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Erie County Legislature calls for repeal of SAFE Act

By Denise Jewell Gee

Erie County legislators have added their voices to a chorus of people across the state calling for the new state gun law to be repealed.

The County Legislature voted, 7 to 4, on Thursday to approve a resolution calling on the state to repeal and revise the New York State SAFE Act of 2013 “in a manner that is respectful of the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers.”

Read the full story here.

Poloncarz letter: $8.5 million in budget cuts 'irresponsible'

By Denise Jewell Gee

A plan to cut $8.5 million from Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz's 2013 budget proposal drew sharp words from the county executive on Wednesday.

You can read about the proposed cuts in stories that appeared in Wednesday and Thursday's editions of The News.

Here's the letter Poloncarz wrote to legislators, urging them not to pass the cuts and explaining why he believes they would be "irresponsible and reckless."

Erie County executive's response to Legislature's proposed budget amendments

Legislature to vote on Hicks for NFTA seat

By Denise Jewell Gee

Democrats in the Erie County Legislature plan to recommend a surgeon and professor to serve as a Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority commissioner.

Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, a Buffalo Democrat, will seek a vote to recommend Dr. Wesley L. Hicks Jr., a head and neck surgeon, to fill a vacancy on the NFTA’s Board of Commissioners. If approved by the full Legislature on Thursday, the recommendation would go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for an appointment.

Hicks is chairman of the Department of Head & Neck Surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and is a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Services.

The Democrats, in a resolution submitted to the County Legislature, cited Hicks’ “solid credentials and a deep commitment to our region,” as well as his “energy and enthusiasm for the appointment.”

If his nomination is approved by Cuomo, Hicks would fill a commissioner’s seat left open after James J. Eagan resigned to become secretary of the Democratic State Committee. The remaining term would expire in June 2016.

Hicks was one of three people interviewed last week by a Legislature committee for the position. Former Council member Jeffrey Conrad, director of Erie County Center for Employment Opportunity, and Margaret A. Murphy, an attorney and former city court judge, also interviewed for the post.

Post election loss, Grant's leadership in Legislature praised

Betty Jean Grant with her supporters outside her campaign headquarters on Jefferson Street on primary night. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

By Denise Jewell Gee

Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant lost her bid for a State Senate seat, but she's won over her colleagues in county government.

Grant, a Buffalo Democrat, got a bipartisan standing ovation in the Legislature on Thursday after Legislator Kevin Hardwick, a Republican from the City of Tonawanda, praised her leadership.

"As someone who has lost a couple close elections myself, I wanted to tell you how impressed I was with the campaign that you ran recently for State Senate," Hardwick said. "I know that came up short, but I also am not that sad. Surely, not as sad as you, because under your leadership here this past year, things have been going rather well."

Several legislators have noted this year that the atmosphere in the Legislative chambers has been less acrimonious under Grant's leadership than it has been in recent years.

Grant replaced former Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams, a Buffalo Democrat who had gained the Legislature leadership post after forming a coalition with Legislature Republicans.

"I just wanted to let you know that this Republican is proud to point to you as our chair," Hardwick told Grant.

Zellner to stay in County Legislature job full time

ZELLNERJeremy J. Zellner takes the stage after being elected chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party during a meeting at Hearthstone Manor in Depew on Saturday. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)

Jeremy Zellner expects he'll be working a lot of nights and weekends.

Zellner, elected chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party on Saturday, said he's still working out the details of how he'll juggle his new responsibilities along with his county job as chief of staff for the Legislature Democrats.

"Right now, we're headed toward budget season, and it's going to be really busy at the Legislature," Zellner said. "So I don't plan on making any moves any time soon. That would be leaving them shorthanded."

Zellner, who has worked for the Legislature since January, said he expects to set a regular lunch hour in which he can stop at Democratic headquarters. He expects to handle much of the party work on nights and weekends.

Continue reading "Zellner to stay in County Legislature job full time" »

What 'market access risk' means for Erie County

Politically charged debate over who should do Erie County's borrowing has been around almost as long as the state-appointed control board.

It's been no different this year, as County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and County Comptroller David Shenk prepare to sell the county's first general obligation bonds since 2006.

There are six legislators -- including three Republicans, one Democrat, one Conservative and an Independence Party member -- that have been outspoken in their opposition to the plan because of the higher costs Erie County will see if it borrows on its own.

Staff for Poloncarz have made the argument that returning to the bond market will help the county get better ratings from the Wall Street ratings agencies in the future, which in turn would mean cheaper interest rates.

A story in today's City & Region section looks at what analysts from the ratings agencies had to say about that.

Pressed by county legislators for written documentation that the ratings agencies look at whether the county has issued its own general obligation bonds when they determine what rating to give, the Poloncarz administration has pointed to a line in a ratings report from Standard & Poor's completed in December.

In it, analysts note that one of the risks facing Erie County is: "Market access risk for purposes of financing operations during low cash-flow periods."

So what does that sentence mean? It is a comment on the county's low cash flow.

