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Higgins' zig-zag, for better and worse

Hardly anyone, not even the folks at the New York Power Authority, are disagreeing with Brian Higgins these days regarding his assertion that Western New York ought to be getting more benefits from the Niagara Power Project. Not when it generates more low-cost electricity than all but a handful of hydropower plants in the nation, and not when it cleared $205 million last year, providing the authority with nearly 70 percent of its profits.

There is, however, lots to debate in the congressman's latest proposal on how NYPA ought to belly up to the bar.

Nearly two months ago, Higgins submitted a bill in Congress that would have required NYPA to return the proceeds from the sale of any unused power earmarked for local industry. It's been averaging about $40 million per in recent years. He got members of the local delegation to the State Legislature to sign on with companion legislation that was announced at a press conference Saturday.

The potential problem with that approach is that, if the authority were to do the right thing and allocate  the power, as it's been able to do for most of its 50-plus years, there wouldn't be any proceeds flowing back to WNY. The authority's decision last month, done at the behest of Gov. David Paterson, to give a big allotment of power to Yahoo!, even though the discounts add up to $810,000 per job, show just how easy it is to move power out the door if and when the authority is so inclined.

In a shift that Higgins doesn't see as such, the congressman now wants NYPA to return 36 percent of the plants profits to WNY for economic development purposes. Pegging a number to net revenue makes a lot more sense, in that the profits aren't going to go away.

Higgins calculates that his formula would generate about $65 million a year. My math tells me that, based on the profits last year, the number would be close to $74 million. Last year's profits were a record, however, and if you go back seven years -- low water levels in the two or three previous years resulted in abnormally low earnings -- the number would be $47.5 million.

Either way, a decent chunk of change.

How Higgins would spend the money, no matter the formula, is where the debate ought to begin.

For starters, he proposes that 60 percent of it come to Erie County. I think the folks in Niagara County, where the plant is located and where most of the low-cost hydropower is now allocated, might have something to say about that.

Also worth debate is how Higgins would spend the money in Erie County.

Some of it is earmarked for economic development that involves technology and good-paying jobs, primarily for the expansion of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Some of it is for infrastructure that would, among other things, help open the Outer Harbor for residential development.

But a lot of it would be targeted for capital improvements to cultural facilities, in an effort to promote the notion of cultural tourism. Money to add gallery space to the Albright-Knox, help finish the Darwin Martin House, get the restoration of the H.H. Richardson complex off the dime, build an exhibit at the Buffalo Zoo and spiff up the Tiff Nature Preserve. Stuff like that.

My question: Is this really the best and highest use of our economic development dollars?

Once you get past short-lived construction jobs, how many good-paying jobs would be created?

How many in the future economy involving technology, clean energy and other other green-collar jobs?

And what would the Higgins plan do to address poverty in Buffalo, the nation's third-poorest city, and Niagara Falls, which isn't much better off?

One could argue that much of what's on Higgins' list would return a relative modest bang for the buck.

I understand his reasoning -- it's work that's ready to go, which could boost what many consider to be an important component of the regional economy, and which could capitalize facilities that maybe haven't gotten enough TLC.

But I'm sorry, you lose me with $10 million to help relocate a golf course and restore South Park to its former glory.

It's not that nicer parks and bigger art galleries and improved zoo exhibits aren't good things.

But they're not going to generate a lot of jobs, and especially not good-paying ones.

And that's what the name of the game ought to be.

Power Authority paid nearly $40 million in bonuses

Most of us working stiffs can look forward to a pay raise once a year. Well, at least we could before last year's financial meltdown.

But for employees at the New York Power Power Authority, Christmas has come twice a year the past decade.

There was the annual pay raise, of course. Good raises, ones that I found had bumped the average NYPA salary up to more than $82,000 by 2005, as I reported in my "Power Failure" series.

On top of the annual pay raise came something called "variable pay." Something you and I would call a "bonus."

As I report in Sunday's News, the authority from 1999 to 2007 paid out $39.8 million in variable pay/bonuses. It worked out to an average of $2,452 per employee the last year checks were cut. The big cheeses got as much as $8,100.

Practically no one has been left out. Even temps and part-timers got in on the action. Part-time tour guides got $500 apiece.

