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Does Carl Paladino ever listen to himself?

Paladino at tea party rally

In the wake of the passage of health care reform, Carl Paladino likened it to 9-11.

"I fear the results of Obamacare will be so horrific that it will kill more Americans through deteriorating health care than were lost on 9/11."

A few days later, he expressed a hope that as governor he would see Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver beaten en route to prison.

"I'm gonna try like hell to send Sheldon Silver to Attica and on the way, we're gonna have him stop in all those little communities on the thruway and let those people beat him up."

On Saturday, Paladino, before speaking at a Tea Party rally, said he was going to be careful to avoid the crazies.

Speaking to The Buffalo News just before his remarks, Paladino said he welcomes tea party support as sharing his frustration with "every level of government." But he also said he will be careful not to be lumped in with "zealots and extremists" who present opportunities for "the opposition to make them look like fools."

Makes me wonder what someone would have to say to be considered a zealot and extremist in Paladino's book.


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Musings for a Monday

There are a lot of screwed-up operations in local government, but for my money, none of them can touch the Erie County Sheriff's Office. 

The county Holding Center is a house of horrors, and Matt Spina reported Sunday on the department's practice of granting what amounts to overtime pay to management personnel to perform a task they don't actually perform. Sheriff Tim Howard doesn't see a problem with this, of course. Then again, he thinks the Holding Center is just dandy, too. 

I'm not sure $425-an-hour lawyers, much less $150-an-hour PR flaks, can save this operation.

Oh, for the old days of B. John Tutuska -- to say nothing of Andy and Barney.

I've heard from two planners who said City Hall never even acknowledged receipt of their resume, much less talked to them, when it conducted its so-called search for a new city planner. Both seem to have legit credentials. The position, if you recall, was filled by a lawyer already on the city payroll who has never worked as a planner.

The folks at have a pretty funny, NCAA-bracket-inspired competition called PoltiFAIL. It pits the usual suspects against each other and lets readers choose who is more at fault for the state of the region. They're down to their Sweet 16, and pairings include Dale Volker vs. George Maziarz, Chris Collins vs. Barbara Miller-Williams, and the Western New York voter vs. Steve Pigeon. Good tongue-in-cheek fun. The list of bad politicians is depressing long, however.

The Chicken Littles are out in full force, with dire warnings from the School Boards Association and Buffalo Superintendent James Williams, about the prospect of massive layoffs if the state doesn't keep funding schools in a style they're accustomed to. A few Assembly members, including Sam Hoyt, have come up with one obvious solution -- a wage freeze for teachers. It's been happening in the private sector -- along with wage cuts -- as businesses come on hard times. Not that I expect the teacher unions to go along, as ever-increasing pay is regarded as an entitlement. I'd like to hear someone talk about consolidation of school services in the short run as a precursor to a merger of districts. We've got more than 30 in Erie and Niagara counties alone. Face it, school property taxes are the real killer in this state, and part of the reason is all the duplication that comes with the multitude of districts.

The recent Assembly vote on the budget included several "no" votes of note, as nine Democrats, including  Hoyt, Francine Delmonte, Robin Schimminger and Bill Parment, joined Republicans in saying "no, we shouldn't." The measure passed anyway, 91-51. It would cut school aid less than what the governor has proposed and enables the borrowing of $2 billion. 

The Citizens Budget Commission, a critic of Empire Zones, sees merit in the Excelsior program proposed by   Gov. David Paterson, saying it has "potential for a better, more effective program." The commission offers this smart analysis on what's wrong with Empire Zones and good about Excelsior.


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Can we call it 'Cakegate?'

Oops, he did it again.

State Sen. Antoine Thompson just can't seem to get out of his own way.

First he was in favor of -- no wait, against -- the ouster of Sen. Hiram Monserrate.

Then he was missing in action while the Senate was in business, only to find out that he had stayed at an oceanfront resort in Jamaica while, um, searching for companies to relocate to Buffalo.

The latest episode involves not just what some see as a jaw-dropping show of self-serving vanity -- his photo on a cake -- but possible violations of state ethics laws by having his staff hustle donations from 20 restaurants to feed his supporters and staff at a St. Joseph's Day Table celebration last week at his district office downtown.

Thompson cake

The Public Officers Law says elected officials can't solicit or accept anything that's beyond a nominal value -- as Gov. David Paterson has learned the hard way -- and a spread with food from 20 restaurants isn't exactly nominal.

