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Brown headed to Gates Foundation event

By Jill Terreri

Mayor Byron Brown and other mayors from around the country are headed to Washington, D.C., today, for a meeting of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will focus on education.

Brown will travel with Deputy Mayor Ellen Grant, who is the administration's liasion to the school district, for the two-day event.

Brown was invited by the foundation to discuss "how can we greatly increase the achievement of students, particularly those who are disadvantaged," according to the invitation. 

The event includes a conversation with Bill Gates. It is being held in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.   

"At the end of the day, we all know that it's not possible to have a great city without great schools," Brown said. 

Late last month, Brown talked about his exploration of mayoral control of city schools, though no formal steps have been made in that direction. The city provides tax revenue to the district but Brown and his administration have no control over its operations. 

The Buffalo Public School District has had its share of problems, including news this week that Martin Luther King School and Bennett High School will be closed or phased out and replaced because of poor performance. 

Fire union turns to Council

By Jill Terreri

The Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association is turning to the Common Council for help in obtaining answers about a top Fire Department official's use of the county's criminal background check system to look in to the background of other firefighters

At least one firefighter, William Buyers, received confirmation from the county's department of Central Police Services that in 2009 Deputy Commissioner Joseph Tomizzi, then an arson investigator, ran Buyers' name through the background check system, which can be used only in the course of investigating crimes, according to state guidelines. 

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Schroeder on Council changes: It's a 'good thing'

Comptrollers 12.30.13

Former City Comptrollers Anthony Nanula, Joel Giambra, Andrew SanFlippo and Comptroller Mark Schroeder this morning in a Hall of Comptrollers ceremony. New portraits of Nanula, Giambra and SanFlippo were unveiled. 

By Jill Terreri

Comptroller Mark Schroeder, who watches city finances from his 12th-floor offices and is a former member of the state Assembly, is thought to have ambitions to one day run for higher office.  

I asked him about the changes on the 13th floor, specifically the impending election of Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen to the Council presidency. Pridgen, if elected on Thursday by a majority of his Council peers, would assume the executive suite on the second floor if Mayor Byron W. Brown decides to leave office in the next two years (the term length for Council presidents.) As Council president, Pridgen would be in a very good position to run for mayor if Brown leaves office early , or even if he does not.

Schroeder said the change at the top of the Council was good, and that an opportunity to transition the job every two years is called for in the city charter. 

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No city funds for new movie projectors

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council will not add $250,000 for new digital movie projectors for the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre Inc. to the 2014 capital budget when it meets at 2 p.m. today. 

Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said that the city's Law Department informed him that it could not "legally justify" the purchase. 

Smith had inquired as to whether the city could use capital budget funds on the Market Arcade, which is owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., a city-affiliated organization that keeps its books separate from the city. He wanted to add the expense to the capital budget but was waiting on an opinion from city lawyers as to whether the city could borrow for a property that it does not directly own. 

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Rodriguez says he's ready for 'upset'

By Jill Terreri

Mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez said this morning, one day before the election, that his uphill race against Mayor Byron Brown "has all the makings of an upset. "

"I really feel that this is a winnable race," said Rodriguez, a Republican who is also running on a Progressive ballot line. "We feel confident. We feel we have the people behind us."  

Rodriguez is facing Brown at a time when nearly eight in 10 Democratic voters think the city is on the right track, according to a September poll. 

Brown spent nearly $1.3 million on his campaign through mid-October, and early polls showed he was in the lead. There has not been a public poll since the primary, in which he easily defeated Bernie Tolbert. 

Rodriguez spoke to reporters in Niagara Square, in the shadow of City Hall, where the topic at hand was his desire to create a public advocate's office in the city, which would be an elected position, like the one in New York City.  

He said residents need an independently elected office to go to with problems they're facing in dealing with city departments. An elected public advocate would be free from political influence, he said.

"This is more of an investment to restore faith in city government," he said. "This position is critical to preserve some kind of checks and balances."  

Rodriguez knocks Brown's 'penchant for secrecy'

By Jill Terreri

Republican Sergio Rodriguez seized on a story today in The Buffalo News about the city's decision to put up license plate readers at intersections around the city without the public's knowledge. 

"The Mayor and his appointed Police Commissioner took the liberty to install these controversial devices without so much as informing the Common Council members whose districts are impacted," Rodriguez said today.  "When the public's privacy is compromised, they have the right to know and the right to weigh in on the issue." 

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Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Final preparations are underway for the city's tax foreclosure auction, which starts tomorrow at 9:30 a.m., and lasts for three days, over at the convention center. A new list of 2,829 properties was posted on the city's web site this morning. The list has been cut from nearly 4,400 properties as people settle their tax bills or work out payment plans.  

The Common Council will also hold their pre-meeting caucus at 2 p.m. today, in which they'll discuss hiring DiDonato Associates for work on a second-floor addition to the Hatch Restaurant. They think the work - design, engineering, construction administration and inspection - can be done for $120,000. A request for bids to operate the Hatch is going out this month, and if the expansion is expedited, the city can realize more revenue from a new operator, according to a memo to lawmakers from City Engineer Peter Merlo. 

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Gun buyback costs nearly $50,000 in payouts, salaries

By Jill Terreri

The city collected 764 guns during its latest guy buyback program, which cost $47,991 in staff time and payouts, according to an audit from Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder. 

On May 4, at seven churches around the city, police officers collected 273 non-working weapons, 268 handguns, 215 rifles and eight assault weapons. People who returned guns are asked no questions about the weapons, according to city protocol. They were issued debit cards loaded with cash, on a scale based on the type of gun, from $10 for an antique gun to $100 for an assault weapon. Payouts totaled $34,340, and were funded with assets the city collects during drug investigations. 

The other major cost of the buyback operation is police personnel, which cost $11,917, and pay for auditors who monitor the buybacks, which was $1,734. 

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Rodriguez hopes for a face-to-face meeting

By Jill Terreri

Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez is keeping hope alive that he will meet face-to-face with Mayor Byron Brown, even as Brown has made clear he is not interested in another debate. 

Rodriguez will be at a "community discussion" at 5:30 p.m. today at the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave.

"I really hope that the mayor will accept this opportunity to engage directly with residents," said Rodriguez, who will also appear on a Progressive ballot line. 

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Golombek calls for casino money to be spent on ECC

By Jill Terreri

North Council Member Joe Golombek will call for the Common Council to use a "significant portion" of the city's share of casino revenue to fund an expansion of Erie Community College's city campus during a news conference at 1 p.m. today.

The city received $15.5 million in slot machine revenue from the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in July.

Golombek is asking Mayor Byron Brown to "rally behind the proposal."

Brown said during a debate in August that he is in favor of ECC expanding in the city but said the response he got from the college was not promising.  

ECC has announced plans to expand in Amherst, but the Council has gone on record opposing those plans, saying science and health programs should be accessible for city students, which make up 47 percent of the college's student body. Young Citizens for ECC, which is leading an effort to try to get the college to change course and expand in the city instead, have said that such programs should be located near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where health science graduates will end up working.  

"This is an opportunity to transform the City Campus into the flagship, rather than the smallest, of ECC's three campuses," Golombek said. 

Golombek will be joined by Bernice Radle, co-chair of Young Citizens for ECC, during today's news conference at the ECC city campus. 

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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 |