Over the years, the bonuses amounted to an average of 3.3 percent of pay. I don't know about the rest of you, but there haven't been too many years I've seen a 3.3 percent raise, much less bonus.

NYPA boss Richie Kessel suspended the payments due for 2008 this past March after a lot of politicians started hootin' and hollerin' about the bonuses about the time everyone was screaming about the big bucks still flowing to people in the Wall Street firms that helped get us into this national financial mess.

"You have to put your finger in the wind once in a while and the winds told me that this was not a good idea," Kessel said.

The bonus program hasn't been killed, but it is on life support, pending a study of employee compensation that is in the works. Kessel notes that NYPA competes with the private utilities for talent and therefore has to pay competitive wages and benefits. While he's not sure what the study will show, his hunch is that it demonstrate that NYPA employees on balance are underpaid.

"I'm sure there are some well-paid people at NYPA, but I'm also sure there are a lot of underpaid people at NYPA, too," Kessel said.


I dunno, maybe there's some engineer someplace who could be making a bigger buck elsewhere. But with one in five employees knocking down over $100,000 a year, with the average janitor making $52,000 a year, security guards $57,000 and trade apprentices -- apprentices! -- $65,000, I think the authority could find takers without bonuses.

Then there's the big bucks given to the big wheels. Roger Kelley was pulling down $235,000 to run the authority in 2007. Given that money, did we need to give the guy a $4,496 bonus to do his job well?  

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, no friend of authorities, is correct in saying a theoretical case for performance-based pay can be made. But the size of the bonuses, on top of already-big paychecks and generous benefits, underscore how the Power Authority in some ways continues to operate in a parallel universe.

And, folks, we're not in it.


For those of you who want to play a while longer in the sand box, check out these ditties:

Searchable database of all bonuses paid from 2003-2007.

Authority's variable pay policy

Authrority's variable pay criteria for 2007

Story from my 2007 "Power Failure" series on authority pay, perks and profits.


Wilmers leaves behind a mess

Bob Wilmers, when he doesn't want to answer a question, likes to say "that's out of my pay grade."

Well, when it come to running the state's major economic development agency, Wilmers was definitely working out of his pay grade.

After one year on the job as chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., Wilmers resigned Thursday, effective today.

His legacy: an agency hamstrung by inertia and in-fighting.

Kind of describes what ails local economic development efforts, doesn't it?


Reports Tom Precious:

The agency has seen its share of infighting, sources have said in recent months, with tension between the various upstate and downstate offices of the department. A source said recently that Wilmers also has expressed frustration with the musical chairs among high-ranking officials in the governor's office over the past year -- making it difficult for the agency to get adequate attention at the Capitol.

Wilmers' departure comes less than a week after Marisa Lago abruptly left as president of and chief executive officer of the ESDC. She was replaced by Mullen, who served as the upstate president of the agency. Sources have said Wilmers and Lago clashed, at times, on various internal matters.

I questioned at the time of his appointment whether Wilmers was the right person for the job:

He's been a major power in the Buffalo Niagara Partnership for years, an organization whose mission includes promoting economic growth in the region. Given the state of the local economy, does the Partnership's track record make Wilmers worthy of a promotion to oversee the entire state economy?

Wilmers has had great success in the private sector, but it did not translate into the altogether different world of government.

Somewhere, Dan Gundersen is laughing.

He's the guy Eliot Spitzer hired as upstate economic czar who crisscrossed the state, practically living in his car for a year, to learn the lay of the land and figure out what needed doing. When Spitzer self-destructed, Gov. David Paterson insisted on bringing in his own guy. Gundersen was as good as gone.

Well, Paterson got his man, and the rest of us got a year of inaction. Now we're back to ground zero, that much deeper in the economic hole.

Albany is stranger than fiction

Do we laugh or cry? Let's hold that question for a minute and read a bit on the latest developments.

Let's start with a blog post by Buffalo News political reporter Bob McCarthy about the close ties  Tom Golisano and Steve Pigeon have with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Deputy Mayor Steve Casey. 

In a post appropriately entitled "Mayor Ducks Questions on Albany Coup" -- doesn't Brown always duck questions? -- McCarthy says:

He would not answer questions about whether he would maintain ties with Pigeon and Golisano, who were the main forces in leading the charge against Brown's old Democratic allies.

Among the questions I'd like Brown and Casey to answer regarding the coup: What did they know and when did they know it?

