Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

City planning director by default

Not to get on Brendan Mehaffy's case before he's had a chance to hang the pictures on his office walls -- from scattered reports I've heard he's a fairly sharp attorney -- but Byron Brown has hired a city planner who has never worked as a city planner.

Yeah, a look at his resume shows he has a master's degree in urban and regional planning and his work as an attorney has involved planning issues. All that helps.

But the job of a city planner is to be a planner, not a lawyer, and one could argue that having an experienced planner is especially important in a town that has a history of terrible planning decisions.

That's one issue. The other is that, as best as I can tell, Mehaffy is the only job candidate Brown interviewed.

If you recall, the city did an extensive search for a planner more than a year ago and offered the job to Michael Kimelberg, a Buffalo native working in Seattle. He accepted the position, then had second thoughts and turned it down. 

Suspecting that the administration did not conduct a new job search, and hearing City Hall was having a hard time getting candidates to accept the job after Kimelberg turned it down, and further suspecting Brown and Co. didn't interview anyone in recent months other than Mehaffy before offering him the position, I e-mailed Cutler the following:

Peter: I have a few questions related to the hiring of Brendan Mehaffy.
 
What kind of job search was involved - local, national? How many candidates applied for the post? How many were interviewed?
 
While he's had experience dealing with planning as an attorney, he hasn't worked as a planner, which could be regarded as a pretty big hole in the resume. What was the rationale in bypassing someone with experience as a planner?

Cutler responded with this:

There was as you may recall a national search that resulted in the initial announcement of Michael Kimmelberg, but he withdrew.
 
Drew Ezak continued in the role on an interim basis and did an admirable job.
 
The Mayor ultimately chose Brendan Mehaffy, with the support of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, based his broad experience and knowledge, which I think is evident in both his resume and his professional employment.
 
To help you understand better his excellent qualifications, I’ve listed below some of his more notable academic and work experience:
 
Academic & Professional:
· Planning Degree
· Law Degree with a Community Development Focus (no joint MUP/JD program when I went to UB)
· 18 months in Kansas City working for a national land use law firm writing comprehensive plans, zoning codes, and subdivision regs for municipalities around the country
· 3 years in Buffalo working for a land use/environmental firm litigating urban renewal plans, zoning code, environmental matters, and working with developers and planning firms
· City attorney assigned as counsel to Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Parking (which is planning)
 
Privately:
· Deputy Director of the WNY American Planning Association for 3 years, member of the national APA for 6 years
· Committee member on the Buffalo SmartCode Initiative
· Elmwood Village Design Committee Member (until I became a City Attorney)
· Longtime Member of Partners for a Livable WNY

Peter didn't exactly answer my questions, so I responded with this:

Is that to say you drew on the pool of applicants from the search that resulted in the Kimmelberg hiring?

More importantly, who, besides Mehaffy was interviewed this time around before the decision was made to go with him? I'm not looking for names, but number of candidates who got interviews.

Cutler's response:

The Mayor went with the person he believes will do the best job, especially in light of the plan to reconfigure the city’s overall economic development activities.
 
I don’t know why a number is so important to you, Jim. We’ve got an extremely experienced and talented person to do a very important job.

That, of course, did not address my questions, so, being the pain-in-the-butt reporter that I am, I asked one more time:

I want to know if anyone else was interviewed, and if so, how many of them. Based on your response thus far, my hunch is that no one else was called in form a formal interview. Please confirm, correct and, if you so desire, otherwise enlighten.
 
As for experience, yes, he has it as a lawyer. It does not appear from his resume that he has worked a day as a planner, however.

I sent that e-mail last Tuesday and I haven't heard from Cutler since. My experience as a reporter tells me that when you ask three times "how many job candidates were interviewed" and you don't get a straight answer, it means that the only guy interviewed was the guy who got the job.

Mehaffy's hiring is not the end of the world. He might work out.

In fact, he's likely to work out better than some of the other folks Brown has hired into key positions, although I realize that may be damning with faint praise.

Perhaps more telling is what this says about how undesirable City Hall has become as an employment destination for top-shelf talent.

I mean, to find our new planning director, Brown only looked nine floors up in City Hall, where Mehaffy was working as an assistant corporation counsel. He's the lawyer Brown entrusted the negotiations with the Olmsted Conservancy, which the administration came close to tossing out in the street despite the stellar jobs it has done.

