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Collins and Brown -- the sequel

So much for Chris Collins' rant about Sheldon Silver the anit-Christ being "unscripted" and "off the cuff," as claimed by his flak.

Artvoice reports:

When Erie County Executive Chris Collins called Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver an anti-Christ last Saturday night at a Republican dinner, it wasn’t the first time he’d pulled the line out of his bag.

He recently made the exact same comparison to a group of Buffalo State political science students, who were visiting the Rath Building. Two Buffalo State faculty members were present.

Geoff Kelly goes on to say:

But it’s clear to me that his remark comparing an orthodox Jew to Hitler and the anti-Christ was not “off the cuff” or “unscripted”; it was not a momentary lapse in judgment. The joke is part of Collins’ repertoire. He has used it more than once, who knows how many times.

Which begs the question -- anyone else hear Collins deliver this punchline?

This comes from an aspiring career politician who was quoted last week as saying he didn't want to name any Republicans who might be career politicians because "I don't want to get into name-calling necessarily."

Come to think of it, Byron Brown has an unusual double standard, as well.

The mayor who was too busy to meet last week with the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development when the cabinet member made a rare visit to Buffalo is the same fellow who took time out from his busy day a couple of years back to help Leonard Stokes out of a jam.

Interesting.

And telling.

Speaking of telling, let me share this photo taken last week under the category of "a picture tells a thousand words."

Syracuse mayor with HUD

Let's see, we've got HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Congressman Dan Maffei, Senator Chuck Schumer, and, on the far right, Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll.

A mayor meeting with a congressman, senator and cabinet member. Imagine that.

Two "class" acts

Let's see. We have Bryon Brown stiffing a member of President Obama's Cabinet in a rare visit to Buffalo and Chris Collins calling an orthodox Jew an "anti-Christ" and mentioning him in the same breath as  Hitler.

We know how to pick 'em in Western New York, don't we?

Let's start with Collins and a report from Bob McCarthy:

In a story first reported by the New York Daily News, the county executive -- who is exploring a run for governor next year -- referred to French seer Nostradamus' predictions that the world would experience three "anti-Christs" before the apocalypse. He then said it's generally accepted the first was Napoleon, the second Hitler, and was "pretty sure" the third is Silver -- an orthodox Jew.

Collins said it in the context of Silver as part of Albany's "three men in a room" budget process, in which the two legislative leaders and the governor make most budgetary decisions.

The remarks are already sending shock waves through the state's political establishment, and Collins has reacted, calling his choice of words "a poor joke."

"While we may disagree strongly on policy matters, my statement had no place in our political discourse and I am truly sorry to both the speaker and to anyone else who I may have offended," he said.

Are we talking poor taste, or something deeper?

I don't know, but let's examine Collins' recent track record.

His county attorney is steadfastly trying to block efforts by state and federal officials to find out what's happening at the county prison and holding center, in the face of escapes and allegations of prisoner abuse.

In his effort to elect four Republicans to the County Legislature, and tip the balance of power his way, he has aligned himself with the local Tea Party movement that includes some extreme right wing voices, as documented by the Buffalo Geek.

And, through the budget process, Collins has taken aim at numerous programs aimed at the poor and proposed a three-year funding freeze for a library system that is already hurting.

Does all this sound like a guy running county government like a business? Or a right wing ideologue?

Hey, I report. You decide.

On to the mayor.

Who do you see in the picture below. Or, more precisely, who don't you see?

HUD secretary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let's see, there's Brian Higgins. And Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and urban Development. And Chuck Schumer. All three flew in from out of town. Also pictured on the far right is, no, not Chris Collins, but Anthony Armstrong, of the Buffalo office of the Local Initiatives Support  Corp.

Why was Donovan here?

Schumer said the secretary came to Buffalo to learn more about the plan that he and Higgins are shepherding in Congress.

In other words, our lawmakers are hustling to set up a program that would likely help Buffalo, among other places, and the guy in a position to write the check wants to know more.

