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What to watch for in the new year

Here's what I'll be keeping my eye on:

Whether investigators indict a high-ranking member of Mayor Byron Brown's administration as a result of the numerous ongoing investigations.

How long it will take Erie County Executive Chris Collins to blow up the fragile majority coalition he is constructing on the County Legislature.

Whether the New York Power Authority will insist on allocating low-cost hydropower to companies with a future or simply continue the status quo. And whether any local pols will insist that NYPA stop repeating the mistakes of the past.

Chris collins Whether Collins' ego will override common sense that says you can't call Shelly Silver an anti-Christ and compare him to Hitler and expect to be a viable statewide candidate.

If Tom Golisano is going to tell Steve Pigeon that, no, you can't use my money to go after Sam Hoyt again.

If the Albany County District Attorney will indict Golisano and Pigeon for violations of the state's campaign finance laws.

Just how many state legislators, especially those in the Senate, are going to lose their seats come November. I think Bill Stachowski is the most vulnerable, and perhaps Dale Volker, depending on how smart the Dems are in fielding an opponent.

Whether the Common Council, quite possibly operating with a veto-proof majority, will move beyond sniping at the mayor and show some real initiative in shaping city policy.

Whether the mayor shows up for a board meeting of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.
Will BERC make more loans in 2010 than it has employees?And will it give any more grants to barbershops?

Will anyone in city government wake up to the fact subsidizing another downtown hotel only undermines an already soft market?

Whether school boards across the state will stop crying poor. Actually, I know the answer to this question is "no."

Whether Gov. David Paterson's poll numbers continue climbing to the point where he might be considered a viable candidate.

Will residents in villages in Erie County heed the call for dissolution?

How big a legal bill Collins, Cheryl Green and Tim Howard will run up defending conditions at the county jail and holding center. 

Wait, Billy Fuccillo, you say you know?

Have a good weekend. I'll be back at it Monday.

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Chutzpah, Thompson style

Thompson check

We see the photos all the time. Some politician helps secure funding for a pet project or program and shows up at a press event with an oversized check in hand.

In this case, it's an anti-gang, anti-gun initiative.

But look closely at the check above. Note the payer.

It's not the State of New York.

No, it's Senator Antoine M. Thompson himself.

Ah, no, Antoine.

That's taxpayer money, not yours.

A bit of a stretch, I'd say, but telling of the "look at me" mindset.

Oh, and senator, I'd be more impressed if a big chunk of the money wasn't going to Community Action Organization, which a lot of people in the know believe is unduly influenced by Grassroots politics. Thompson, in case you didn't know, is a Grassroots guy.

That's not to say the money isn't going to a good program. But a little less self-serving politics, please.

Byron Brown's second-term challenge

Usually, a mayor entering his second term is a pretty good gig in this town.

Jimmy Griffin and Tony Masiello were just getting warmed up, eventually serving 16 and 12 years, respectively, before wearing out their welcome. At the start of their second term, they were sitting pretty.

Brown on primary night That is not the case with Byron Brown.

Yeah, he won re-election handily, but the road ahead looks rocky.

The Common Council majority that is on, shall we say, unfriendly terms, with the mayor has hung together and is poised to appoint a successor to Brian Davis. My guess is they'll appoint someone who will give them a veto-proof majority.

But that's not Brown's biggest problem.

No, that would be called the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

And the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

And the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And, depending where their investigations stand, the State Police and the Erie County District Attorney.

Brown and company have been under investigation for One Sunset, allegation of pay to play involving city contracts, the decision to release Leonard Stokes from police custody, pressure applied to city workers to work on Brown's re-election campaign, the use of federal block grant funds, and who knows what else investigators have turned up while knocking on doors and sifting through subpoenaed records and computer hard drives

Brown's people can talk up the prospect of their man being a running mate of Andrew Cuomo next year, but that's not going to happen. The last thing Cuomo needs while running under the banner of reform is a running mate under the cloud Byron Brown finds himself under.

The smartest thing Brown could do politically is to try and mend some fences, but that's not in the cards either.

He and Steve Casey seem to be spoiling for a fight with Democratic Party HQ. Brown and Erie County Executive Chris Collins appear to have formed an alliance of sorts that involves, to some degree, Brian Higgins and Steve Pigeon/Tom Golisano. (More on that another day).

Higgins aside, that cast of characters is not likely to endear him to a lot of Democrats, here and across the state. And Brown isn't exactly dealing from a position of strength; he doesn't necessary control a majority of party committee seats in the black community, much less the city, much less the county.

