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Stick a fork in David Paterson -- he's done

Calls for David Paterson to resign as governor strike me as over the top -- I mean, Mark Sanford is still running South Carolina, isn't he? -- but it's apparent that Paterson's election campaign is an exercise in futility.

Let's face it, Brian Davis has a better shot at getting hired as a bank teller than David Paterson does of winning election this fall.

Paterson, davidFor all the rumors that swirled for weeks about what the New York Times was supposedly going to report about his personal life, what the Gray Lady actually published struck me as a lot more damaging.

A detached governor in a time of crisis.

Who promoted a buddy into a key position who was way out out his pay grade.

And who stuck his nose into a domestic violence situation when he shouldn't have.

Paterson has been saying a lot of the right things about New York's out-of-control state spending and the complicity of the State Legislature, but it's looking more and more like he's done a better job of talking-the-talk than walking-the-walk.

I guess in challenging the Albany status quo, Paterson has been living out the Bob Dylan lyric -- "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

Let's hear it from the master, himself.

With the latest revelations, Paterson's political future is toast.

State Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat, hit the nail on the head when he said of the governor: "His campaign was crippled to begin with and this latest episode is a fatal blow."

Tom Precious has all the latest details here. You can listen to Paterson's news conference below.

Update: The Washington Post is reporting that Paterson is planning to announce this afternoon that he is dropping out of the race.

Another update: Paterson makes it official - he's out of the race.

For as badly as Paterson has screwed up, something just doesn't seem right about what is very likely to unfold: Andrew Cuomo waltzing into the governor's office without breaking a sweat.

I'm not saying the guy isn't qualified -- although from a distance, he strikes me as overly calculating, even for a politician. Not necessarily a fatal flaw, but certainly not endearing.

But I am saying that it sure would be nice for there to be a real election.

Cuomo will win the Democratic nomination without a real fight -- perhaps no fight -- and Rick Lazio is shaping up as more of a speed bump than a stop sign on the way to the Governor's Mansion.


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Brian Davis sentence, short on punishment, is par for the course

He stole and he lied, but Brian Davis will not spend one minute in prison or pay one penny in fines thanks to the sentence handed down Wednesday by Chief City Court Judge Thomas Amodeo.

Instead, Davis was granted a conditional discharge, ordered to perform 200 hours of community service -- of his own choosing -- and prohibited from taking a job involving the handling of money for a year.

It could have been worse -- indeed, some will consider it a slap on the wrist -- considering that each of the two criminal counts he pleaded guilty to last November carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

To say nothing of the fact that Davis, in pleading guilty to pocketing $1,900 in campaign funds for personal use and masking his actions by filing false disclosure reports with the state Board of Elections, became the city's first elected official in more than 50 years to end up with a criminal record as a result of his conduct in office.

Unfortunately, the sentence is par for the course when it comes to public corruption around these parts.

John Doscher, chief of the district attorney's special investigations and prosecution bureau, said the Davis case was the 50th case he has handled since 1989 involving the misuse of public funds by someone on the public payroll. Most were rank-and-file employees, but about a half-dozen of them were elected officials.

Doscher said he doesn't recall on of them receiving a jail sentence. Only a small number were fined, he said.

I find this telling. White-collar crime by politicians and government employees just isn't a big deal when it comes to judges and prosecutors. Not enough to actually impose what the public would consider real punishment.

I quizzed Amodeo and Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III after Davis was sentenced and came away thinking their jobs leave them with a different perspective -- and frankly, a little tone deaf -- when it comes to while-collar crimes committed by people who get paid by taxpayers.

For Amodeo, his decision was pretty straightforward. He read the pre-sentencing report issued by the county Probation Department, asked the DA in attendance if he had any thoughts, and then pretty much imposed the recommended sentence. Amodeo said he follows the recommendations most, but not all of the time, and I came away from my interview with the sense that the Probation Department's report on Davis was fairly gentle.

Sedita wasn't about to criticize the sentence. That's not how he and most prosecutors operate.