The hiring also raises questions about just how diligent the Brown administration is being in filling other top jobs. We've been promised national job searches in filling the top jobs in the police, fire and economic development departments.

Is the mayor breaking a sweat in trying to recruit and hire the best and brightest? Or will he and Steve Casey be satisfied in hiring loyalists who will walk with petitions, host fund-raisers and do as they're told.

It's not like they haven't done it before.

There was the appointment a few years back of Karla "Too Much Information" Thomas to a secure six-year term as Human Resources commissioner.  She had some paper credentials, but I suspect they didn't count as much as being president of Grassroots, the political club with close ties to the mayor, and being a longtime sidekick of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, a Brown ally. 

I can envision a scenario in which Acting Police Commissioner Dan Derenda -- who is tight with Casey, has contributed to the Brown campaign, and whose family apparel business has done business with both the city and mayor's re-election committee -- gets the appointment as H. McCarthy Gipson's permanent successor.

After a "national job search," of course.

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)

Digging us deeper in debt

What comes after going from bad to worse?

Because folks, we're headed there.

Spitzer wearing socks.

Bruno wearing handcuffs.

The $4 billion deficit.

Caroline Kennedy.

The coup.

The counter-coup.

The $6 billion deficit.

Hiram Monserrate

Paterson's campaign drama.

David Johnson.

Paterson calling Johnson's girlfriend.

The $9 billion deficit.

And now -- a drum roll, please -- Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch's proposal to put us deeper in debt by borrowing $6 billion over the next three years and whittling away at the deficit over the next five years.

What's more, his proposal is getting a serious look from a fair number of leaders in Albany, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Big surprise there, huh?

This crew obviously believes in wasting a crisis.

To say nothing of avoiding hard decisions.

Not everyone is on board. Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, for one, is among them.

“New York state has been addicted to unaffordable borrowing and unsustainable spending. Now is the time to break that addiction,” he said.

His plan calls for, among other things, a cap on state debt and more transparency in budget negotiations.

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos doesn't like Ravitch's plan, either.

Nor should they.

Nope, it's time to break the addiction to Albany's tax-and-spend ways and balance the budget - now.

To go, as Dr. Winston O'Boogie once said, cold turkey.


********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)

Barbara Miller-Williams is not leading by example

Miller-williams 2


Barbara Miller-Williams is absolutely correct when she says she's playing by the rules in working a boatload of overtime in order to boost her pension benefits. As a Buffalo cop, she is clearly within her rights to do so.
 
But, as chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature, one could also argue that she is tone deaf.

The taxpaying public is sick and tired of public employees milking the system for every penny they can lay their hands on. In this case, the $84,159 in overtime she's picked up the past three years -- including more than $51K last year -- will boost her annual pension by an estimated $14,000.

When that public employee also happens to be one of their top elected officials, well, I can anticipate what the reaction will be. It won't be pretty.

Add to it this the fact Miller-Williams is putting in only 15 to 20 hours a week as chairwoman.

On one hand, that's a good thing, because the Police Department prohibits officers from working more than 20 hours a week at an outside job.

Then again, do we really want the chairwoman treating her $52,000-a-year position as decidedly part-time gig?

And probably running on fumes part of the time when she's performing her legislative duties. I mean, she's been working an average of 60 hours a week for the past year, year-and-a-half. On top of that, one weekend a month she's off doing her duty as a member of the Army Reserves.

What's left in the tank to perform her legislative duties?

This could be a moot point when Miller-Williams retires from the police department at the end of the month. But it does raise a question as to just how diligent she is in approaching the job.

Moreover, it puts her, and by extension, her colleagues on the Legislature, in a potentially awkward position the next time they ask rank-and-file employees to make contract concessions to save the county money.

Suffice to say, the Legislature's leader has not led by example.

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)

Why aren't we treating this as a crisis?

State Education Commissioner David Steiner and Buffalo Schools Superintendent James Williams are bickering about whether the graduation rate among city students indicates stagnation or progress.

Depending on the benchmarks, the numbers released by the state Education Department show modest to no real improvement.

Using the Class of 2005 as a benchmark, Steiner notes that the city's four-year graduation rate inched up only one percentage point, to 53 percent in 2008. And that factors out more than 800 students held back in eighth grade because they were deemed not academically ready for high school.