Brown was supposed to participate in the secretary's daylong visit. But nooooooooooo. He was too busy, according to Peter Cutler, his spokesman.

What was so important that the mayor couldn't meet with Donovan?

"It was just a busy day," Cutler said.

Busy with what?

"Some issues at the office."

No big deal Brown didn't take time out, Cutler assured me.

"He's met with the HUD secretary before."

But have near fear, Brown sent Deputy Mayor Donna Brown in his place.

"He wanted to make sure we had a presence."

I'm told by someone in attendance the deputy mayor showed up more than half-an-hour late.

Nice. I'm sure than made a good impression.

Now let me get this straight. The nation's top urban affairs official makes a rare visit to Buffalo and the mayor is too busy? The same mayor who shows up at every ribbon-cutting ceremony, who treats crime scenes as a a photo op?

Please.

I'm not in the guy's head, so I don't know for sure why he blew off the fellow in a position to bring a lot of money to the nation's third-poorest city.

But I do know that Brown was irate in March when HUD issued a report ripping the city's management of its block grant program, to the point where he called D.C. to demand that HUD silence Steve Banko, head of the Buffalo office. And I think it's pretty safe to assume hizzoner wasn't happy when HUD's inspector general agreed in July to audit the city's use of block grant funds.

So, was the mayor too busy, or still in a snit?

As I said earlier, I report. You decide.

Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter.

 


 

Brown fires City Hall trouble-shooter

Carla Kosmerl, a key behind-the-scenes player in City Hall, was fired Friday.

Her official title of late was director of administration and finance with the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, but over her six years she wore a lot of hats and was assigned a lot of the most thankless tasks in City Hall.

She began under Tim Wanamaker focused on the city's use of block grant funds and oversaw an overhaul of the city's relationship with housing agencies it funded. She was assigned an ever-growing list of duties -- including director of housing and fair housing officer -- and was was given the task a couple of years ago of reviewing the finances of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.

Then, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a critical audit last spring, she was assigned to deal with that mess. All while serving as director of the Office of Strategic Planning.

I've had limited dealings with her over the years and found her to be earnest, knowledgeable and under no illusions. She was perhaps the most overworked employee in City Hall. Lots of responsibilities, worked long, long hours.

Some sources I hold in high regard held her in high regard, and one told me this morning she was set up to fail. He expects that she'll be scapegoated for the city's continuing problems with the block grant program. 

Other sources told me they felt her effectiveness has been hurt by all the work she had taken on -- or had been assigned.

And a few are saying "good riddance."

Look for more in Tuesday's paper.


  

I'm live on Facebook and Twitter -- get in on the action

I'm continuing to experiment with new media tools and have added a Facebook page in addition to the Twitter account I set up several months back. I encourage those of you who follow this blog to track my work through one or both.

In a sense, Facebook will allow me to open yet another reporting front. First there was print, then the blog, then Twitter. Where it ends, who knows. But I'm aiming to find out.

TwitterI've been using Twitter to give readers a heads-up on my latest blog post and will continue to do so. Don't worry, I don't bore people with what I'm having for lunch.

The Facebook page is going to function in part as a feed of my my stories and blog posts at Outrages & Insights. I also plan to post additional content, value-added news, comment and links, if you will. Stuff from me you won't find elsewhere.

Those who sign up to follow me on Facebook can also post comments and content to the page, which allows readers to go way beyond the simple posting of comments on the blog. I'm hoping this helps me build an online community. I'm intrigued and excited about the possibilities.

I was hoping I could build a community around my blog, but I've been disappointed. In retrospect, my expectations were too high. Anonymous posters do not make for a community. Snarky comments, yes. Verbal food fights, yes. But community, no.

Buffalo News policy requires that I keep almost all knucklehead posts up -- unless they really cross the line -- even though I think they are the equivalent of peeing in the pool and driving away many serious minded people who might otherwise have something intelligent to say.