Politics aside, Brown has his hands full.

HUD has given his administration six months to straighten out the block grant program and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency and the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. are a mess.

The city is bleeding jobs, some 6,600 since he took office.

He needs to add flesh to the bones of his anti-poverty initiative.

Violent crime is on the upswing and the police department isn't exactly a hotbed of innovation.

The state's fiscal problems mean the days of Albany functioning as an ever-more-generous Sugar Daddy have come to an end.

Brown's inner circle is down to just Casey, flak Peter Cutler and Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa, who Brown keeps saddling with the task of fixing every money-related problem that crosses his desk, of which there are many.

Good luck finding truly top-shelf candidates to sign up for a round of duty. As the steady flow of talent out of City Hall attests, working for Byron Brown means being micro-managed and/or bullied by Steve Casey. Just ask Rich Tobe, Tim Wanamaker, Len Matarese, etc.

Suffice to say, the talent leaving is a lot better than what's replacing it.

Add this all up and you've got a mayor whose biggest challenge as he begins a second term is simply surviving.

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Happy Xmas

War is over

I'd like to reprise my Christmas post of Christmas a year ago, Happy Xmas - War is Over! (If You Want It) by John Lennon.

Unfortunately, the song remains as relevant as the day John Lennon wrote it.

Readers, have a happy holidays, and in this season that mingles spirituality with materialism, let me leave you with these poignant words from Dr. Winston O'Boogie:

"If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace."

Think about it.

I'll be back at it Monday.

Musings on the mess in Ellicott

This much is for sure -- the voters in the Ellicott District are not well served by what's transpiring.

If what we've witnessed in recent weeks, and especially since Friday's fiasco, has anything to do with governing in the interest of the district, well, please someone enlighten me.

What I see is ugly, divisive and dysfunctional politics.

We interrupt this blog post for the latest Byron Brown photo op. That's him, holding a press conference, to announce he's dropping something in the mail. I kid you not.

Brown photo op, outside the post office

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my reading of the tea leaves still sees this as a race between Buffalo State economics professor Curtis Haynes, backed by the Champ Eve faction, and the Rev. Darius Pridgen, backed by Grassroots, i.e. the mayor.

City firefighter Bryon McIntyre is gaining some traction, and attorney William Trezevant has pockets of support, but the folks I'm talking to regard both of them as long shots, especially Trezevant.

The winner gets the seat vacated by Brian Davis, who apparently has no shame, judging by his conduct Friday.

Two words of advice: "lie low." At least until the judge sentences you.

The way the nominating process works is that the candidate with the fewest votes is removed after each round of balloting. With a dozen announced candidates, we're talking a lot of ballots. Eventually, it will come down to a mano-a-mano vote, mostly likely, my sources tell me, the prof and the preacher.

The prof, in his interactions with committeemen, is said to be coming off as a bit academic.

The preacher has taken an aggressive approach, right down to talk among his supporters of picketing City Hall if their man does not get the appointment.

I'm not sure that kind of talk is going to sit well with members of the Common Council who will make the actual appointment. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's going to prove counter-productive.

I could be wrong, but at the end of the day, I think its unlikely the Council is going to appoint Pridgen because of the perceived -- and, in all likelihood, real -- support he is receiving from the mayor's camp.

The news Tuesday that the Council majority has decided to keep its leadership in place, including Dave Franczyk as president and Richard Fontana as majority leader, shows there is no significant division among the majority that will choose Davis' successor. That is bad news for Brown and, by extension, Pridgen.

Brown and Steve Casey has been playing political hardball with the Council majority since shortly after he took office four years ago, and you know what they say, what goes around comes around. The antics at Friday's candidate forum are likely to only harden those feelings.

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Brian Davis at center of Friday fiasco

If you thought we'd seen the last of Brian Davis, think again.

The disgraced, and convicted, former Ellicott Common Council member showed up Friday at a meeting of Democratic committeemen called to hear from the candidates who have applied for his vacant seat. Technically, Davis was within his rights to be there, as he is a committeeman, but he wasn't content to merely attend.

Brian davis new No, along with several other Grassroots members, he disrupted the meeting, hurling insults at Democratic Party Chairman Len Lenihan, among others, and demanding that the gathering of committeemen vote to recommend a candidate to the Council right then and there.

Davis complained the district needed immediate representation, which is kind curious, given the seat is vacant because of his actions. Moreover, when Davis occupied the seat, he had the worst attendance record on the Council.

