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One big unhappy dysfunctional family

Newsday reports that Long Island wants a divorce, echoing some Upstate sentiments.

Reports Newsday:

Some Long Island politicians say they are fed up with the way Albany treats them. They're talking about making Long Island a state.

Great, they could split and Upstate could split. As a whole, we'd be New, New, New York.

What's not to love?

We could be, what, the West Virginia of Virginia?

Some folks already compare us to Appalachia, so we're halfway there. 

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(Yesterday, I told you I'd look into what, if anything, the state Board of Elections is doing with the front group Tom Golisano and Steve Pigeon used to slime Sam Hoyt last year. I need another day before I can fill you in. Check back Friday).

Board of Elections goes easy on Brian Davis

Over the past month I've written two stories about Brian Davis and his history of transgressions that have left people wondering out loud: "How does he get away with it?"

In the case of his repeated failure to follow the state Election Law, the answer is: "Because the Board of Elections lets him."

Consider the history regarding the election law, as I reported last month:

 Davis has been cited by elections officials for failure to file campaign disclosure reports since shortly after he gained public office.

 During his first four years in office, the Erie County Board of Elections wrote him seven times about his failure to file disclosures for 14 reporting periods. In November 2004, a letter chided him for "severely delinquent" filings.

 Election law requires candidates to identify those who contribute $100 or more, but the Davis campaign on seven occasions reported unitemized contributions that totaled $12,962.

 Starting in 2006, candidates were required to submit disclosure reports to state election officials in Albany. Davis failed to submit reports that year but filed reports in 2007 and January 2008. According to records, he's filed nothing since, including reports due July 2008 and January of this year.

What's more, he no longer has a campaign treasurer, which is required by law.

"He's been placed on administrative hold with us since February 2008, which means his bank account is frozen," said John Conklin, spokesman for the state Board of Elections. "He's not supposed to be doing anything until he tells us he's got a new treasurer and the treasurer has updated the filings."

Davis has not responded to several letters informing him of the problem, Conklin said.

         "There could potentially be problems for him," he added.

I called the state Board of Elections in Albany last week and asked them for an update as to what, if anything, it was doing to bring Davis into line.

The short answer: "Nothing."

Conklin said someone representing Davis called the board last week to inquire about what's involved in filing the necessary paperwork and promising to appoint a treasurer and submit reports. Conklin said the board will wait to see if Davis follows through. 

 "I can't speak to when the enforcement office will take steps on this. But we have done everything we can," Conklin said.

Not really.

Actually, not even close.

It's been 15 months since the board froze Davis' campaign account. Under state election law, the board long ago could have filed a civil complaint -- it does against hundreds of delinquent candidates across the state every year -- which carries a $500 fine, plus court costs.

Conklin said the board hasn't gone that route because Davis doesn't have a treasurer, but he conceded that the law allows the board to go after the candidate in the absence of a treasurer.

Willful failure to file campaign disclosure reports is considered a criminal offense, which Conklin said the board would turn over to the the local district attorney for prosecution.

According to Section 14-126 of the state election law:

1. Any person who fails to file a statement required to be filed by this article shall be subject to a civil penalty, not in excess of five hundred dollars, to be recoverable in a special proceeding or civil action to be brought by the state board of elections or other board of elections.

2. Any person who knowingly and willfully fails to file a statement required to be filed by this article within ten days after the date provided for filing such statement or any person who knowingly and willfully violates any other provision of this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Hmmm, let's see. Davis fails to file seven reports earlier in the decade when they were due to the county board, fails to file with the state when it becomes the repository, loses his treasurer, sees his campaign account frozen and then fails to file for the next two reporting periods.

A willful violation? Ya think?

Not worth calling the DA about, however.

Why hasn't the board been tougher with Davis?

Conklin said the board has its reasons.

"We've got limited resources and bigger fish to fry," he said.

Let's see, who might be a big fish?

Maybe one of the big fish is billionaire Tom Golisano and Responsible New York, apparently the money behind Mothers and Fathers Demanding Answers. You know, the crew that, as of my last reporting, hadn't met its obligations under the state election law in reporting its activities involving its attack campaign last year against Sam Hoyt.