The Facebook page is mine, however, and I will remove inappropriate comments. So, don't libel, don't flame, don't cuss -- in short, don't be a jerk.

The opportunity for mischief is less simply because people posting to Facebook have their names attached to their words. That tends to have a civilizing effect.

FacebookI'm hoping readers jump right in by signing up as a "fan" -- I hate the phrase, but Facebook didn't ask me -- and weighing in. For starters, I'd like to hear from people about what they'd like to see on the Facebook page. I'd prefer that you post your comments on Facebook, rather than the blog.

And if there's some technical wizard out there who has ideas for bells and whistles, I'd love to hear from you. Among other things, I'd like to know if there's a way to feed my Twitter posts directly onto my Facebook page. You can do it on personal pages, but it doesn't appear doable for fan pages.

One word of caution for those who want to "fan" the page. It seems there are two fan pages entitled Outrages & Insights, so make sure you fan the correct one.

How this all plays out, who knows. As I said, this is an experiment. In my business, it's change or die, and, folks, I don''t care how much gray hair I have, I'm stickin' around.

In other words, I ain't singing Pete Townshend's infamous line.



If you're game, and already on Facebook and/or Twitter, you probably know what needs doing to follow me.

If you're new to the applications, you'll need to sign up for an account. Both services are free and registration is simple. Here are the links to register for Facebook and Twitter.

Go for it.

State Senate can never have enough lawyers

The State Senate has some 82 lawyers in its employ, according to payroll records. My math tells me they are scheduled to make a collective $6.2 million this year.

So, now that the Senate has decided to take up the fate of convicted Sen. Hiram Monserrate, what has it done?

You guessed it. Hire outside counsel.

Reports the New York Daily News:

The committee that will determine Sen. Hiram Monserrate's fate in the Senate could prove costly for taxpayers.

Committee chairman Sen. Eric Schneiderman just announced the Senate has gone outside its own shop and retained Daniel Alonso to serve as the committee's special counsel.

Alonso, a partner at Kaye Scholoer LLP, is working pro bono. But associates at his firm, which has been formally retained by the majority, can receive up to $350 an hour, said Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran.

The number of associates will depend on the extent of the work, Shafran said.

Hmmm, which YouTube video says it best?

Is it Howard Beale's "I'm mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore" rant from "Network"?

Not bad. But that's not it.

This is more John McEnroe. Yeah, definitely John McEnroe.


Some days I think it's hopeless

A read of the morning paper has me thinking today that we should post signs at all access points into Western New York that read "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

Consider:

Officials in Orchard Park are balking at plans for an affordable senior housing complex in their town because  -- gasp! -- some of the residents might not be from Orchard Park.

I mean, we can't let the riff-raff in from Hamburg or East Aurora. And perish the thought that some of "those people" might venture out from an inner-ring suburb or -- double gasp!! -- the city.

Town Council Member Nan Ackerman, part of the political crowd that tried to suppress voter turnout in the recent referendum to downsize the board only to complain about low turnout is among the NIMBY crowd. Speaking of the senior complex, she said:

"We were hoping it would be for our own residents and not a lot of other people ... We felt, if we were serving our own people, that was one thing. If we're serving the needs of the greater community, we need to go where those needs are."

Nan, who exactly are "your people"?

Ah, scratch that. I don't think we want to know.

Then we have Erie County Attorney Cheryl Green.

Not content to keep out the U.S. Justice Department as it attempts to scrutinize conditions at the county prison and holding center, she has told the state Commission of Corrections that it can't interview staff or inmates about an escape earlier this month from the holding center unless a county attorney is present or a video camera is rolling.

Speaking from my nearly 30 years of reporting experience, I can tell you that the best way to keep people quiet is by insisting that their boss be entitled to know every word they say. 

Then again, that's probably the point in this matter.

This latest stunt by the Collins administration is part of its MO of ignoring any power or authority that it does not control itself. Be it the county comptroller, the County Legislature, the control board, the Justice Department or the Department of Corrections, Chris Collins and Co. appear to see no authority that it feels obligated to recognize or respect.

