Things to Ask the New York State Thruway Authority (Update: Ray Walter Asked Some)

(Assemblyman Ray Walter posted this to Facebook on Thursday…

Transportation Budget Hearing today. Tweet or FB me your questions for DOT and Thruway and I’ll try to get them in.#Budget2014

…Here are the questions I “Facebooked”): 

1. Why do we need a Thruway Authority? In other words, why can’t the State DOT assume the duty to maintain the roads over which the Thruway has jurisdiction? 

2. Assuming there is a satisfactory answer to #1, why can’t the Thruway Authority automate toll collection? This would save money for the Authority, and lost productivity and time for motorists. 

3. How much does the Thruway Authority cost to operate every year as a separate entity, and how much of that is paid through tolls? 

4. Similar to #2, but even if not fully automated, what reason exists to employ actual human beings to act as a middleman between a ticket dispensing machine and a motorist? Is there some magical forcefield that prevents motorists from taking a ticket themselves? 

5. The toll barriers in Williamsville, Lackawanna, and at the PA border are inadequate for the amount of traffic they get during peak times in the summer. Will the TA institute a process to let motorists through toll-free during bad back-ups to alleviate traffic, and to prevent the poisoning of the air for nearby residents? 

6. The TA operates the I-190, which handles most Canadian traffic. Why are the only tourism offices located at the Angola and Clarence plazas? Why is there no rest area / tourism office serving Canadians arriving on the Q-L, Rainbow, and Peace Bridges to spend money in WNY? 

7. Also related to #2, EZ-Pass has the capability to collect tolls while traffic moves at highway speeds. Why is there no “EZ-Pass only” lane that lets vehicles go by at highway speeds at the major barriers in WNY? 

8. It is my understanding that the tolls at Williamsville cannot be expanded due to lack of space. There has been a big push by certain towns (especially Vill of W’Ville) to move the barrier (if one needs to exist) back to somewhere between Clarence and the Pembroke exit. Why hasn’t this happened? What is the hold-up? 

9. EZ-Pass transponders are operating throughout Manhattan. Why?

10. Is there any other system that might be implemented for the collection of tolls on the NYS Thruway that the TA has looked into? For instance, payment by mobile phone, payment of an annual, daily, or weekly pass to use the road, etc? 

11. Will the TA raise the speed limit on the Thruway in rural areas between Albany – PA Line to 75 MPH? 

12. The numbering scheme for exits on the Thruway is counterintuitive – many exits have been added and instead of re-numbering the system to accommodate them, the TA has just slapped an “A” at the end of the exit. Other states have implemented a system whereby the exit numbers correspond with the mile markers. When I wrote to the TA 10 yrs ago about this, they claimed that they couldn’t make this change because the road actually follows the I-87 and then the I-90, but this makes no sense. After all, the exit numbering scheme sequential along these two roadways, and the mile markers begin at 0 at the Deegan/Yonkers line and ascend along the I-87, continuing to the I-90. The Transit Road exit in Depew should be 415. 

That’s all I’ve got for now.

UPDATE: Assemblyman Walter got to ask some of them. Here’s what the Thruway guy said:

Help Us Obi-Wan Trumponi; You’re Our Only Hope!

Welcome to Buffalo, Mr. Trump!

I know you’ll enjoy your time at the Republican fundraiser at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens – its design sensibilities match your own. Not to mention there will be well-heeled Republican donors willing to shell out $100 – $500 to see and possibly meet you, as well as a ragtag group of not-so-well-heeled Republican activists demonstrating for your benefit outside in the parking lot. 

During the last few weeks, desperate New York Republicans have figuratively fellated you so sweetly and slowly, never breaking eye contact as they lovingly, sloppily caress your manhood. The official local party organ has given you a ton of sketchy massages with happy endings this week

It’s so wonderful to be so loved; to be feted and worshipped like a God. It’s like every western New York Republican is doing their best Princess Leia impression:  help us Obi-Wan Trumponi; you’re our only hope

I read with interest the local political reporter’s story about your 757 aircraft. I especially enjoyed the part where he transcribed a portion of the voice-over from a documentary about it. Reporting!

