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Scrap metal lobbying contracts on file with state

By Jill Terreri

Niagara Metals has indeed hired a firm headed by former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, according to a contract on file with the state's lobbying commission, and posted below. 

Last week, Niagara Metals declined to confirm that they had hired Masiello, or be interviewed by The Buffalo News. Masiello didn't return calls for a story on his lobbying efforts on behalf of the company, but they were confirmed by North Council Member Joseph Golombek, who represents the area. 

Niagara Metals operates in the southwest corner of Elmwood and Hertel, a half-mile from the former Auto City auto wrecking yard, where another scrap metal dealer is hoping to open its doors. 

An intense lobbying effort from both companies is underway, and the matter was the subject of a Common Council committee meeting last week, when Kim Weitsman, president of Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo, fielded lawmakers' questions. 

Ben Weitsman and Son is a sister company to Upstate Shredding, owned by Kim's husband, Adam. The company is named for Adam's grandfather. The business has 11 locations and annual sales of $650 million, according to the company web site. The company's interest in Buffalo is related to its proximity to Canada, Kim Weitsman has said.  

A signed agreement dated June 25, 2012, shows that Todd Levin, owner and operator of Niagara Metals, also known as North Buffalo Enterprises, LLC, has agreed to hire Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese and Associates for a year at a cost of $30,000 plus expenses, effective July 1. The contract is to be paid in monthly installments of $2,500. 

Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo, meanwhile, has hired Park Strategies, LLC, at a cost of $5,000 per month. Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is a Park Strategies vice president and has been making calls on the Weitsmans' behalf.  

A signed agreement from Aug. 1, between Kim Weitsman and Park Strategies, LLC, shows that their contract started Aug. 1 and lasts until Jan. 31. 

All such contracts must be filed with the state, even in the case of lobbying mayors and city councils. 

The proposed new scrap metal business, which would be located at 409 Hertel Ave., will be reviewed by the Planning Board on Dec. 18. The Council is not expected to take any action until then, Golombek said today. 

Park Strategies, Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo contract Contract between Todd Levin and lobbyist Masiello Martucci Calabrese and Associates.

Down to the wire: ballot counting for Senate control enters final stage

2012-11-26 11.16.53

By Tom Precious

KINGSTON -– Perhaps it is fitting that New York state’s first capital -– this historic community located along the Hudson River -– will decide the fate of which political party come January will control the State Senate.

With about 4,200 absentee and affidavit votes of Ulster County residents to be counted over the next couple days, all political eyes in New York will be focused on Kingston -– and the two cramped, widowless rooms at the county’s election board on Wall Street.

So far this morning, Democrats say they have chipped away at Republican George Amedore’s 918-vote lead after votes in four other counties were completed over the Thanksgiving weekend.

But Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk has much ground to make up, though the Albany-area political newcomer was picking up a considerable amount of votes being counted this morning from residents of the city of Kingston (a community burned by the British during the Revolutionary War).

Democrats say vote counting from this morning saw Tkaczyk pick up about 100 votes from Amedore’s lead. If Republicans were worried, their election lawyers and Senate staff members on hand weren’t showing it. [Republicans say Amedore's lead was cut by about 80 votes during the morning count.] The veteran crew of lawyers on both sides -– some who have squared off against each other for 30 years -– realize there is still much paperwork to go through from surrounding, more rural communities before a final round of contested ballots goes before a state judge later this week.

But if Tkaczyk is to catch up to Amedore, today will be a crucial day for both sides. The Democrat won about 60 percent of the ballots on election day, but Republicans have long been known for running strong absentee get-out-the-vote efforts.

Tom Turco, the Ulster County GOP elections board commissioner, said about 3,500 absentee and 700 affidavit ballots will be counted over the next couple days. He said the sides hope to get through half the ballots today -– a tedious process that begins with every envelope examined for possible election law violations and ends with a count of the uncontested ballots. So far this morning, few absentee ballots were challenged, though both sides raised questions about affidavit ballots -– from missing names to incorrect voting addresses.

Why is this important? The winner will determine control of the Senate, on paper anyway.

If Amedore wins, the Republicans will have the votes -– thanks to the recent flip by a newly elected Brooklyn Democrat who says he will caucus with the GOP -– to continue its generations-long domination of the Senate. If Amedore loses, Democrats will have the votes to control the Senate, but not without the help of four breakaway Democrats who have not ruled out joining with the Republicans in some sort of coalition-type effort that would help keep the GOP at least in partial power.

