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UPDATED: Fact-checking HUD claim

By Jill Terreri

The claim that the city has had to repay funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been repeated at least twice by Republican mayoral candidate Sergio R. Rodriguez during recent debates. 

"Because of this mayor's lack of administrative capabilities, we had to return money to HUD," Rodriguez said Tuesday. 

It is true that the city has a checkered history in spending HUD funds stretching back three administrations, detailed in this explosive audit from 2011.

"The City is not able to demonstrate that it made the best use of CDBG funds to meet the community's needs," is one memorable line. 

The News' story about the audit is here, and a follow-up story, where the city claims it will not need to repay the funds, is here

The audit demands repayment of $500,000, and recommends justifying the spending of $24 million more, or return it. 

But the city "did not have to return any funds to HUD," agency spokesman Adam Glantz said today.

When HUD determined that certain activities were ineligible for HUD funding, the city had to use its own funding for those, Glantz said. The federal funds could then be used on other, eligibile activities, he said. 

UPDATE: Rodriguez's campaign has brought my attention to this Investigative Post story from July 2012, which states: "Auditors recommended the city repay nearly $500,000 in funds," and that HUD Buffalo office Director of Community Planning and Development William O’Connell said "about $100,000 has since been returned by the city and the balance is the subject of ongoing review."

The question I posed to HUD this week was whether the city has had to pay back funds since 2006, and I got the unequivocal response from Glantz above. I'll follow up with him to clarify further, but likely won't have an answer until after Labor Day. 

Fact-checking the third debate

By Jill Terreri

We took a look at some of the claims made in the mayoral debate Tuesday night, and fact-checked what we could turnaround in one day. 

I had hoped to include Sergio Rodriguez's charge that the city had to return funds to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, something Mayor Byron Brown had steadfastly denied in an earlier debate. HUD demanded payment in an audit, but I'm waiting to hear from HUD about whether those funds were paid, or if some other arrangement was reached. (Following the audit, city officials contended they wouldn't have to pay the money back.)  

Investigative Post's Jim Heaney looks at some of the debaters' claims surrounding poverty, unemployment and economic development in a five-minute segment on WGRZ.   

Some other city headlines from today's Buffalo News include a look at Uniland's new plans for a 12-story hotel and office development at Delaware and Chippewa, and the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's willingness to talk to preservationists about a re-use of St. Ann's an iconic church on the East Side. 

In state news, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be in Lockport today, and the state has charged the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise with making the best use of its suite at Ralph Wilson Stadium. 

Brown, Tolbert on education

By Jill Terreri

Whether the  candidates were expecting it or not, the state of the city schools has become a major issue in the mayoral campaign. As the problems make headlines every day (a recap of those can be found on the School Zone blog) questions about what Mayor Byron Brown and Bernie Tolbert have planned when it comes to the schools have peppered both debates, and are expected to come up at tomorrow's debate

I sifted through interviews with the candidates and their past public statements, as well as information from their campaign web sites, and stories in our archive, to report today's story comparing Brown's and Tolbert's education plans. 

Continue reading "Brown, Tolbert on education" »

Tolbert capitalizes on Obama's gaffe

By Jill Terreri

President Obama probably didn't think he would find himself in a campaign commercial for a candidate for mayor of Buffalo after he left town yesterday. But you might have heard that Obama mixed up Mayor Byron Brown and Rep. Brian Higgins during his appearance at the University at Buffalo, which Brown's opponent is happily reminding voters about.

(Brown took it in stride, and Higgins joked about it on Twitter:)

Continue reading "Tolbert capitalizes on Obama's gaffe" »

Of debates and polls

By Jill Terreri

A quick catch up on the mayoral election:

The Democratic primary is quickly approaching - less than three weeks away - and debates can be a good way to learn the differences between the candidates. That of course depends on several factors, including how completely the candidates answer each question.

