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Tuesday is a referendum on Byron Brown

Elections often serve as a referendum on the incumbent and I think that is especially true with Tuesday's mayoral primary between Byron Brown and Mickey Kearns.

There are five blocks of voters out there:

Those who are solidly behind Brown because of his track record, racial politics or their jobs depend on his re-election.

Those who are solidly behind Kearns because of his credentials or racial politics.

Those who are solidly against Brown because of of his track record.

Those who are undecided, not keen on Brown but uncertain about Kearns.

Those who don't care, aren't paying attention or think it's all hopeless.

Unfortunately, if Board of Elections officials are to be believed, the "what's the use?" block is far and away the largest. Which is to say, a fraction of voters will choose our next mayor.

That's sad, given what's at stake. Then again, it was even sadder when fewer than one in 10 voters turned out this spring for the School Board elections.

How will the election swing?

There's not a lot of polling data out there. The best we have to go on is a robo-poll commissioned by WGRZ-TV the week before last that showed Kearns had closed the gap with Brown and that the race is a tossup. Perhaps.

More telling was the way Brown consistently attacked Kearns during their debate Friday on Channel 2 and the tone of his advertising the past week.

Standard operating procedure is to be diplomatic if your polls show you're sitting on a big lead in the run-up to an election. You only attack if you're behind or your polls show your lead is too close for comfort.

So, methinks the race is going to be tight. Voter turnout is going to play a crucial role, as it does in any tight race with a modest turnout.

That should play to Brown's advantage, given he's got a stronger organization in place.

Then again, a ticked-off electorate often finds its way to the polls.

Just how unhappy are voters with Brown? We'll find out Tuesday.

If you're still not sure about who you prefer, read these two dueling endorsements from the Buffalo Pundit and The Buffalo News editorial board.

(And for you readers who have been predicting for months that The News would endorsement Kearns, no matter what we reporters uncovered, all I can say is '"don't shoot me, I'm only the piano player.")

Rather than wait until Tuesday, I say we get the fun started now with the poll below. One vote per person -- that's how the software is set up.

And the winner is (sort of) ...

The thing about blogging is that it's one continuing experiment. One of the things I've been toying with are online reader polls. It's not going all that hot. Witness the vote on the favorite Outrage or Insight for 2008.

The blog post got enough views, probably a couple of thousand, but only 48 readers voted. Nothing to write home about, to say the least.

For what it's worth, the top vote getter, with a whopping nine tallies, was my post revealing that Tom Golisano's Responsible New York was behind the sliming of Sam Hoyt.

Coming in second, with seven votes, was my analysis of City's Hall 2008 budget that showed that far from being on firm financial footing, the Brown administration is intentionally making Buffalo more and more a ward of the state.

Maybe next year I'll hire Obama's campaign team to get out the vote ...

Brother, can you spare a vote?

Yo, folks, help me out and cast your vote for your favorite Outrage or Insight of the year. I've had lot of people read the post, but not a lot voting.

I blog, you decide

I didn't just riff off Fox News, did I? Forgive me, it must be the eggnog.

Seriously, folks, it's that time of year when newspapers roll out their "top stories of the year" features and I've decided to be a copycat. I've been blogging since April and have written some 235 posts. Tell me in the poll below which ones you liked best. I'll keep the poll open through the first week in January.

Here are the nominations:

Tom Golisano in 2008 went from being simply a rich guy who owns a hockey team to a rich guy who wants to be a major political player (again). This fall I revealed that his Responsible New York, quarterbacked by Steve Pigeon, was neck-deep in the smear campaign against Sam Hoyt. When Responsible New York failed to make the necessary disclosures to the state Board of Elections, Pigeon did his Sergeant Schultz imitation.

My most-read post of the past year was the one in which I reported Buffalo police were suppressing key information from crime reports they release to the press. Unfortunately, I've had to write several subsequent variations of this post, as there are members of the police brass who missed the "public's right to know" class at the police academy.

This one may be my personal favorite: Village mayors rally against consolidation. Leading the charge was the mayor of Farnham, population 322, which couldn't possibly merge with the Town of Brant, population 1,906. Not with phony baloney jobs at stake. The post features guest appearances by Mel Brooks and Barney Fife.