More to the point, Sedita views his job, first and foremost, as putting violent criminals behind bars. People who murder, rape, etc. Politicians who steal from their campaign contributors don't rise to the same level. Nor should they.

He'll prosecute them, but he picks his spots when asking a judge to impose a stiffer sentence than what the probation folks recommend, and it almost always involves a violent crime. The DA wasn't about to depart from normal operating procedures on the Davis case.

OK, I understand. Compared to the horrors they routinely deal with, Davis pocketing $1,900 in campaign money and filing false campaign finance disclosure reports aren't that big of a deal to the judge and the DA.

As a result, Amodeo and Sedita, as well as the Probation Department, treated this sentencing as business as usual. But this was not a routine case.

Rather, we have a very visible violation of a public trust committed by a politician with a history of transgressions. Again, he's the first city politician to get caught with his hands in the cookie jar for at least a half-century.

Brian davis Moreover, Davis and his lawyer weren't exactly fessing up in comments they made before Amodeo handed down his sentence.

Yeah, Davis said all the right things about accepting responsibility and apologizing to his family, friends and constituents.

At the same time, he and his lawyer insisted that Davis did not intentionally commit a crime.

Rather, they chalked it up to "stupidity," implying that this was somehow out of character.

What a load of you-know-what. 

The crimes he pleaded guilty to were very much in character. As I reported in April:

... the Council member has a history of running afoul of state authorities and people to whom he owes money.

Since 2000, state officials have placed a lien against Davis to collect unpaid income taxes, suspended his driver’s license for lapsed auto insurance, and frozen his campaign account because of violations of election laws, according to public records and interviews. His license remains suspended and his campaign account frozen.

Davis has gone through personal bankruptcy and his Council wages have been garnisheed, according to public records. He and his wife also had their home built by a developer who does business before the Council, and their house is exempted from property taxes.

Creditors, including state tax officials, have filed five liens with the Erie County clerk and five lawsuits in Buffalo Small Claims Court in an effort to obtain payment of $22,456 in debts, public records show. Some $8,018 of that has yet to be paid, records show.

Davis, who failed to respond to repeated interview requests from The News, also has been under scrutiny for his involvement with One Sunset, a now-closed restaurant on Gates Circle that was launched with the help of city loans and grants.

I followed up with a story in May documenting that Davis doctored his resume to claim a college degree he didn't have.

Now maybe this isn''t how it's done in court, but it would have been nice if the judge or prosecutor had challenged Davis or his lawyer in the middle of their "dog ate my homework" speeches.

Rodney Personius, Davis' lawyer, spoke about how difficult the past year has been on Davis, how it has changed him. He essentially gave the "my client as suffered enough" speech.

I'm sure it has been hard for Davis. But he is hurting from self-inflicted wounds and, from where I sit, I don't see where it has humbled him.

Davis wouldn't resign from the Council until every major political ally except Mayor Byron Brown had called for him to step down, even as Sedita was insisting that Davis had no choice but to resign.

Then, Davis tried to make himself a player when Democratic committeemen convened to consider his successor, to the point where some in attendance said he was a disruptive presence.

To top it off, I'm told by one person active in Ellicott District politics that Davis recently told him and others that he is giving serious thought to running for his old Council seat in 2011.

Does this sound like a repentant person?

Then again, why should he be?

Davis has learned, as have 49 others before him, that when you commit a crime while on the public payroll, your punishment isn't going to get much worse than community service.

That explains in some small way why local government in this region is the pits. Corruption, while not endorsed, isn't really punished.


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Mayor's proposed economic development solution wouldn't fix the problem

Brown, state of city 2010

There is a germ of a good idea -- and a couple of significant problems -- with Mayor Byron Brown's proposal to fold the Buffalo Economic Development Corp. into the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, as he announced Friday in his State of the City address.

What's good about the idea is that consolidation in this town of many silos is almost always a good idea. Both agencies are in the business of dealing with the city's economy and spending public money, much of it flowing from the federal government. True, the agencies don't have the exact same mission, but they're certainly not dissimilar or incompatible.

So, conceptually, the mayor is on the right path.

But there are at least two major problems with the proposal.