And his mug shot on the cake? Well, that's priceless.

What will become of this?

Well, the Legislative Ethics Commission could investigate on its own. Or it could respond to a complaint.

The commission, however, doesn't exactly have a fearsome reputation. I mean, how many legislators have been nailed for accepting donations of this sort since the law was amended three years ago?


Kinda sounds like the state Board of Elections, doesn't it?

What's next for the senator?

I don't know, but I've gotta tell ya, Thompson is slowing me down in pursuit of other stories.

I was sitting at my desk minding my own business a few weeks ago when I got the call about Jamaica. The cake photo arrived unannounced in my e-mail Wednesday and I was digesting my lunch Thursday when a caller alerted me to the provisions of the state ethics law.

For two days now I've been trying to build a spreadsheet to analyze the relationship between hydropower allocations and employment at major recipients of New York Power Authority customers -- come on, admit it, you're dying to read the story -- and I haven't been able to enter my first set of numbers yet. 

I'll try again today, but with my luck, the phone will ring again about our mayor in waiting.

Sorry, NYPA, but you'll just have to wait your turn.


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Antoine takes the cake

Not only is there such a thing as a free lunch if you work for state government, but the dessert tells you who provided it.

Thompson cake

Yup, that's State Sen. Antoine Thompson's mug on the cake.

And just to make sure people knew who it was from, Thompson's people not only saw to it that his picture was on the cake, but that it was left uncarved.

Folks, I am not making this up.

The cake was part of a St. Joseph's Table that Thompson's staff provided to state employees last Friday at the Mahoney Building in downtown Buffalo. Thompson has a district office there, as do numerous state departments.

But fear not, the spread was not paid for by taxpayers or campaign contributors. No, Thompson's staff solicited donations from assorted restaurants.

I imagine, however, that taxpayers paid for the time of staff members to run around to get all the food. They're the same people who have been deployed to perform such vital tasks as planning parades, looking up the birthdays of constituents to mail them cards, and booking oceanfront resorts in Jamaica.

And people say state government is broke.

The cake, by the way, came courtesy of Tempo. I hear it's quite ritzy -- which explains why I've never been there. The menu lists items such as seared Hawaiian ahi loin and Scunghilli fra diavolo and grilled lobster lobster and sweet corn risotto.

Do any of them come with fries or onion rings? Free refills on the Diet Pepsi?


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What $150 an hour will buy you

There are two issues with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency's use of public relations consultants, as I report in Wednesday's paper.

First is their cost -- $150 an hour for the firm now on board, $190 for the previous crew.

Those are prices usually associated with high falutin' attorneys. Go much higher and we're talking services that got Eliot Spitzer run out of office. 

The other issue is what they do  their money, which, as my story in today's Buffalo News demonstrates, sometimes involves enough spin and obfuscation to make all but the most-hardened of PR hacks blush.

Long story short, the ECIDA got called out last August for failing to vet the now-infamous loan application by Leonard Stokes to keep his failing One Sunset afloat. The IDA did little more than run a personal credit check and failed to check the public record, which would have set off all sorts of warning flares, Liens, lawsuits, failure to turn over sales tax receipts to the state. Stuff like that.

Rather than simply admitting they screwed up and promising to do better in the future, the IDA, working with Travers Collins & Co., issued a press release that claimed the loan application had been the subject of a "stringent review," that the handling of One Sunset "adhered to loan review guidelines," and that "due diligence is a way of life for us."

IDA Press Release on One Sunset

Having done the original investigation of the One Sunset deal with Pat Lakamp, I knew the press release simply wasn't true.

Which all begs the question: Why is the ECIDA spending money that's supposed to go towards promoting economic development on public relations consultants?

Especially when it involves spin rather than facts.

At $150 an hour, to boot.

Here's what the damage looked like for "due diligence is a way of life" and other efforts at damage control for the month of August.

Travers Collins bill for August 2009

I'll grant the IDA this much. With a staff of 16 -- down considerably from a few years back and less than half of its do-nothing counterpart at the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. -- it doesn't seem like the agency has people sitting around with time on their hands.

On the other hand, the ECIDA is far from the only economic development agency working with a leaner staff, and others somehow find a way of surviving without top-dollar PR help. Some make due with what I know is a foreign concept to people in government here -- collaboration with others in government.