You are their God because you embody the ideal of Homo Republicanus. You’re wealthy beyond belief, and everything you do is done to excess. You’re on your second family, but at least you never kept it secret, unlike the last Republican to run for governor, who took to the radio this week to explain how much of a “family man” you are. How he arrived at that conclusion is a mystery. You detest Obama and gleefully call him an ineligible Communist. You can’t stand Andrew Cuomo and know you can defeat him, but you demand some sort of unity in the Republican Party as a prerequisite to running. This is clever, because a few county chairs and perhaps the state committee may oppose you, and this would give you an out. You’re a well-known brand, but because of your outspoken tea party politics, you’re not a particularly well-liked one. You hate the idea of people having access to affordable health insurance, your personal morality doesn’t match the party line, and you’re often combative and rude. 

But are we to believe that you’ll relinquish control of your companies to go to work in Albany, of all places? Let’s not forget that being governor isn’t some side gig you can do part of the day, and then traipse off to Manhattan to run an empire of tack. Politics is perfect for you, but if you win, you’d have to govern. The key to effective governing is compromise. Are you ready for that? I know you have experience cutting deals with business rivals, but can you translate that into policy? And what do you know of real people’s genuine problems? You don’t hear much from the 99% while ensconced in Trump Tower, or vacationing in Mar-a-Lago. Billionaire problems aren’t my problems, or most people’s. 

Also – that thing that Cuomo said about extremist right-wingers? You know that he was talking about right-wing politicians, not average people. You also know he was right about what extremist rightists believe; Paladino’s electoral outcome is something you might be able to surpass, but not enough to beat Andrew Cuomo. You are so far on the right-wing fringe with your politics that you’ll do great up here where the people aren’t. But downstate? Your politics suck and a great many people there already think you’re a bit of a nouveau-riche prat. 

Your visit to Buffalo tonight is the biggest speed dating event in WNY history. I think it’s great, because the disappointment will be so deep when you inevitably drop out because of work obligations, the fact that your lifestyle doesn’t need the headache of public scrutiny, or because you’ll have to disclose your financials and be expected to satisfy certain ethical obligations. 

Have fun at Salvatore’s! They have great steaks! 

Love, BP

Seven Hundred and Sixteen TeeVees #ForReal

(716) 1 theaterI’m disappointed that the (716) Bistro won’t have 40′ TV screens and is settling for 38-footers. Perhaps I’ll file a lawsuit to block the proposal. My favorite part of the reveal was this paragraph, which was in the Buffalo News

The restaurant’s walls will be decorated with graphics that tell the history of the numbers 7, 1 and 6 throughout the history of sports. Its bathrooms will feature mirrors that have TVs embedded within them. And, in addition to the 38-foot TV screen, there will be 55 more big-screen TVs throughout the restaurant.

Watching the embedded mirror TVs after taking a piss is all well and good, but what about during the piss itself? Can we expect supraurinal plasma screens? What about on the inside of the doors to individual stalls? Going number 2 can take minutes rather than seconds, and patrons can’t miss a minute of sports action! Will the hand dryers have TVs?

Who knew that Tully’s was a restaurant decor trend-setter? 

But seriously, I don’t have a problem at all with a big hotel/hockey/restaurant project across from the First Niagara Center and Canalside, and down the block from Helium. It’s high time that area became the city’s entertainment district, and as much as we can make fun of the acid-washed  dream that is (716), let’s be clear on one thing – HarborCenter is the Bass Pro project, (without the public cash). 

Although it won’t be selling waders, rods, reels, and shotguns, it is a large-scale, expensive destination project that will attract people year-round. The (716) restaurant isn’t going to be fine dining, nor is anyone pretending that it will. It will likely feature a wide panoply of the finest deep-fried dishes, making you wish you owned the exclusive Pitco Frialator distributorship for western New York. It’ll be an over-the-top mega-sports bar to which people will drive 30 minutes to ignore their friends and get drunk while watching – and screaming to – an endless bank of TVs, wearing $120 hockey jerseys, and hopefully not drive home. 