I'll call the board Wednesday and see if Golisano is one of the fish they're frying.


Our guys are playing it safe


A small but growing number of Democrats in the State Senate are using their party's razor-thin majority to advance the interests of their hometowns, reports The New York Times.

First came the Three Amigos, a group of Senate Democrats from Brooklyn and the Bronx who insisted that no deal to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority include tolls on East River or Harlem River bridges.

Then came the Long Island Two, a pair of Democrats, recently elected to historically Republican seats, who objected to a payroll tax in the plan.

Finally, there was the North Country One: a lone Democrat who demanded that any plan to save subways and buses downstate also guarantee money for roads and bridges upstate.

Note who is not mentioned: Bill Stachowski and Antoine Thompson, our hometown state senators.

Great. Just our luck. We've got "team players."

It's gotten them lulus, and Stachs a car, but what, exactly, has it gotten their constituents?

We need jobs, not symbolism

State officials are talking with Yahoo! about putting a data center somewhere in WNY.

Reports my colleague Tom Precious:

A state official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday that Gov. David A. Paterson directed the New York Power Authority to work with Yahoo on possible state assistance involving low-cost power to lure them to the Buffalo area. A plan could go before the Power Authority board as soon as next week.

Officials said the center would not result in a large number of jobs, and a source could not put a precise number on the center’s work force. But the official said the symbolism of luring a giant like Yahoo to the region could help with other economic development efforts aimed at high-tech companies.

“It’s a big brand that we can showcase, if Yahoo goes to Western New York, that sends a message that New York is open for business, that New York wants to generate jobs for the future and we want to attract cutting-edge companies,” the official said.

Jay Rey has a follow up in today's News.

Google was sniffing around for power a while back, but the Power Authority and the state board that allocates low-cost hydropower decided the deal didn't bring enough economic benefit for the considerable subsidies Google was seeking. Those decision makers should remain level-headed in dealing with Yahoo!

The numbers on investment, jobs and subsidy have not been disclosed, so I have no sense of whether the prospective deal represents a good investment of public resources, in this case, low-cost hydropower.

But as a rule, data centers require vast amounts of electricity and bring relatively few jobs. They also tend to locate in rural areas, blunting the potential for economic spin-off.

I've been tracking power allocations made by Power Authority since January 2006, and the value of power discounts, depending on fluctuating energy prices, have tended to average in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 per job per year.

Those figures are high compared to the typical government subsidy to create jobs. The feds cap assistance in some of its major job creation programs to $35,000 for the lifetime of the subsidy. Power Authority subsidies typically exceed that cap in fairly short order.

Yeah, I know, landing a big name like Yahoo! or Google sounds neat. Politicians talk about the symbolism of it all.

But it's not symbolism this region needs, it's jobs.

That requires using low-cost hydropower to it's highest and best use. Maybe Yahoo! fits the bill. Maybe it doesn't. Let's see what the numbers show.

Here comes the sun

Today's theme is "sun."

Buffalo is hosting a big national solar conference this coming week. Check it out. There's a lot we can learn as a community.

I found this post on solar power from Gristmill interesting and it has me wondering if there's something in it for Western New York.

The New York Power Authority is funding a big solar initiative at the University at Buffalo.

And now, for your listening entertainment ... 


Withering under Wilmers

The New York Observer has an interesting read on what it says is the drift of the Empire State Development Corp. under M&T honcho Bob Wilmers.

The story describes ESD as ...

... a once powerful state agency that was a driving force for the agendas of the last two governors. Now, more than a year into the Paterson administration and half a year since Wall Street’s collapse, Mr. Wilmers and his CEO, Marisa Lago, have a relationship marked by infighting, according to numerous people familiar with the situation; marquee projects are stalled or dramatically scaled back; and upstate business groups haven’t seen funding levels they once expected.