Also making a fuss was Barbara Miller-Williams, the county legislator who is cutting a deal with Erie County Executive Chris Collins to be chairman of the Legislature.

After the Party HQ folks running the meeting said "no," explaining the meeting was advertised as a forum, not a vote, Davis, Miller-Williams and others from Grassroots stormed out before hearing from the six candidates who had showed up. Those speaking included Donald Allen, William Trezevant, Fred Heinle, Curtis Haynes, Bobby Horton and Bryon McIntyre.

The Rev. Darius Pridgen showed up an hour-and-a-half late, with numerous supporters in tow.

Pridgen explained his supporters were circling the building in their cars seven times to bring down the walls erected by the Democratic Party, alluding to the biblical story of the Battle of Jerico in which the Children of Israel circled the city seven times until its walls came tumbling down.

Ah ... yeah ... sure ... Rev. 

I'm sure your comments will allay fears that you would have a hard time separating church and state if appointed to public office.

Only 32 of 84 committeemen turned out for the meeting, and after Davis, Miller-Williams and their crew left, fewer than 20 remained. For whatever reason, Champ Eve and his faction, who, along with Grassroots control most of the committee seats, were no-shows.

On balance, a pretty weird and pathetic night.

The party is expected to schedule a vote of committeemen in early January. Typically, the Council rubber stamps the recommendation of committeemen, but I suspect the antics of last Friday are going to encourage members to exercise independent judgment.

I mean, if fewer than half of the committeemen can be bothered showing up, and half of those who did take their ball and go home after their intimidation tactics fail, just how credible of a recommendation is this crew capable of making?

Davis, meanwhile, has a Feb. 24 court date at which time he will be sentenced. I can't imagine his lawyer is too pleased with his conduct Friday. I mean, does it sound like Davis gets it?



Accountability, Brown style

Mayor Byron Brown has started forwarding names of commissioners to the Common Council for reconfirmation, and the first names he's sent over include Tanya Perrin-Johnson. You know, our favorite e-mailer.

Sorry, but I can't get outraged.

Did we expect anything different?

And does anyone think she acted on her own?

Some Council members said her reappointment is not an automatic, given allegations that Perrin-Johnson's conduct could involve violations of the federal Hatch Act. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating the e-mail episode and was in town a couple of week ago conducting interviews.

I understand that while, yes, the e-mails were on the radar screen of two attorneys who conducted interviews, their interest went beyond Perrin-Johnson. Also interviewed, among others, were Deputy Mayor Steve Casey and Dana Bobinchek, his assistant.

I get the strong sense that the real target of the federal investigation is Casey, not Perrin-Johnson.

Let's face it, if you're an investigator trying to determine if the politicking at City Hall has crossed a line, isn't Casey the place you'd start?

Brown a BERC no-show again

Sometimes Byron Brown all but writes my posts for me.

On Sunday I noted that even though he's chairman of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., the mayor skips more meetings than he attends.

On Wednesday, BERC had its first board meeting since Oct. 21 and, you guessed it, the mayor didn't attend.

Neither did Deputy Mayor Donna Brown, the administration's other representative on the board.

I don't know about you, but I'm sitting here shaking my head.

Is the mayor that tone deaf?

Or does he simply not care?

Peter Cutler, his spokesman, said Brown had a scheduling conflict and the deputy mayor had a family emergency.

I'm sorry, but if you're the mayor and your primary economic development agency is performing as poorly as it is, and when the fallout is causing all sorts of political grief, I'm hard-pressed to think of what might be more important to attend to.

Brown's day wasn't so busy that the photo op mayor didn't have time to hang with actor Keanu Reeves Wednesday evening and present him with a snow globe featuring City Hall. (I am not making this up).

Brown with reeves

As an extra bonus, I have obtained exclusive footage of the attendance roll call at BERC's board meeting  Wednesday. Substitute "Brown" for "Bueller" to get the full effect.

'nuff said.

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The other Partnership's priorities

We've got two "Partnerships" in town and in the past three weeks we've been given the benefit of their competing visions for the community.

Late last month, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership summoned its people and compliant politicians like Chris Collins and Byron Brown to unveil a REGIONAL AGENDA! Yeah, technically, it was a shared vision, but Andrew Rudnick's fingerprints, palm prints and footprints were all over it, right down for a call to eliminate any progressive elements of national health care reform.

In a nutshell, the folks crying for government to cut taxes and generally get government off our backs asked Albany and Washington for $450 million in capital projects. Stuff like parking ramps, football stadiums and other projects that would supposedly turn this community around.