It might not be your cup of tea or mine, but what HarborCenter is doing is, on balance, a good thing for Buffalo.

State of the Union

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Buffalo: A Sense of Place

(It’s a movie. Click the arrow). 

//instagram.com/p/jxNri4GuG8/embed/

The #SOTU and Fun With Time Warner Cable

I watched the State of the Union last night but honestly didn’t stick with it all the way to the end. I heard President Obama identify a lot of problems and propose a bunch of solutions, but it’s doubtful that this year will be any better than the previous five, as far as “Washington gets things done” is concerned. Obama threatened to throw his weight around a bit rather than sit back and watch the House Republicans and tea party block, bully, and bullshit, but it doesn’t matter because they still think in their darkest hearts that the President is a “socialist dictator“. (What they really mean is that they have no idea what a “socialist dictator” is.) 

The state of the union is conflicted right now, and it’s because we don’t have a House of Commons anymore, but two Houses of Lords. We’re being led by the noses by a pack of wild millionaires and billionaires, few of whom know or care about real solutions to real problems. Of course, the so-called “tea party” is nothing more than the willing lumpenprole army for monied interests, so we can’t even get “tea party” right. 

What I did at the end of my day yesterday was give myself a raise of $110/month. 

Until yesterday, I had been paying Time Warner Cable almost $200 per month for two DVRs, digital channels, turbo high-speed internet, and HBO. On Facebook, Kevin Purdy wrote about his experience cutting his monthly expenses by, among other things, cutting out cable to its bare minimum. I called Time Warner and discussed with three reps during one call about reducing my monthly bill to under $100. You’d have thought I had called about partitioning Europe or drilling down the details of the Dayton Accords. 

As it was, I yesterday unceremoniously relinquished two DVR units with associated cords and remotes at the Time Warner office downtown. I have retained high-speed internet at about $60/month (it gets cheaper when you add bundles!), and channels 1-22 (which, given the digital signals the TV reads without a cable box, is not precisely accurate). No more 24-hour mind-numbing cable news. No more HBO. No more Travel Channel or Duck Dynasty or Pawn Stars or Storage Wars. I have local channels and a decent internet signal. 

And with that, I pay Hulu Plus about $8.00/month and I pay Netflix another $8.00/month. I have access on Hulu to almost every basic cable show I enjoy (South Park, Daily Show, Colbert), back episodes of Family Guy and the like, and loads of British comedies and series, which I enjoy. 

With the PBS App on my Apple TV, I am well into season 3 of Sherlock, which WNED has put on hold until February. With Vevo the kids and I can watch actual music videos. With iTunes, I can buy or rent movies that the streaming services don’t have. But they have a lot. If I have a hankering for 24-hour news, Apple TV has Sky from the UK. If I need the Weather Channel, it’s on Apple TV. Hulu has Spongebob for the kids, and I’ve been binge-watching Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look on Netflix and Hulu, respectively. 

Channels “1-22” costs about $19/month. If I wanted some of basic cable, (channels 23 – 98) I’d need to rent a box and pay another $56/month. That’s ok. 

$110 in my pocket every month is well worth it.  Now, if only I could bump my unlimited family plan for 3 smartphones and 6 GB of data down from the $220/month it is now. 

Chris Collins Propaganda Call on Line 1

Maybe he just hates everything “common”

My Congressman was desperately interested in hearing my input about education and the Common Core standards that are slowly being transformed from an initiative to improve and enhance education and student expectations for the 21st century into a communard bete noir. Because Common Core was implemented during the Obama Presidency, Collins is automatically against it. Because many people are concerned about its testing protocols, Collins is interjecting himself into an issue about which he has never spoken before, and about which his ignorance is palpable.

Why was Common Core implemented? Because employers were concerned that High School students were unprepared for the job market – a pretty basic and fundamental issue

The initial motivation for the development of the Common Core State Standards was part of the American Diploma Project (ADP).