Developers at the public trough go crazy when Governor Paterson proposes changes in the Empire Zone program. I respond with tales of waste and naming names of those exploiting subsidy programs to fatten their bottom lines. The post includes my favorite line as a blogger, answering Jordan Levy when he asks who in their right mind would invest in upstate without a government subsidy. "Maybe a capitalist, Comrade Levy."

Elsewhere on the subsidy-abuse front, how about this ditty on the Clarence IDA's use of tax breaks for an upscale grocery on the grounds the town didn't have a supermarket within its boundaries. Residents actually had to drive their BMWs to the other side of Transit Road to buy their arugula. Oh, the inhumanity!

State government gave me a lot to write about. At one point I wondered aloud when budget makers were going to get busy with layoffs to help close the deficit. The New York Post picked it up as an op-ed piece. I also did a series of posts on wasteful spending by the State Legislature, including its army of attorneys. You gotta love the last one, if for no other reason than the Three Stooges video.

Elsewhere on the free-spending front, I did math that showed most school districts were using a record increase in state education aid to boost their spending beyond the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, back at City Hall, budgeting practices have resulted in Buffalo's biggest structural deficit ever, despite Mayor Byron Brown's claims of fiscal responsibility. Albany isn't just a capital, it's a sugar daddy.

The poll is below. Remember, just one vote per reader. Check back Jan. 6 for final results.

We just don't get it

Do many Americans remain ignorant to global warming? Or are they so self-absorbed that they simply don't care? (There's a poll at the end of this post.)

The Pew Research Center has come out with a poll showing that in the face of higher gas prices, a growing number of Americans want to hang on to their energy way of life, regardless of the consequences. As recently as February, 55 favored an emphasis on energy conservation and the environment vs. 35 percent who favored a push for more energy production. Now, its a dead heat. All over $4 a gallon gas.

Oil_rig Reports the Pew Center:

"Amid record gas prices, public support for greater energy exploration is spiking. Compared with just a few months ago, many more Americans are giving higher priority to more energy exploration, rather than more conservation. An increasing proportion also says that developing new sources of energy – rather than protecting the environment – is the more important national priority."

I don't like $50 a tank fill up any more than the next guy, but the answer isn't a $40 fill up. Something's gotta give.

Ice_berg_2 We as a country account for a quarter of the world's oil consumption. We're emitting twice as many global warming gasses than we did in 1990. Our economy, our lifestyle is the biggest driving force behind global warming. But, according to the Pew poll, nearly half of America wants to stay the course.

The scientific community says the answer is two-fold: conservation and development of clean, renewable energy. (Al Gore's Web site has a good overview.)

The president and Congress have been reluctant to provide the the same kind of incentives to promote clean energy that it has long provided Big Oil and Gas.

And conservation and recycling efforts are far from running on all cylinders. The current issue of Co-op America Quarterly is loaded with practical tips on how the typical homeowner can cut his energy consumption by up to half. How many of us are even trying?

A few more pieces worth reading:

-- New York Times comparison of gas prices worldwide.

"Gasoline in the United States is cheap.

"Not as cheap as American drivers would like, of course. And not as cheap as it is in Venezuela and other major oil-producing countries, where it is heavily subsidized. Compared to prices in most other industrialized nations, however, the American national average of $4 a gallon is a bargain.

"The chief reason for the disparity with the high-priced nations is taxation. Take away the taxes, and the remaining gas price is similar from place to place."

-- Recent Congressional testimony of climate scientist James Hansen.

"A wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public.

"We have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.

"Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse-gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control.

"Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear. But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals."

So, what do you think?

Readers aren't happy about the budget

   Granted, my online poll asking readers what they thought of the state budget is not scientific. And the poll didn't attract a ton of votes -- 79. But for a week-old blog, I'll take it.

  The poll question was: What do you think of the state budget adopted last week?

  The results were clear. Respondents don't like it. Not one little bit.

   4 percent said they were OK with the budget.

   95 percent said that they not only disapprove, but would consider voting against incumbents who supported the budget.

   2 percent said they disapproved of the budget, but not enough to vote against an incumbent who supported it.