More generally, the economic development agenda in the state seems murky, something that many business leaders and others who deal with the ESDC attribute to both the state’s fiscal crisis and to a lack of clear, visible leadership and prioritization of economic development by any key figures in the Paterson administration. (State officials reject this notion, pointing to numerous projects and initiatives that have advanced despite enormous budget deficits and one of the worst recessions in decades.)

Deeper into the story ...

In terms of management at ESDC, numerous executives and others who deal with the agency said that power seemed to be bifurcated—or unclearly delegated—between Mr. Wilmers, who is an unpaid, part-time chairman given his full-time job at M&T Bank, and Ms. Lago, who is based in New York City. (M&T has received incentives through ESDC. The Paterson administration has said Mr. Wilmers would recuse himself from specific decisions affecting his company, though he has been active in guiding policy on reforming incentives.)

The two have a rancorous, strained relationship, causing frustration for Ms. Lago, according to numerous people who have discussed the issue with her. The two have also clashed over hiring, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, as ESDC has not yet hired that downstate president, a position Mr. Wilmers said in July he expected to create. At least four candidates have been interviewed, with none yet hired, in what apparently involves a rigorous vetting operation, complete with a psychological test.

Still deeper ...

Multiple business leaders and others who deal with the ESDC said that in New York City and elsewhere in the downstate region, the agency does not seem to have adopted a new approach amid the recession. The ESDC’s downstate efforts have generally been defined by a series of high-profile private and public development projects—Atlantic Yards, the expansion of Penn Station—many of which have been stalled.

“I think it is fair to say that if ESDC has a plan for economic development, nobody downstate knows what it is,” said a leader of a downstate economic development organization who interacts with the ESDC.

And among upstate business group leaders, there is frustration with the level of funding for development efforts, and the length of time taken to release $120 million in previously allocated funds that were announced by the Spitzer administration.

This is not what many folks in WNY had in mind when they hailed Wilmers' appointment last year.




 

Brian Davis' problems continue

Seems there's more to the story about Brian Davis than him ...

Violating state election law and having his accounts frozen.

Losing his driver's license while his parking space across from City Hall continues to be used.

Being sued by the state for unpaid taxes.

Getting hauled into Small Claims Court five times.

Being the subject of five liens from creditors.

Having his wages garnished by two parties.

Getting investigated by Buffalo police on allegations he wrote a bad check to cover the rent of a now-failed restaurant launched with the help of city loans.

What more could there be?

Well, I reported in my original investigation that Davis graduated with a degree in political science from Trinity College. I took the information off his official biography on City Hall's Web site. (Don't bother checking out the site now; the city removed the bio shortly after my story ran).

I got a call the day the story ran -- early in the morning, actually -- from a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., who expressed a strong hunch that Davis did not graduate from the old alma mater.

I called the college's alumni office and found out that, sure enough, no Brian C. Davis with his date of birth ever graduated from the school.

In fact, no Brian Davis ever graduated from the college, period.

Hmmm.

Well, I figured I had better call all the colleges in the country that have "Trinity" in their name. When you factor out nursing schools, seminaries and community colleges, there are a grand total of 10. I called 'em all.

They all had the same thing to say: Our Brian Davis did not graduate from their school.

With this information in hand, I e-mail Davis on Tuesday asking him to clarify.

You have stated you earned a degree in political science from Trinity College, but none of the colleges in the country that have "Trinity" in their name say you attended, much less graduated, from their institution. Care to explain?

I followed up by calling his office and his cell phone and sending more e-mails. Numerous times Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Nothing.
 
Finally, he sent me an e-mail at 4:21 p.m. that starts out:

In response to your message on where I received my degree. It was Trinity College.

I responded with an e-mail that essentially said "that's not enough information, we need to talk."

I have contacted every college and university in the nation with Trinity in its name, and none say you are a graduate. So I need you to be specific about which Trinity College you are a graduate of. The formal name and city would suffice.

I'm still waiting for a response.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Council President Dave Franczyk sat down with his two colleagues in leadership positions and an attorney from the law department in an effort to determine what, if anything, the Council can do regarding Davis. A legal opinion was requested.

The Council has been hands off so far, and the city ethics board indicated likewise on Tuesday.