A report titled, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts,” from 2004 found that both employers and colleges are demanding more of high school graduates than in the past. According to Achieve, Inc., “current high-school exit expectations fall well short of [employer and college] demands.” The report explains that the major problem currently facing the American school system is that high school graduates were not provided with the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed in college and careers. “While students and their parents may still believe that the diploma reflects adequate preparation for the intellectual demands of adult life, in reality it falls far short of this common-sense goal.” The report continues that the diploma itself lost its value because graduates could not compete successfully beyond high school, and that the solution to this problem is a common set of rigorous standards.

Why implement it nationwide? So that a kid in Alabama meets the same standards as a kid in Vermont, and so that no kid is shortchanged. But to Chris Collins, this is communistic hogwash. Here’s the press release that followed the call: 

Jan 27, 2014 Press Release Thousands of district constituents participate in discussion about new educational standards

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) talked to parents about Common Core today as part of a district-wide telephone town hall meeting.  The new educational standards are currently being implemented in New York State.  Common Core is widely criticized for forcing students to learn skills necessary to perform well on tests as opposed to actually learning critical material. 

Thousands of NY-27 constituents participated in the town hall to learn more about Common Core and voice their concerns about how the new standards are impacting their children. 

“There are few issues as important to the future of our country as the education of our children,” said Congressman Collins.  “Unfortunately, in today’s world, too many of the decisions surrounding our children’s education are being made by government bureaucrats far removed from the classroom.  I believe strongly that parents, teachers and local school leaders know what is best for our children.  Common Core is a typical one-size-fits-all approach generated by big government bureaucrats.”

New York State adopted Common Core standards in 2010.  Across the country, 45 states have begun Common Core implementation, but recently ten states, including Massachusetts, have started to rethink or delay their participation over growing concerns from parents, educators and students themselves.  States were incentivized to participate in Common Core by the federal government through grant money available as part of the American Recovery and Restoration Act (federal stimulus). 

During the telephone town hall, parents voiced concerns about the student testing standards, mandated curriculum, and teacher/school evaluations tied to test results as dictated by Common Core.   Joining Collins for the town hall was Neal McCluskey, Associate Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom

“We should all want our children to be college or career ready following high school graduation and we should be willing to raise our standards to achieve that goal,” continued Collins.  “But Common Core is about churning out students as test takers, not inquisitive students excited about learning.

By forcing students to spend their K-12 years arduously focused on test talking, we will never develop our next generation of leaders, educators and entrepreneurs.  That is sad for our children and our country.”

Collins continued to urge parents and educators to raise awareness of Common Core and push for changes to its implementation, if not full repeal.  Parents with questions about Common Core are encouraged to contact Congressman Collins’ office.

Well there it is. It wasn’t so much to let parents vent concerns as much as it was an opportunity for some guy from a libertarian think tank to propagandize to a conservative constituency. Was there a principal from a school in the district on the call? Was there anyone there who wasn’t there to promote an agenda, but had actual practical experience to offer? Was there anyone there with an advanced teaching degree? This less than a year after the school district that covers Collins’ own home underwent a brutal and painful budget process last year – one that saw tons of young, dedicated educators unceremoniously fired and myriad programs cut. Chutzpah is the word. 

Who got to participate in the call? I’m not on Collins’ mailing list, despite having subscribed at least twice. So, yesterday, while my wife and I were at work, we got this call: 

http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/collinscall.mp3

Well, I wasn’t at home. I was at work working. Even though I knew about the call ahead of time, thanks to some local media reporting, I couldn’t participate because I was at work working on work so that I can bring home an income and, among other things, donate money to the school foundation set up to help fund programs that were cut last year. 

Common Core may be susceptible to demagoguery because it sounds ominous, is new, and because the state of New York’s implementation of its standards was as abrupt as it was inept. Tons of kids came home last year having been tested against standards that weren’t taught during the school year, and they got bad scores. But when I talked to my youngest’s school principal and teachers about the new standards, they were universally enthusiastic about it. The new standards will not only ensure that the right things are being taught, but they will have an ability to track how kids are doing in real time, and divert extra help where it’s needed. 

