Courtesy Marquil at

Chris Collins and the Dictatorship of Petty Bureaucracy

Chris Collins

In March 2007, the Erie County Republican Party unanimously endorsed Chris Collins as its candidate for County Executive. After two Giambra terms, replete with cheap politicking and fiscal disasters, Collins seemed to be a successful guy with novel ideas on how to take the county forward.  He pledged to reform county government, rebuild our economy, and restore jobs. I predicted that he would win as early as April of that year.

During the campaign, it was revealed that Collins had loaned money to an East Side slumlord and the debt went bad. When that happened, Collins could have foreclosed and re-sold the properties, or write it off and let them rot. Collins chose the latter, and it’s indicative of his complete lack of any empathy or engagement on urban issues.

He did win, and within the first 12 hours he pledged to hire a “Six Sigma black belt” at tremendous public expense to implement what average people call “common sense”. He eventually hired six-figure Six Sigma people. He even hired someone at over $100,000 to determine how to use county space. But he was doing good, simple things, too. Things that didn’t need million-dollar consultants.  However, in looking back on his first 100 days, there was a lot of stuff I liked.

By July 2008, top people were leaving his administration.  By August, it was becoming clear that Collins wasn’t one of us. He was one of them.  Let’s call it the dictatorship of the bureaucrats – elected officials and their hangers-on cutting petty deals over petty things, rather than addressing the big picture and providing this region with a vision.

Here, we are run by people like Brown and Casey, who are busy trying to engineer a party-political coup (and failing), or by people like Chris Collins who sweats the small stuff just fine (GPS in cars, running government “like a business”), but doesn’t really have any sort of overall vision for what he wants WNY to become. Brown and Casey are hacky members of a cliquey politburo; Collins is bureaucrat-in-chief.

He managed to do an end run around a sleepy legislature to get rid of Tim Kennedy’s Apprenticeship Law.  Under the law, companies bidding on county-funded construction work over a certain dollar amount had to maintain and participate in a state-certified apprenticeship program to teach young workers a trade.  As a commenter below notes, the program “demonstrates a commitment from a contractor the willingness to invest in our own area’s youth.  Also, the program provides for the base and structure that will allow for a competent, unbiased and impartial approach to ensure that when a graduate of the program earns the title of journeyman that they are indeed schooled in all of the requisite work a person with that title should be able to perform within a specified jurisdiction.  Finally, the law would ensure that New York State and local residents had a better chance of being employed on county projects.  The law was in fact largely passed due the discovery of circa 10 illegal workers being found performing asbestos removal in the Rath Building after the award of a contract to do the work to an out of town contractor.”

People like Chris Collins and Carl Paladino vehemently opposed the law for a reason and a pretext – the reason was that it helped keep private-sector union trades strong, which is anathema to Buffalo’s puny plutocrats. The pretext was that it drove up the cost of this sort of work. Yet as far as anyone can tell, there doesn’t seem to have been some sudden surge in construction since – and due to its – repeal. It’s part of the contemporary Republican ethos to destroy any protection for workers, whether it be good benefits, a living wage, and collective bargaining rights – the right of management and owners to dictate the terms of employment as an adhesion contract with absolutely zero regulation over wages and conditions; a reversion to the days of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Taxes. Chris Collins pledged to lower them. Even today, he rails against job-killing high taxes. Are you totally incensed by Mark Poloncarz’s proposed 2013 budget, which includes a 3.4% property tax hike? Then Chris Collins’ October 2008 3.6% tax hike proposal must have really made you angry.  You must have been even more outraged with what happened later on, when he ended up demanding a 4.8% tax hike. Collins started cutting programs that help the urban poor and diverting money to fixing up suburban roads, calling them a quality of life issue. It was soon revealed that Collins kept a $16 million Medicaid liability off the books.

In the meantime, there was no explanation why 10 months’ worth of Six Sigma implementation at great public cost had not resulted in any palpable cost savings. The Democratic legislature amended Collins’ proposed budget to change its priorities and decrease the tax hike. Collins claims that Six Sigma saved a couple million dollars. Never has that claim been audited, reviewed, or backed up with any facts or evidence.  By all accounts, it cost taxpayers a couple million dollars, and few people know that Collins isn’t even certified as a Six Sigma anything. It’s as if government was being run by a malevolent, trendy management tome.