First, BURA is as screwed up an agency as BERC.

I say this (1) based on my first-hand dealings with both agencies and (2) BURA's documented track record.

Remember the critical audit of the city's use of block grant funds, in which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found 19 serious problems? Well, the agency responsible for staying on top of the program is, you guessed it, BURA. That tells you all you need to know.

Use whatever word you want -- inept, incompetent, indifferent -- they would all be applicable to the bureaucracy's performance.  That's not to say there aren't competent people on the payroll -- there are -- but there's not enough of them, and they work within what has historically been a dysfunctional system.

The problems don't stop with the bureaucracy. Nope, the agency's board is just as brutal, and ultimately responsible.

Keep in mind that this is the crew that last fall used its power over block grant allocations to reward and punish housing and human service agencies not for their performance, but their allegiance to the mayor. Organizations whose leaders have expressed criticism of the mayor, or operate in neighborhoods that didn't vote the right way in the mayoral primary last fall, paid the price.

Then there's the manner in which the BURA board handled proposals in December 2008 to build a waterfront hotel at the entrance to the Erie Basin Marina. The experts said to choose a proposal advanced by a consortium headed by Mark Hamister and Ciminelli Development. But the board, at Brown's insistence, instead chose a much more modest project fronted by former Common Council President James W. Pitts, which, by the way, hasn't gotten off the drawing board.

Which leads me to my other major point -- the mayor appoints a majority of the BURA board and therefore controls the agency. Given his track record, do we really want to give Brown carte blanche?

I mean, look at the current makeup of the BURA board -- Brown; Janet Penksa, his finance commissioner; Drew Eszak, the city planner Brown tried to get rid of a while back only to keep when he couldn't find a suitable replacement; Acting Corporation Counsel David Rodriguez; former Common Council member Nick Bonifacio (a Brown appointee); and three current Council members, Dave Franczyk, Mike LoCurto and Mickey Kearns.

Is this the crew you want making the decisions on economic development?

You can grouse about BERC's governing board -- please do -- but at least some of them have professional expertise. That's the byproduct of a self-appointing board that, in theory, functions independent of the mayor. In theory.

On the other hand, to sit on the BURA board, you've only got to be employed by the mayor or be one of his political supporters, or be a member of the Common Council.

No real qualifications are required -- and few are evident.

You can justly criticize the BERC board for not being a close enough watchdog of what its staff has been up to. But the problems that have landed BERC on the front page -- and in hot water -- originated with the staff.

Remember, bankers on the board had the common sense to reject a loan application by Leonard Stokes to help finance One Sunset. It was the staff that found a roundabout way to give him money. And those grants to barbershops? Staff decisions not subject to board approval. And who was the staff taking its cues from? The mayor's office.

So, if the mayor wants to merge BERC with BURA, I say, fine, provided it's led by an independent, qualified board and manned by a competent bureaucracy.

As now constituted, BURA has neither.


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City Hall still not lending to business

You want the good news or bad news first?

OK, the good news.

The governing board of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. met earlier this week and did not approve a single grant for a barbershop.

More good news. Kinda.

Mayor Byron Brown, chairman of the BERC board, showed up for the meeting. For five or 10 minutes, anyway. Then he was off. But hey, he put in an appearance, something he doesn't do all that often.

The bad news?

Eric Gadley, who BERC pays about $72,000 a year as its chief lending officer, once again gave a monthly update in which he had no new loans to report.

In fact, BERC has not made a loan since October. That's five months.

I checked our loan database and BERC over the past 12 months has made a grand total of eight loans worth $1.3 million. That works out to a loan every month and a half.

A board member asked Gadley how the loan activity matched up against BERC's goals for the year.

The answer: There are no goals.

This lack of lending has become a trend since Brown took office.

But not to worry. BERC President Dennis Penman said he expected to deliver recommendations to the mayor by the end of the week on how to reform the city's economic development and block grant programs..

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know all about the plan. It's the one put together by some of the very people who helped create the problems that they have now come up with a plan to solve. Without talking to anyone outside their little circle.