This isn’t about rolling back Common Core. This is about outlawing public education in this country. This is about codifying a fundamentally unfair, tiered education system whereby the poor and middle class receive vouchers enabling their kids to attend de-funded, decontented, tertiary quality schools; the upper middle class might be able to kick in extra for parochial or second-quality private schools; and the millionaire class can afford whatever they damn well please, and have their precious snowflakes’ private educations subsidized by the poor and middle class. It is the very definition of class warfare – by the wealthy against the not-wealthy. This is about the slow dismantling of every progressive goal this country has ever achieved – public K-12 education, social security, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Medicare – anything designed to help average people and the elderly enjoy life. This is a war being waged by millionaires and billionaires against you and me. 

It is a war against the American Dream itself. 

So, if people were hosting a genuine conversation about Common Core and its standards and implementation, that would be great. But that’s not what Collins was doing. He timed the “discussion” so that working parents could not participate. He did not advertise it nearly well enough. He did not have a balanced discussion, but instead propagandized with the help of libertarian school choice advocates (read: public school opponents). 

Trucks to Lewiston? Good Idea!

The Sunday Buffalo News published a story about a ultra-top-secret plan to divert all truck traffic away from the Peace  Bridge and onto the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. A lot of customs brokerage jobs would have to be moved from Buffalo and Fort Erie to Lewiston and Queenston, but neighborhood concerns over diesel particulate would be assuaged. 

Funny, because here’s what I wrote in February 2008 – six years ago:

The Peace Bridge Expansion is Dead. That’s my prediction. It is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Frankly, I think that increased traffic capacity isn’t needed in Buffalo anyway. Why shove it down Buffalo’s throat if it so clearly doesn’t want it?

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 we all know about Al Coppola’s threat to move his Pan Am house. What else could be more 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.

I think that the current Peace Bridge span should be replaced with a more modern, signature span, and that the current steel span should then be demolished. We should move forward with shared border management, which would allow US-bound traffic be pre-screened in Fort Erie with perhaps only spot-checks on the US side. The problem isn’t just neighborhood anger, the access to the I-190 is very poorly laid out, with the southbound ramp located about 1/4 mile west from the northbound ramp access road.

 

And it’s still a crime that we don’t have a visitor’s center to promote local businesses and attractions to Canadian visitors coming off the bridges, or really any tourism services of any sort, such as currency exchange. Ontario maintains one on the 420 in Niagara Falls, and another on the QEW near Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Let me know if I can help you with any other ideas. 

Lies: An American Bistro (LMGTFY)

Remember Valenti’s? The ill-fated red-sauce joint in the Budwey’s plaza in North Tonawanda became locally famous thanks to a glowing Janice Okun review in the Buffalo News, which contained wild fantasies concocted by owners Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio about Terry’s defeat of Bobby Flay in the “battle parsnips” on an episode of Iron Chef America that never existed. I think it’s bad form to stretch the truth on a resume, but to make up a blatant lie that a simple Google search can disprove is ridiculous. 

Let me Google that for you

Last week, an article briefly appeared about a former local chef who had made similar embellishments to his resume. Kevin O’Connell, Jr. (yes, his dad does the weather for Channel 2), was the chef/part owner of what was O’Connell’s Hourglass on Kenmore Avenue before progressively downscaling itself into a “bistro”, replete with nightclub acts and comedy nights before shuttering in late 2012. 

We had dined at O’Connells several times throughout its different incarnations and generally enjoyed it. O’Connells Jr. and Sr. were always gregarious and kind to us. I never had a bad experience; quite the contrary. 

