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Council's Police Oversight panel to focus on policy

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's Police Oversight Committee is preparing for its first meeting next week, and Chairman David Rivera made clear today what the committee will not do. It won't investigate officers or reveal details of matters that could turn into a lawsuit for the city, he said.

"Our goal is not to investigate police officers," said Rivera, who is also a former officer. "Our goal is to assist them."

The department is in the midst of turmoil over several unrelated incidents involving officers.

In the wake of a disturbing cell phone video of an officer assaulting a man in handcuffs and an unrelated incident in a bar that left a man in a coma in which two officers were present, many Council members did not see a reason to revive the long-dormant committee. They changed their opinion last week.  

Continue reading "Council's Police Oversight panel to focus on policy" »

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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Fontana undercover

By Jill Terreri

There doesn't seem to be a neighborhood issue Council President Rich Fontana won't take on. Even if it means staking out a problem neighborhood store at 3 a.m.

A man had applied to the city to open a shop that sold tobacco in Lovejoy, which requires approval from the Common Council. Michael Montanez told lawmakers that the product he would be selling - known as e-liquid cigarettes - would help people reduce their dependence on nicotine. 

But Fontana said the results of his "investigation" indicated that customers at the building where the store is located would be hooked on something much more potent. 

Fontana had heard complaints about narcotics activities at 1190 Lovejoy St. and wanted to see for himself. At 3 a.m., he took his wife's car - to disguise himself - and was flagged down as he drove by.

"They say, what can we get you?" he said.

Continue reading "Fontana undercover" »

Video: Franczyk accuses Fontana of 'pandering political stunt'

Less than a week after being appointed to the Common Council, the city's newest lawmaker was tapped with a committee chairmanship.

Council President Richard A. Fontana has appointed South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon as chairman of the body's Finance Committee.

"I just have to say that I see this as a pandering, political stunt," Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk said on the Council floor this week.

Scanlon replaces Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, who held the post since early January. (Before him, former South Council Member Michael P. Kearns held it.)

Franczyk asserted Scanlon's appointment to chair the committee was an attempt by Fontana to add a sixth member to the Council majority.

"If you want to have someone to be an ally of yours, or a sixth vote, ask him for it. Don't pander to them; don't patronize them. Ask him for it and let them make up their own [mind]," Franczyk said. "But this kind of pathetic pandering for a freshman councilman, to me, does a disservice to the spirit of the [city] charter and to this council."

Watch Franczyk's complete comments:


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South Council candidate search continues

Resumes for the open South District seat on the Buffalo Common Council will be taken through 5 p.m. Monday, Council President Richard A. Fontana said today.

The original deadline for the second round of the search, announced earlier this week by Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, was today at 5 p.m.

So far, a total of five additional people have filed resumes seeking the appointment -- James J. Creahan, Kevin M. Lafferty, Christopher P. Scanlon, Thomas J. Sullivan and Chris Taylor.

Taylor lives in Washington, D.C., and in order to be eligible for the appointment, applicants must have lived in the South District for at least a year.

In an email, Taylor writes, "I think I am just trying to show my frustration with this whole matter. I am not alone."

Fontana said he wanted the period for accepting resumes to be a full five days.

Eleven people submitted resumes in the first round of the search, and six were interviewed by the Council. Here's more history.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

Fontana says he has not followed up on residency opinion

A couple weeks ago, questions arose about whether one of Council President Richard A. Fontana's staff members met the residency requirement to be appointed to the vacant South Council seat.

Fontana_mugAfter it came to light that Bryan J. Bollman passed elections petitions for his boss that said he lived in Lovejoy instead of South, Fontana said he would be asking for a legal opinion from the city’s chief attorney.

At the time (April 18), Fontana (pictured at left) seemed to think Bollman (pictured at right) could still meet the requirements, arguing there was a difference between a “residence” and a “domicile.”

Since then, things have been quiet.

Continue reading "Fontana says he has not followed up on residency opinion" »

Five Questions with Rich Fontana

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.

Buffalo Common Council President Richard A. Fontana during a Jan. 24 Council meeting in City Hall. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Richard A. Fontana

The basics
Age: 39
Job title:Buffalo Common Council president, representing Lovejoy district
Family: Wife, two children.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business management from Buffalo State College
Party affiliation: Democrat
Previous work experience: New York State licensed Realtor, restaurateur
City salary: $52,000 + $10,000 stipend as Council president

Continue reading "Five Questions with Rich Fontana" »

Smith, Russell in line for Council leadership positions

Update 4:33 p.m.: Kearns did not keep Finance Committee chairmanship -- that went to Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto.

Here's my story.


Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith said he expects to be named the Common Council majority leader when city lawmakers reorganize this afternoon.

Smith also said University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell will become the new president pro temp of the Council -- which will come with additional duties but no $2,500 stipend -- when the Council holds its reorganizational meeting at 2 p.m. in Council Chambers.

As we already knew, current Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana will take over as Council president, with Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk set to lose the post he's held for eight years.

Also according to Smith, who was packing up his Council office today getting ready for a move to the majority leader's office:

--South Council Member Michael P. Kearns will stay chairman of the Finance Committee.

--Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen will become the new Legislation Committee chairman, with the previous chairman, North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., taking over the Community Development Committee from Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto.

--Russell will keep the chairmanship of the Civil Service Committee, and Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera will stay chairman of the Claims Committee.

A majority vote of the Council is required for leadership and chairmanship posts.

Fontana, Smith, Russell, Pridgen and Golombek are part of the new Council majority, as Fontana had been aligned with Franczyk, Kearns, LoCurto and Rivera.

Leadership positions, except for president pro temp, and chairmanships come with stipends: $10,000 for president; $5,000 for majority leader, and $1,000 each for the committee chairmen.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN


No informal reorganization meeting planned, Fontana says

The city lawmaker expected to become the next Common Council president said today he has no plans to call an informal reorganization meeting before the official votes are taken Jan. 3.

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana called a meeting Dec. 13, but no business was discussed after Council President David A. Franczyk claimed the meeting was illegally called.

After that meeting did not yield the discussion Fontana had hoped, he said he might call another meeting of lawmakers.

In the end, that won't happen because it appears some lawmakers don't want to have that conversation, Fontana said today.

In previous years, lawmakers have typically met privately in a political caucus, which is not open to the public, to discuss leadership positions and staff changes prior to the official vote in early January.

Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith, who Fontana has said has the votes to become the new majority leader, said again today that there are several lawmakers who would have enough votes to take the post.

Last week, Smith said there are "a lot of people" who want to be majority leader.

Here's a blog post on Council leadership plans from last week.

--Aaron Besecker

Where Council leadership change started

How did Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana's move to replace David A. Franczyk as Buffalo Common Council president start?

Kearns_headshotIt started with South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, according to Fontana, who said Kearns told him he wouldn't be supporting Franczyk when the Council reorganizes next month.

A few weeks ago, Fontana said he was exploring a bid for the top Council post. On Wednesday, he said he had the necessary votes to take the leadership position.

"I didn't start that," said Fontana, who added he thought he would have Kearns' support.

That's a version of events Kearns (pictured at left) is denying.

"I said I would like to see new leadership and term limits," Kearns said.

The assertion that he promised to get behind Fontana for president is incorrect, the South Council member said.

"He thought. He assumed," Kearns said of Fontana.

(Photo by Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

--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 |