Finally, we have yet another mindless pronouncement from one of the guys entrusted to make wise use of public dollars to develop the inner-harbor.

A while back, Jordan Levy, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., was quoted as justifying the project and its huge public subsidies on the grounds "if you built it, they will come."

Never mind that the development history of this community runs contrary to that. Witness the parking lots that surround HSBC Arena and whatever they're calling Pilot Field.

Now we have Tom Dee, president of the development corporation, declaring: "If you're for Buffalo, you're for this project.

Donn Esmonde takes it from here:

Not really.

There are people who are heart and soul behind Buffalo who have reservations about this project, for good reasons.

We are trying to create a retail-heavy district where none exists. A few blocks away, Main Street is an ode to empty storefronts. Bass Pro ups the long-term ante by requiring four new, nearby parking ramps. It is not clear how much money Bass Pro is putting on the table, or how many millions of taxpayer dollars are needed to bring it. Bass Pro has a heady track record for luring customers. But the more stores it builds … and it has two within a two-hour drive … the less of an attraction each one becomes.

I haven't formed an opinion about the merits of the Bass Pro project. But I've got to cringe when someone in a position of authority wraps himself in the flag, so to speak, and pulls out a set of pompoms when perhaps a calculator might be more in order.

As Donn put it:

There are arguments to be made for and against this thing. But reservations about Bass Pro equals anti-Buffalo? Sorry, that does not play in a town riddled with self-inflicted wounds.

 Indeed. The City of No Illusions needs leaders, not cheerleaders.


 


 

Buffalo in the online world

The new issue of Spree magazine has an interesting story on the state of local online media that asks the question:

Is there a war going on in Buffalo’s online media world? And if so, is anyone paying attention to it? The answers seem to be maybe and absolutely.

I was one of the folks interviewed for the story. News Editor Margaret Sullivan was, as well.

I didn't get into the "war" angle, but instead answered a series of questions posed by Spree Associate Editor Christopher Schobert about what we're doing here at The News and how I go about my job as a blogger. Actually, one part blogger, about three or four parts print reporter.

As I told Schobert:

I think a well-done blog—that is, one where the writer does his homework as opposed to simply venting—can strike a chord with readers who want ‘tell it like it is’ journalism without all the blah-blah-blah that comes with so-called ‘objective reporting,’ which all too often is the byproduct of lazy, timid reporting. But it’s a fine line to tread.

The full Q&A can be found here, along with several others, including Chris Smith and Marc Odien of WNYmedia.net, two of the sharpest minds in town on this stuff.

Spree is hosting a panel discussion Nov. 5 as a followup to the story. I'll be a panelist, along with the aforementioned Smith and Odien and several others, including Geoff Kelly from Artvoice and Brian Connolly, online editor here at The News.

The theme of the discussion is "Journalism on the brink: When the daily paper becomes the daily blog, who wins and who loses?" The yakking commences at 7 p.m. at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.


  

Of subsidies and suds

I read the Sunday paper and here's my takeaway:

Nothing to brag about: I'm pretty sure the Erie County Industrial Development Agency thinks it's a good thing that 71 percent of the companies it has subsidized have added jobs, or at least not shed them. But my math tells me 29 percent have downsized since accepting tax breaks and other goodies from the IDA.

Which begs the question: why is the public helping to subsidize companies that shed jobs, that don't deliver as promised?

Highly subsidized high tech: Some folks say Buffalo Niagara is gaining a toehold as a hub for digital data storage. You know, Yahoo! and the like. It's cutting edge and the jobs tend to pay well.

But -- and you know there's a 'but' coming -- this is a good thing if and when it's not subsidized out the, well, yazoo, by government.

Keep in mind that data centers are energy hogs that don't produce many jobs. When all the cheap hydropower and tax breaks are added up, the public is providing Yahoo! a subsidy of about $1 million per job over the coming 15 years.