The election lawyers here -– a contingent of Republicans and Democrats who have, as legislative staffers, even helped write many of the state’s election law provisions over the decades -– did their jobs this morning among back-and-forth banter about the small size of the table, their kids, and having to feed parking meters down the street. Paper ballots filled boxes that covered tables surrounding the team of lawyers and election board officials going through the routine of counting paper ballots today from the city and town of Kingston and the towns of Esopus, Hurley and Lloyd.

Sixty miles up the Thruway in Albany, GOP and Democratic operatives were spinning a similar theme -- confidence -– that only one side will get to retain in the coming days.

For the election lawyers, including Republican Jeff Buley and Democrat Josh Ehrlich, the 46th Senate ballot-counting exercise has taken them over the past week to five counties in the sprawling new Senate district from Montgomery County more than an hour west of Albany to Kingston, about an hour south of the state Capitol.


Video: Week in Washington - The 'fiscal cliff'

Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski has several in-depth stories in the works about the "fiscal cliff" and what it all means for Western New Yorkers.


Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning,

Today, Mayor Byron W. Brown will be joined with John Ciminelli from LP Ciminelli to announce the demolition of the last piece of Central Park Plaza. 

Louis P. Ciminelli announced in May that he would redevelop the 27-acre East Side property, which his company purchased for $800,000. The site is part of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Brownfield Cleanup Program, to address "low-level contaminants" in the soil, The Buffalo News reported in May. 

An event will be held on E. Amherst Street, off of Main Street, at 10 a.m.

Also today, the Common Council will hold a pre-meeting caucus at 2 p.m. in Room 1417. The topics of discussion at the caucuses are somewhat unpredictable, but here are a few notable items on their agenda: 

Another subrecipient agreement between the city and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, on how to handle federal HOME grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was filed with the Council last week. The Council has already approved a similar subrecipient agreement concerning Community Development Block Grant funds. HUD has told Buffalo, and other cities, that federal funds must be distributed by cities, and not their urban development agencies, which has moved a lot of the work up to the Comptroller's Office. BURA will still decide how to spend the money, but personnel there won't write the checks. 

Kevin J. Kaufman, a CPA, was hired to be city auditor. His appointment, by Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, was filed with the Council. His annual salary is $86,685. He replaces Darryl McPherson. 

A measure to reinstitute a deli task force is being considered, something pushed by Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, among others, as is a measure to clarify the city's licensing of such delis and how the city can close problem stores. The delis can be a magnet for illegal activity in some areas of the city, Council members and neighbors have said. 

Chevron alleges ethical lapses by state comptroller

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli during an October 2011 visit to the Buffalo area. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News file photo)

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Oil giant Chevron is accusing state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli of ethical violations in his role as sole trustee of the $150 billion state pension system in trying to block a development deal in Ecuador. Included among the allegations and footnotes is a claim that DiNapoli made his opposition to the project based, in part, on campaign donations from individuals involved in trying to stop the deal.

Here is the complaint from Chevron's lawyers filed today with a state ethics agency.

Here is the response from DiNapoli: "This is a baseless attempt by big oil to intimidate me and it won’t work. The allegations are without merit. Since 2004, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, along with dozens of leading investors worldwide, has called on Chevron to settle its nearly two-decade-long legal battle for polluting the Amazon. Chevron refuses. This effort is about protecting shareholder value and fulfilling my fiduciary responsibility to the New York State Common Retirement Fund. Instead of owning up to its corporate responsibility, time and again Chevron has denied its responsibility, distorted the facts and ignored the ruling of a court of law. I am confident that JCOPE will see through this blatant attempt to intimidate responsible shareholders who dare to question Chevron’s actions."

Document: Hevesi parole hearing transcript

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- State officials this morning released transcripts of former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi from his recent parole hearing in a central New York prison. Hevesi, who has served 19 months on corruption charges, last week was given parole and should be out of prison by the middle of next month. [Note: the redactions in the transcripts were made by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.]

In the hearing, Hevesi talks about everything from the goodies he received, why what he did was a crime, how he became arrogant as his positions of power went up the ranks of government, a run-in with a prison guard over the volume of a television and even an older abusive brother.

Hevesi, Alan 11R1334 Transcript - November 2012

Cuomo plays down prospects for special session

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Albany’s worst-kept secret: that a special session of the Legislature before the end of the year is probably not in the cards.

"I don’t think it’s especially likely," Cuomo told Albany radio station WGDJ this morning. Lawmakers a week ago were putting odds at about 20 percent that they would return before the end of the year – putting off a number of ideas, including the first legislative pay raise since 1999.

Two things happened to throw off the near-annual ritual to bring lawmakers back in December: Hurricane Sandy and the uncertainty, still, over which party will control the Senate come January. Cuomo said he’s been "a little preoccupied" with response duties to the devastating storm, while votes are still being counted in one Senate race that will determine whether Republicans or Democrats run the chamber when a new session starts in January.

But, Albany being Albany, no one is actually ruling a special session out. "If they want to talk, I’m here," Cuomo said of items on his agenda for a possible special session. Some lawmakers are already calling for a December gathering to push through special legislation to respond to Hurricane Sandy, though the picture is murky because no one knows how much the federal or state governments -- or private insurers -- will be paying to deal with Sandy's effects. 

And then there is this little factoid: the Legislature, which never legally adjourns, does not need Cuomo to order a special session for them to return to Albany next month if deals on various matters can be reached. For a legislative pay raise to happen, as many lawmakers publicly or privately want, legislation would have to be passed by December 31. At the state Capitol, that translates to an eternity between now and New Year's Eve for deals to be reached.

How lawmakers would politically justify raising their pay given the state's sluggish economy and the havoc thousands of downstate residents are feeling from Hurricane Sandy, though, would be another matter. 

Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning, 

Today will be an especially busy day in City Hall, as the Planning Board and the Common Council discuss new projects and the city's capital budget for 2013. 

The Planning Board starts at 8:15 a.m. in Room 901 and will review plans for a new Catholic Health headquarters and new PUSH Buffalo apartments - some rehabs and some new builds - on scattered sites on the West Side. 

Other Planning Board projects include: 

  • South Buffalo Charter School wants to re-locate at 154 S. Ogden, though the site is a brownfield. A public hearing on the site plan will be held. 
  • A public hearing on an addition to 451 Elmwood, which is Nektar, will be held. The agenda lists the business there as "Ambrosia," however. More details should be revealed at the meeting.  
  • Ellicott Development Company is looking to install new gas pumps at 1105 Abbott Road. 

In Council Chambers on the 13th Floor, the Council's Civil Service Committee meets at 9:45 a.m., the Finance Committee meets at 10 a.m.

A measure to provide seasonal sanitation workers with back wages, from Delaware Council Member Michael LoCurto, is on the agenda for Civil Service. 

Immediately following the Finance Committee, the Council will discuss the city's 2013 capital budget, as proposed by Mayor Byron W. Brown, in Room 1417.  

The Council's Community Development Committee will meet at 1 p.m. in Chambers.

The Legislation Committee, which meets at 2 p.m. in Chambers, will review plans for a scrap metal processing facility at Hertel and Military in Black Rock.

A measure to amend an ordinance relating to the Downtown Entertainment District, proposed by Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, will be tabled, Pridgen said, because he wants to work on it more before it goes for a vote. 



Video: Week in Washington

Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski outlines some of the stories on the horizon this week in the nation's capital, including a look at Congressman-elect Chris Collins and a look back inside the Romney campaign.


Cuomo's Democratic credentials being questioned

(AP file photo)

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Most Senate Democrats in New York have avoided going to war publicly with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over his absence in helping them try to take back the Senate, but the flap is starting to get noticed beyond the inside baseball walls of the state Capitol.

The latest salvo against Cuomo for not pushing to help Democrats take over the Senate came this past week by MSNBC’s left-leaning host Chris Hayes, who took a series of shots against the Democratic governor and his supposed interest in running for president in 2016. Hayes told his national audience that Cuomo will be coming around the country to woo Democratic primary voters for 2016.

“You should remember this remarkably cynical display when he does," Hayes said of Cuomo’s help to keep the GOP from losing the Senate. Cuomo was also the subject of criticism over the weekend on the left-leaning website under the headline: "Andrew Cuomo, fake Democrat.''

[The actual fate of the Senate is still not known. The process of counting paper ballots in one key race – a sprawling district that stretches along long parts of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers – is underway today in Albany County; when those outstanding 9,000 ballots will be counted in all five of the district’s counties is highly uncertain. If the Democrat wins, the Democrats could take the Senate, unless a group of four breakaway Democrats decided to help the GOP stay in control. If the Republican candidate wins the race, it will be enough for the GOP to keep its hold on the Senate.]

In his attack on Cuomo, the MSNBC host said, “We now know that Democrats cannot count on New York’s supposedly Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo as an ally and every Democratic primary voter in the entire country should know that too. We already knew that in the run up to the election, Andrew Cuomo, whose aspirations for national office are well-known, did essentially nothing to aid the Democratic Party in its quest to take back the state Senate from Republicans.”

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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 |