Batman and robin Given that Pigeon and Casey/Brown, are thick as thieves these days, did our Dynamic Duo have a heads-up about the pending coup, and if so, why did they not tip off their fellow Democrats?

This is no small consideration, given that the talk out of the Brown/Casey camp these days has involved the possibility of the mayor running for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by Andrew Cuomo. Brown's ties to Golisano and Pigeon are not going to be an asset if, in fact, the mayor holds such aspirations.

Elsewhere, The New York Times has a revealing column on State Sen. Pedro Espada, one of the two flip-floppers who helped return the GOP to power -- for the time being, anyway.

Says columnist Jim Dwyer:

His cronies stole food meant for poor, sick people and gave it out at his political rallies. He owes the city $61,750 in fines for fraudulent campaign fund-raising going back to 2001. He has failed to file 41 reports with the State Board of Elections, and has racked up $13,553 in penalties since 2002. He does not have an office in the district he was elected to represent in the Bronx. In fact, it looks as if he doesn’t even live there.

The New York Observer is among the outlets speculating that perhaps Sen. Hiram Monserrate, the other defector, is having second thoughts.

The Republican-led coalition that led a coup in the State Senate Monday was unable to deliver on its promise to hold session today, as one of the renegade Democrats moved away from their fold.

Our own Tom Precious also weighs in:

Sen. Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, the new majority leader, insisted the coup is not unraveling.

"[Monserrate] asked for 24 more hours and [said] that other Democrats have asked him for the opportunity to talk about coming into the coalition, and for them to have time to make their decision. It's a tough decision," Skelos said in a hallway interview.

Then there's the always-pointed words of Fred Dicker of the New York Post, who said Golisano's pique with former Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith triggered the GOP coup:

"The last I was in his office, I was completely discouraged because he spent more time playing with his BlackBerry than listening to our conversation," Golisano said.

It seems Tommy Boy has issues with BlackBerrys. It's just not the episode with Smith: BlackBerry founder Jim Balsilie is trying to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them down the QEW to Hamilton, a move many believe would hurt his -- and our -- Buffalo Sabres. 

Newsday reported that not everyone was thrilled with Golisano as he made his victory lap.

Less delighted was Judith Simon, a Citizen Action member who bored into the crowd around Golisano Tuesday.

"You bought our democracy! How dare you do that? Go back to Florida and screw up their state!" she shouted. "You are a disgusting human being!"

While the Blackberry snubbed helped flip Golisano's switch, a good-old fashioned fight over patronage involving a new upstate office helped sour Pigeon, reports Precious.

At first, officials said, the Buffalo office was to have four to five people. But in early April the plans grew to up to 10 people when the Pigeon requests started coming in, the official said. The demands by Pigeon created a “major friction” between Aponte and Pigeon. Tuesday, Sens. Pedro Espada and Dean Skelos, the new leaders of the Senate, called on Aponte to resign.

With the Buffalo office coming under increasing pressure in the local media and radio talk shows, the size of the planned staff was then downsized in late April. It was about that time the Pigeon allies were told they would not be getting jobs with the Buffalo office. Work on the coup began shortly after that, Republicans have acknowledged.

If all of this is not sufficiently surreal, Newsday also reports that the Rev. Al Sharpton is, in effect, saying "Don't make me march on Albany."

Speaking on the steps of the Silver Spoon Diner in Elmhurst, Sharpton threatened to lead a protest march in Albany next week if the chaos in the capital city is not addressed.

All we need now is an appearance of Sarah Palin. Hey, wasn't she in Auburn just the other day?

Payoff for Pigeon

Is it about reform, power or simply a job?

When it comes to Steve Pigeon, it looks like it's Door Number Three.

Tom Golisano's political go-to guy is in line for a big job with the state Senate in the wake of Monday's Republican coup.

Reports my colleague Tom Precious:

Sources say Pigeon is being eyed as a top counsel to Sen. Pedro Espada, the Bronx Democrat who was backed by 32 senators Monday as the new president of the Senate -- putting him first in the line of succession to Gov. David A. Paterson.

Speculation has been flowing all day that Pigeon would be made the new Senate secretary, the top staff position in the 62-member house. Earlier in the day, Espada and the new majority leader, Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, called on Angelo Aponte, the current secretary, to resign. Aponte is a loyalist to Sen. Malcolm Smith, who was ousted as majority leader in Monday's GOP takeover.

The New York Daily News has a similar take.

If, in fact, Pigeon gets the job as chief counsel to Espada - presumably to advise him on legislative matters, as opposed represent in the case involving the imposition of some $60,000 in fines for violations of the campaign finance law, Tommy's Boy is in line for a salary that could rival that of the governor.

The Senate's top-paid lawyer last year, when the Republicans were last in control, made $180,000. 

If Pigeon lands the secretary's's job, the pay day could be even bigger. The last guy to hold it under Republican control made $190,000.

How much you want to bet Baby Joe Mesi comes out of this with a job, regardless of his party affiliation.

Reform, Golisano style

I'd feel better about the prospect of the Republican coup in the State Senate leading to real reform if one of the Democrats who switched sides isn't under indictment for slashing his girlfriend and the other isn't facing $60,000 in penalties for failing to disclose his campaign finances.

This is reform, Tom Golisano style.

He's got to be the most influential resident of Naples, Fla,. the Empire State has ever seen.

Golisano has reportedly been working behind the scenes for a month to flip the Senate from Democratic to Republican control. Golisano, 'tis said, was miffed that the Dems didn't embrace his idea of reform. And, in fact, by hiring the likes of Baby Joe Mesi, the new majority party didn't exactly set themselves up as the party of change.

Keep in mind that Golisano poured a lot of money into mostly Democratic Senate candidates last fall, including Bill Stachowski and the aforementioned Baby Joe, with the expectation he'd have lots of influence if the Dems took over. Apparently he and sidekick Steve Pigeon didn't have as much juice as they wanted, although in getting their Baby Joe a job, they certainly seemed to have some influence.

Some folks have said Golisano isn't in the game for real reform, but for power, and Monday's developments show he's got a lot of the latter, while doing something to advance the former.

Consider the Senate rule changes the Republicans announced almost immediately. Hardly a template for model government, but they do appear to move beyond what the Dems have done so far.

Rather than reform, the real end game for Golisano and Pigeon might be that, finding themselves in the good graces of the new Senate majority, they might just have gotten out from under a potentially explosive investigation by the state Board of Elections, which had fielded complaints about the conduct of Responsible New York and an affiliated front group.

I'm told it takes both Democratic and Republican commissioners on the state Board of Elections to authorize an investigation and that's the direction things appeared to be headed a few weeks ago. But the GOP owes Golisano too much now to dare let that investigation move forward.

Lest anyone think I'm crying for the Democrats, well, I'm not. They inherited a mandate for change and then went out and pulled stunts like hiring Baby Joe.

To quote Pete Townshend: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

But I'm also under no illusion that the new Senate majority is likely to take the steps necessary to clean up their house.

The state is sinking like a leaf in a whirlpool and our so-called leaders are preoccupied with playing politics.

It's enough to bring out the cynic in any Who fan, and really, who in their right mind is not a Who fan?

Hit it, Pete.

Outrages in the fine print

Two things caught my eye reading the paper over the weekend.

First, in a disturbing story detailing how 13 women have died at the hands of their current or former male partners since November, came this passage.

Many advocates contend that law enforcement agencies need to devote more resources and training to help curb the upward spiral of violence.

Several noted that the Buffalo Police Department in recent years has dramatically scaled back the number of detectives assigned to handling domestic violence cases and pulled its investigators from the Family Justice Center, a one-stop agency devoted to linking victims with assistance and resources.

I find the retreat by the Buffalo police department especially troubling given what I read in crime incident reports when I work the police beat once every three or four weeks. As I noted in a blog past last week, there are a lot of assaults against women by men who are violating orders of protection.

Twice in the past couple of months I read reports where men kicked pregnant women in the stomach.

Domestic violence is by no means limited to the city, but there sure is a lot of it occurring in Buffalo. I wonder what reasoning the police brass has in pulling back.

I''ll bet that the law enforcement community throughout Western New York, including judges, don't come down real hard on the vast majority of men who violate orders of protection. It looks like in Buffalo they may hardly be trying. 

Anyone out there have any stats or insights?

The other items that caught my eye involved the deal Gov. David Paterson struck late last week with two of the large state employee unions.The deal: buyouts for 4,500 instead of layoffs for 8,700, and changes in the pension system.

Here's a nugget that jumped out at me:

The big winners of the day were the two public employee unions. CSEA President Danny Donohue, who vowed his members would never concede to contract givebacks, said he also received a pledge from Paterson that layoffs will be off the table for two years.

Let me get this straight: The state is already facing a $5 billion deficit for the budget year that started in April, and the Guv has ruled out layoffs for this year and next? What a negotiator.

Of course, this is the same guy who thought he struck a good deal with Yahoo! by giving the company hydropower discounts worth $810,000 per $50,000 job created, and then felt it wasn't his place to ask the company to place its server farm any closer to the populous than the Pembroke exit off the Thruway.

One Sunset story keeps getting stranger

It may be, as one City Hall insider suggested to me Thursday, that Mayor Byron Brown and his inner circle really want to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the One Sunset deal. But from outward appearances, Brown and Company could be construed as circling the wagons.

For starters, consider their response to a "request" from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to review the One Sunset deal to determine if it followed the rules and regulations governing the use of block grant funds.

As I report in today's Buffalo News:

The Brown administration had one development agency headed by the mayor review the actions of a second development agency headed by the mayor.

The conclusion: the city did nothing wrong.

Then there's the refusal to turn over either of the two internal reports the city has done regarding the One Sunset deal. Yes, there may be legitimate privacy concerns involved, but the refusal to provide any information doesn't exactly make the Brown administration look forthcoming. The leadership of the Common Council has written BERC asking for release of the reports.

Brian reilly Then consider my interview Wednesday with Brian Reilly, president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., whose shop provided Leonard Stokes money and manpower that was deployed to help keep the restaurant in business for all of one year.

I asked Reilly three or four times what he thought of everything he's read about the One Sunset deal, both in the paper and internal reviews conducted by the city.

His response?

Well, he started out with a reply similar to what ended Mark McGuire's prospects of getting elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

Like McGuire, Reilly wanted to talk about the future, not the past. Then again, he said, it doesn't really matter what he thinks. After all, there's an investigation going on.

I got a bit incredulous at that point of the interview, telling Reilly, in effect: "You're the boss of this operation and you don't have an opinion? Get real."

Finally, finally, he grudgingly conceded that, yes, indeed, he was "definitely concerned."

Whew, I'm glad he got that off his chest.

It was Reilly's turn to get animated when I brought up Michelle Barron's performance and credentials.

He sounded genuinely offended by my story calling her qualifications into question. 

I reported her job calls for a college degree and five years experience, while she is a high school graduate who had, at best, three years of applicable experience, before being promoted.

Reilly challenged me, saying that Barron has equivalent experience that qualified her for the job.

What equivalent experience might that be?

Reilly didn't really say.

I asked him whether Barron's job is on the line.

Reilly's response: She's been given additional job duties over the past two months.

OK, Brian, I hear you. I think we all hear you.

While I can only speculate, I think Reilly is probably aghast at what he's read in the paper and in his agency's own internal reports these past two weeks. Not that he can say that, given that he's part of a City Hall team that values image above all else.

I'll give Reilly this much credit -- at least he's answering questions. Sort of.

His boss, the mayor, continues to duck them.

I told you readers a couple of days ago that I had again asked for an interview with the mayor, not to talk about the One Sunset deal in general, but about questions I had about Brown's potential direct involvement in the One Sunset deal. They are questions that he and he alone -- well, and perhaps Steve Casey -- are qualified to answer.

Here's the e-mail response from Peter Cutler, the mayor's press handler:

As you know, the Mayor forwarded on Monday a report from BERC's ongoing review of this matter to the City Comptroller's office. Following that action, the Mayor spoke briefly with the paper's City Hall reporter, whose feature is in today's paper. Given that fact and the ongoing internal BERC review and Comptroller's audit, the Mayor will not comment any further.

So, he's clammed up until Comptroller Andrew SanFilippo's shop has done its review of both the One Sunset deal and the overall performance of BERC. 

Which brings me to another point: In theory, an audit by the comptroller sounds good. But does SanFilippo have the manpower and the expertise to really get to the bottom of things?

Might he benefit from, say, asking State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for a helping hand? Or perhaps  HUD?