Franczyk acknowledged that many of his colleagues are "uncomfortable" over the prospect of an inquiry.

"It's a situation people would prefer would just go away, he said.

But it's not, and Franczyk realizes that. In fact, more shoes could drop in the weeks and months ahead.

Franczyk has asked Davis to hold a press conference to address questions surrounding his conduct, but Davis has not taken him up on that advice. Instead, he's remained largely mum. 

These days, it's a deafening silence.

Winner: Apathy. Loser: Our kids.

When I voted in the School Board election at 9 a.m. yesterday I was voter No. 20. Out of more than 3,000 in the combined election districts at my polling place. It was an intimate gathering - just me and four election workers.

Out of curiosity, I stopped by my polling place on the way home from work to check on the turnout. All of 175.

Well, the results are in, and citywide, only 5 percent of registered voters turned out.

Pathetic.

What does this say about our city's interest in our children, at a time when what we get for spending three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars-a-year is a high school dropout rate of 55 percent, school board members treating themselves to junkets and food spreads before meetings, and the fiasco last year at McKinley High School?

It says the same thing that the city's spending on its schools does. Like city government itself, our schools have become a ward of the state.

People complained about Jimmy Griffin's stinginess towards the schools years ago. Well, folks, in retrospect, those were the good old days. Relatively speaking, of course.

What it all says is we don't really care about our kids.

Yeah, I know, May elections suppress the vote, But there's no getting around the fact only one out of every 20 registered voters did their duty yesterday.

I'll bet a lot more watched Oprah and Sports Center.

I think the turnout also speaks to the state of civic life in the city.

Citizen groups, be they PTAs, block clubs or community based organizations, are withering. Muscular organizations like BUILD are a distant memory.

Yeah, there are a few on the ball, but they are the exception to the rule.

One reason - a big reason - why the politicians get away with murder in this town is that there's not much to keep them in check or hold them accountable.

We're the third-poorest city our size in the nation, and if someone was to measure the vibrancy of our civic life, I'll bet we would fare just as poorly.

Uncle Sam: Not a good investor

I'm not sure how telling it is, but the Daily Beast has done an interesting analysis of how the largest federal investments in private companies have done over the past six months. 

The verdict: Not so hot.

Actually, kind of crappy.

Says The Beast:

In fairness, it's not like these guys were tasked with being the best money managers they could be. Instead, they were tasked with saving the system.

Sadly, though, it looks like the judgment of the market is that some of the companies they thought worthy our largesse were destined for the scrap heap in any event.

Let’s break it down. If you look at infusions of taxpayer money of $5 billion or more since last October, you will find that, on balance, Uncle Sam is a terrible investor. That’s a total of $268.1 billion invested.

As of Friday’s close, our portfolio was worth just $202.4 billion. We’re out almost $66 billion in six months. On an annualized basis, that’s a 32.2 percent loss. Putting all that money into a plain-vanilla S&P 500 index fund would have lost us just 4.4 percent during that time.

Elsewhere on the bailout front, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has emerged as a leading critic to the federal approach. He started when Dubya was still in office and hasn't eased up on Obama. Check out Krugman's blog

Renewed push for pension reform

The State Legislature turned its back on a proposal to reform the state pension system, but New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to revive the issue.

Here's the reform, in a nutshell, as conveyed by NY Public Payroll Watch:

The Tier 5 proposal would require civilian employees of both the city and state to work at least 30 years and be 62 years old to qualify for a half-pay pension.

Another provision, which does not apply to the state workforce, would require the city's uniformed employees, some of whom can now qualify for their pensions after 20 years' service and with no age requirement, to have to work 25 years and be at least 50 before they could collect.

In other words, public employees would have pension plans that more closely resemble taxpayers, or at least those who have pensions.

The public employee unions are howling, of course. But Bloomberg, who said the proposal would save NYC $7 billion over 20 years, is pressing ahead. He's looking for savings in the budget he released last week.

I wonder if Byron Brown, Chris Collins, Paul Dyster and company will lend their support. Pension costs, along with health insurance for retirees, are becoming bigger and bigger expenses for local governments.

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