Analysts for Standard & Poor's said that refers to the fact that the county must rely on short-term borrowing each year to cover some of its finances, a tactic many municipalities without a lot of extra cash use to cover expenses as they wait for revenue to arrive.

"What that's referring to is the fact that the county issues cash-flow notes each year to finance operations," said Lindsay Wilhelm, primary Erie County credit analyst for Standard & Poor's. "So basically, during low-cash periods, they'll have to go out to the market to just finance their day-to-day, and we see this a lot. This is definitely not unique to Erie County."

Why is that a risk? Because, in an extreme credit crisis, a county might not be able to borrow that money -- a scenario the analysts said they don't currently foresee.

"They might not be able to sell the notes if there was a real financial meltdown of epic proportions," said Richard Marino, an analyst for Standard & Poor's. "You can sell notes, even if you have weak credit, you can still sell them. It just costs you more."

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Five Questions with Joseph Lorigo


Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo at an Erie County Legislature meeting in January. (Sharon Cantillon/ Buffalo News)

Joseph C. Lorigo

The Basics:
Age: 30
Party: Conservative
Job Title: Erie County Legislator, 10th Legislative District (Aurora, Colden, East Aurora, Elma, Holland, Marilla, Wales, West Seneca)
Family: Wife, Jean; and dog, Henry
Town: West Seneca
Education: Canisius College, bachelor of arts, 2003; State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, law degree, 2007; UB School of Management, master of business administration, 2007.
Salary: $42,588

The Questions: 
What's one thing people don't know about you?
I have played the piano since I was 12 years old, and it is truly something I love to do.  I don’t play nearly as often as I used to, but it is still something I do as a way to relax. While I haven’t played in public in quite some time, I used to play dinner music at restaurants when I was younger. There is a part of me that would love to play the piano in a band.

What music have you been listening to lately?
I enjoy a variety, including country music, classic rock and others.

What's your favorite restaurant? 
I really enjoy Tantalus and Rick’s on Main in East Aurora, and Schwabl’s in West Seneca.

Who is your political hero? 
My political hero would have to be Abraham Lincoln. He was someone who believed in what was right and stuck to his principles. I also admire him for his ability to unify the country after it had been torn apart by civil war.  I sometimes think that the nation is more divided today than it has been in years, which I find troubling.  Nobody is ever going to completely agree on everything, but I would like to see people working together to do what’s best for the people, not necessarily what’s best for themselves or their party.

What's the worst part of your job? 
Not being able to be in two places at once. There are always meetings, charitable fundraisers, festivals and other events going on. I would like to attend them all, but sometimes I am logistically unable to.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Five Questions with Terry McCracken

Each week, we'll publish a quick Q&A with someone from the local political world. Instead of touching on the latest in policy issues and proposed legislation, the intent is to catch a glimpse of the person behind the title. The interviews are done via email.


Terry McCracken celebrates at Democratic headquarters at the Adam's Mark Hotel on election night November 2011. (Derek Gee/ Buffalo News)

Terry McCracken

The Basics:
Age: 51
Party: Democrat
Job Title: Erie County Legislator, 8th district
Family: Married to Kristin; children --   Patrick, Jill, Michael, Kim and our dog Hank
Town: Depew
Education: attended Canisius College
Salary: $42,500

Continue reading "Five Questions with Terry McCracken" »

Five Questions with Lynne Dixon

Every Sunday, we'll publish a quick Q&A with someone from the local political world. Instead of touching on the latest in policy issues and proposed legislation, the intent is to catch a glimpse of the person behind the title. The interviews are done via email.

Lynne Dixon celebrates a victory at the Erie County Republican Committee's campaign headquarters at the Adam's Mark Hotel in November 2009. (Derek Gee/ Buffalo News File Photo)

Lynne Dixon

The Basics:
Age: Ask Siri, she has all the answers.
Party: Independence
Job Title: Erie County Legislator, 9th District
Family: Husband, Tim.  Four children:  Jack, 14; Erin, 12; Owen, 9; and Caroline, 6. I am also blessed to still have my parents, as well as three siblings who all live in the area.
Town: I have lived in Hamburg for the past 14 years.
Education: West Virginia University, Bachelors in English.
Salary: $42,500

Continue reading "Five Questions with Lynne Dixon" »

Five Questions with Timothy Hogues

Every Sunday, we'll publish a quick Q&A with someone from the local political world. Instead of touching on the latest in policy issues and proposed legislation, the intent is to catch a glimpse of the person behind the title. The interviews are done via email.

Legislator Timothy Hogues, left, takes the oath of office during the first session of the year in January. (Sharon Cantillon / Buffalo News)

Timothy Hogues

The Basics:
Age: 40
Party: Democrat
Job Title: Erie County Legislator 1st District
Family: Wife, Melissa; son Christopher, 12; daughter, Destiny, 7; and son, Joseph, 5.
Town: Buffalo
Education: Bachelor of science in business administration, State University of New York at Buffalo
Salary: $42,500

Continue reading "Five Questions with Timothy Hogues" »

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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 |