   If the poll results are indicative of public opinion -- and I suspect a lot of voters are unhappy about the budget and the legislators who approved it -- some incumbents could be in for a rougher ride than usual this fall.

The state budget - their vote and yours

   New Yorkers pay some of the highest taxes in the nation. Here is how our governor, senators and assembly members decided to spend our money for this coming year.

   Facing a $4.6 billion deficit that is is expected to worsen as the economy sinks, lawmakers:

   -- Added 2,000 employees to the state payroll.

   -- Boosted education aid by 8.7 percent, more than triple the projected rate of inflation.

   -- Gave each legislative chamber tens of millions of dollars to spend on pork barrel .

   The result is a 4.9 percent increase in the state budget, which is nearly double the projected rate of inflation.

   To pay for this, lawmakers imposed $1.7 billion in new taxes and fees and opted to borrow $8 billion. The latter will create further strain on future budgets as interest payments grow. Already, the state spends about $5 billion to pay off current debt.

   Critics have called the budget generous at a time when belt-tightening is called for. Supporters say it provides necessary funding to key services such as education.

   The budget cuts proposed aid to help the upstate economy from $1 billion to $700 million.

   Is this a bad thing?

   I've reported on numerous economic development programs in recent years, including state Empire Zones, and many of them deliver big tax breaks and discounts to companies while doing little to improve local economies.

   Take the $5.1 million earmarked in the new budget for renovations to the Hyatt in downtown Buffalo. The hotel has gotten a series of tax breaks and subsidies dating back to Jimmy Griffin's tenure as mayor. When does it end?

   If I'm a voter, I'm looking to see how my elected representatives voted on this budget. They're all up for election this fall.

   And if I'm paying school taxes, I'm getting ready to ask my local Board of Education if it plans on using the windfall to increase spending or cut property taxes.

   I've done an analysis of the voting record of the senators and assemblymembers who represent Western New York. There wasn't a single vote on the budget, but rather 10 separate bills that focused on different aspects of state operations. For example, there were separate bills dealing with mental health, education, debt service, economic development, and so on. One bill held particular importance as it included many of the tax and fee increases necessary to help pay for increased spending.

   It's easy to report on the vote of our state senators. All six from the region voted in favor of all 10 budget bills. The Senate as a whole moved in lockstep on the budget, usually approving budget bills unanimously.

   For the record, our local state senators supporting the budget are George Maziarz (R-Newfane), Mary Lou Rath (R-Williamsville), Bill Stachowski (D-Lakeview), Antoine Thompson (D-Buffalo), Dale Volker (R-Depew ) and Catherine Young (R-Olean).

   There was more dissent in the Assembly, but none of the budget bills came close to losing. Here's a rundown on how members of the local delegation voted:

   -- Dan Burling (R-Warsaw) 0 yes, 10 no; voted no on the major tax bill.

  -- Michael Cole (R-Alden) 3 yes, 7 no; voted no on tax bill.

   -- Francine DelMonte (D-Lewiston) 10 yes, 0 no. Voted yes on tax bill.

   -- Joseph Giglio (R-Gowanda) 7 yes, 3 no; voted no on tax bill.

   -- Jim Hayes (R-Amherst) 2 yes, 8 no; voted no on the tax bill.

   -- Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo, Grand Island) 8 yes, 1 no, 1 excused vote; voted no on tax bill.

   -- William Parment (D-Harmony ) 3 yes, 7 no; voted no on tax bill.

   -- Crystal Peoples (D-Buffalo) 6 yes, 1 no, 3 excused votes; voted yes on tax bill.

   -- Jack Quinn (R-Hamburg ) 5 yes, 5 no; voted no on tax bill.

   -- Robin Schimminger (D-Kenmore) 9 yes, 1 no; voted yes on tax bill.

   -- Mark Schroeder (D-Buffalo ) 10 yes, 0 no; voted yes on tax bill.

What do you think? Vote once, and only once. I'll cut off the voting in a couple of days. Check back for results. And, by all means, post your comments below.

Poll results: Of 79 respondents, 3 percent said they were OK with the budget; 94 percent said they not only objected, but would consider voting against incumbents who supported the budget; 2 percent said they objected to the budget, but not enough to change their vote.