(When I asked Reilly if he thought it was a good idea to involve the feds, he responded with an emphatic  "Absolutely not!" Reilly is no doubt aware of Brown's ongoing efforts to stifle and otherwise marginalize the local HUD office since it issued a critical review of City Hall's management of block grant funds. We can't have that kind of scrutiny, especially in an election year.)

No knock on SanFilippo's staff, but the more people I talk to, the more I question if they have the chops necessary to do this audit justice.

They don't get the concept

A lot of people are beating up on state employee unions for not doing their bit to help the state stabilize its finances by refusing to comply with Gov. David Paterson's request that they forgo scheduled pay raises and take unpaid furloughs.

Add our so-called business leaders to the list of those who don't subscribe to the concept of shared sacrifice.

The state last week informed recipients of Empire Zone benefits that some of them will no longer qualify because of changes in the criteria. Paterson wants companies to invest at least one dollar for every one dollar of tax breaks they receive.

Imagine the nerve of that guy - expecting something back for tax breaks that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

A lot of tears are being shed that Chef's Restaurant might not be able to go through with its planned  expansion, which to me only underscores what's wrong with the Empire Zone program.

Restaurants and retail do not generally generate additional economic activity. Communities only spend so much to shop and eat out, and a new or expanded restaurant or store will only lead to a redistribution of spending. 

You eat your spaghetti at Chef's, or maybe around the corner at Ditondo's, or, if you're me, Marco's on Niagara Street. But you're not going to eat out twice that day, and, in the odd chance you do, it's that much less money in your pocket to spend the next time. That's why some economic development programs don't provide financial help to restaurants and retail.

Nevertheless, the business guys are beefing that Paterson is effectively changing the rules in the middle of the game. I guess they think that tax break programs, even failed ones like Empire Zones, ought to be exempt to mid-stream revisions.

Here's the thing: If it's unfair to alter a deal involving tax breaks, isn't it also unfair to alter a contract settlement involving employees. After all, employee unions bargained contracts that call for pay raises, not wage freezes and unpaid days off.

I mean, a deal is a deal, right?

In reality, something's got to give if the state is ever going to get back on its financial feet. Big labor says "don't look at us," and big business on the dole is saying the same thing.

I guess they think we taxpayers ought to be the only ones to pitch in.

On behalf of all we taxpayers, I'd like to dedicate this song to those of you in the "don't look at us" crowd. It's a little ditty called "Wah Wah," as in "I don't want to hear your Wah Wah."

Hit it, George.

Acknowledging the obvious on One Sunset

The Brown Administration has begun to fess up, at least in private, about at least some of the shenanigans its main economic development agency engaged in with regards to the funding and operation of the failed One Sunset restaurant.

Mayor Byron Brown's office on Tuesday forwarded its review of the agency's role to City Comptroller Andrew SanFilippo. But neither the mayor nor the comptroller would release the report, saying it should remain hush-hush until SanFilippo's office completes a larger audit of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.

The report ought to made public and The News will file a request for it under the state Freedom of Information Law.

Sources told my colleague, Brian Meyer, that the review found fault with the actions of BERC veep Michelle Barron. Our story a week ago Sunday detailed her involvement, right down to the painting of bar stools.

At the same time, Brown, responding to a questions from Meyer, acknowledged Tuesday that he met with Stokes regarding the restaurant. Said it was no big deal, that he meets with "literally hundreds of people every week."

Well, maybe if you count all the people in a room when he gives a speech. But we know that Brown is a largely sheltered and isolated mayor, and I doubt a whole lot of people -- outside of his inner circle -- get a private sit-down with hizzoner during the course of a week. And I'll bet few, if any, aspiring restaurant owners get such an audience.

All this leads to a larger question -- what was the mayor's role in the city's decision to help fund and operate One Sunset?

The Brown Administration review --prepared by BERC attorney Divitta Alexander, who was not exactly cooperative when The News was conducting its investigation -- apparently limits culpability to Barron.

But, readers, you should be mindful that the mayor refused to discuss One Sunset when I called his office for an interview during the course of conducting our investigation. I explained to his spokesman that I had specific questions about the mayor's potential direct involvement in the city's decision to assist the restaurant.

The mayor flat-out refused to field questions. 

In the course of writing this blog post, I left word with the mayor's spokesman that I still want that interview. Let's see how he responds.

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