In the end, it was a choice between a Collins-backed 4.8% property tax hike, and the Legislature’s 0.0% hike. A Supreme Court Justice ruled that taxes would go up 1.6%. Chris Collins didn’t just raise your taxes, he went to court to make sure he could do it.

Meanwhile, you’ve probably heard Collins rail against the Obama stimulus, a collection of tax cuts and appropriations for public works; Keynesian pump-priming to address a growing crisis of falling economic demand. Back in 2009, however, Collins sang the stimulus’ praises.

“As County Executive, I believe strongly that infrastructure improvements are critical to the growth of Erie County,” said Erie County Executive Chris Collins.  “At a time when county resources are scarce, a possible injection of federal dollars could have a tremendous impact on Erie County’s aging and neglected infrastructure.  Funding for even a fraction of these projects would represent a significant investment in our community, the opportunity to hire thousands of local workers, and reduce our need for capital borrowing in the future.”

Senator Schumer made sure that the county received $750,000 in stimulus funding to balance the budget and offset Medicaid expenses. When all was said and done, Collins has $41 million in Obama stimulus money to thank for padding the county’s coffers. Money that was intended to be used to help spur demand and create jobs was instead shunted – like Giambra’s tobacco settlement money – into one-shot salves for budgetary shortfalls. He was downright cavalier about sitting on a pool of free money that was supposed to be put into the economy.

Unlike in his private business affairs, County Executive Collins was subject to financial oversight. This was not something he enjoyed, and he pushed vindictive cuts to the Comptroller’s office, which would have laid waste to any meaningful accountability for what Collins was doing.

Frankly, someone should ask Collins’ former spokesman, Stefan Mychajliw – who is now himself running for County Comptroller – what he thinks about what Collins tried to do to then-Comptroller Poloncarz’s office’s ability to do its job.

In April 2009, Collins completely disregarded an effort to implement a regional framework for planning and growth in a region where we have sprawl without population growth. Again- a lack of vision in favor of bureaucratic stasis. But his gamesmanship became epic, whereby the Legislature would legally override a Collins veto, and Collins would respond by simply jettisoning democratic procedure aside and declaring the override “null and void”

Throughout his administration, Chris Collins was fighting the Justice Department, which demanded that the county improve conditions in its jails. 2009 brought a legislative election, and Collins was set on jury-rigging the system in order to ensure that the second half of his term would be less litigious. He hired Kathy Konst as part of a ploy to leave the (D) line unoccupied. Collins pick Dino Fudoli went to court to keep his Democratic opponent’s name off the ballot. Fundamentally undemocratic gamesmanship, and it should taint Collins and Fudoli in perpetuity. Hell, Collins used an official Twitter account for electioneering purposes.

Collins’ proposed 2010 budget played with the numbers to keep taxes steady, but no spending was cut. None.

Most of you will remember his horrible thing Collins said, calling Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver the “anti-Christ”. It wasn’t the first time he used it, and it was a theme that Carl Paladino picked up on the following year, with similar electoral effect. Even though Collins had a good 2009 election, it didn’t make him happy; it made him angry. But as 2010 began, Erie County finally settled its disputes over payments to ECMC. Soon after that, Collins conspired with the Mayor’s people and Pigeon’s people to obtain a de facto Republican majority on the Legislature. All it took was Barbara Miller-Williams, Christina Bove, and Tim Kennedy to agree to join a so-called “reform coalition”, which reformed nothing. Except hirings and firings. Tim Kennedy did this in spite of Collins’ destruction of his beloved Apprenticeship Law, in order to secure the Independence Party line and be elevated to the State Senate.