Williams, using the Class of 2006 as a benchmark, says the graduation rate went from 45 to 57 percent and hails the Class of 2009 rate, including kids who graduated after attending summer school, as a marked improvement.

Yeah, I know, dubious.

High school students


The quibbling over the numbers mask an indisputable reality.

More than four out of 10 high school students are failing to graduate from high school on time. We're talking some 1,050 kids for last year's would-be graduating class alone.graduating

Anywhere from a quarter to a third of high school students have dropped out in recent years. We're talking anywhere from 500 to 1,000 kids a year.

The numbers are depressing, regardless of the racial group, and especially bad among Hispanics. The graduated-on-time percentage for them was 45 percent, the dropout rate 32 percent, for the 2009 graduating class. For blacks, it's 55/23. For whites, 64/21. 

Stagnation? Progress?

I have a better word.

Crisis.

Yeah, crisis.

Why isn't this, and why hasn't this, been treated as a crisis?

Education is as close as it comes to a silver bullet to social ills. Crime, poverty, you name it. If you want to know why we rank as the nation's third-poorest city, look no further than the aforementioned numbers.

Yeah, there's more to it than that -- industrial decline and all that -- but if we want to get back on our feet, we've got to make sure more of our kids are getting an education. Our city is populated with thousands of high school dropouts, and they function as an economic albatross.

Pin our abject failure on poverty if you want, but there is a growing body of research that shows high expectations and a smart educational system can make a big difference. Of course, that requires commitment and fresh thinking, something in short supply in this town when it comes to our schools -- among other issues.

City funding for its schools has remained flat in real dollars while costs have spiked, and we've left it up to the state to make up the difference. 

Neither Mayor Byron Brown nor anyone on the Common Council has rolled up their sleeves and tackled education as a serious issue, despite its importance to the city's future.

So, blame the politicians, but also blame the voters. 

Turnout for the last school board election was a pathetic 5 percent. Compare that to the nearly 60 percent of Iraqi voters who showed up at their polling stations a few days days ago, despite bombs going off left and right.

The BTF? As a union, its primary obligation is to look out for the economic well-being of its members, but it would be nice to see them loosen their grip on their cosmetic surgery rider.

Lazy or indifferent parents? Yes. Absolutely.

Not enough money to do the job? Please. We're spending some $20,000 per student per year. That's not chump change.

Long story short, we as a community need to treat low graduation rates as a crisis. A freakin' crisis. And we need to do it now.

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)

What to make of Massa's hissy fit


Is it just me, or is Congressman Eric J.J. Massa starting to come off as a bit of a nut job?

He'd have us believe that the ethics charge filed against him is some sort of conspiracy related to a Democratic push to pass health care reform.

Massa Gee, I don't think anyone would have expected him to get his shorts tied up in such a knot that he'd go off and resign. I mean, the filing of an ethics charge is just another day at the office for a Congressman like Charles Rangel.

Me thinks there is more than what meets the eye.

Either that, or Massa is unstable or paranoid. Agreeing to go on the Glenn Beck show suggests both.

But the guy does give good quotes. Consider this from The New York Times:

Mr. Massa singled out Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, for criticism, calling him the “son of the devil’s spawn” and “an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote.”

Mr. Massa, a freshman member of Congress, said he had had a turbulent relationship with Mr. Emanuel since his early days in Congress. He said they had an argument in the House gym over Mr. Massa’s refusal to support President Obama's budget.

“I am sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel,” Mr. Massa said, adding that Mr. Emanuel poked “his finger in my chest, yelling at me at me because I wasn’t going to vote for the president’s budget.”

“You know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?” he continued.

As Karlya Thomas once said, "too much information."

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)

Taxpayers, Chris Collins and the Holding Center fiasco

This talk out of the Chris Collins camp about putting taxpayers first is getting tired. To say nothing of phony.

The latest utterance was reported over the weekend, when flak Grant Loomis said a decision on whether to appeal an order issuedby U.S. District Judge William Skretny to allow Justice Department investigators into the Erie County Holding Center will be based on "the best course of action for county taxpayers."

Ah, Grant, the best course of action for county taxpayers is to do everything possible to avoid the multi-million lawsuits that are likely to stem from the growing number of suicides at the Holding Center.

If it were really about taxpayers, the county executive wouldn't be paying lawyers more than $400 an hour to defend the indefensible at the Holding Center. Or be pushing for a pay raise for the guy who runs the joint.

