The 1950s Called. They Want Their Toll Road Back

According to its 2011 annual report, the New York State Thruway Authority’s toll revenue decreased by $7.1 million, or 1.1% from the previous year. Expenses, however, increased by $17.1 million, or 3.9%. Its results the year before were a bit better, with slightly higher revenue versus 2009 and a smaller increase in expenses, despite divesting itself of I-84 maintenance. 

The Authority is now desperate for a dramatic toll increase. A few weeks ago, it proposed a 45% increase on tolls for commercial trucks. The toll for a truck with three or more axles would increase from $88 to $127 to travel from New York City to Buffalo. 

Makes sense. Charge almost 50% higher tolls on the vehicles that deliver stuff to people, and the working people who drive them. 

It costs close to $20 to drive your car from the Major Deegan to the I-90/I-290 interchange. For the privilege, you can eat at some of the only Roy Rogerses in New York State

Recently, both Moody’s and S&P changed their outlook on the Thruway Authority to negative. It suggested that the Authority would need to raise tolls by more than 45% on trucks to adequately service its existing debt, before we get to the $5 billion plan to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. Yet an increase in tolls would result in a likely change in customer behavior; i.e., people and trucks will seek alternate routes. 

The conservative Manhattan Institute points out that, in a tough economy, toll road usage and revenue have dropped in Spain, France, and Italy, which rely heavily on pay-as-you-go toll highways. Given that the I-80 through Pennsylvania and Route 17 / I-86 through the Catskills and Southern Tier offer up toll-free alternatives for traffic making the East-West trip within reasonably close proximity to the Thruway. If tolls go up by half, vehicles would probably seek to minimize the time they spend on the pay road. 

Legislators don’t care. Their cost to drive to Albany for session is reimbursed. The Thruway doesn’t care – they get free EZ-Passes. The entire operation is an anachronism. It’s poorly run, poorly maintained, expensive, and costs a lot to administer.  

Photo by g-trieber @ Flickr.com

Photo by g-trieber @ Flickr.com

The state DOT, which manages not just highways, but airports, seaports, and some public transportation, has an annual budget of $9.6 billion. The Thruway Authority, which manages the Thruway and Erie Canal, has an annual budget of over a billion dollars, and a little over half of its money is collected through tolls.

The obvious solution is abolition of the bloated, inefficient Thruway Authority. The problem is – if you incorporate it into the State DOT, it will cost money to maintain and service, and the money has to come from somewhere. Most likely, your pocket through gas tax hikes or similar. The nice thing about tolls is that it’s a pay-per-use system. But there’s another way.

If tolls are to be maintained, the Thruway could take a hint from Toronto’s 407 and make toll collection something that’s done at highway speeds. However, that’s costly, and cars without a transponder pay an extra fee for the license-plate-photograph privilege. Instead, many European countries share the cost burden of highway maintenance through sales of stickers.

For tourists, we could follow the Austrian model where €8 buys you 10 days of unlimited travel on that country’s highways. Another possibility would be to follow the Swiss model, where SFr 40 buys you a year’s worth of travel on that country’s impeccably maintained Autobahnen, Autostrade, and Autoroutes.

Police spot checks look for scofflaws. If caught without a vignette, the Swiss charge you a SFr 200 fine, plus the cost of a vignette. The Austrians will fine you €120 on the spot.  Given that it now costs almost $20 to get from the Major Deegan to the PA line, a $10 sticker for 10 days’ worth of highway travel is a bargain. So is $40 for the entire year. Vignettes could be sold at welcome centers entering New York or leaving bordering states. They could be sold online, in advance, or, as they are in Hungary, even via cell phone text message. No more toll barriers, no more toll collectors.

Hungary: Buy vignette by mobile phone

The point here is that the roads need to be paid for, and it makes sense for the people using them to pay for them. People could avoid buying the stickers by using secondary roads, so it’s completely optional. We could abolish not only the entire Thruway Authority, but most of its associated, dedicated toll-collecting costs. We could get rid of its obnoxious exclusive contracts with towing and wrecker services on the Thruway, and get rid of EZ-Pass and its associated costs for passenger vehicles.

It’s time for the Thruway to modernize, streamline its operations, stop gouging travelers, and think differently. 