In January 2010, Collins was again caught with his foot in his mouth, having asked Republican fundraiser Laura Montante Zaepfel to give him a “lapdance” before she could get to her seat at the State of the State address. Next on his agenda was to take away day care benefits from the working poor in Buffalo and WNY. But we did finally get rid of the Convention Center’s FailSignWhen not declaring legislative veto overrides “null and void”, Collins decided simply to refuse to fund things he didn’t like. Nevertheless, in running government like a failing, closely-held business, Collins created new jobs for pet projects, didn’t cut spending overall, and was facing a massive 2011 deficit. At least he had a compliant, but horribly run legislature

collins-20121016-233135.jpgCollins then turned his ire towards the culturals, and this teed off the central theme of the 2011 County Executive race. The budget process in late 2010 was uglier than ever, and more shenanigan-laden than usual.

Six Sigma – Collins claims it worked. How did it work? The control board granted the county about $1.1 million in efficiency grants to set the program up. Six Sigma salaries: just over $470,000. Six Sigma fringe (60%): Just over $280,000. Vendors (5 vendors, including UB): Just over $610,000. TOTAL:  Just over $1.37 million. How much did it save? You can hear the crickets chirping.

Debating Kathy Hochul, Collins blasted the Obama administration for “picking winners and losers” by having the government take GM and Chrysler bankrupt and using public money to invest in those companies and effectively bailing them out. By doing so, about a million jobs were directly saved, keeping the economy from going from recession to depressionary spiral. But Collins didn’t have a problem using the Erie County IDA to pick winners and losers, did he? That uses public money to help private business. He even went so far as to reward Paladino crony Rus Thompson with a sweetheart IDA loan for his cement truck business. Must be nice to have friends on the IDA like Chris Collins and his neighbor, Jane Corwin’s husband. At the CVB, Collins withheld funding until he packed it with his hand-picked people – after that, he increased its budget.  For real.  Under Collins, the IDA specialized in granting money and tax breaks to businesses that didn’t create many jobs, moved businesses around from town to town.

When Chris Lee got caught shirtless on Craigslist, soliciting dates from people not his wife, a scramble to replace him ensued. David Bellavia had a deal that he would be next when Lee was done. Lee was done. Yet Chris Collins and Carl Paladino tried to intimidate Bellavia out of the race. It was like something out of Goodfellas.

2011 saw Collins and Poloncarz do battle. As usual, Collins and the Republicans cut a deal with Mayor Brown in an effort to depress city turnout. In July 2011, Collins got caught marching at the front of the July 4th parade in Lancaster – even ahead of the flag and veterans. When polls showed that Collins wasn’t doing well, he called the polls a pack of lies. He went out of his way to say that downstate was no friend of upstate’s. Don’t forget that Collins got caught parking illegally several times – including using a spot reserved for the disabled.

And Collins left a mess. In July 2012, Poloncarz revealed,

In the first six months of my term alone, we have identified more than $50 million in unanticipated expense and declining revenue projections not included in Mr. Collins’ 2012 Budget or Four-Year Financial Plan – many of which he, in all likelihood, knew about but failed to address and chose to hide from me as comptroller, the legislature and even the control board.

After leaving office, Collins was caught using his Rath Building office to hold private business meetings to intimidate investors.  In July 2012, Collins basically said that people don’t die from breast and prostate cancer anymore. Seriously. He disrespectfully refused to debate his primary opponent. He apparently bought Facebook likes. Collins is a big backer of the Ryan budget. Collins has not released any of his tax returns to the voters.

Chris Collins can say “Barack Obama” and “Nancy Pelosi” every minute of every hour. He can pretend to be some conservative Republican who will somehow magically work with people across the aisle – something he only did locally when he could derive some short-term political benefit therefrom; something he only did when he could exert control over them and the legislative process through his proxy, Barbara Miller-Williams. Kathy Hochul’s record stands on its own merits. So does Chris Collins’ record, such as it is.

In the end, Chris Collins did not reform county government – in fact, he resisted and blocked reforms almost routinely (another “r”); he did not rebuild the local economy, but ensured that stimulus funds were hoarded to artificially improve his balance sheet; and he did not reduce – but raised – taxes.


Debate Night in America

Tonight at 7pm, Kathy Hochul and Chris Collins will engage in their first head-to-head debate, presented by WNED-TV, in partnership with WGRZ-TV, The Buffalo News, The League of Women Voters of Buffalo/Niagara and WXXI-AM, WXXI-TV and WHEC-TV in Rochester.