And so it was that when Junior left the restaurant and abruptly moved to California, the writing was on the wall – part of the restaurant’s raison d’etre was that it was a family-owned joint, established at least in part to give O’Connell an opportunity to come home to Buffalo and hone his craft. On a few Facebook postings, I noted that I was not surprised when I learned that the place was closing – not as a commentary on its food or service, but based on the fact that, with Junior’s departure, it had effectively ceased to matter. But the weatherman took great offense to this, and tried to humiliate me to his thousands of Facebook “friends”

He tagged me immediately afterwards. I wasn’t a regular, but my family enjoyed his food, and we celebrated many an event at his restaurant. When Junior unexpectedly up and moved to LA in August 2012, I was surprised, and figured the place wasn’t going to last. There was other scuttlebutt involved, but I never mentioned it. Now this weatherman is insulting me like this as if I was to blame for the place closing, yet I never wrote a negative syllable about it?  I know Junior was pissed because I wrote “not surprised” when someone on the Buffalo foodie group mentioned the sudden appearance of a “for sale” sign. Yeah, not surprised the place is for sale when the chef moves 3k miles away. Here was my comment on weatherboy’s wall: 

Here, by the way, is the only thing I ever wrote – publicly or privately – about O’Connells. What a monster I am.

Soon after Kevin O’Connell Jr. returned to Buffalo, he was sent to federal prison on a conviction of stealing $44,000 from various diners’ credit cards in a scam at a prior restaurant he co-owned in Montana. Prosecutors called it “deliberate fraud”. I defended him then, arguing that he was paying his debt to society, was making restitution, and deserved a second chance. I am clearly a horrible person. 

In any event, last week the excrement hit the fan when Junior’s new restaurant posted a resume out of a creative writing class. An article briefly posted at the Spree’s website has since been taken down. Forget that for a second, and don’t worry about why it’s gone. 

Here is how not to promote yourself – here is the Kevin O’Connell, Jr. resume, as it appeared at this web address just last week (taken January 17, 2014 at 3pm – and here is a PDF of what was posted): 

Professional Background

1998-2001 Babbo Ristorante New York, New York
Sous Chef, Chef de Cuisine

Returning from Europe I was hired as the opening sous chef for the acclaimed Italian eatery by Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich. I was honored and excited to be a part of an incredible team that made this the most authentic and popular Italian eatery in the United States, winning best new restaurant in numerous publications. I was promoted to Chef de Cuisine after 7 months and Chef Batali’s opening of Lupa. I was honored in 2001 to be named a James Beard award winner for Best New Chef Northeast. Shortly after I had the opportunity to open my first establishment and took that opportunity with Chef’s blessing and full support.

I don’t know whether he was the opening sous at Babbo, but the James Beard award claim is pure nonsense. O’Connell has never won—nor been nominated for—a James Beard Award. The award he is claiming to have received in 2001 is a mess of half-truths spliced together, none of which include him. Batali did win several awards in 2001, including one for Esca as Best New Restaurant. But the list of the Best Chefs of the Northeast (and nominees) bear no mention of Junior. Additionally,the James Beard Foundation gives New York City chefs and restaurants their own awards, separate from the rest of the Northeast. (Here are the JBF award listings for 199819992000, and 2001.) Or just search the JBF website for any mention of Kevin O’Connell, Jr. You’ll be disappointed.

2001-2003 Rue Franklin Park Slope, Brooklyn

Owner/Chef

After such a fantastic experience with fine Italian cuisine in Manhattan, I reached out and opened a small French bistro in the up and coming neighborhood of Park Slope. A 45 seat restaurant that had a menu that changed daily and featured the provisions of the area as well as fresh imported French favorites. In early 2002 the New York Times rated our restaurant 2 stars which at the time was the only 2 star establishment outside of the immediate Manhattan dining area. We were nominated for best new restaurant from the James Beard Foundation and won best new restaurant from the New Yorker and the Village Voice. I left the business to open another establishment in Late 2003 but continued ownership until 2006.

The Village Voice’s 2001 list doesn’t show “Rue Franklin Park Slope”. In fact, a search of the entire Village Voice website for “Rue Franklin” comes up empty. Same thing with the New Yorker. I tried looking in New York Magazine, but couldn’t find anything – its online archives are not jam-packed. But I couldn’t find any evidence of this restaurant existing. New York Times 2 stars? I did a search of the New York Times archive for 1/1/01 – 1/1/04 for “Rue Franklin” and nothing came up