Down the road in Rochester, for example, the public information officer for Monroe County helps out the IDA in issuing press releases and fielding calls from reporters. It would be like Grant Loomis, who functions as a spokesman for County Executive Chis Collins, pitching in.

The thing of it is, when left to their own devices, the folks I deal with at the IDA are generally upfront. Decent people, actually, who get a lot more done with way fewer people than their counterparts at the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., who snookered them into lending One Sunset the money.  When I find them fibbing or stonewalling, they're usually in the company of their lawyers or PR handlers.

In the case of the "due diligence is a way of life for us" press release, the IDA and Travers Collins outsmarted themselves.

Mayor Byron Brown had tweaked them in the morning paper one day last August about their role in One Sunset, and by the end of that day they had issued the press release in the mistaken belief that The News was planning, in the words of IDA Executive Director Al Culliton "a very negative, one-sided" story on his agency's role in One Sunset.

The trouble is, as I explained to Culliton on the phone last week, that no such story was in the works. Pat and I had spoken our piece on the IDA's role months earlier in our original investigation. We had no plans for a follow-up story.

I remember reading the "due diligence" press release when it was issued and showing it to Pat.

Our jaws dropped.

Then we had a good laugh.

Then our blood pressures rose.

We decided there was a lot more detail that we didn't report back in May that we should put on the record in the face of the IDA's disinformation.

Here's what we wrote.

And here's what I blogged.

That experience, and the subsequent refusal of the IDA to honor a Freedom of Information request seeking the repayment status of active loans made by its Regional Development Corp., got me wondering just how much money the agency is spending to get all this bad advice.

I filed another FOI request to obtain the IDA's contracts with Travers Collins and Harris Beach and found out the answer is $150 an hour for the flak and $125 to $175 an hour for the lawyers.

Actually, the rates for attorneys in Harris Beach aren't out of line. Even if their lawyers don't understand the FOI Law -- or are simply intent on ignoring it

As for Travers Collins, I look at the $150 an hour and think to myself that telling the truth doesn't cost a thing.


Want to nose around for yourself? Here you go ...

Travers Collins contract with ECIDA

Travers Collins bills submitted to ECIDA

Eric Mower contract with IDA

City comptroller audit of One Sunset deal


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Health care reform will save lives and money

I usually stick to local and state issues, but, what the hell, let's wade into health care reform. Everyone else is.

A perfect piece of legislation, it isn't. Then again, that could be said about most of the bills passed in Washington. And Albany. And City Hall, for that matter.

That said, the big picture I take away from its passage of the health care reform bill is that it will save money and lives.

A study by the Harvard Medical School concluded last year that 45,000 Americans die annually because of a lack of health insurance, and thus, extending coverage to 32 million Americans is going save tens of thousands of lives every year.

Gee, that strikes me as pro-life.

Meanwhile, the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the reform bill over the next decade would cut the federal deficit by an estimated $138 billion over the next decade.

You can argue whether the savings could or should have been greater, but $138 billion is not chump change.

There are a ton of details one can argue, but for me, the view from 10,000 feet isn't bad. Certainly better than the status quo, and let's face it, that's what we were looking at. The Republicans, when they in charge, never made a serious stab at health care reform. They were too busy starting wars, wire tapping and water boarding people, and turning Bill Clinton's surplus into a cavernous deficit.

There was room for honest disagreement over what health care reform should have entailed, but let's face it, the Republicans were never serious about an honest debate. It's been all about obstruction.

That's why I get a chuckle when I read Monday that John McCain - the flip-flopping fossil who gave us Sarah Palin -- said passage of health care reform means no cooperation from the GOP for at least the rest of this year.  

To quote the song lyric -- you can't lose what you never had.

Tell us about it, Muddy.

I see one clear benefit from health care reform. Obama and the Democrats have stopped pussy footing around. Or are at least wisening up.

Already, there's talk about pressing ahead with reform of the regulations governing the nation's financial system. That reform enjoys widespread public support and which will likely result in the GOP digging in and siding the the bankers and Wall Street investment houses. That won't go over well with the public, which is why the Republicans would like to keep talking about health care reform.

They'll keep yelling about socialism and other such nonsense. I'm reading a biography of Franklin Roosevelt and it's striking how the rhetoric emanating from the right hasn't changed much over the years. Back then, social security equated socialism. Now, it's health care reform. Race baiting continues unabated. Etc.