Adam Walters, a BERC board member, made that point when he said: "There is little engagement between the front line people and this (Penman) committee. We have a front line view of what is working and what is not."

Walters also noted that he learned that Penman's committee wants all BERC board members to resign by reading about it in the newspaper.

Walters has reason to be miffed. I mean, the least Penman could have done is call in Donald Trump.

I've got a question about this firing-the-board idea.

The board is self-appointing. If everyone resigns, who appoints?

The mayor?

Hmmmm, wouldn't that be convenient?

Elsewhere during the meeting, another board member -- Tom Kucharski, president of Buffalo Niagara Enterprises -- took a shot at Larry Quinn for the letter he penned with pointed criticism of the Penman committee's recommendations. He termed Quinn's actions "juvenile."

Brave words, considering Quinn has Rob Ray on his payroll, albeit as a broadcaster these days.


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Stubbornness of Collins and Co. will cost the county

Tim Howard, Chris Collins and Cheryl Green have invited blowback for their obstinance in addressing problems at the county jail and Holding Center and the state Commission of Correction has obliged them.

Matt Spina reports in Thursday's paper that the commission has said "no mas" to waivers granted in the past that have allowed the county to house more inmates at its jail in Alden than the facility was built to hold.

Reports Spina:

As of Wednesday, the correctional facility's population of 796 exceeded its "rated capacity" by only two inmates, state officials said. However, the prison in the past has needed to go well beyond 794 inmates, especially in busy summer months ...

The commission refused to renew two "variances," dating to 1997, which let the facility crowd an additional 53 inmates into the medium-security facility in Alden.

Other variances have been removed in recent years amid state concerns about staffing, crowding and management at prison from which the murderous Ralph "Bucky" Phillips escaped in 2006.

Howard, Collins and Green no doubt will not be fazed by the added expense of $100 a day to house inmates elsewhere. I mean, they're willing to pay  legal bills that average $425 an hour to defend the status quo at the jail and Holding Center.

Then again, as Rod Watson points out in his column today, the county is facing the prospect of paying out big bucks in wrongful death lawsuits.

After an appropriate period of mourning, lawyers must be salivating over the prospect of suing the county for suicide after suicide at a jail the feds have already warned is deficient.

It won’t take much to prepare a case; all a lawyer will have to do is read verbatim from the U. S. Justice Department lawsuit against the county. The closing argument would be fairly easy:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the deceased might be alive today if the county had let the Justice Department inspect the jail unfettered by county chaperons—but Chris Collins and Timothy Howard said no.

The county's handling of prisoners seems to be going from bad to worse.

Tim howard Last weekend, yet another inmate hung himself at the Holding Center. That makes nine since 2003. The county has been warned that cells provide too many ways for inmates to hang themselves, but officials have failed to act.

Earlier this week, a sheriff's department sergeant and four deputies were suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into charges that a holding center inmate was roughed up.

The U.S. Justice Department, meanwhile, continues its legal efforts to end what it considers the county's maltreatment of prisoners.

Not that the month has been a total washout for the county executive. I mean, his work to welfare initiative has kicked off.


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State incumbents fatten their wallets

Last week I reported that our local State Senate and Assembly members have some $2.2 million in the bank as we head into this election year. A government watchdog organization has done the math statewide, and it's more than $32 million.

Reports the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:

Incumbents in the State Legislature have already stockpiled $32.8 million for this year's elections.

Incumbents averaged about $164,852 in their campaign coffers last month, five times more than the two dozen challengers who've already announced their candidacies, according to campaign-finance reports and a review by the New York Public Interest Research Group, or NYPIRG.

"It gives all the incumbents a huge head start over the people who might want to challenge them," said Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG's research coordinator.

"Even if there is this angry voter sentiment, the incumbents will still have the power to spend tons of money on ads and mailings to get their names out there."

The power of incumbency in New York has led to a 98 percent re-election rate; only 39 incumbents have been defeated in November elections since 1982, less than three each election year.

Folks, this is not good, not if you're interested in reform of state government. Or at least want to be represented by someone who knows which way he votes.

