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Council to explore public campaign financing

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council on Tuesday took a step toward exploring the idea that taxpayers would cover at least some of the cost of political campaigns in the city.

The news was met with praise from Common Cause/NY, which has lobbied the state legislature to set up a system of public campaign finance, and has encouraged Buffalo lawmakers to do the same.  

"The Buffalo Common Council has achieved what the New York State Legislature could not: a significant step toward a meaningful system of public financing of elections," Executive Director Susan Lerner said in a statement. "Public financing holds public officials accountable to the people who elect them, not big donors who line their pockets. Common Cause/NY applauds Buffalo lawmakers, Majority Leader Demone Smith and CM Golombek in particular, for prioritizing the public interest, and working to empower voters to participate fully in our democracy."

The resolution that passed sets up a committee to look at creating a system of public campaign financing for contests for mayor, comptroller, Council and Board of Education. 

North Council Member Joseph Golombek reassured his colleagues that might be skeptical of the resolution that instituting a public financing system is still a long ways off.

Continue reading "Council to explore public campaign financing" »

Wyatt gets committee chairmanship

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's newest member, Rasheed Wyatt, has been appointed chairman of the Civil Service Committee, one of four committees that meet every other week.

Committee assignments are made by the Council president, Darius Pridgen, and the Council does not vote on them.  

Wyatt was appointed by the Council on Jan. 28 to fill a vacancy in the University District, and on Tuesday, the Council approved a new roster of committee appointments. 

Putting a new Council member into a committee chairmanship - which comes with a stipend - isn't new for this Council. When South Council Member Chris Scanlon was appointed in 2012, he was immediately made Finance Committee chairman. He has since ascended to lead what is arguably the Council's most important committee, Legislation. 

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Today in City Hall: Pridgen's day

By Jill Terreri

A crowd of about 300 people is expected in Council Chambers today at 2 p.m., when Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen is elected Council president by his fellow city lawmakers. 

Pridgen, who surprised some in City Hall by his effort to quickly line up the support of all of his colleagues, is so confident that he will be elected Council president that his staff has already moved into the president's office on the 13th floor, and Lovejoy Council Member Rich Fontana has moved out. 

Continue reading "Today in City Hall: Pridgen's day" »

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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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" »

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. 

Today in City Hall: Budget and Broderick Park

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council kicked off its budget workshops this morning in relatively brief meetings with some of the city's largest departments. 

The questions tended to deal with matters of concern to the Council, not necessarily what was in the budget. 

The Taxation and Assessment Department discussed the inquiries they were getting about the state's STAR program, which offers property tax breaks to homeowners. Basic STAR recipients must re-apply this year - senior STAR recipients re-apply every year. The city department doesn't administer the program, but it does send out the tax bills. Department officials said they worried that the state won't be able to tell them all of the properties that should be getting the exemption until June, and property tax bills must be mailed by July 1. 

Continue reading "Today in City Hall: Budget and Broderick Park" »

Today in City Hall: 'Coffee Rich' renovations face approval

By Jill Terreri

Good morning, 

Today is shaping up to be a busy day in City Hall. 

UPDATE: Mayor Byron W. Brown will annouce plans for a spring gun buyback at 11 a.m. today at police headquarters.

Plans to transform an old building used for refrigeration near the I-190 downtown will go before the Planning Board at 8:15 a.m. today.

Ellicott Development is planning offices, apartments, a restaurant and small banquet facility in the old "Coffee Rich" building at 199 Scott St., which also features a political billboard. 

The board will also hear about plans for a new restaurant and apartment at 3233 Bailey Ave., and a request for an outdoor cafe and patio at Bertha's, 1416 Hertel Ave.

Meanwhile, the Common Council's committees will also meet today.

Continue reading "Today in City Hall: 'Coffee Rich' renovations face approval" »

City Hall notebook — parking, landmark, redevelopment project

A few odds and ends from Tuesday's Common Council committee meetings:

Parking restrictions

HELFER_headshot--The city will try to clarify its "confusing" rules related to parking in front parking meters on federal holidays, Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer told the Legislation Committee.

Currently, city law explicitly allows free parking at some meters, but just in the downtown business district. However, the practice has been to allow free parking at all meters in the city on six federal holidays, said Helfer (pictured at left; photo by Charles Lewis/Buffalo News).

"To me, it makes sense to get rid of that confusion," he said.

Continue reading "City Hall notebook — parking, landmark, redevelopment project" »

Five Questions with Joe Golombek

We've got a new weekly feature on the Politics Now blog -- every Sunday, we're publishing a small question-and-answer 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. The interviewee supplied both biographical information and answered a series of questions.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., during a Jan. 24 Common Council meeting. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)

Joseph Golombek Jr.

The basics

Job title: Buffalo Common Council member, North district
46 (47 on Groundhog Day)
Education: St. Joseph's Collegiate (freshman year); Riverside High School; Buffalo State College, (B.A. in History, minor in Polish, Russian and East European History); New York State Teaching Certificate for Social Studies, grades 7-12; M.S. Social Studies Education at Buffalo State; M.A. History, Renaissance through Napoleon at Marquette University.
Other employment: Lecturer at Buffalo State College
Party affiliation: Democrat
Previous work experience:
Secondary Social Studies Teacher at Riverside High School. It was cool to give back to my alma mater, Welcome Back Golombek.
City Salary: $52,000 + $1,000 for chairing Community Development

The questions
What's your favorite restaurant? 
As can be seen from my girth there are many, but I like Faso's, the Viking Inn, Gramma Mora's, Emily's and Lone Star Fajita Grill.

What music have you been listening to lately?
Gordon Lightfoot, Sting, Four Seasons (as in Frankie Valli, I love NYC doowop), Tchaikovsky, Steely Dan, BNL, bluegrass and Simon and Garfunkel. I spend a lot of time in the car and have been listening to lectures from the Great Courses.

Who's your political hero?
I don't have one. Hero is something that should be reserved to real people who faced adversity. My father is a hero to me. He was born in Poland, lived through the Nazis and Communists, came to this country at 16 years of age and worked very hard at Ford Motor Company to give me opportunities that he never had. Frank World, who was killed for his country in Afghanistan, was my next door neighbor. He was a great kid.

I am interested in French Canadian history. One of their premieres, Maurice Duplessis, is one of my favorite figures. He was a five-time premiere and history has been harsh to him. When I first read about him I did not like him, but kept noticing that many good things happened while he was premiere. I started to study him more and realized that the historians who wrote about him were judging him by their biases. He was a conservative and they could not say anything nice about him. The more I read, the more I realized it was like I was reading a political pamphlet. That aggravated me.

Historians need to put their personal prejudices aside and treat history fairly. I decided that I liked Duplessis, warts and all. Buffalo and New York state could learn a lot by studying his time in office. Quebec had some of the same problems then that we have now.

What's one thing people don't know about you?
I collect military miniatures (little army men to the unenlightened) and have over 100,000.

Family Guy character Stewie Griffin is your Facebook profile photo. What do you like about Stewie and what's your favorite Family Guy episode?
I love Family Guy because they are irreverent towards everyone and everything. Sometimes I cringe at what they make fun of but they do it fairly, to everyone. Stewie is sort of a joke among my friends. Paul Wolf [former Common Council chief of staff] once said that Stewie has my sense of humor and personality. It has stuck.

He is my profile because in one episode he went to the future and asked if he had at least become a city councilmember. The guys at the bar I frequent thought that sealed the comparison. My favorite episode is probably ["Mr. Griffin Goes to Washington" because it includes the clip] "That Guy," because I love "That Girl," [the sitcom that starred Marlo Thomas].

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

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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 |