Budweiser It's funny how the right was OK with expanding government power when Dubya was president and it involved torture, wire taps and snooping to see what books people were borrowing from the library.

But provide health insurance to Americans - hold on there, you've gone too far.

Honey, find me my concealed weapon, and fetch me a Budwieser while you're at it.

I don't expect it will quiet down any time soon. The Republicans have seen their rule-or-ruin strategy of the past year fail, adding insult to the injury of not only having a Democrat occupying the White House, but a black Democrat. Their defeat over the weekend makes them that much more desperate.


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More things I think you ought to know

Come to find out, District Attorney Frank Sedita isn't the only county official who is not using the services of County Attorney Cheryl Green. Mark Poloncarz, the county comptroller, recently decided to stop using her, although he's still availing himself of some members of her staff.

Like Sedita, Poloncarz is a lawyer himself.

One could write this off as partisan politics, but I think it goes beyond that.

The zealotry with which Green has defended conditions at the county Holding Center has a growing number of people questioning her judgment.

And the fact she's won only one of seven motions and other legal arguments she's made to block federal and state efforts to address problems at the Holding Center also has people questioning her competency as an attorney.

The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. canceled its board meeting last week amid a lot of chatter and speculation that Mayor Byron Brown intended to ask board members to resign en masse as part of his effort to fold BERC into the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

The board meeting was canceled for reasons unexplained. My guess is that board members didn't want to give Brown a forum. Sources I've spoken with said the mayor, through intermediaries, has put out the word that he doesn't want BERC issuing any more loans or making any more grants.

Board members are peeved the mayor called for the agency's dissolution without so much as a courtesy call, much less a discussion before a decision was made.

What's more, members have a fiduciary responsibility for BERC's nearly $30 million in assets. I imagine they realize they simply can't walk away, given the absence of a transition plan. 

Maybe Carl Paladino can muscle his way into the Republican race for governor through the strength of the $10 million he says he's prepared to spend. But thus far, he's being treated as an afterthought even before he's formally announced his intention to run.

The state Conservative Party ignored his plea to hold off making an endorsement and gave the nod this weekend to Rick Lazio. Meanwhile, many press accounts outside of WNY about the competition for the GOP nomination either fail to mention Paladino or mention him only in passing.

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Things I think you ought to know

The Erie Harbor Canal Development Corp. is poised to spend a boatload of public money to rehab the old Donovan Building and lease it to someone who will therefore benefit from government largess. And who might the grand prize winner be? None other than its law firm, Phillips Lytle. Isn't that, ah, convenient. To say nothing of cozy. But hey, as one of the city's biggest law firms -- and contributors to all sort of politicians, including Sen. Antoine Thompson, Phillips Lytle has to keep up with Damon Morey, which recently relocated to Avant, another downtown office building transformed with public dollars and mega tax breaks. Ah, economic development in the City of No Illusions. 

The election in East Aurora the other day pitting candidates on both sides of the village dissolution debate was close, with the status quo people winning narrowly. But down in Cattaraugus County, voters in three villages decided enough is enough.  East Randolph, Perrysburg and Randolph all go bye-bye at the end of next year. Amazing that  someone once thought we needed different governments for Randolph and East Randolph. Think the folks in West Randolph felt disenfranchised?

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is sniffing around about possible public pension abuses around the state, including Erie County. Gee, ya think? I think he ought to get County Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams on this right away.

I really liked Rod Watson's column yesterday. Although I don't think there's any truth to the rumor that a lot of the people he writes about attend rallies wearing T-shirts that sport an arrow and read "I'm with stupid."

The best reader comment I've see in some time came in response to the story yesterday about the SPCA raiding a farm in the Town of Aurora -- not to be confused with the Village of East Aurora, or the People's Republic of Central Aurora -- that was home to neglected horses and cats living in filth. 

Retorted JOHNO1:

Erie County Attorney Cheryl Green has just filed a motion in federal court to stop any interview of any horses held in the holding center unless the interviewer is accompanied by Mr. Ed.

This blog post is starting to remind me of a Rodney Dangerfield routine.


And people say I'm all outrage, no insight.


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Cheryl Green's sorry scorecard

It's spring training and time I started brushing up on keeping a scorecard.

The Bisons aren't back in town yet, so I've gotta practice on something else.

What's an outraged blogger to do?

Ah, I've got it.