If there's a silver lining, our local incumbents don't have quite as much in the bank as their colleagues. Our guys average about $115,000, compared with nearly $165,000 statewide. But that average is skewed by the huge amounts of money raised by Senate and Assembly leaders.

Just for the heck of it, I checked on their campaign fund balances and here's what I found;

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has no less than $2.6 million on hand to defend his seat. Yipes!

Senate President Malcom Smith has $660,169.

Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada actually filed a report -- for a change -- showing a balance of $252,478. That makes him a relative pauper.

Senate Majority Conference Leader John Sampson reported $737,707.

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos has $1.34 million in the bank.

Who says crime doesn't pay?


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More detail on the One Sunset disaster

Stokes, leonard

Can indictments be far behind?

And perhaps a few more firings?

We've known since last spring, when Pat Lakamp and I reported on the city's bankrolling of One Sunset,that the $160,000 in loans and grants City Hall and the ECIDA put into the business were a terrible investment.

An audit done by the city comptroller that was released Monday provides more gory details.

"The use of these funds were mismanaged from the very start," the audit concluded.

City and county development officials come off as incompetent, at best, and possibly complicit in the fleecing of the public.

What's more, it's pretty clear that unknown parties flat out stole from the business.

The audit found that $27,985 of the ECIDA loan can't be accounted for, nor can $38,000 of inventory. And there's the matter of money lent to pay bills that were never paid.

Here are the "highlights:"

-- The restaurant lost money every month it was open. For example, the "business plan," and I used the term loosely, projected a $154,020 profit the first 3 1/2 months of operation. Instead, it lost $178,126. And that's not counting the sales tax that the restaurant collected, but never turned over to the state.

-- One Sunset owner Leonard Stokes's credit score was so bad that it should have disqualified him from borrowing.

-- The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. made exceptions left and right to help Stokes, pictured above. His business was given a $30,000 grant without having to make a required match. BERC made additional exceptions when it lent Stokes money despite his poor credit score. The agency also failed to hold Stokes to several loan terms. Most egregious - it lent him $40,000 to pay off vendors, but he never paid the debts.

-- BERC took Stokes' word that he invested $119,000 in the restaurant without ever receiving supporting documentation. Then again, the audit said BERC never reviewed his original business plan, either. No need to, I guess, given that Pat and I previously reported that city officials who were supposed to review it actually wrote it. 

-- The ECIDA failed to do its homework before deciding to lend Stokes $50,000. In fact, One Sunset had expenses of $53,711 and sales of just $14,889 the month before the IDA awarded Stokes the loan.  

"If the ECIDA had performed adequate due diligence,as they publicly stated in newspaper reports, they would have discovered the downward trend in revenue and presumably would have never approved the new loan," the audit said.

Michelle Barron,the BERC vice president who was neck deep in the One Sunset deal, right down to buying the bar stools and helping manage the restaurant, was fired over the summer. Eric Gadley, the agency's chief lending officer whose fingerprints are also over the deal, still has his job. And that would be because why?

Likewise, no one at the ECIDA has paid a price for that agency's actions. Criticize the city all you want - please - but don't forget about the IDA.

Hey, Chris Collins, do you tolerate this kind of behavior in your businesses?

Why are you tolerating it at your IDA?

Brown on primary night While the audit doesn't address the question of Mayor Byron Brown's possible role in the restaurant deal, Darryl McPherson, the city's chief auditor, told Brian Meyer in an interview that Brown's hands are clean.

"What happened at BERC [with One Sunset] had nothing to do with the mayor," McPherson said Monday. "This wasn't about him tampering with operations."

I'm not sure what McPhearson is basing this on. I don't know if Brown played a role or not, but I'm skeptical that Barron and Gadley wandered this far off the reservation of their own volition.

I say this because (1) BERC didn't cut this many corners or ignore so many of its own policies for other business deals it has made and (2) Brown has a documented history of involvement with Stokes, most notably when he interceded right before police were ready to arrest Stokes. 

Like I said, I'm not saying Brown greased the skids for Stokes on the restaurant deal. I'm just saying.