Demolish the Peace Bridge

Buffalo and Detroit have a lot in common. They’re both big Great Lakes cities that have become shadows of their former selves. They share similar socioeconomic problems, similar planning problems, similar fiscal issues, and both harken back to the days of America’s industrial heyday. 

But while Detroit is developing an image for being the heart of the American auto industry and making no excuses for it, Buffalo is instead relying on a more effete reliance on architecture, places that “matter”, and emotion to build its image in the 21st century.  It’s the difference between these two videos: 

 

Where one is brash and unapologetically so, the other is maudlin. While one looks forward, the other looks backwards. It is as stark a contrast between visions for rebranding similarly situated cities as you’ll find. 

It’s time to demolish the Peace Bridge. Between Detroit and Niagara County, they’ve got it all under control. 

For the “looking forward” crowd in Buffalo, one of the bigger embarrassments is the 20 year story of the Peace Bridge. Our cross-border traffic with Canada isn’t only important for importing and exporting goods, it’s somewhat important for travelers whom Buffalo is seeking to bring in from Canada to visit museums, eat at restaurants, and see architecture. The fact that – 20 years on – the Peace Bridge remains today on the American side almost exactly as it did in 1990 is a civic punch line. 

We went from twin span to signature span to signature companion span to shortened signature companion span to, “hey, maybe we can build a larger inspection plaza to get traffic moving and reduce inbound backups on the bridge.” None of these is likely to happen.  Opponents of the bridge are against expansion because several buildings – which the Peace Bridge Authority already owns – will be demolished to make way for it.  

But one of the other characteristics that Detroit shares with Buffalo is a river crossing with Canada. While Buffalo wrings its hands over a bridge expansion, Detroit just approved construction of a new bridge to Windsor – and it’s even more controversial there because in Detroit a private company runs a bridge and is vehemently opposed to the competition.  Bridging our connections to Canada – or improving the ones we have – may not be something that’s critically important now, but it’s something that would position Buffalo for future growth and expansion of cross-border trade and travel. 

Congressman Brian Higgins has been fighting for Peace Bridge expansion, and released a statement yesterday that was practically chiding Buffalo for a missed opportunity – one that Mayor Brown is abetting

Congressman Brian Higgins stood by the Peace Bridge in Buffalo and called on Western New York leaders, residents and businesses to join him in the fight against the inertia.  Higgins used Friday’s announcement of a deal for a new international border crossing between Detroit and Canada as an example of how delays and obstruction are costing this community jobs and economic opportunity. 

 “While Western New York is finding ways to block, other communities are finding ways to build,” said Congressman Higgins.  “The complacency and resistance to change that has been pervasive in Buffalo for fifty years will continue to cost us if we don’t act now.”

 In an agreement between the state of Michigan and Canada announced June 15, the two governments will move forward on construction of a New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.  As a part of the deal, Canada will fund Michigan’s share of the project, up to $550 million, toward the $2 billion span. 

 A study released by the Center for Automotive Research found that the Detroit project will create approximately 12,000 jobs per year during the 4-year construction phase and another 8,000 permanent jobs will be created in the vicinity of the new bridge and the greater region as a result of new economic activity. 

 Congressman Higgins, a champion for the addition of new capacity at the international Peace Bridge crossing between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, added,  “Incessant squabbling  only leads to inertia.  Be it the waterfront, the Peace Bridge or the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it is time to fight against the fight and together fight for progress and all the good that comes with it”…

…Higgins asserted, “Public infrastructure is a public responsibility. In addition to historically low rates of borrowing, the “cost acceleration” of delaying road and bridge repair increases by 500% after only two years. Put simply, a $5 million bridge repair project will cost $25 million in 2014. The time to rebuild America is now, actually right now.”

Al Coppola was once a State Senator and most recently known for threatening to move the “Pan Am House” from Delaware Avenue to a location near the Peace Bridge so as to halt any demolitions. (Then-Assemblyman Sam Hoyt had some choice words in reaction to that scheme

Coppola claims he’s now running as a Democrat to replace Mark Grisanti, and penned this article for Buffalo Rising. In short, Mr. Coppola argues not just for halting the expansion of the Peace Bridge, but for getting rid of it altogether. He also gets in a dig at the Peace Bridge Authority, arguing that they want to destroy a neighborhood to build a bigger duty free shop. It’s always best to demonize your opponent, rather than just argue your own point. 

