Bhopal on the Niagara
I could spend hours trying to decide which third world country or Banana republic Erie County and Buffalo most resemble. We are clearly not of the first world here, and it has mostly to do with visionless excuses for leadership with which we have been saddled over the past post-industrial decades. We even market ourselves as a domestic Bangalore (see Geico, e.g.).
But up in Niagara Falls, they have a special way of appearing small-minded, petty, outrageous, and stupid. That is, of course, when they’re not engaging in outright illegality and graft. Niagara Falls is unique in western New York – if not America – in that it is essentially a toxic waste dump with streets and buildings – all cruelly punctuated by a natural world wonder. Bhopal on the Escarpment. It has seen its main industry – the manufacture of toxins – dwindle over the past several decades. It has lost population to the point where it is on the verge of losing its eligibility for federal assistance. It is, for the most part, an empty shell of its former glory, made up of poverty and broken dreams. It is as if every decision the city has ever made has exploded, creating a daily irreparable calamity.
Immigrants used to say the streets in America are figuratively paved with gold.
The streets of Niagara Falls, USA are literally paved with slag; depleted uranium.
Its current mayor, Paul Dyster, is unique in that he is the first mayor in a generation to have won re-election. A technocrat by nature, he is desperately trying to wrap a tourniquet around the city’s bleed. No one’s perfect, but Dyster is also unique because he’s honest and forthright.
The city of Niagara Falls has reached out to various charitable foundations, some of them based in Buffalo, in an effort to help fund initiatives that may help attract attention, if not money and business, to the Falls. I’m not always a big fan of Buffalo’s big-money foundations because of their cozy elitism. But Niagara Falls needs all the help it can get. Literally.
Mayor Dyster applied to the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Oshei Foundation for a paltry $4,000 in order to become a member of a “Great Lakes and St Lawrence Cities Initiative,” which Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, WI describes as,
Mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative are a prominent voice in efforts to protect and restore the vitality of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and improve the quality of life for the residents of the region. Through an integrated approach to environmental, social and economic agendas within their communities, U.S. and Canadian mayors of the Cities Initiative are leading a movement that will sustain our freshwater resources long into the future.
Astonishingly, three city council members in Niagara Falls opposed this $4,000 grant to enable Dyster to join a group of Great Lakes mayors to help forge alliances for the region’s future growth. They rejected it.
“I’m very uncomfortable with this,” Choolokian said. “Is it time to get the FBI in city hall? I don’t understand this.”
Choolokian said he was alarmed with the amount of involvement that Buffalo philanthropic groups have shown in Niagara Falls during Dyster’s administration.
“I’ve been in the system for 27 years and I never seen Buffalo get involved in Niagara Falls like it has since you became mayor,” Choolokian said.
Fruscione said that he did not understand how being part of the a group that is dedicated to saving the Great Lakes would benefit the residents of Niagara Falls.
“They’re picking up $4,000 so you can join a club,” Fruscione said. “What about the taxpayers and residents? It’s not benefitting them at all. First of all we’re on a river, we’re not on the Great Lakes. We’re not a St. Lawrence city”
Choolokian, Fruscione and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr. voted against the resolution, turning away the awarded grant money.
Councilman Charles Walker and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti supported the measure.
Walker said he does not understand how the other council members can justify turning down a grant when the city is in a tough financial situation with the delay in casino funds.
“It’s not wise to turn away funds when you are in a good financial situation,” he said.
Walker said he views the foundation’s interest in helping the city as a sign that Niagara Falls is worthy of an investment.
“I think we should look at that as more of a compliment, that our input is important to this process,” he said.
Dyster sought the grant after funding for the membership dues was cut from his proposed budget during the amendment process.
“I knew that there was a chance that the Community Foundation would pay my dues,” Dyster said.
Dyster said the reason the city seeks the help of Buffalo philanthropic groups is because most of the groups in Western New York are located in Buffalo.
“I think when times are tough we should be seeking help where we can get it,” the mayor said.
Dyster said that he is not sure where the allegations that these groups are trying to buy influence with grants are coming from, but said that there is no truth to the assertions.
“There are no strings attached to the grant other than we were asked to do some reporting, to file a report,” he said.
The only things missing were allegations that this was a plot involving the Bilderbergs, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the New World Order.
$4,000 doesn’t buy a lot of influence, but it does buy Dyster a membership in a regional club. While Councilman Fruscione is correct that Niagara Falls isn’t “on a lake” but on a “river”, he is forgetting that the river connects two Great Lakes. To ignore or reject that the fate of the lakes’ environment affects the Falls is laughably ignorant.
Niagara Falls has its hand out for everything and anything – including planting pretty flowers. It is the state’s basket case. But $4k from the evil Buffalo philanthropic institutions?! Perish the thought.