Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

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.

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

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.


(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.)

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?


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.) 

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

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

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

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

A detached governor in a time of crisis.

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

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

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

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

Let's hear it from the master, himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a load of you-know-what. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this sound like a repentant person?

Then again, why should he be?

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

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


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

State incumbents fatten their wallets

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

Reports the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate President Malcom Smith has $660,169.

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

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

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

Who says crime doesn't pay?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regardless, Collins was just getting warmed up.

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

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

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

Child care protest

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

What to make of Collins' antipathy towards these programs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, politics trumps putting people to work.

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

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

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

It didn't turn out that way.

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

Did he successfully launch any major economic development initiatives?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask Marie.


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

« Older Entries Newer Entries »