It wasn’t the idea of anyone alive to put an international bridge crossing smack next to a residential neighborhood, but that’s what we have. To argue about noise pollution or emissions now is to argue for its removal, not for the status quo. It may be time, therefore, to demolish the Peace Bridge and dramatically expand capacity in Niagara County to connect the 405 to the I-190. 

A signature bridge is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Neither is an expanded plaza. Neither is the park that the New Millenium Group – which was once a big proponent of a signature span – was promoting. 

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and – let’s be honest – scary Al Coppola’s scary threat to move his shack to the west side is scary persuasive. 

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond. Maybe two spans, and we demolish the Peace Bridge.  This way, Niagara County can benefit from cross-border trade and traffic, and Buffalo can figure out ways to get Canadian visitors to make their way south from the outlet mall and west from the Walden Galleria. 


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The Buffalo News and its Paywall

In a column published online last night, Buffalo News editor-in-chief Margaret Sullivan announced that, beginning in the Fallthe Buffalo News will shunt much of its content behind a paywall. People who don’t subscribe to the print edition will be automatically given a digital subscription, and digital-only subscriptions will cost $2.50/week. If you don’t subscribe, you’ll get access to breaking news, classifieds, obits, “breaking news”, the “home page”, and 10 stories per month, using something similar to the New York Times model. 

I’m not a current subscriber, and haven’t bought a copy of the News in months. But I do check the website at least once a day, but I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll buy a subscription. I think that this change provides a unique opportunity for a free daily news entity to be developed in Buffalo, perhaps along the lines of a model called a “Local Media House“. The model relies on a democratized newsroom, technology, mobile site access, good design, experimentation on the web, and strategic partnerships with other media outlets.  The print product is a tabloid – not a broadsheet – “content is king, and design is queen”, they say in these Scandinavian outlets, which are doing remarkably well in a quickly changing news landscape. 

Is the Buffalo News still relevant to you on a daily basis? Do you subscribe? Do you read it every day, or just when you’re alerted to something interesting or newsworthy? Are any of the columns must-read? Features? Sports? Does the separation between the Buffalo News and Buffalo.com confuse you as much as it does me?  

UPDATE: The details of the paywall are now online, and several Buffalo News Tweeters are out defending this decision. Here are some things to consider: 

1. Author Jeff Jarvis has this to say about the perils of the paywall – the internet is about eyeballs, relationships, interaction, and Googlejuice. A paywall does harm to all of those things and imposes a print model on a digital product. 

2. The price to buy a paper copy of the Buffalo News – an item that has been printed by a state-of-the-art machine, manned by several people, and then bundled onto trucks and distributed throughout the area – costs 75¢. If you are not a subscriber and want one-day, pay-as-you-go, access to a single day of the digital Buffalo News – a product that no one prints or physically delivers – will cost you 99¢. 