Mayor Byron Brown is seeking a third term. Democrat Bernie Tolbert, a former special agent in charge of the FBI in Buffalo, is running, as is Republican Sergio Rodriguez, a Marine veteran. Rodriguez is also staging a write-in campaign for the Conservative line during the Sept. 10 primary. 

Continue reading "Of debates and polls" »

Brown's opponents hear a political tune

By Jill Terreri

The timing of Mayor Byron Brown's announcement that the city will spend $400,000 to fund band and orchestra programs that had been cut in 14 public schools raised a few eyebrows. He explained at his big announcement yesterday, complete with children playing instruments, that he had been at work on a solution for a month and a half. Whatever the reason, the announcement was made one month before the Democratic primary, where he will face former FBI Special Agent in Charge Bernie Tolbert.

Tolbert pointed out that on the subject of the school district, Brown frequently notes that he has no governance over it. 

Continue reading "Brown's opponents hear a political tune" »

Ask Sergio anything

By Jill Terreri

Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez will answer voters' questions at 5 p.m. today on Reddit, a social media platform. 

As of 12:40 p.m. today, the forum had 75 comments - many of them substantive - from inquiring minds inside the city and out. They cover a range of topics, including crime, abandoned buildings, neighborhoods and parks.   

Rodriguez isn't the first politician to take questions on the site. President Barack Obama, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker have done it, too. 

Rodriguez will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Mayor Byron Brown and Bernie Tolbert, the former head of the FBI's Buffalo office.

Brown has so far outfundraised them all, and has $1.3 million on hand, to Tolbert's $200,000. Rodriguez has just $1,083 on hand, according to campaign finance filings this week. 

Tolbert has been attending events and campaigning for months, but recently ramped up his public comments about violence in the city, at an anti-violence summit on Wednesday and in a video on his Facebook page.  

Today in City Hall: Fire contract

By Jill Terreri

Good morning,

Today, the details of a tentative 15-year contract for firefighters, which has already been approved by the union's membership and the Brown administration, will be analyzed by the city's control board. 

The control board doesn't have any authority to approve the contract, as it is in advisory status, but members are expected to give an analysis of the document's true costs to city taxpayers when it meets at 1 p.m. today in the first-floor conference room of the Market Arcade. 

Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder also analyzed the contract, and found that it will cost the city $23 million, which is available in city reserves, though it could end up costing more as firefighters retire, induced by incentives in the contract. Approximately half of the department will be eligible to retire by June 30, 2015, and the city could face costs of "several million dollars," as it pays out for accumulated sick and vacation time, Schroeder wrote. 

The Common Council was prepared to vote on the contract last week, but the city wanted to give the control board time to review it. 

A Council vote is expected next week. 

From today's Buffalo News, Mark Sommer looks at Horsefeathers Market & Residences on Connecticut Street, which is part of a renaissance on the West Side, and Brian Meyer talks to Thomas Eoannou about his purchase of the North Park Theatre.

And in North Buffalo, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is set to open in late October


Buffalo comptroller analysis of fire contract

Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning,

This afternoon the team from IBM is expected to deliver their report about how the city can connect people ages 16 to 24 with jobs

Buffalo won a "Smarter Cities" challenge grant from the technology company, which provided the city with the expertise of five IBM executives for three weeks. The city chose youth employment as the topic the team would tackle. Team members have interviewed people inside and outside of City Hall to understand why youth employment is high and what initiatives are already underway.

Continue reading "Today in City Hall" »

Today in City Hall: Budget vote

By Jill Terreri

Mayor Byron Brown's proposed $482.5 million spending plan is up for a vote by the Common Council during a special meeting at 3 p.m. today in Council Chambers. 

Council leadership and the administration are working out the details this morning, and the amendments have not been printed up, I'm told. 

The Council's budget hearings involved questions to department heads related to many matters outside of what was contained in the budget, so it's unclear what Council members will do to change the proposal. 

Continue reading "Today in City Hall: Budget vote" »

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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 |