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Back-and-forth on Brand-On

By Jill Terreri

The disagreement between the city and Brand-On Services over what the company owes under its contract to operate the Erie Basin Marina continues, and a deadline is looming. 

Tomorrow is the deadline for Brand-On to pay its invoice with the city, for $343,245. The company, run by the Wolasz family, has disputed that amount, and said it only owes $27,412. A meeting last week between the parties did not resolve the matter. 

The Common Council has urged that a compromise be reached, but that has not happened yet. Legal action by the city to recover the funds is possible. 

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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." 

Continue reading "Rodriguez knocks Brown's 'penchant for secrecy'" »

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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Schroeder doesn't want a compromise on marina

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's more generous attitude toward the operators of Brand-On Services, the company that owes the city nearly $350,000 in rent from the Erie Basin Marina, according to a recent audit, is not sitting well with Comptroller Mark Schroeder. 

“I sincerely hope that no members of the Common Council would even consider letting this unscrupulous contractor off the hook, but I certainly will not," Schroeder said in a statement. "Brand-On ripped off the taxpayers of Buffalo, and I will not rest until they pay the city back.”

Continue reading "Schroeder doesn't want a compromise on marina" »

UPDATED: Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning.

UPDATE: This morning, the city Planning Board met, and issued an approval for Uniland's project at the Delaware Court building at 250 Delaware Ave. 

The company is planning a 12-story tower for office space and a hotel, and a five-level parking garage in the back, on the Elmwood Avenue side. 

Uniland already has approval from the Preservation Board to tear down the existing building and build on the site, and will go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval, which it expects to get, based on the company's previous appearance before the board.

Pending other approvals, the company expects to begin construction Jan. 1, but Uniland Vice President Michael Montante said that could change. 

The board voted 5-0 to approve the project. 

Continue reading "UPDATED: Today in City Hall" »

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. 

Continue reading "Gun buyback costs nearly $50,000 in payouts, salaries" »

Uniland continues to work on design at 250 Delaware

By Jill Terreri

The Planning Board on Tuesday saw a presentation by Uniland on its plans for a site at Delaware and Chippewa, where the Delaware Court building stands, but the company said the designs are in process and did not seek their approval.

Responding to neighborhood concerns, the company said the five-level parking garage that would be accessed from Chippewa and back up to Elmwood, would actually be three stories, because one level will be underground and the top level wouldn't have much height. 

"From my perspective, it's moving in the right direction," said Planning Board member Cynthia Schwartz, though she said she had concerns about the loading dock. 

The dock would be on Chippewa, but company officials said they could limit the hours that it would be available for use. 

The project won a key approval last week from the Preservation Board, which is not objecting to its plans to demolish the building a recreate the look of it on the same site.  

The board did approve Bistro Europa's plans to move into a space at 365-367 Connecticut St. The restaurant plans to change its name, but isn't ready to announce what that is yet. Bistro Europa operates out of a small space in the Elmwood Village. 

At the new location, some additions on the building would be knocked down and a new one-story addition would be added for a commercial kitchen and to extend the dining room. 

Rodriguez to announce new ballot line

By Jill Terreri

Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez will announce a new ballot line in an event at 10 a.m. today at City Hall. 

Rodriguez has passed petitions to appear on a "progressive" line, in an effort to appeal to more city voters. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city 7 to 1, and any citywide candidate must win votes from Democrats in order to be successful.

Rodriguez is challenging Mayor Byron Brown, who has the Democratic, Independence and Conservative lines.

He will also speak this morning about Teddy Roosevelt, who was the subject of festivities here last weekend.  

Rodriguez has been busy making daily visits to neighborhoods as part of his "30 neighborhoods in 30 days" tour. 

Problem properties focus of city hearing

By Jill Terreri

City lawmakers will hear from the public and housing experts about vacant or problem properties at 2 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers. 

Majority Leader Demone Smith and the Western New York Law Center are hosting a hearing on properties that are owned by the bank and abandoned, or just abandoned, or properties where a landlord is trying to flip them. 

South Council Member Chris Scanlon has drawn attention to the problem of vacant properties where owners think they have been evicted by a bank for nonpayment of their mortgage, but don't realize their name is on the deed and they could have stayed.

Continue reading "Problem properties focus of city hearing" »

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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.

[email protected]

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.

[email protected]

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 | [email protected]

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 | [email protected]