3. Here are some selected Twitter reactions: 

[<a href=”http://storify.com/buffalopundit/the-buffalo-news-paywall-early-reax” target=”_blank”>View the story “The Buffalo News’ Paywall: Early Reax” on Storify</a>]<h1>The Buffalo News’ Paywall: Early Reax</h1><h2>The Buffalo News today announced that it would erect a paywall starting this Fall. Here’s what people on Twitter had to say about it this morning. </h2><p>Storified by Alan Bedenko &middot; Fri, Jun 15 2012 09:50:00</p><div>May sound odd, but I’m looking forward to supporting the paper’s future by paying for online news. @JaySkurski @Sulliview @TheBuffaloNewsMatt Sabuda</div><div>Don’t see myself paying for ANY news online, even if it’s local. http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/margaret-sullivan/article904114.ece #BuffaloPhil Ciallela</div><div>@Sulliview @TheBuffaloNews That is a reposition for abject failure if you think people are going to pay to read that online.boner shorts</div><div>&quot;The Courier Express shall rise from the ashes of The Buffalo News’ post-paywall collapse!&quot; says Jimmy Griffin’s ghost…Thomas Dolina</div><div>RT @capsworth: @BNHarrington @Sulliview @JaySkurski Makes sense. A fair price for a great product. This Buffalo native will be subscribing here in Philly.Mike Harrington</div><div>RT @rachbarnhart: Buffalo News announces paywall http://bit.ly/MbhBMR @sulliview – Don’t reflect fact we get news from multiple sources, can’t pay 5 papersHoward Owens</div><div>I give the Buffalo News pay wall 6 months before its goneChaz Adams</div><div>I am shocked, *shocked* to find that journalism costs money to produce. To think!colindabkowski</div><div>Based on my feed, not too many people happy with the Buffalo News decision to charge for online content.Robert Harding</div><div>Unsurprising: @Sulliview announces paywall for @TheBuffaloNews http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/margaret-sullivan/article904114.eceHoward Owens</div><div>The new Buffalo News digital subscription is going to be even more expensive than The New York Times. Not worth it at half the price.T. Glanowski</div><div>The Buffalo News is dead. Who’s going to pay for digital access to a crap paper? You don’t even get coupons. http://goo.gl/QbXGR #fbJames G. Milles</div><div>In the Buff News today: paid subscriptions to get full web access. The journal is FREE online, subscription or no! http://ow.ly/bBeUbSpringville Journal</div><div>#Buffalo News announces paywall, offers unique opportunity for alternative free online daily. http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/margaret-sullivan/article904114.eceAlan Bedenko</div>

It's Legally OK to be Gay

Pride flag is raised!

Photo by Flickr user Whitney Arlene

Defamation – and its synonyms “slander” (spoken defamation) and “libel” (published defamation) – is generally defined as a false statement of fact that causes harm to a person and his reputation.  Obviously, its more complicated than just that, and the law is different if you’re a public figure or a private person. 

In New York, “a statement has defamatory connotations if it tends to expose a person to ‘public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of [a person] in the minds of right-thinking persons.'”  A plaintiff suing for slander must show that he has suffered damages unless the alleged statement is considered slander per se

Slander per se, until recently, included “statements (i) charging [a] plaintiff with a serious crime; (ii) that tend to injure another in his or her trade, business or profession; (iii) that [a] plaintiff has a loathsome disease; or (iv) imputing unchastity to a woman”… the Appellate Division Departments, including this Court in dicta, have recognized statements falsely imputing homosexuality as a fifth per se category.”

Because of changing social perceptions and changes in both federal and state laws concerning homosexuality, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department recently ruled that the inclusion of homosexuality among the per se categories imputed some sort of shame or disgrace, and ruled that it would no longer be considered defamatory per se. 

This little, barely-noticed ruling, is yet another step in the massive societal shift that has been taking place over the last several decades whereby homophobia has gone from being the statutory norm to, itself, a subject of shame and sometime criminality. While the people who rely on, and profit from, hatred and fear are having their last gasp, at least in New York State, we can say we’re doing the right thing. 

It’s Legally OK to be Gay

Pride flag is raised!

Photo by Flickr user Whitney Arlene

Defamation – and its synonyms “slander” (spoken defamation) and “libel” (published defamation) – is generally defined as a false statement of fact that causes harm to a person and his reputation.  Obviously, its more complicated than just that, and the law is different if you’re a public figure or a private person. 

In New York, “a statement has defamatory connotations if it tends to expose a person to ‘public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of [a person] in the minds of right-thinking persons.'”  A plaintiff suing for slander must show that he has suffered damages unless the alleged statement is considered slander per se

Slander per se, until recently, included “statements (i) charging [a] plaintiff with a serious crime; (ii) that tend to injure another in his or her trade, business or profession; (iii) that [a] plaintiff has a loathsome disease; or (iv) imputing unchastity to a woman”… the Appellate Division Departments, including this Court in dicta, have recognized statements falsely imputing homosexuality as a fifth per se category.”

Because of changing social perceptions and changes in both federal and state laws concerning homosexuality, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department recently ruled that the inclusion of homosexuality among the per se categories imputed some sort of shame or disgrace, and ruled that it would no longer be considered defamatory per se. 