The hour-long debate will be simulcast on WNED, WGRZ and WBFO-FM 88.7/WNED-AM 970 radio. Questions will be posed by three panelists: Bob McCarthy, Buffalo News political reporter; Julie Philipp, WXXI news director; and Claudine Ewing, WGRZ reporter. WBFO/WNED News Director Jim Ranney will moderate.

Political junkies will then be able to switch over to the Romney/Obama debate at 9pm. This will be a tightly controlled “town hall meeting” held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, and moderated by CNN correspondent Candy Crowley. 

Piling On

I think Mike Amodeo has a hard enough time as it is, given that Governor Cuomo has all but endorsed incumbent Republican Mark Grisanti, that it’s bad form for disgruntled Swanick supporters to pile on. Instead of promoting or assisting the Democrat’s campaign – despite empty pledges to get behind him – they mock him. 

Of course, nominal “Democrat” Chuck Swanick, who challenged Amodeo for the Democratic nomination – and lost quite convincingly – remains in the race because he represents the homophobe vote. His entire reason for being in this race is pure politics, essentially conspiring with Ralph Lorigo’s transactional, unconservative “Conservative Party” to siphon off the homophobe vote from Grisanti and Amodeo.

Grisanti is running negative ads, Swanick “Democrats” are attacking him and mocking him, the Governor’s people are telling him to stay home, and even friendly PACs are withdrawing their pledged support. Grisanti, business interests, and the Governor are attacking Amodeo for a position – a supposed call to get rid of the tax cap – that Amodeo doesn’t even hold

Probably the two biggest issues facing voters in just about every senate district in the state are jobs and hydrofracking. It should come as no surprise that both Grisanti and Amodeo want more jobs. They differ, however, on the issue of hydrofracking, and this is likely why Cuomo and Grisanti are trying to change the subject by making stuff up about the tax cap.

As for the Swanick “Democrats'” “support” of Amodeo, this must be more evidence of what Andrew Cuomo/Steve Casey/Steve Pigeon/Frank Max’s “unity” looks like.  

Sandy Beach: Liberal

A local tea party activist is so incensed at WBEN commentator Sandy Beach, that she wrote a lengthy indictment of him here. Apparently, AM radio’s favorite septuagenarian has said occasional positive things about Democrats and occasional negative things about Republicans. This sort of talk is strongly forbidden within the tea party weltanschauung, which much prefers doctrinaire pronouncements about wild communard conspiracies, N0bamacare, and whether president Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia. 

Liberal Talk Radio fails every time it’s tried, and no amount of double-talk, persuasion or nice-sounding, hostile government takeovers like The Fairness Doctrine will change that. Sandy should take the knee-jerk and personal out of his politics, talk about the weather, current events and recipes, or retire. I think even my sensible Libertarian mother would agree.

There you have it. To the shrinking tea party, Sandy Beach is “liberal talk radio”, like NPR. 

Incidentally, the author of that anti-Beach screed is the press contact for NY-26 Republican candidate Mike Madigan. So, serious people and serious things. 


The Nihilist Party Line

In this week’s print version of Artvoice, Geoff Kelly wonders what’s so independent about the Independence Party? He points to an IP line challenge waged against Stefan Mychajliw in the Comptroller’s race, 

The Independence Party is famous for being a tool that major party candidates manipulate to drain their opponents of resources and votes. Similar chicanery attended the successful effort by incumbent State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Republican, to win the IP line in the 60th District. Grisanti’s nominating petitions were circulated not by IP members but by Republicans, many of them from out of the region.

All this is of no consequence now, but it begs the question: Given the way major parties use the IP as their playground, what exactly is the Independence Party? And what’s “independent” about it?

I feel like I’ve been shouting in the deep, dark wilderness. Electoral fusion is part of what makes New York a banana republic. 

Electoral fusion is awful. It is the root of very many evils. It allows candidates and other connected individuals to manipulate elections in order to maximize political power and monetary return (patronage jobs, e.g.) for them and their hangers-on. There is no rational way that Ralph Lorigo, for example, should have the power he has. There was no way a barber from Springville should have been a kingmaker. The Conservative Party is, for the most part, a wholly owned subsidiary of the highest bidder. The statewide Independence Party was so angry about being manipulated by Democrats who were using it to trick low-information voters who thought they were voting for a small-i “independent” that they decided to become a wholly owned subsidiary of the state Republican Committee.