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Larry Quinn challenges the status quo

Larry Quinn is my new hero.

Never mind that Che Guevara was my last one, and I've been eying Subcomandante Marcos as a successor. And that I'm not so sure about the Bass Pro project that Quinn has seemingly been pursuing since, well, before I had gray hair, of which I now have a lot.

Larry quinnNo, Quinn is da man because he's done a terrific Howard Cosell imitation by telling it like it is regarding the rearrange-the-chairs-on-the-deck-of-the-Titanic recommendations a panel of insiders is prepared to foist on the public under the guise of reform.

As I report in today's paper, a committee of mostly former City Hall insiders has been meeting since last fall to consider ways to fix City Hall's cluster-you-know-what management of its economic development and block grant programs.

As I reported in October, the group is populated with a lot of the same folks who had a hand in creating the problems they are now being asked to fix.

The results are predicable -- hire better people, get the bureaucracy working better and address the obvious problems.

In other words, blah, blah, blah.

Think I'm exaggerating? Let me quote directly from the draft report:

The group's primary recommendations are that the economic development programs should be the responsibility of the Director of the Office of Strategic Planning and removed from the Department of Economic Development, Permits and Licenses.

Followed by:

An integrated delivery system to carry out economic development programs should utilize all available tools both in City Hall such as Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA), Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation (BERC), and Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) as well as other regional economic development partners. 

Hey, stay awake, this is important stuff.

The Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning should be the chief economic development officer of the City, that the Department of Economic Development, Permits and Licenses should be restructured to focus on permitting, licensing and code enforcement and that the current economic development agencies (Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation, Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency( BURA) and Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) should be retained but that administrative costs need to be significantly reduced. 

OK, now I'm getting sleepy. But I think you get the picture.

Lots of trees, little forest.

Look, I'm not saying some of their ideas aren't good. Rather, they don't go far enough.

It's kind of like a doctor treating someone with gangrene in their legs who spends all his time trying to figure out how to treat the left foot.

That is kind of what Quinn wrote -- minus the puss -- in a pointed three-page critique he sent to the unfortunate soul who put the panel's ideas to paper.

I'm going to step aside for a moment and let Larry speak his piece:

Honestly, the draft report reflects more of the same thinking that has led to failure upon failure. Modeling ourselves after Rochester is like Rebuilding Baghdad with the plan for Mogadishu.

I'm sure the delivery system is an issue, but the fundamental problems are much more serious and structural. The Answer is not to once again restructure city hall and then find a smart person whose salary the partnership can subsidize. Remember Tom Blanchard and Tim Wannamaker. Step outside the partnership mind set. Don't do the same things over and over and over again.

Please reflect on the fact that the city has spent almost a billion dollars of Block Grant money since its inception. With the exception of Georgia Prospect and the first phase of Pratt Willert, it has not really built or restored a single neighborhood. The Extreme Makeover show almost accomplished as much in a week as thirty years of the Block Grant.  We need real, deep, and, some might think, radical change. Although “efficiency, collaboration, and coordination” are nice buzz-words, they don't have any real meaning in this context.

Oh, this is too good to stop just yet.

Quinn goes on to outline guiding principles for reform that include:

Every neighborhood needs a credible partner to implement the plan. City Hall directed or city-wide organizations typically fail more than they succeed. They lack focus, accountability, and resources. An approach or model like The Erie Canal Harbor Development corporation is a great alternative. The Push group on the lower west side is another. If the city had, say 5, really good corporations that had real control over their budget and could implement activities without the bureaucracy of city hall, you would see real activity like we saw on Massachusetts Street happen all over the city.

Economic Development is a regional activity. Today our economic development effort is fractured and rudderless with resources dispersed as poorly as the city block grant program. Your report does not look inward at all. I think its imperative to redefine the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (reinstating the Greater Buffalo Development Foundation should be considered), the BNE, ECIDA, NY ESDC local office etc. and change them into a dynamic force for growth.

But wait, there's more.