2003-2005 Employees Only New York, New York
Partner/Chef

After being approached in early 2003 from 5 of my college fraternity brothers and friends to help open a bar in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, we as a group opened Employees Only, a 20’s style cocktail lounge. Starting in a very small kitchen and serving a very limited menu in March 2004 we acquired the space in the rear of the bar formerly a tailor shop and expanded to a full service restaurant. We were named Best Cocktail Bar in the United States by GQ magazine in 2004 and 2005, we were named Best Cocktail Bar in New York from 2004 to 2007. We published our first cookbook of cocktails in 2010 and made the New York Times Best Seller List. I stepped down as Chef in 2005 to pursue another project in my home town of Buffalo New York. I still maintain my partnership with the restaurant and the company which has opened 5 more establishments 4 in New York and One in Washington DC.

The idea that Junior ever worked at Employees Only in any capacity is dubious. Why take credit for a book published five years after you’ve left a place – a book about cocktails? A phone call to the bar reveals the truth pretty quickly. Just call and ask them.  

Also, anyone notice the glaring omission of Indigo, the place in Montana where he got busted for bad checks and credit card fraud? Well, it wasn’t always Indigo. It started out as “Blue Smoke”. He changed it to “Indigo: An American Bistro”.  Just like in Buffalo, when he changed “O’Connell’s Hourglass” to “O’Connell’s American Bistro”.  Just like in Los Angeles, when his new venture, 9 Olives folded after less than a year, he tried to change it to “Punk’s”, (Twitter here) but got a new gig at a place called Carson House. It’s got a new concept. Care to guess? “Carson House: An American Bistro“. 

Great Falls’ Indigo closed in June 2005 – around the time Junior claims to have left Employees Only. 

Incidentally, this Great Falls, MT story about O’Connell’s change to Indigo is dated February 2003 – around the time that Junior claims to have joined Employees Only. And here’s what he told the local paper in Montana in 2004

O’Connell was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and raised in Los Angeles. He got his bachelor’s degree from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and received his master’s in hotel and restaurant management from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

In 2000, he moved to Fort Benton after landing an executive chef position at the exquisite Union Grille Restaurant in the Grand Union Hotel.

“I had gotten engaged, and I needed a place to settle down and raise a family,” he said. “It was an abrupt culture shock. I went from a 3-million-person metro to a town with 1,000 people where everybody knows everybody’s name and birth date.”

A year and a half later, O’Connell ventured back to city life, opening the Blue Smoke barbecue restaurant in the Lobby Bar in Great Falls.

No Babbo. No Rue Franklin Park Slope. Fort Benton, MT

2005-2010 O’Connells American Bistro Buffalo, New York
Owner/Chef

I had the opportunity to purchase a famed Buffalo landmark restaurant in my fathers former neighborhood where he grew up. O’Connells American Bistro was to be an ode to all that I had experienced in both Europe and my time in Manhattan. It opened to rave reviews and earned 4 stars from the Buffalo News and Critic Janice Okun (1 of 4 restaurants at the time to receive 4 stars)
I was honored to be invited 4 times to the James Beard House to cook with my crew, we received a Best New Restaurant nomination from the Beard Foundation in 2006, and we were named Best Restaurant by Buffalo Spree, the Buffalo News, and Spot Magazine 2005, 2007, 2009. With the blessing of my family I shuttered the Bistro in Early 2010 to explore a restaurant opportunity in Los Angeles.

No, the James Beard Foundation did not nominate Junior nor his restaurant for anything in 2006. What the hell is “Spot Magazine”? The Buffalo News doesn’t give out “best restaurant” annual awards. Buffalo Spree didn’t give him best restaurant ever;  not in 2007, not in 2009. Spree didn’t do “best of” in 2005. 

Janice Okun gave O’Connell’s Hourglass 3.5 stars in 2005, and 4 stars in 2009. She gave O’Connell’s American Bistro 3.5 stars in 2011. Nevertheless, he did not shutter the Bistro in 2010, but in late 2012, soon after his move to LA. 

