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The two faces of Carl Paladino

Paladino announcing

Long before he announced his candidacy for governor, a number of people I deal with told me they saw a disconnect between what Carl Paladino says about politics and what he does as a businessman. They complained that Paladino, on one hand, rails against government spending while making money hand over fist in numerous dealings with said government.

One prominent politician told me the contrasts were an example of what he termed "The two faces of Carl Paladino."

Which brings me to my front page story in Sunday's Buffalo News.

There have been reports in recent weeks that mentioned Paladino's leases with state agencies, and about three weeks ago I set out to document the extent of his dealings, not only with Albany, but with the federal and local governments. I looked not only at leases on office space, but tax breaks he's received as a developer and purchases he's made of buildings that had fallen into government hands.

What I found, in a nutshell, is that Paladino holds at least 37 leases with government agencies that will bring him $10.1 million in rent this year. He's the state's biggest landlord in Western New York, holding leases on half of the 52 leases it has on local offices. 

Paladino also has obtained at least $12 million in tax breaks since 2003, and the figure is likely substantially larger because not all the benefits have been calculated by the assorted economic development agencies that have awarded Paladino benefits.

He's also bought at least a couple of buildings dirt cheap from the government.

His purchase of the former L.L. Berger building in downtown Buffalo for $1 in 1999 is kind of old news, although still relevant. Of more recent vintage is the deal he made with state officials to to acquire the former United Office Building in Niagara Falls for only $10 after the state spent about $1 million to land the property. Paladino redeveloped the building recently, with the help of more than $2 million in tax breaks.

All this does not make Paladino a bad person. More of a shrewd businessman, actually. But it does call into question his credentials as a political populist.

I mean, when you're doing this much business with the government, business that has helped make you a multimillionaire, how serious can or should voters take you when you hoot and holler about government spending?

Likewise, it raises a question as to how serious voters should take claims of being a political outsider when you've contributed close to a half-million-dollars to politicians over the years and obviously built cozy relationships with a fair number of them?

Paladino refused to talk to me during the course of my reporting, which has got to just about be a first, given the guy's "dial a quote" reputation. But I understand. He's long professed his admiration for my work -- when my guns were trained on others -- but now that I've come knocking on his door, well, he'd much prefer I go back to sniffing around City Hall. Or the State Capitol. Or NYPA headquarters. Anywhere but Ellicott Square, which, just in case you're counting, is where Paladino takes in $1.5 million a year via 14 leases with government tenants. When he's not having his supporters over for beers and roast beef sandwiches. 

Here's an exchange of e-mails leading up to Paladino's "no comment, not now, not ever," which was apparently triggered by the bolded fourth paragraph of this blog post of mine. Keep in mind that Carl has proclaimed he's got a "thick skin." (I have a hunch my "no filter" blog post may have as much to do with Carl's anger as anything else.)

The thing of it is, Paladino, if he had chosen to talk, could have mounted a potentially reasonable defense to some of his dealings with the government. I tried to be as fair as I could in my story, but there's only so much a reporter can do when one side of the story won't tell it.

On one hand, it looks kind of bad that Paladino is the state's biggest landlord in WNY, given his rants about Albany's spending. But, in the guy's defense, he quoted lower prices than his competitors in the proposals he submitted for the biggest leases he's landed with the state.

You could also make a case that the buildings he bought on the cheap have turned out OK, given that he redeveloped properties that had been long abandoned. Whether he should have gotten the grants and tax breaks on top of the cheap sale prices is debatable, however.

The tax breaks are where Paladino is on the shakiest ground, and I say this in part based on the extensive reporting I've done the past 10 years of economic development programs in the region.

It's not just that Paladino has laid claim to every penny of tax breaks he possibly could. He's also  tried to shape public economic development policy in ways that benefits his businesses.

Case in point is Buffalo's use of Empire Zone benefits, the most lucrative of the state's economic development programs that offers a wide range of tax breaks. The program was intended to promote investment and job creation in distressed neighborhoods, abandoned industrial areas, etc.

But when it came time for City Hall to draw boundaries back when Tony Masiello was mayor, Paladino was among the crowd that successfully lobbied that the zone include most of downtown -- and with it, most of Paladino's key property holdings. Paladino then went about getting no fewer than 30 of his companies certified as eligible to receive benefits. Only one other business operator in the entire state had more as of 2007, the latest year for which there are complete records.

Right after Byron Brown took office as mayor, Paladino was at it again, getting City Hall to amend Empire Zone boundaries to include waterfront land he had acquired near Erie Basin Marina. Thus, a program conceived as a means to help the poor enabled Paladino to build condominiums that sell for up to $1.3 million a pop.

Add it all up and Paladino has saved at least $4.3 million in sales and property taxes under the Empire Zone program since 2003. And the buyers of his waterfront condos will save some $5 million in property taxes.

When you factor it all in -- the leases, the tax breaks, the buildings for a buck -- what emerges is a portrait of a businessman who is making a lot of money, and managing to avoid paying a lot of taxes, while saying as a candidate for governor that the government should be spending less money and looking out more for taxpayers.