Cheryl green, county attorney County Attorney Cheryl Green has been fighting federal officials tooth and nail, trying to keep them out of the Erie County Holding Center, otherwise known as Suicide Central.

How's she doing?

First, she lost a motion to dismiss a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit challenging conditions at the county Holding Center.

Next, she lost a motion that sought to dismiss a Justice Department request for expedited discovery to gain access to the Holding Center to examine its suicide prevention efforts.

Then she lost a lawsuit filed by the state Commission of Correction seeking to compel Sheriff Tim Howard  to operate the holding center in a "safe, stable and humane manner."

Why the nerve of the state.

Green went one for three in federal court Wednesday, as reported by Matt Spina.

The judge rejected her demand that she sit in on Justice Department interviews with inmates scheduled for next week. Ditto for her motion that would have required DOJ consultants to formally depose county employees in order to ask them about suicide prevention efforts.

The judge did uphold her demand for depositions when DOJ attorneys, rather than consultants, do the questioning.

Let's see, that makes her one for six.

With that batting average -- .167, for the record -- she'd be headed for the minors if she was playing for the Bisons.

The low minors, at that.

I guess that explains why Green's boss, County Executive Chris Collins, gave her the OK to retain an outside law firm at $425 an hour to handle the Justice Department's suit against the county for conditions at the Holding Center.

With her batting average, would you want Green handling your legal affairs?

I mean, District Attorney Frank Sedita is no dummy, and, while entitled to the representation of the county attorney when sued by former Assistant DA Mark Sacha, he essentially said "thanks, but no thanks" and hired his own counsel.

By the way, since she began her legal jihad -- no doubt with Collins' approval, and, probably encouragement -- five inmates have hanged themselves at the Holding Center. Little wonder that the center's suicide rate is almost five times the national average for county jails. 

But I'll give her credit for what's being dubbed the "Extreme Jail Makeover."

On second thought, the cleanup is akin to wiping away fingerprints at a crime scene.


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Progress, of sorts, on the Bass Pro project

No, no, Bass Pro hasn't stopped hemming and hawing about whether it will actually commit to building a store at the foot of Main Street.

Rather, the Common Council has gone on record in favor of a community benefits agreement for the Canal Side project. A unanimous vote, in fact. As in, Mickey Kearns and Damone Smith actually agreed on something.

You can argue the specifics of the CBA -- and people will, over the coming months -- but the mere fact a community benefits agreement is being seriously discussed represents progress.

I say this because a CBA for Canal Side would represent one of the first instances in this town in which a wide range of specific public benefits would be more than an afterthought in the construction of a publicly subsidized development.

Think of the ways in which government has thrown hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies at businesses, be it deeply discounted hydropower to industry via the New York Power Authority to big tax breaks to downtown businesses under the Empire Zone program to yet other big tax breaks granted to businesses by industrial development agencies.

Suffice to say, looking at the economic landscape in the nation's third-poorest city, the subsidies have worked better for the businesses that have gotten them than the public that has doled them out. That's in part because there has been little built into the subsidies by way of real benchmarks and accountability.

A community benefits agreement changes that. In the case of the resolution passed by the Council, a CBA for Canal Side would:

... ensure that small local businesses — not just big- box retailers — would be accommodated and nurtured. For example, one clause would set aside three-quarters of all retail space that is not part of the Bass Pro development for locally owned, independent businesses.

The pact also would set local and minority hiring goals for temporary and permanent jobs, require builders to use environmentally friendly "green" technology and include affordable housing.

One of the most controversial provisions would require businesses with more than 20 employees to pay a living wage, a rate that is higher than the state's minimum wage.

It behooves both the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. and CBA advocates to find a way of negotiating an agreement. Not that there wouldn't be a need for compromise.

For a guy like Larry Quinn, a mover and shaker on the Canal Side board, a CBA would show that he means business when he says this town needs to take a different approach to economic development.

For CBA advocates, getting a deal in place would represent a first of sorts, which would give them something to build on. The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy has mastered the art of negotiating CBAs, and I suspect its first deal wasn't perfect. But it was a start to bigger and better things.

As for whether Bass Pro ever puts a shovel in the ground, well that remains to be seen. But it's very likely something is going to happen at the foot of Main Street, and a CBA could help promote a better return on the public investment.

Whether the project as proposed represents a good public investment is a question for another day.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, the Buffalo Pundit has some thoughts on the Council's action.


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