I would love to see the total cost the community spends on staff for the Block Grant, Partnership, BNE, BUDC, ECIDA, ESDC, BURA, State Housing Office and the people assigned from HUD. I'm sure the number is staggering. If you are serious about Economic Development you have to start with a clean sheet of paper and rebuild the structure of the whole effort. Kicking City Hall is too easy and not very effective.

And now, for the grand finale. And grand it is. My sometimes reporting partner, the sometimes suffering Pat Lakamp, terms it "the best synopsis I've seen on this issue."

With all due respect, hiring a better and more professional staff, is ignoring the fundamental need for change. I'm sure these comments will have no weight. But I do feel sorry for the person you hire. If they are honest and hard working they will be like a lamb led to slaughter. Otherwise you'll get what you usually get, some one who attends conferences looking for their next job.

Right on, Larry, right on.

His letter ought to serve as a call to arms for anyone who cares about the future of this community.

Remember, it's still the economy, stupid.

Quinn Letter


Western New York continues in a downward spiral for a lot of reasons. Some are out of our control, some  within it. Economic development policy and practices are certainly within our control.

We've been doing the same thing over and over and over again, for years and years and years, with the same failed results. Quinn, in effect, is saying, stop dealing with the parts and step back to look at the whole -- and then blow it up and start over.

What are all these agencies doing? What are they spending to do it? How can we do it better?

These bureaucracies, and the developers who feed off of them, like the status quo. It keeps the former employed and the latter neck-deep in subsidies.

It's doing nothing for the rest of us, however, other than adding to our tax burden and increasing the odds that our kids will grow up and move out of town in search of a job.

Quinn has performed a public service, which begs the question: Who is going to pick up the ball and run with it?

Update: The Buffalo Pundit has weighed in.


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Indifferent and incoherent

Let's start with the indifferent one, Mayor Byron Brown.

As Phil Fairbanks reports today, state officials were in Buffalo earlier this week to scout locations for a one-of-a-kind demonstration project aimed at dealing with the city's vacant housing crisis. A pretty big deal, especially considering the front-runner location is a 25-block swath of the West Side jump-started by  Extreme Makeover Home Edition.

Of course, the state wanted to meet with city officials and had plans to do so Wednesday.

You know what's coming.

Yep, the city stiffed. No mayor, no deputy mayor, nobody.

I'll let Phil take it from here:

A spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown downplayed the cancellation as a "scheduling conflict" and said the administration remains an active partner in the state's search for a location.

"We're on top of this," said Brown spokesman Peter Cutler.

If you recall, Brown pulled the same stunt in October when HUD Secretary  Shaun Donovan visited Buffalo. Chuck Schumer and Brian Higgins managed to find their way here from Washington. Brown won't leave his bunker in City Hall.


Yeah, you guessed it -- scheduling conflict.

I dunno, maybe we should give Brown the benefit of the doubt. I mean, he could have had an important meeting scheduled with, uh, Leonard Stokes.

Nah. Hizzoner has been there, done that.

More than once.

Or twice.

Nah, I think there's a pretty simple explanation.

I'll let Fall Out Boy explain.

Then there's incoherent. That's Sen. Antoine Thompson.

What other conclusion can you draw from his vote Tuesday on the ouster of  State Sen. Hiram Monserrate?

The record shows he voted in favor of removing Monserrate. Of course, he was missing from his seat when senators cast their vote. When quizzed Wednesday by our Tom Precious, Thompson said he voted against removing Monserrate.

What gives?

"I was tired and sick," Thompson said.

To say nothing of clueless.


You've got to read the full account as reported by Precious. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

I'm not sure which is worse, not understanding the vote or believing that Monserrate should keep his seat.

I think Led Zeppelin wrote a song about this once.

Hit it, guys.


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Chris Collins and the politics of 'let 'em eat cake'

Collins 2 When you think about it, Chris Collins is CEO of the biggest social service agency between New York City and Cleveland.

Two-thirds of Erie County's $1.1 billion budget is spent on social, health and human service programs. We're talking everything from welfare to health clinics to child abuse services, with a collective price tag of some $695 million.