2010-2013 9 Olives Los Angeles, California
Owner/Chef

I had the great opportunity to open a restaurant in a building that was formerly Charlie Chaplins Home on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. The restaurant was a labor of love, as I grew up in Los Angeles and had many fond memories and friends still in this community. 9 Olives was opened up as a ode to old Hollywood and specialized in fresh farm to table food and excellent service. Couple with a cocktail program that was to mirror that of employees only in NY and a wine list with fine California and European Vintages. Upon opening we received wonderful critical acclaim via LA Weekly, Sunset Magazine, and Bon Appetit magazine that named us on of the Hot 5 new restaurants in Los Angeles. Though a critical success, the size and vibe of the area did not warrant a fine dining upscale restaurant. In early 2013 we changed to a lounge tapas style establishment. This was a successful change and though hitting its stride in October of 2013 I sold my interest in 9 Olives to pursue other ventures.

Perhaps he fudged the closing date of the Bistro to make 9 Olives seem more successful than it was? Either way, I don’t see anything about 9 Olives at Bon Appetit, Sunset, or LA Weekly. What I did find was Yelp reviews, and the last handful cited Living Social and Groupon online coupons they had bought. Time Out LA never reviewed it. It has one stellar Tripadvisor review, nothing at Gayot. Not much of anything, really. 

Associations

Member of Alex’s Lemonade Stand ( pediatric cancer)
Member in Good Standing ACF
Sitting Board Member Share our Strength (Chef’s against Hunger)
Board of Directors Thomas J. Mackey Scholarship
Board of Directors Alumni Scholarship Dartmouth College

I can’t tell if he’s a member of Alex’s or the American Culinary Federation. Google has no hits for a “Thomas J. Mackey Scholarship”. I don’t see his name on the Dartmouth College website. No, he isn’t a board member – sitting or otherwise – for Share our Strength

Now, all of the materials shown above are gleaned easily online. You will note that I have not made a judgment call here about O’Connell’s food, or how he sources it. I frankly don’t care. The restaurant is closed, he’s 3,000 miles away, and like I said, I never had a meal there that I regretted. But that resume – there’s a reason it’s not online anymore.   

In December 2013, the owners of the Carson House contacted me to inquire about the credit card fraud case, because I had written about it at the time. They were about to hire O’Connell, and wanted to get more information. Of course, the credit card matter was in Montana, and not in New York, so whatever information I had about it was from the media. I’m also a lawyer and acutely aware of defamation jurisprudence. This is what I wrote back: 

I don’t have any information to contradict what Kevin has told you. From my experience, Kevin wasn’t involved in any unethical or larcenous behavior during his run at O’Connell’s in Buffalo.

Soon after arriving to town, he had to answer charges in federal court and was sentenced to a year in prison. He has always been candid and repentant about the fraud issue, as far as I know, but I would recommend perhaps speaking with the prosecutor who tried the case, or a reporter in Montana who covered the case to determine if he is being candid and accurate in his portrayal of the facts viz. his involvement. I would Google “O’Connell and Indigo Lounge and Great Falls”.

Kevin is a talented chef and good at promoting himself and his endeavors. We miss him here.

Now? He’s making up a new background for himself, and partying it up in L.A. while the mothers of his two children are waiting on child support; while his kids wonder where their dad went; while Senior apparently treats the mothers of his grandkids like garbage; while Junior traipses around the country like some manbaby, making up a new story at every stop.  

If you’re going to make stuff up, make it minimally credible. 

Smart Growth in Village Centers: Tonight

Tonight (Wednesday January 22nd) at the Williamsville South High School Auditorium, (Main near Youngs) join a conversation to discuss “smart growth in village centers”. Discussing how WNY villages are models for sustainable suburban development will be John Norquist, the President of the Congress for New Urbanism, Paul Beyer, the New York State director of Smart Growth, and Brian Kulpa, the Mayor of Williamsville

In light of the recent announcement from Congressman Brian Higgins’ office directing that $3 million in federal highway funding be added to $1 million from the Village of Williamsville to reconfigure Main Street to make it  work better for both pedestrians and vehicle traffic, this will be an interesting and important discussion. The recent improvements in the villages of Hamburg and Orchard Park also serve as reminders that compact, walkable commercial neighborhoods go well with suburban living.

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