This little, barely-noticed ruling, is yet another step in the massive societal shift that has been taking place over the last several decades whereby homophobia has gone from being the statutory norm to, itself, a subject of shame and sometime criminality. While the people who rely on, and profit from, hatred and fear are having their last gasp, at least in New York State, we can say we’re doing the right thing. 

Collins' Facebook Page: Curious

Chris Collins, like any semi-competent politician, has a Facebook fan page for his run to represent NY-27 in Congress. It has about 3,500 likes, and 6 people talking about it. 

3,530 is a big number. After all, the Erie County Republican Committee’s Facebook page has only 615 likes, with “11 people talking” about it. 

Where did all of Collins’ likes come from? Could he be using a service to manipulate the number? Did he transfer over his likes from when he was County Executive? The guy who beat him last year has only about 800 likes

It’s unclear when Collins set up this Facebook page – it says “joined Facebook” on April 26th, but there’s a mis-dated entry of April 2011 thanking people for circulating petitions for his Congressional run. 

So, let’s say the Collins for Congress fan page was created sometime in mid-April 2012. Between May 12 and June 12, 2012 – as the campaign against David Bellavia has heated up – only 114 people “liked” Collins’ page. What this means is that he accumulated 3,416 likes between mid-April and mid-May.  The page itself features only about 20 posts, 8 of which were put up in April.  What was so compelling that attracted over 3,000 in April? 

April 19, 2011 (a letter dated April 19, 2012) 1 post
April 26, 2012 5 posts
April 29, 2012 1 post
April 30, 2012 1 post
May 2, 2012    1 post
May 4, 2012    1 post
May 8, 2012    1 post
June 1, 2012    3 posts
June 2, 2012    1 post
June 12, 2012  3 posts

The trajectory of “likes” on the page also fits a particular pattern – a low one.  

 

 Where did the other 3,000+ likes come from, exactly? 

 

Collins’ Facebook Page: Curious

Chris Collins, like any semi-competent politician, has a Facebook fan page for his run to represent NY-27 in Congress. It has about 3,500 likes, and 6 people talking about it. 

3,530 is a big number. After all, the Erie County Republican Committee’s Facebook page has only 615 likes, with “11 people talking” about it. 

Where did all of Collins’ likes come from? Could he be using a service to manipulate the number? Did he transfer over his likes from when he was County Executive? The guy who beat him last year has only about 800 likes

It’s unclear when Collins set up this Facebook page – it says “joined Facebook” on April 26th, but there’s a mis-dated entry of April 2011 thanking people for circulating petitions for his Congressional run. 

So, let’s say the Collins for Congress fan page was created sometime in mid-April 2012. Between May 12 and June 12, 2012 – as the campaign against David Bellavia has heated up – only 114 people “liked” Collins’ page. What this means is that he accumulated 3,416 likes between mid-April and mid-May.  The page itself features only about 20 posts, 8 of which were put up in April.  What was so compelling that attracted over 3,000 in April? 

April 19, 2011 (a letter dated April 19, 2012) 1 post
April 26, 2012 5 posts
April 29, 2012 1 post
April 30, 2012 1 post
May 2, 2012    1 post
May 4, 2012    1 post
May 8, 2012    1 post
June 1, 2012    3 posts
June 2, 2012    1 post
June 12, 2012  3 posts

The trajectory of “likes” on the page also fits a particular pattern – a low one.  

 

 Where did the other 3,000+ likes come from, exactly? 

 

Buffalo: Read These

P5167433

Photo by Flickr user Sunny Hasija

1. It’s astonishing that racist behavior and actions like those described in this lawsuit could happen in WNY, by adults, in the past decade. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that a federal court jury in Buffalo found this systematic destruction of a worker’s life absolutely abhorrent, and awarded tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages against the Luxembourg-based steel conglomerate that did very little to stop it, or punish the perpetrators. 