Given what the the county executive is responsible for, it's especially -- I don't know, what's the word? ironic? troublesome? cruel? -- that Collins holds these programs in such low regard.

I mean, if you didn't want to deal with social services, why seek the job?

Consider what Collins has done in his two years on the job:

He was in office just three months when he pulled the plug on county participation in a program aimed at ending drug abuse among the young. Last March, he ended county participation in the federally funded Women, Infants and Children nutrition program

In both instances, he said other agencies could pick up the slack, and that ending county participation would save money. On the latter point, not even the Legislature Republicans were with him, as they joined the Democrats in presenting a united front in asking Collins to keep the county in the nutrition program.

Regardless, Collins was just getting warmed up.

He wanted to close two East Side health clinics last year. Foiled by the County Legislature, he has the clinics instead turning away many patients, in what appears to be an effort to slowly strangle the operations.

Of late, Collins has axed county funding for subsidies that provide child care for 1,100 children of low-income working parents, a move that will likely put some families back on the welfare rolls. It's been dubbed Collins' "work to welfare" program.

His intractable position on the issue was the focus of a protest Tuesday in which County Legislators Maria Whyte and Betty Jean Grant, among others, took Collins to task for sabotaging the program despite its benefits, as articulated by the Legislature.

Child care protest

It's hard not to recognize a pattern. A disturbing one, given that county government sits in the nation's third-poorest city.

What to make of Collins' antipathy towards these programs?

One could argue that he's out of touch, probably never was in touch.

I mean, the guy lives in a million dollar house in the exclusive enclave of Spaulding Lake in Clarence. He's a millionaire many times over thanks to his extensive business holdings, according to the financial disclosure report he's required to file with the county.

But if you think he's indifferent to the plights of poor inner-city residents, well, you're only half right. He hasn't shown any concern for the region's growing ranks of the unemployed either.

You can find them everywhere from Springville to Alden, and all points in between. Except, maybe, Spaulding Lake.

As my colleague David Robinson reported last month: "The Buffalo Niagara region’s unemployment rate jumped up to 8.5 percent in December as continued job losses kept the number of people without jobs at its highest level in at least 20 years."

Yeah, you can't put it all on Collins, as a national recession took hold during his first year in office. But, because of that recession, the federal government has provided Erie County $74 million in stimulus money over the past 18 months to help spur job growth, and President Obama's proposed 2010-2011 budget would ship another $20 million here during the first six months of the new federal fiscal year.

You'd think $94 million would help spur some job creation, but Collins hasn't sunk a penny of it into creating gainful employment. Nope, he's socked it all into the county budget, to shore up Erie County's finances and avoid the need to raise taxes.

Thus, politics trumps putting people to work.

It's no real surprise to those who have been paying attention to his efforts on the economic development front.

A year ago, in his State of the County address, Collins declared his intention to quarterback the region's economic revival. In the days leading up to his address, he did a media blitz talking about his Ten Point Plan, produced a 15-page brochure with all the details and produced several videos that he posted on YouTube.

Yup, 2009 was going to be the Year Of Economic Development, and the County Executive Who Runs Government Like a Business was going to lead the charge.

It didn't turn out that way.

Put aside the recession and all those nasty job losses. Let's examine what Collins had some degree of control over.

Did he successfully launch any major economic development initiatives?

Did he attempt to be a player in the reshaping of economic development policies, such as reform of Empire Zones or the redeployment of low-cost hydropower generated at the Niagara Power Project.

Can he point to a significant success, a big win, on any front?

The answers, people, are "no," "no," and "no."

When I look back on the year, all that comes to mind is Collins' appointment of Kathy Konst as his top economic development official, she of minimal qualifications whose departure from the County Legislature provided Collins with maximum political returns.

Marie_antoinette_executionCollins' style of economic politics may play well with the martini crowd at the country club. But it is doing nothing for those who down draft beer at taverns and sports bars across this community.

If you're a working mom looking for help with child care or an out-of-work factory worker, Chris Collins offers not a plan, but a piece of cake. Which sometimes doesn't make for good politics.

Just ask Marie.


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