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Grisanti joins calls for restoration of NFTA aid


 Add the name of Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, to the local chorus of local state legislators calling for restoration of $10 million in transit operating assistance from New York State to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

   Grisanti joins Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Dennis H. Garbryszak, D-Cheektowaga, in writing to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to ask for the $10 million. The first member of the area delegation to petition the governor was Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston.

   The effort is now gaining traction after Albany dispatched $250 million to the downstate Metropolitan Transportation Authority to replace funds stemming from expired local taxes.

    "If downstate can get $250 million for their transit authority, then upstate should get $10 million, Grisanti said. "My constituents need access to public transportation to get to work, if they can't get to work then they will lose their job and go on some sort of public assistance. That is unacceptable on my watch."

    Grisanti also expressed concern over the layoff of 20 members of the Transit Authority
Police Deparatment as a result of the reduced state aid.

   "We need the NFTA police officers to remain intact to protect our bus, rails and airports from any type of attacks or threats," he said. "We need to keep our community safe and if we cut police officers it will only burden other police agencies throughout the region."

--Robert J. McCarthy

No informal reorganization meeting planned, Fontana says

The city lawmaker expected to become the next Common Council president said today he has no plans to call an informal reorganization meeting before the official votes are taken Jan. 3.

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana called a meeting Dec. 13, but no business was discussed after Council President David A. Franczyk claimed the meeting was illegally called.

After that meeting did not yield the discussion Fontana had hoped, he said he might call another meeting of lawmakers.

In the end, that won't happen because it appears some lawmakers don't want to have that conversation, Fontana said today.

In previous years, lawmakers have typically met privately in a political caucus, which is not open to the public, to discuss leadership positions and staff changes prior to the official vote in early January.

Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith, who Fontana has said has the votes to become the new majority leader, said again today that there are several lawmakers who would have enough votes to take the post.

Last week, Smith said there are "a lot of people" who want to be majority leader.

Here's a blog post on Council leadership plans from last week.

--Aaron Besecker

Interim plan in place for county comptroller

With no appointee named yet to fill the job of county comptroller, Mark C. Poloncarz has made temporary arrangements to run his office when he leaves it Jan. 1.

Poloncarz, who will move from the county comptroller's office to county executive, has named one of his deputies, Lorne H. Steinhart, to serve as acting county comptroller in January until the Erie County Legislature appoints someone to the job.

Steinhart, who has been deputy comptroller of accounting since October 2008, previously worked as vice president of marketing and business development at EMS Healthcare Informatics in Clarence. He earned an MBA from Canisius College in 1994, according to his resume.

County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan earlier this month named a search committee to accept resumes and make a recommendation for county comptroller to the Legislature. That person will face an election in the fall to keep the job.

--Denise Jewell Gee

Public meetings this week in the City of Buffalo

Each week, The Buffalo News publishes a community-by-community list of the local government meetings for the coming week. Here's what's coming up this week in the City of Buffalo:

--The Aloma D. Johnson Fruitbelt Community Charter School board of trustees will meet at 6 p.m. today in the school, 833 Michigan Ave.

--The Planning Board will meet at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday in Room 901 in City Hall.

--The Council’s Civil Service Committee will meet at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers. The Council’s Finance Committee will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers.

--The Council’s Community Development Committee will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers.

--The Council’s Legislation Committee will meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers.

--The Buffalo Board of Education will meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the boardroom, Room 801 of City Hall, to interview candidates for the at-large vacancy created by Christopher L. Jacobs’ resignation. The interviews are open to the public.

--The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency will meet at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 209 of City Hall.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN


Maggiore shifts to staff of Lt. Gov. Duffy

   One of the few Western New Yorkers within the inner circle of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been given a new assignment with the lieutenant governor.

   John Maggiore, who was a special assistant to the governor, is now chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, according to administration sources who did not want to be named.

   Maggiore at one time also worked for former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt.

  --Robert J. McCarthy

City Hall: By the numbers

Every other week, Buffalo lawmakers authorize the spending of thousands of tax dollars.

Here's some of the spending approved the Common Council this week:

--A $64,465 change order to a contract with South Buffalo Electric Inc. "for costs associated with the repair and re-erection of city streetlight poles." The original contract cost was $248,703, making the new grand total $313,168.

"Additional funds desperately needed to address a current backlog of knockdown locations and we expect many more with the winter weather upon us," according to a Public Works Department memo to the Council.

--An $84,851 change order to a contract with R.W. Painting Inc. for a "park shelter restoration project" in Martin Luther King Park. The original contract amount was $630,850, bringing the new total to $715,701.

Additional work is necessary under the project, according to the Public Works Department memo, including concrete and plumbing work, reinforcing a rusted steel girder, adding an air separator to a new boiler, along with several other elements.

The work is funded by a $500,000 grant by the state Dormitory Authority, with the rest covered by the city, according to the memo.

--A $144,439.52 change order to a contract with Yarussi Construction for the second phase of the reconstruction of Porter Avenue. The original contract was $1.88 million, bringing the new total to $2.03 million.

The project consists of work on Porter between Niagara Street and Symphony Circle.