But you see, Grant, it's really not about the taxpayer.

If it was, Matt Spina wouldn't have reported what he did the other day, that some of the top managers in the Sheriff's Office pad their paychecks for work that's not relevant to their duties.

Erie County grants its unionized corrections officers and jail deputies 15 minutes of overtime pay each day to start their shift 15 minutes early, so they can attend that day’s briefing by higher-ups.

Several sheriff’s administrators, even though they are not unionized employees, can collect lineup pay, too — a half-hour daily. Some of the highest-ranking supervisors, already granted six-figure salaries and take-home vehicles, collect lineup pay.

For example, the benefit added more than $9,000 each to the 2009 salaries of Undersheriff Richard Donovan and Administrative Coordinator Brian Doyle ... 

Lineup pay added $9,020 to Koch’s salary in 2009, when he averaged 2.5 hours a week in lineup duty, which would be considered normal for an administrator who can receive 30 minutes of lineup pay daily. But he collected those 2.5 hours a week even during vacation weeks, payroll records show.

And here's the kicker -- I'm told the management guys don't actually have to show up for the lineups to collect the pay.

Ah, Grant, that's called "no show."

Usually not a good thing for taxpayers.

But it does conform with Collins' mantra of running government like a business.

As in, give the guys in management all sorts of perks, regardless of whether they deserve them or not, and  demand givebacks  from the working stiffs.

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)


Talking about Antoine Thompson

Thompson and brown

Judging by online traffic numbers, and the volume of reader comments, the exploits of Sen. Antoine Thompson are a hot topic, so I'm going with the flow today. That's Thompson pictured on the left above, with his longtime ally, Byron Brown.

For starters, I did a radio appearance Wednesday afternoon on The Shredd & Ragan Show (103.3 The Edge, WEDG-FM). The subject was Thompson, his trip to Jamaica, campaign contributions and the people who make them.

Give a listen if you like. The interview lasts 14:22. I'd like to think I add some insight to the outrage.

Shredd & Ragan have a pretty funny post on their web site about what it takes to run against Thompson or anyone else in the State Senate or Assembly.

Among the advice:

All you have to do is run for office. Not sure how? Of course they don't make it easy, but a gig this sweet always requires a bit of work. Stop your whining and get cracking. Get in and you're almost set for life.

My story about the trip to Jamaica, and two follow-up blog posts, have generated a lot of reader comments. As usual, you've got to sift through a fair amount of babble, but there some real gems to be found.

Among my favorites:

robert14219 said: we should target the contributors - BOYCOTT their businesses and tell they WHY....cut off the funding and he is G O N E from Albany.

Tomm: According to the list of contributors of $1,000 or more, 49% of those contributions are from areas OUTSIDE OF WESTERN NEW YORK!

Does anyone really believe he can best represent us western New Yorkers when his financial allegiance is to people outside this area?

No wonder he conducts fund raisers in Albany!

chipsahoy: I swear this guy really bugs me! He just leaves right in the middle of session! This is the time when he is suppose to be working on the budget, and fixing New York State! BUT NO, let's go take a vacation. When 2/3's of his district, can't even afford to go on vacation let alone just leave there job to go do it! We would be fired, but not Senator Thompson. This is pathetic, and if he is re-elected after all the stuff he has messed up then I feel sorry for those who vote for him, because you will be just as much to blame for the districts fall as much as Senator Thompson.

artgeffenbaum: Where is Lenny Lenihan? The Erie County Democratic Party should be actively seeking a primary challenge to this guy. At least give the voters a choice.

I think "enough" has a very relevant point. Why do so many of our so-called business leaders complain about the status quo while continuing to fund it?
To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, 'Howard, you've got some 'splaining to do!"
********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.) 


Antoine Thompson's enablers

Behind every politician - flawed and otherwise - stands a cadre of contributors whose money help the incumbent remain in office.

And, in the case of Antoine Thompson, pay for trips to Jamaica in the middle of a Senate session.

So, who is the money behind Antoine Thompson?

For starters, there is a lot of it.

Thompson, antoine I searched his campaign disclosure reports on the New York State Board of Elections site Tuesday and learned that Thompson received almost a quarter-million-dollars in contributions since January 2009. The figure, to be precise, is $249,608.74.

I pulled together a list of everyone who has contributed at least $1,000. There are 66 such contributors, who collectively account for a little more than half of Thompson's contributions - $126,700.

Take a look for yourself.

Who's giving?

In a general sense, a lot of the usual suspects. Lawyers, labor unions, lobbyists and other Albany interest groups.

Oh, and folks associated with Steve Pigeon, in particular Hormos Mansouri, who, individually and through his companies, lead the pack with $8,500 in contributions.

Gary Parenti, also tight with Pigeon, gave Thompson $1,900 as an individual and through his company. New Yorkers for Pedro Espada, the state senator who happens to employ Pigeon as his chief counsel, gave another $2,000.

Add it all up, and there's at least $12,400 of Pigeon-related money.

The biggest non-Pigeon contributors include the Buffalo law firm of Phillips Lytle, which gave $6,500, and  Battaglia Demolition of Elma, which contributed $6,000.

Update, 9:30 a.m.: Readers are looking at the list of contributors, connecting the dots and sharing with me via e-mail. Feel free to join in. Also, check out the most-recent comments on my story from Tuesday, as readers are connecting the dots there, as well.

Now, we return to our regularly scheduled broadcast ...

The list is populated with other interesting names.

Former Mayor Anthony Masiello gave $2,400.

Earl Wells, who is lobbying the Power Authority on behalf of big hydopower customers, gave $2,000.

The Buffalo firefighters union gave $4,700, something that I can't imagine will go down well with the rank-and-file, given they just got through picketing the state of the city address given by Thompson's buddy, Byron Brown.

The Rev. Richard Stenhouse, who the mayor is accused of trying to steer business to, gave $1,200.

Then there are the stalwarts of the business community, guys who privately grumble at the drop of a hat at the sorry state of political leadership in this community. Guys like Howard Zemsky and Lou Ciminelli. Ciminelli gave Thompson $1,000 through his company. Zemsky gave a total of $3,500 as an individual and through his company. 

Jamaica postcardRemember that, you in the upper crust, next time you're at a social gathering and you hear Zemsky or Ciminelli complain about the state of affairs.

You might want to ask them how they can complain when they are bank-rolling the campaigns of folks like Antoine Thompson.

You might even ask them if Thompson sent them a postcard from Jamaica. After all, they helped pay for the trip.

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.) 


 

Antoine Thompson, on the job, in Jamaica. Jamaica?

Before I say a word, I've got to set the mood. Give a quick look and listen to this:




Got it? OK, let's proceed.

Today's topic is state Sen. Antoine Thompson, who fancies himself as Buffalo's next mayor when Byron Brown moves on to greener pastures.

Thompson created his own version of "Where's Waldo" last week when he split from a Senate session to travel to parts unknown. His colleagues in the Senate didn't know where he was and his staff wouldn't answer questions regarding his whereabouts, except to say he wasn't in Albany.

In their defense, one member of the staff told me Monday they were under orders to not divulge his whereabouts. However, this staff member confirmed that Thompson and Mark Boyd, the senator's chief of staff, had, in fact, traveled to Jamaica.

Oh boy, I thought. Especially when I checked the weather last Thursday.

Albany: Fog, rain, high of 38.

Kingston, Jamaica: Sunny, high of 81.

I called Thompson and Boyd to press for more details. I'm still waiting on Thompson, while Boyd took my call, only to give me the run-around.

Only when I told him I already knew they had ventured to the land of Cool Runnings did Boyd come clean -- and only after presumably consulting with his boss. He blamed the stonewalling on us bad reporters, because we don't write about all the positive things the good senator is doing, and therefore it only makes sense to withhold potentially embarrassing information.

With me so far?

Thompson, with flag At this point, I'm thinking I've got a hell of a story. Even more so when I find out our dynamic duo were't staying at a Motel Six, but an oceanfront resort that costs $1,500 a week that Thompson is paying for with campaign contributions.

But, willing to let more facts get in the way of a good story, I dug deeper, making calls to members of the Jamaican and American Association of Buffalo, which planned the trip.

And, lo and behold, they corroborated Boyd's claim that he and Thompson put in an honest day's work when they were in Jamaica, trying to network with officials on a variety of issues, including renewable energy, which is near and dear to Thompson's heart.

In fact, I know one of the two individuals I spoke with, and I know him to be a straight shooter.

So, folks, this is not a matter of the senator blowing off official business in Albany to put his feet in the sand.

Rather, this is another example of the weirdness that surrounds Antoine Thompson.