Electoral fusion is constantly being manipulated by bad people for bad reasons. It is used as a shield against some fantastical electoral rigor whereby a (R) will never color in the box for a (D) and vice-versa. It is used as a sword against people who don’t play ball with very petty people. 

You can read some examples here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  

Real Democrats

“I can always tell the real Democrat, because he’s been endorsed by the Conservative Party”.  – Nobody, ever. 

TEDx Buffalo 2012

Yesterday, the second annual TEDx Buffalo was held at the Montante Center at Canisius College. It was a day filled with good ideas and inspirational people. The theme of this year’s event was “The World in Our Backyard” – it started literally with amateur astronomer Alan Friedman’s incredible images of our solar system, taken from telescopes and cameras set up in his backyard. Kevin Gardner, the founder of Five Points Bakery, argued that change in the world starts by looking at yourself and making positive changes in your own life. 

Dr. Jonathan Lawrence of Canisius College showed that Buffalo’s population is becoming more diverse, and that we have people and faiths from around the world right here, and he sends his students out to learn about and document others’ traditions. Tom McManus from Kegworks explained how Buffalo is uniquely positioned to be a leader in e-commerce – once set up to do that, a business is literally a global one. Fully 45% of the US population lives within the 2-day package shipment radius of Buffalo, and our proximity to Canada makes importation speedier than reliance on the larger domestic ports. 

Matthew Walter from Oogie Games explained how a dramatic car crash caused him to utter a phrase – “where am I” – that everyone should ask themselves with respect to what they’re doing with their lives – if you don’t like the answer, take needed risks and change something.  Executive Chef James Roberts extolled the virtues of mentorship and how it helps you to improve yourself, to help others, and to organically grow the best staff you could ask for. Our own Chris Smith talked about the July 2011 genesis of his Cash Mobs idea, which is a reverse Groupon that has spread literally throughout the world; a grassroots movement to help local businesses in a tough economy. Joy Kuebler talked about a “pop-up” playground that she helped organize on Buffalo’s East Side. Giving kids tools and materials and asking them to use their imagination to build something to play on, it was incredible to see the results. 

Geoff “DeafGeoff” Herbert, a hearing-impaired DJ, explained how it’s more important to listen than to hear.  Adrienne Bermingham explained how anyone – even the very young can help improve the environment around them through community mapping. Kate Holzemer mesmerized the audience with beautiful, haunting solo renditions of Bach pieces on the viola. 

Interspersed with a selection of videos from the global TED conference and some local iterations, our local speakers were all though-provoking and inspirational in their own ways. They all helped cement the idea that Buffalo and WNY doesn’t exist in some vacuum, insulated from the rest of the world. Instead, even the smallest change, the simplest idea, can have a global and positive impact. 













The State of NY-27; Collins and Hochul in Thunderdome

October NY-27 Siena Poll

The Siena Research Institute polled NY-27 between October 1 and 4.  It surveyed 633 likely voters; 32% Democrats, 39% Republicans, and 27% independents. The headlines? 

Everyone is ignoring the real story – it’s not just the fact that the race for NY-27 between incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Chris Collins is a dead heat, but that Hochul was behind in August.  The crosstabs from that August Siena poll are here