2. Remember that secretive millionaire wunderkind from Cleveland who bought some of the most expensive and exclusive houses in WNY, and was planning to buy and renovate several downtown structures? His name is Michael Wilson. He was a fraud, and his financial “empire” existed only in Wilson’s mind. He even created a phantom financial professional, complete with LinkedIn profile, to help dupe unwitting investors. Wilson has since been indicted by a federal grand jury and fled the country.  His brother is awaiting trial, likely serving to attract Wilson back to WNY to face the music for his own misdeeds. When we talk about enterprise, investigatory journalism, Kevin Purdy’s compelling story should win an award – and it’s published in the Buffalo Spree. Who was Michael Wilson? Yet another carpetbagging huckster – reminiscent of the Simpsons’ monorail developer, Lyle Lanley – coming to western New York to promise us renewed relevance and prospective riches. All we have to do is, e.g., donate millions in money and land to build a Wizard of Oz theme park; or rely on the promises of a quixotic but charismatic Iraqi-Briton to miraculously complete only his second project ever, the renovation of the Statler Towers.  Buffalo’s renaissance, when it comes, will come because of hard work, planning, vision, and good government. Silver bullets don’t work any better than earnest crowdsourcing. 

3. Donnie Burtless from the local food blog Buffalo Eats interviewed retired Buffalo News restaurant critic, Janice Okun. It’s an interesting, short retrospective from someone who was once a pioneer. 

4. I can’t figure out which one is more socially acceptable – being some level of excited about Nik Wallenda’s tightwire walk across Niagara Falls, or to denigrate it altogether. 

5. Hey, folks – a new activist group called Effective NY wants a constitutional convention, and it’s run partly by YNN political host Liz Benjamin’s father.  

 

Enter: Chicken

Michael R. Caputo is an advisor to David Bellavia and his campaign for Congress from NY-27. Many months ago, they proposed a series of debates with primary opponent Chris Collins, and as of this writing Collins has agreed only to two – one with YNN, and one with some Republican women voter organization in Clarence that supports Collins  UPDATE: Collins has agreed to exactly zero debates. Firstly, Collins has not agreed to participate in a YNN televised debate on June 18th.  Collins’ people suggested one, singular debate to take place in Clarence and be hosted by something called the “Erie County Republican Women’s Federation.”  However, the League of Women Voters advised that ECRWF would not have hosted a debate, but instead an ambush – a supposed “debate” on Collins’ home turf, a curated crowd packed with Collins loyalists, and recruiting former “Reform Coalution” Collins loyalist Lynne Dixon to “moderate” it. Collins’ people refused to negotiate changes to make the ECRWF “debate” a fair event. Indeed, the ECRWF is a wholly new creation. It has no online presence, it has no transparency regarding its membership, funding, officers, or directors.  The woman who is sending out press releases on its behalf is an Erie County GOP loyalist and has given thousands to the county committee, local committees, as well as to Dixon and Collins

During Paladino’s primary campaign against Rick Lazio, when the Long Island Republican refused to debate Carl, Caputo sent out a guy in a chicken suit to graphically tease the candidate about his reluctance to debate. If I’m not mistaken, there was also a duck suit utilized against Cuomo regarding “ducking” issues. 

And so it is that a volunteer in a chicken suit set up a roost at the Main Street entrance to the tony, exclusive Spaulding Lake development in Clarence that’s home to doctors, sports figures, and the Collins and Corwin families, to name a few. The chicken taunted Collins for his unwillingness to debate Bellavia – an unwillingness that’s reminiscent of every recent race Collins had run; negotiating debate terms with his campaigns appears sometimes less difficult and circuitous than negotiating a cessation of nuclear activity for food aid with North Korea. 

I don’t get why that is. Collins doesn’t do poorly in debates. After all, he merely has to parrot his campaign themes and generic, crony capitalist, nouveau riche noblesse oblige talking points and denigrate his opponent. Easy peasy. But given Collins’ reluctance to debate, meet, or glad-hand, it could come down to one thing: Collins doesn’t feel comfortable asking for votes to which he thinks he is already entitled. 

Why shouldn’t you vote for – or pay attention to – Collins’ campaign to attain the only type of nobility America offers

Collins is nothing more than an old-fashioned tax & spend liberal. Although Collins likes to say he’s looking out for the taxpayers, he’s raised taxes on us, and gone to court to prevent the legislature from keeping those hikes lower. Although he says he’s careful with our money, he’s spent millions on hisfriends and cronies, without regard to results or merit. Although Collins likes to seem as if he’s a good government type, he’s in ongoing violation of the county charter in terms of providing monthly budget monitoring reports. Although Collins says he’s trying to create a brighter future, he maintains the tired, failed status-quo when it comes to attracting and keeping businesses in western New York; he eschews the notion of IDA consolidation, and hasn’t set up a one-stop-shop for businesses to use when considering a move to our region.