The senator who is recorded as voting to oust Hiram Monserrate, but then says he didn't. Or, at least, didn't mean to. Or something like that.

Who gave money to Monserrate's self-defense fund. Which may be legally constituted. Or maybe not.

Who is getting blasted by constituents for taking credit for pork that he didn't  deliver.

Who has taken the art of self-serving pork barrel announcements to new highs/lows.

Who makes a potential non-story a front-page story by easing out of the country and telling his staff to dummy up.

And you wonder why I began this blog with the theme from the Twilight Zone?

Is it a bad thing that Thompson headed down Jamaica-way to network in the hopes of drumming up a little business?

Not necessarily.

Should he have done it when the Senate was in session?

Probably not, especially given what's going down in Albany these days.

Is this what Thompson is paid to do?

No, he's paid to work as a senator.

What exactly is Thompson getting paid?

His salary this year, including lulus, is $100,000.

Whose job is it to drum up business on behalf of the state?

Empire State Development Corp.

Were they along on the trip?

Nope. But they did send along brochures.

Does it look good that Boyd took his girlfriend along on the trip?

No.

If Thompson had nothing to hide, why all the hush-hush?

Beats me.

Actually, about the only thing I know for sure is that this latest episode is only going to intensify questions about Thompson's fitness for office. 

Not that he has any serious opposition this fall. The only name I'm hearing is Russ Thompson, he of Thruway and Tea Party notoriety. If he opts to run, Thompson  -- Russ, that is -- might make some noise, but he does not pose a real threat.

Which means, barring emergence of another candidate, Thompson will be around to conduct more fact-finding missions.

What's next? I hear the Dominicans might be looking for business partners.

Then again, I hear it's better in the Bahamas.

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.) 

Riding the coattails of Ryan Miller

Ryan miller

It's not that often Buffalo gets cast in a favorable light, but Ryan Miller's exploits at the Olympics have given us a little bit of a glow. Prompted in part by a question my teenage daughter asked me yesterday during the game, I started thinking of how we might somehow capitalize in a way that matters - - like jobs.

Her question: Why does Ryan Miller play for Buffalo. Couldn't he play for the best team or a team in a bigger city?

My answer: Ryan Miller plays for Buffalo because he wants to play for Buffalo. (Well, that and the $6.25 million he earns per season.)

Hmmm. Sounds like the makings or a marketing slogan.

"Ryan Miller set up shop in Buffalo. Maybe you should, too."

Or something like that. You get the idea.

And here's the kicker -- in just 10 months, the hockey world, and potentially a bunch of government and business bigwigs, are coming to Buffalo for the World Junior Championships.

If you're into hockey, this is a big deal. Akin to the NCAA Final Four for basketball. Probably the biggest deal in international hockey short of the Olympics.

HSBC Arena and Dwyer Rink at Niagara University will host 31 games from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. We're talking attendance in the range of 320,000. WNY will be invaded by boatloads of Canadians and thousands of Europeans.

Teams from ten nations will be involved. The United States, Canada, Russia, German, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia, etc. China isn't part of the crew -- yet -- but they want in, and presumably will have some boots on the ground.

Me, I don't want Ryan Miller showing people around. I'd rather have him focused on winning us a Stanley Cup. 

But boy, he sure could be a terrific poster child, and for a guy as involved in the community as he is, maybe he'd be willing to lend his name and fame to the cause, along with a his mug shot  -- with or without the playoff beard.

The potential of the Worlds, as they're known, isn't lost on Larry Quinn, the Sabres managing partner, who was instrumental in bringing the tournament here.

"It's an opportunity for the area to introduce itself in a meaningful way to nine significant free-market nations," he said.

It sure beats yet another mention on the Weather Channel for snow.

Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, the region's main economic development marketing organization, has been considering the opportunities.

It looks like the focus will be using the tournament as a lure to attract executives of companies in industry clusters the region has identified as our best bests -- solar power, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, etc. -- and then pitch them on the region while they're here.

Whatever has been done to this point, it might be a good idea to redouble the effort and figure out a way to incorporate a guy who is now one of the most famous, admired hockey players in the world.

There are no silver bullets, but the tournament presents an unusual opportunity, especially when you factor in the Ryan Miller dynamic. We need to think big and be bold.

Like playing for Olympic gold, the opportunity doesn't come around very often.

********************

(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.) 

Newer Entries »