    1. Hochul’s favorables are slipping. Outside of Erie County, her fav/unfav/dnk is 42/40/18 – that’s a dramatic drop from August’s 50/38/5, indicating that Collins’ and SuperPAC ads are having an impact, their falsity notwithstanding. In Erie County, her favorable rating is down by 3 and her unfavorable rating is also down, by two, at 54/37/9.    Collins’ numbers outside Erie County are 46/34/29, as compared with 41/30/29 in August. Within Erie County, Collins has also slipped dramatically, from 57/38/5 to 47/47/6.  Collins’ relentlessly negative campaign is working. 
    2. 54% of the survey respondents say they prefer a majority Republican congress. It’s a testament to the good job that Hochul’s doing that 45% would like to re-elect Hochul to Congress, versus 40% who wouldn’t, and 14% who have no clue. 
    3. President Obama is marginally more popular in the district. His fav/unfav/dnk is 44/52/4. Back in August, 56% of respondents had an unfavorable view of him. Mitt Romney’s numbers are 51/44/5 in this solidly Republican district. If the vote was held today, Obama would lose 51 – 42. In August, that number was 53 – 41. 
    4. 44% of respondents would vote to re-elect Hochul. 44% prefer someone else. 12% don’t know.  This question is stronger for Hochul in Erie County (48/44/8) than outside it (41/45/14). 
    5. On the headline question , 47% say they’ll vote for Hochul, 47% say they’ll vote for Collins, 1% aren’t voting (WTF), and 5% don’t know. In Erie County, Hochul leads 51 – 45, but outside Erie County Collins is leading 48-44. Hochul does mildly better with women than men, and with older voters than those younger than 55. 
    6. 11% of the electorate is still reasonably open to change its mind. 

Congresswoman Kathy Hochul (D-NY) (NY-26)

  1. More people think Collins is running the more negative campaign. 
  2. 51% of respondents want to repeal Obamacare. The split outside Erie County is 54/40. 
  3. Hochul and Collins are tied at 43% on the question “whom do you trust to do the right thing when it comes to Medicare”. 15% don’t know, and in Erie County this is Hochul over Collins 48/42; outside Erie it’s Collins over Hochul 43/39. 
  4. When broken down into specific issues like jobs, taxes, health care, the deficit, and “fixing the economy”, Collins is doing better than Hochul. Back in August, Hochul only beat Collins on Afghanistan and education. Not much has changed here.
  5. Back in August, 46% of respondents said Hochul would do a better job than Collins (42%) representing the district’s interests. Now, 47% say Hochul, 42% say Collins, and 11% don’t know. The 1% of August undecideds broke to Hochul, apparently. 
  6. A question from August regarding repealing the Bush tax cuts for high earners was not asked in October. 

With just about a month to go, expect both campaigns to sharpen their attacks. 42% of the sample was from Erie County and 58% from Niagara and parts farther afield. Hochul is underperforming Collins outside of Erie County and will likely address this in the coming weeks. Ultimately, however, it’s amazing that a Democrat is competitive – especially in Erie County – against a man who ran Erie County for 4 years and is purported to be popular with the WBEN crowd, which is practically all anyone ever hears about politically in this region. 

Collins’ Federal Help and “Building That”

John Boehner came to town this past weekend to campaign for Chris Collins. Boehner proudly proclaimed that he had built his small business with no government help. 

I used to run a small business before I ended up in Congress. And you know there were  nights when I would lay in bed worrying about whether the accounts receivable the next day was going to be large enough to meet the payroll. I don’t remember Barack Obama laying there next to me holding my hand. I don’t remember the government offering me some interest-free loan.

The same can’t be said for Chris Collins, however. Collins’ various businesses have benefited from $20 million in federal loans, subsidies, and handouts. In 1983, Collins received a taxpayer funded loan through a $3.5 million bond from Niagara County to move his first business, Nuttall Gear, to that jurisdiction. 

While Chris Collins denounces what Republicans routinely call the “job-killing stimulus”, and refused to spend stimulus money the county applied for and received under his administration, his companies received $442,000 in stimulus awards. Audubon Machinery received the bulk of that through the Department of Health of Human Services, and ZeptoMetrix received a mere $3,000 from that same agency.  Collins’ various companies have been the recipients of a whopping $9.2 million in government loans. 

Collins-owned companies also benefit from $11.5 million in federal contracts. Why a staunch Republican would bid for redistributive socialist work is a question for the ages, but the facts are set forth here

As County Executive, Chris Collins went out of his way to denigrate and demonize the urban poor. Little did we know that he was the biggest welfare queen of all. 


Tea Party Friend, A Question About Medicare

I’d like a Constitutionalist tea party type to explain to me exactly how the Romney/Ryan plan to voucherize Medicare for people not already receiving Medicare jibes with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. 

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Then, I’d like an explanation about this very simple question: 

If Romney/Ryan’s plan for privatizing Medicare is so fantastic, why not make it applicable to current recipients

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