Wednesday, the Partnership for the Public Good unveiled its 10 priorities for the coming year at the Merriweather Library on Jefferson Avenue.

Chris Collins wasn't in the room; he must have been busy counting all the money it's going to take to pay those Washington lawyers he's hired to defend the abuse of county prisoners.

The mayor? I dunno, maybe he was down the street getting a haircut at one of the barbershops he doled out grant money to.

Allison duwe For those of you who don't know about PPG, as it's known in progressive circles, it's an umbrella organization of nonprofit organizations trying ot make a difference. People like Aaron Bartley of PUSH Buffalo and Allison Duwe of the Coalition for Economic Justice, pictured right.

This is the third year they've developed, in collaboration with partner organizations, a list of priorities that have at least a fighting chance of getting accomplished and an organization working towards that end.

Allow me to run down the list quickly, then focus on the most intriguing one:

-- Deal with poverty through the continued promotion of living wage initiatives.

-- Improve conditions at the downtown holding center and county jail in Alden.

-- Maintain inner-city health care centers targeted by Collins.

-- Revive stalled efforts to deal with the growing number of housing vacancies not only in the city, but inner-ring suburbs.

-- Eliminate toxic pollution belching from Tonawanda Coke. (In the interest of disclosure, my daughter, Erin, is executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, which is leading that fight).

-- Launch initiatives in two targeted communities to promote green initiatives that would result in, among other things, lower utility bills and provide jobs for poor people performing green retro-fits of houses.

-- Improve the access of low-income city residents to healthy food through a number of initiatives, including the promotion of urban farming and establishment of a city Food Policy Council.

-- Reform state economic development subsidy programs, namely Empire Zones and industrial development agencies, to promote the creation of quality jobs and corporate accountability.

-- Reform state campaign finance laws to include, among other things, lower contribution limits, matching public financing and more vigorous enforcement.

-- Last, and not least, negotiate a community benefits agreement for Canal Side, a.k.a. Bass Pro.

Community benefits agreements aren't common in these parts, but they're used in some other communities, and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy has proved particularly adept at negotiating them out in la-la land for projects involving oodles of public money. (Here's an excellent primer on CBAs from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.)

The PPG folks here would like to see an agreement on five issues, and I'll quote directly:

-- living wage jobs.

-- environmentally friendly buildings and operations.

-- locally owned businesses.

-- mixed income housing.

-- a building and site design appropriate to the location.

Quinn, canal sideI got hold of Larry Quinn last night, the guy with the pointer on the left and one of the main movers behind Canal Side, and bounced the proposed CBA off him. I thought he might take exception, but he was pretty receptive.

"I agree with four of their five points," he said.

Living wages is where he parts ways with PPG.

"I don't blame them for their sentiments, but I think instituting a living wage would result in fewer jobs, not more," Quinn said. "It doesn't reflect the real marketplace for jobs."

Hmmm, sounds like, on balance, there's room for a constructive dialog.

The biggest disappointment of Wednesday's event came near the end, when politicians in attendance were invited to make a few remarks. Maria Whyte was a bit of a let down.

Oh, it wasn't anything she said. In fact, it was nice to hear a politician speak without saying "I" over and over again. (Of course, that kind of conduct over time could land her in hot water with the politicians' union.)

No, it was that, for the first time in which I've heard her speak, Whyte didn't once punctuate her remarks with a clenched fist or three.

I know it's the week before Christmas and all, but don't go soft on us, Maria.

I distinctly remember her at a rally outside Tonawanda Coke a couple of months back, railing against plant owner J.D. Crane, cradling her baby in one arm and pumping her fist with the other. It was something to behold, people.

I haven't see that kind of progressive passion on a local stage since Gene Fahey had a full head of hair.

No empty pants suit, she.

Which begs the question: What are you doing in four years, Maria?

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Bill coming due for Collins' stubbornness

Erie County Executive Chris Collins has been saying for months not to worry, that his decision to fight the U.S. Justice Department over conditions at the county jail and holding center wouldn't cost big bucks because in-house counsel was handling the case.

Well, it turns out that outside lawyers have been hired and the meter is running at -- get this -- $425 an hour.

The first bill for the first month of services topped $40,000.

That's just for August. It's now December and my guess is the tab is well into six figures, with no end in sight.

But, hey, we've gotta close those inner-city health clinics to save money. How else are we gonna find the moola to defend the indefensible?

As I said previously, it appears Collins is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to avoid spending a lot less on blankets and toothbrushes and exercising some human decency in the way prisoners are treated.

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