The two faces of Carl Paladino, indeed. 

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Playing hardball on the waterfront

It's pretty clear that the nobody-elected-them crowd charged with developing Canal Side, a.k.a. Bass Pro,  has no intention of negotiating a community benefits agreement. They've been sounding that drum beat in the public utterances of Jordan Levy, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., and through other assorted avenues.

What's got Levy and company all worked up is that the Common Council -- which, I will note, is elected by somebody -- going strongly on record in support of a community benefits agreement. To the point where it has said, "no CBA, no transfer of land to make portions of the project happen."

The coalition supporting the CBA is broad based -- a who's who of the region's progressive community. It reached out to the development corporation a week ago Friday asking for a commencement of negotiations.

A week and a half, Levy and company have yet to respond. Rather, they're doing all their communicating in the media. And the answer is a resounding NO.

Unfortunately, this is par for the course.

Keep in mind that Bass Pro was selected as the anchor tenant without benefit of any competition. Nope, the friendship between Florida neighbors and fishing buddies Bob Rich and Bass Pro CEO Johnny Morris was sufficient.

Benderson Properties -- a Buffalo-connected company that made much of its fortune and reputation by building strip malls, not entertainment/historic districts -- was selected as site developer by the ECHDC board, again with no competitive process.

The politically influential law firm of Phillips Lytle was selected to do a lot of the corporation's legal work, and EHCDC is now discussing leasing the old Donovan Building to the firm once millions of public dollars have been spent on rehabbing it.

This is the kind of conduct that gives authorities a bad name.

All this isn't to say Levy and company will get their way. If the Council hangs tough, they will have no choice but to come to the table. Not that it should all fall to the Council.

Rep. Brian Higgins is a player, as well. He was instrumental in establishing the development corporation in his early years in Congress. And last year, he made a deal with the New York Power Authority to accelerate payments to the project and add $50 million to the pot.

In short, Higgins is the agency's sugar daddy. He is in a position to tell Levy and Co. to knock it off and deal with the CBA advocates in good faith.

From where I sit, what Levy is doing involves needless risk for the project. The Partnership for the Public Good, the Coalition for Economic Justice and others pushing the CBA are the very people I'd expect to be flat-out opposed to this deal. Instead, they've proposed a process that would result in their endorsing it.

And the problem is?

I mean, Aaron Bartley and company are known to have organized a picket line or 20. 

PUSH Buffalo protest


I would think the last thing Levy or Higgins wants to see is people starting to organize in opposition to the use of more than $150 million in public funds to create mostly low-wage, part-time jobs. Which is one of several ways reasonable people can view the project.

Maybe Levy and company think the project is so well bankrolled -- with tax dollars, of course -- and deep enough into the public review process that they can afford to thumb their nose at CBA supporters or pick off enough Council members to get what they want.

Perhaps they are right. And perhaps they're not. I just do not understand why they're running that risk. I mean, is building to green standards and promoting locally owned businesses a bad thing?

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One more boarded up building

They started boarding up the Lafayette Hotel on Thursday. It will serve as a bookend to the boarded up Statler Building, which dropped some more chunks of cornice yesterday.

Lafayette hotel But not to fear, Mayor Byron Brown is on it, what with his third reorganization of City Hall's economic development operation in four years. Never mind that the first two didn't pan out and that the third one now underway involves employees sitting around with little to do because the city has stopped taking loan applications or making grants, effectively getting out of the economic development business for the time being.

People used to criticize then Mayor Anthony Masiello for "economic development by press release." Well, folks, what we have now is "economic development reform by press release."

The mayor has long said economic development is his priority. What he has to show thus far are boarded up buildings, a growing number of unemployed city residents and an economic development agency on life support.

Oh, and criminal investigations. Let's not forget about the investigations.

I wonder how that national job search for a commissioner of economic development is going. Have they so much as placed an ad yet?

Look, I don't expect the city's economy to be flourishing, given the recession. But City Hall needs to do the best it can with it has control over. And it's not. 

You can't even get the mayor to show up on time for BERC board meetings, if he shows up at all. What kind of message is that sending?

Akron ohio postcard I've been in several Rust Belt cities the past month, including Rochester and Akron, Ohio. I've ridden and walked their downtowns, and what's struck me is they don't have nearly as many boarded-up buildings as Buffalo.

In fact, their downtowns are in noticeably better shape.

People, I'm talking Akron. Frickin' Akron.

Akron and Rochester have been hammered just as hard as we have over the past generation, but their downtowns don't have expanses that look like Beirut, circa 1980. We've gotten more block grant aid and other economic development assistance than either city -- hell, we may have gotten more than the two of them put together over the past 30 years - and conditions here underscore how badly we've squandered the money.

I don't foresee anything changing soon, given City Hall's continuing ineptitude.

As Sonny and Cher once put it, the beat goes on.

Hit it, kids.

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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 WNYMedia.net 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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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.

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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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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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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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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.

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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.

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