--The purchase of a "telescopic articulating type aerial lift" for the Signal Repair Division of the Public Works Department at a cost of $120,000.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN


Another Poloncarz jab at Brown; Casey downplays significance

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's pre-election rally at an Amherst union hall last month for county executive candidate Mark C. Poloncarz never really produced the kumbaya effect sought by statewide Democrats.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan, for example, was never even invited onto the podium after feuding with Cuomo's party people for months. And Mayor Byron W. Brown made it clear he attended only because Cuomo asked him.

Since then, it is clear there will be little thaw in the frosty relations between Poloncarz and Brown. The county executive-elect threw some obvious jabs at Brown by naming a potential mayoral rival in 2013 -- former FBI honcho Bernie Tolbert -- to his transition tean. In addition, he recruited former Corporation Counsel Alicia Lukasiewicz -- forced out of City Hall by Brown -- to the panel.

This week the rift became even more obvious when Poloncarz named Richard M. Tobe as his deputy county executive. Tobe was also forced out of his City Hall economic development post in 2008 -- a move of which the county executive-elect clearly disagrees.

"It had less to do with Rich Tobe and more to do with the mayor, including his executive assistant deputy mayor," Poloncarz said at this week's announcement, referring to Tobe's resignation and Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey.

The deputy mayor, considered Brown's political point man, this week dismissed any suggestion of a rift between City Hall and the Rath County Office Building.

"We look forward to sitting down and working with him," Casey said of Tobe. "If it has to do with jobs, we will work together with anybody.

"You don't see anybody on our side picking a fight," he added.

Casey said Brown on Dec. 9 sent a letter of congratulations to Poloncarz, suggesting the two men meet soon to discuss mutual goals.

--Robert J. McCarthy

Sedita to join Mattina firm

One of the area's best known local jurists -- State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita Jr. -- will join another well-known former judge in a Williamsville firm when he retires from the bench Dec. 31.

Sedita said this week he will work for Counsel Financial Services, headed by former Erie County Surrogate Judge Joseph S. Mattina. The 11-year-old commercial finance company caters to plaintiffs' law firms.

Counsel lends money to personal injury and other lawyers, providing them the working capital to keep their business going, pay legal and other expenses, and pursue the cases for which their clients hired them.

Sedita, who turned 76 this year, is mandated to retire from Supreme Court after serving three two-year terms as a senior judge.

--Robert J. McCarthy

Where Council leadership change started

How did Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana's move to replace David A. Franczyk as Buffalo Common Council president start?

Kearns_headshotIt started with South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, according to Fontana, who said Kearns told him he wouldn't be supporting Franczyk when the Council reorganizes next month.

A few weeks ago, Fontana said he was exploring a bid for the top Council post. On Wednesday, he said he had the necessary votes to take the leadership position.

"I didn't start that," said Fontana, who added he thought he would have Kearns' support.

That's a version of events Kearns (pictured at left) is denying.

"I said I would like to see new leadership and term limits," Kearns said.

The assertion that he promised to get behind Fontana for president is incorrect, the South Council member said.

"He thought. He assumed," Kearns said of Fontana.

(Photo by Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

Fontana, Smith expected to take Council leadership posts

Updated: 2:38 p.m.; 4:09 p.m. -- with comments from Demone Smith.; 6:58 p.m. -- links to documents involving claim of "illegal meeting."

The Common Council's majority leader said today he has the necessary votes to make him the next Council president, a move that forms a new majority in the lawmaking body that some view as more friendly to Mayor Byron W. Brown. Fontana_headshot

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana (pictured at right) said he has votes from at least five of his colleagues to take the reins of the city's legislative branch when it reorganizes in January.

Fontana, who previously expressed interest in the presidency, also said there are at least five votes to make Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith (pictured below) the new majority leader.

Smith_headshotCurrent Council President David A. Franczyk, who has held the post for eight years, said the expected shift on the Council weakens the body's independence.

"He's giving the mayor control of the Common Council," Franczyk said today.

Fontana disputed Franczyk's claim, saying he's worked on behalf of all Council members and plans on continuing to do so.

"I've always been an independent Council member and I'm not going to change that as Council president," he said.

Smith said that him taking the majority leader post is one scenario that could play out.

"There's a lot of people that want to be majority leader," Smith said.

In terms of Fontana and the Council presidency, Smith said there are five lawmakers solidly behind him.

"We think we need a change," he said. 

The move represents a departure of Fontana from the ruling majority, which also included South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto and Francyzk.

The new majority would include Fontana, Smith, Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell and North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.

A Council majority has various powers, including being able to decide which lawmakers become chairs of various committees, as well as on staffing appointments in the City Clerk's Office and to the Council's central staff.

The reorganization of the Council, which happens every two years, was supposed to be discussed during a caucus held Tuesday night at a Seneca Street restaurant. The official votes on reorganization happen in early January.

Instead, after some lawmakers called television news crews and made claims about a potentially illegal meeting, no Council business was discussed Tuesday night, lawmakers who attended said.

Here's the Channel 2 report and the Channel 4 report

The Buffalo News received no prior notice of the meeting, even though a memo dated Dec. 7 about the planned meeting was circulated to Council members.

Fontana today produced an opinion from interim Corporation Council David Rodriguez -- a mayoral appointee -- that found no violation with the meeting.

Compare the latest meeting notice to the one Franczyk sent out for the 2009 reorganization meeting.

Stay tuned for updates. That's all for updates for today. Check out tomorrow's paper for more.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |