Buffalo News found that St. Mary's has, in the past, done business with firms owned by or associated with its board members. So has the Rochester School for the Deaf.

   The 990s also showed that  several of these publicly funded, privately run schools have lots of private money, some held in stock, and some used for lobbying or political efforts.

   Not all of these 11 schools for the blind, deaf and disabled that New York helps fund filed financial reports. Four claim they don't have to file the reports because they are affiliated with the Catholic Church. Since they accept public money, they say they don't provide any religious education, or use their buildings for religious purposes. But at the time time, they claim that, because of their religious affiliation, they don't have to file financial reports with the IRS.

-- Susan Schulman and Mary B. Pasciak

Jimmy Griffin: A Buffalo mayor like no other

Even though it has been well more than a decade since Jimmy Griffin was mayor of the City of Buffalo, he never really left the consciousness of the people who live here. He spoke out against the man who succeeded him, he took a seat on the common council, and he continued to act as a spokesman for the people of South Buffalo.

So when word began to spread earlier today that the former mayor had died, peacefully, after a short stay in an area nursing home, it came as a surprise to many who still might have expected the indefatigable 'Jimmy Six Pack,' to make one more swing at public life.

People loved Jimmy Griffin, and people hated him. But no one was ever indifferent about him. It is almost fitting that he say good bye on Memorial Day weekend, because Buffalo will never forget  the man who served as its mayor longer than any other person in its history.

Creating more lawyers

   Do we need more law schools in New York?

   Opponents of the idea, like Makau Mutua, dean of the University at Buffalo Law School, make convincing arguments against it:

   There are 15 private and public law schools in New York, which already has more practicing attorneys than any state in the nation.

   One of the concerns, of course, is that more law schools will divert potential students and resources away from UB Law School.

   But it's hard to blame the three schools proposing new law schools … St. John Fisher College, Binghamton University and Stony Brook University.

   They're trying to grow, add academic offerings and boost their reputations, too.

   It's what UB is trying to do across the university with its ambitious plans to grow by 10,000 students by 2020.

    … Jay Rey

No welcome mat for patio homes

      Patio homes are a booming business in Western New York. They offer a single-family home lifestyle without the single-family home upkeep.

   Targeted toward older adults and empty nesters, the homes frequently sell for big bucks. They're special because they look like traditional homes but are built in private developments and carry condominium status.

   Because of that, patio homeowners get huge breaks on their property tax bill. In exchange, they pay hefty homeowner fees to maintain their yards and roadways, which are considered "common areas."

   Town boards in Amherst, Lancaster and Hamburg want tax breaks for these homes to come to and end and support legislation to keep developers from taking advantage of what they consider to be a "loophole" in the state condo law.

   Developers say these homes meet an important housing need in Western New York. Patio homeowners use fewer town services and therefore deserve to be taxed less.

   Who do you believe?

   -- Sandra Tan

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