For someone who promised to run the county like a business, why has he behaved like that?

The chicken? Naturally, it has its own Twitter account, and last night it taunted Collins with this (click on the link to see the picture): 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ChickenCollins/status/212322054526091265″]

 Bellavia’s campaign released this Tuesday morning: 

Two leading Republican County Chairmen in New York’s 27th Congressional District today called upon GOP candidates David Bellavia and Chris Collins to accept a debate invitation from Time Warner Cable’s news affiliate, YNN, for June 18.

Bellavia accepted the YNN debate on June 5 – the same day it was offered. Since he was invited, Collins has ignored e-mails, letters, and telephone calls from YNN executives.

“I think it’s important for both candidates to give Republicans across the entire district an opportunity to hear where they stand on the issues – face to face, in a fair debate, on television,” Orleans County Republican Committee Chairman Ed Morgan said. “David Bellavia and Chris Collins must expose Primary voters to their views under those circumstances or the election will see record low turnout and the 27th District will be poorly served. The only opportunity to accomplish this is the YNN debate on June 18.”

“The Republican voters of the 27th District deserve a televised debate to see the candidates and understand their positions on important issues,” Wyoming County Republican Chairman Gordon Brown said. “I personally call on David and Chris to commit to a televised debate in which the entire district can be reached – including the more than 60 percent of voters living outside Erie County. Mailers and signs are not enough. I have had the opportunity to speak with both candidates on several occasions – let’s afford all Republican voters a similar opportunity to hear from them.”

On May 24, the Erie County Republican Women’s Federation (ECRWF) invited both Mr. Collins and Bellavia to debate in Clarence on June 19. Subsequently, the Bellavia campaign was advised by the League of Women Voters of Buffalo-Niagara that the ECRWF debate was by no mans fair and no candidate should agree to the wholly one-sided terms. Since then, the Bellavia campaign reached out to the Collins campaign to negotiate fair changes in the ECRWF event. The Collins campaign refused this opportunity, choosing instead to insist upon the rules they dictated.

“Seventy seven days ago, I called for a series of eight debates in the eight counties of the 27th District. But Mr. Collins has run out the clock,” Bellavia said.

“The televised YNN debate would allow both of us the opportunity to show Republicans across the entire district what we stand for and what we believe in just one debate. I don’t control it; Mr. Collins doesn’t control it. It’s 100 percent neutral and that’s what the voters deserve,” Bellavia said.

Niagara Falls' Last Ditch Effort

Rainbow II

Rainbow II by Flickr User Nykino

Attention recent college graduates: Niagara Falls wants you!

Desperate for its population to stay above 50,000, Niagara Falls is starting a modest pilot program – using Federal urban renewal funds – to attract 20 young recent college graduates to come live there for at least two years in a particular area of the city near the Seneca Niagara Casino.  After a year of residency, each would receive $3,500 for student loan payments. 

Industry has been leaving the city for decades, and economic activity on the American side of the Falls is hamstrung by a chicken/egg scenario: tourists don’t much leave the state park because of the blight, and the blight won’t improve unless people go downtown or leave the casino and spend money. The News article about this program says city leaders want to create an “Elmwood Avenue North” relying on recent grads to attract the sorts of business at which they’d spend money.

Niagara University is considering opening a downtown branch, and the NCCC Culinary Institute is under construction, ready to bring another 500 students to downtown when it opens. 

It’s an innovative subsidy, and perhaps a sign of desperation, but Niagara Falls, NY has been in desperate straits for a very long time indeed – a city known now as the dowdy American comparative to the attractive, bustling, gorgeously maintained Canadian side; an America paved not with gold, but with depleted uranium

Attracting young employed people to, in essence, jump-start a gentrification of Niagara Falls may very well be that city’s last, best hope. 

After all, as much as any place in western New York, this place truly matters

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