Sorry, but that's not a good ROI.

Simple solution: The Buffalo Bills are OK with what goes on the parking lots before games. Well, they have half a point. I mean, these days, it's not as ugly as what goes on during the game on the field.

But, having read the story and lived the experience, the answer is simple -- have the police enforce the open container law.

According to opencontainerlaws.com:

Did you know in most states it’s even illegal to have an open container of alcohol in public?

There is no federal law on the restriction of open containers, but the states are free to legislate the issue. In some cases the state leaves it entirely up to the local level. As a result, from coast to coast, state to state, and even town to town, the United States has quite varied open container laws.

Every state has an outright ban on open containers except for Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

Yeah, some people in Bills nation would hoot and holler if the law was actually enforced, and it might cut down on attendance, at least in the short run, until word gets out Ralph Wilson Stadium is a place you could actually take your family for a game.

But, really, if your business model depends on droves of customers showing up blasted, you've got problems. And let's face it, the Bills have problems.

State still putting off tough budget decisions

I took a look at the plan Gov. Paterson has released to close the state's budget deficit and a few things strike me.

For starters, I don't see enough structural changes that would result in recurring savings. Yes, Paterson does propose an across the board spending cut of $1.8 billion, but the plan also includes a lot of one-shots.

For example, about one-fifth of this year's gap as projected by Paterson would be closed by taking revenues away from entities ranging from the Environmental Protection Fund to the Battery Park City Authority and moving up the anticipated payment to the state from whatever company wins the bid to operate the Aqueduct Video Lottery Terminal franchise.

Those maneuvers add up to $626 million. They are not cuts. They do not address the long-term structural deficit. They represent one part quick fix, one part slight of hand.

Also, there's not a word about layoffs, although the $1.8 billion in spending cuts might prompt some. No one wants to see people losing their jobs, especially in these economic times, but structural change demands it. The party is over.

I know the schools are going to howl over a cut of nearly $700 million in aid, but keep in mind that districts have been enjoying hand-over-fist increases for years.

As the governor's office noted in its press release:

... school aid spending of $21.2 billion would still represent a $6.8 billion or 47 percent increase compared to 2003-04. Moreover, based on census data, New York spends more total per pupil than any other state and 63 percent above the national average.

Like layoffs, cuts in school aid are necessary if the state is ever to get its fiscal house in order.

The bill for reform, Golisano style, keeps climbing

Once upon a time, when a state senator from downstate wanted to know something about upstate, he or she would ask a colleague from that neck of the woods. Or maybe have his people talk to the other guy's people.

That was then.

Now the Democratic majority has hired a special staff to focus on upstate. Offices in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

But, it turns out, that, too, was "then."

Now comes word that Sen. Pedro Espada has hired his own guy for upstate. "Director of Upstate Relations," to be precise. As majority leader, I guess Espada feels entitled to his very own upstate liaison.

You'd think at $150,000 a year, Steve Pigeon, his new attorney, could pitch in as needed. But no, this job requires a Pigeon flunky, Dave Pfaff.

At $70,000 a year.

In a year when the state's budget deficit is now $4.1 billion and climbing.

Reports Matt Spina:

An investigation begun in 2008 by the Erie County Board of Elections revealed that a political fund maintained by Pfaff and controlled by Pigeon … People for Accountable Government … had collected and spent tens of thousands of dollars more than Pfaff had disclosed on his official reports to the state Board of Elections.

Indeed, Pfaff's duties over the years have included helping Pigeons play shell games with political contributions. As Spina reported in June:

The county (election) commissioners said the two committees filed on time just nine of the 43 periodic reports that have been required since Citizens for Fiscal Integrity was launched in 2005. They have now filed 11 of the 43.

Pigeon and at least one of his treasurers say they are not required to file as frequently as county officials believe because they are not active in every election season.

But the state board says it has obtained six judgments and begun several other enforcement actions against the two committees over the years.

This, folks, is the kind of "talent" your tax dollars are paying for.

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