Chris Collins in NRO: Jim O’Donnell Reacts

Jim O’Donnell is the Democrat running against Chris Collins in NY-27. He is a police officer and a lawyer, and you can learn more about him here. Yesterday, he released the statement below. 

I reached out to Collins’ people on Thursday morning to get their side of the story, and to find out more about the NRO writer’s unusually short tenure on his Congressional staff, but no one got back to me. 

Here is O’Donnell’s statement: 

Unfortunately, there are people across the country that do not know that Chris Collins only represents Chris Collins. Because he holds the position of representative, people assume that he represents the people of our district. Since folks across the country don’t know what the boundaries of our district are, they just assume he represents a good portion of New York. So when he questions whether the “Blacks” in Congress are allowed to be on committees, as the National Review alleges he has done, people think those sentiments are held not just by him, but the all the people of Western New York all the way over to the Finger Lakes.

I’m not one to call anyone a racist. I don’t think it adds anything of value to the debate, if anything it detracts from the important issues that should be discussed. In this case it detracts from the fact that Chris Collins has been pointed out by one of the country’s most conservative publications as a crony capitalist who is using his power in Congress to promote his own self-interest. His lobbying for a wasteful government program that he benefits from is just one example from a long list of times Chris Collins refused to represent the best interests of his district, but instead used his time in government to help out another of his many businesses.

I don’t know if these most recent allegations of racism are true, but I do know it is imperative that Chris Collins answers them immediately. I do know that the ability of congress men and women to serve their country has nothing to do with their color. I do know that Chris Collins does not represent me, my district, any part of New York, or any significant part of this country. He may question why “Blacks” are allowed to serve on committees, but we are all questioning why we ever allowed him to serve at all.

 

National Review: Collins Has A Problem with Blacks

I almost feel badly for Chris Collins. Almost. 

My Congressman did a good thing this week, slamming proposed FDA rules against aging cheese on wood boards. It wasn’t the regulatory overreach that Collins made it out to be, but it was a horribly stupid interpretation of existing regulations. 

The FDA opined that wood planks weren’t especially cleanable, but wood has natural antibacterial properties and has been used in cheesemaking for thousands of years without a problem. The FDA backed down from any ban on wood

But sheesh, talk about burying the lede. 

Collins has done a lot to become attractive to the tea party set since his time in Washington, but everything about him reeks of corporate country club elite Republican, and that’s now finding him under fire from the right, for the first time. 

No one criticizes him in western New York because of his deep pockets. Washington’s National Review Online bloggers have no such issue. What has he done? He pissed off
an ultra right-wing SuperPAC. 

Heritage Action blasted Congressman Chris Collins, who represents New York’s 27th District, for apparently engaging in textbook cronyism. Collins, a millionaire many times over, is circulating a letter in Congress in support of re-authorizing the Export-Import Bank, from which one of his businesses, Audubon Machinery Corporation, has benefited in the past. Collins is a co-founder of and serves on the board of directors for Audubon.

A Heritage Action spokesman told The Hill, “Here’s Rep. Collins leading the charge of an entity that he’s personallybenefited from. That’s the definition of Washington working for itself.”

Collins responded, “This shows how out of touch Heritage is with how jobs are created in this country. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re a think tank. They’re not out in the real world.”

That’s rich. Collins accusing someone else of being out of touch with the “real world”. Which “real world?” To Collins, it’s the “real world” of well-connected multimillionaires getting sweet deals through federally subsidized banks. Corporate welfare. There is nothing stopping Collins or his companies from financing international deals through private banks. 

Whatever. It’s a Washington thing that has very little impact on you or me. This, however, is a blockbuster

I was briefly employed by Collins in 2013 but was terminated after three months and did not leave on good terms with the congressman. My impression was that Collins had a steep congressional learning curve. His staff had to coach him to talk less about himself to constituents, and at one point he asked about “a black” being on a Congressional committee after being told that the committee included several minority leaders.

If true, this is a remarkable insight into Collins’ complete and utter lack of character. No amount of Boy Scout talk (an organization that didn’t eliminate racial discrimination until 1974) can make up for a racial animus or discriminatory character. What difference, in 2014, does it make whether there are Black people on Congressional committees? 

Remember – this isn’t some moonbat liberal making this accusation, this is an ultra-right wing former staffer. She was terminated rather quickly, so maybe there are some hard feelings/sour grapes, but it’s an explosive charge to make so casually. 

Collins also made a conscious effort not to ruffle any conservative feathers, and he does not have a seat on  the House Financial Services Committee. 

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has called the Export-Import Bank “the face of cronyism.”

Most conservative Republicans do not support re-authorizing the bank. Collins, who almost always votes straight down the Republican line, is one of the few exceptions. A spokesman for the Congressman told The Hill that Audubon has not recently received a direct loan from the bank. Collins regularly touts smaller government, which makes it hard to understand why he would choose to make theEx-Im Bank his one major battle.

I actually support reauthorization of the Ex-Im bank. Not only does it disproportionately help smaller businesses enter the international market in cases where they’re unable to get decent international credit rates, but also because the tea party is out to kill it, which must mean it serves some public good. The tea party exists for one purpose: to destroy America and all she stands for; to create some sort of bizarre hybrid libertarian Christian jihadist confederation where everyone is armed and dangerous. So, yay Ex-Im Bank. 

But Collins’ alleged problem with Black Congressmen being members of committees is something that needs to be addressed and explained. 

What Do We Do?

Some lunatic shot up a school in Oregon Tuesday. It was only the 74th school shooting since Sandy Hook

Two right-wing eliminationist Infowars listeners shot two cops in Nevada.  The cops were oppressing everyone by eating lunch, and the Alex Jones acolytes covered their bodies with Gadsen flags, screaming about the revolution. 

Some rancher out in Nevada won’t pay his bill to the government for the privilege of having his cattle graze on land held in the public trust. A bunch of Alex Jones types weren’t going to let the federal government essentially stop this man from being a deadbeat. 

A company is going to sell bullet proof blankets for kids to use during school shootings. Because ours is totally not a third world country and this is totally not a banana republic in which we live.  

All the freaks who scream about how the “other” (fill in your own blank for that one) are dragging real America down don’t realize that they have it backwards. It’s not illegal immigrants or Obamacare or black welfare queens or gays or N0bummer himself who are turning this country into a third world backwater.

Instead, I’d argue that our creeping third world status is brought about by the people who believe lawless wild west gunslingin’ justice should act as a template for contemporary society. It’s the notion that a “good guy with a gun” – and they sure as shit don’t mean a cop – is the only thing that stands between you and a “bad guy with a gun”. The cops in Nevada – they were armed. A shooter in Washington State – he was subdued with pepper spray. While he was reloading (remember how the NY SAFE Act limits magazine capacity?) 

But the best we can do is to throw a kevlar blanket to a kid and say, “play dead?” 

Let’s just cut through the bullshit. An armed society isn’t a polite society; an armed society is a dysfunctional, failed state.

Oh, but SWITZERLAND!!1 Right? 

Right. Switzerland

Let’s pretend for a moment that a comparison with Switzerland is apples to apples. Let’s make-believe that the libertarians don’t really mean Somalia when they’re describing their dream governmental structure. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in Switzerland. I have family who lives there. Switzerland is an officially quadrilingual confederation with better schools, better social services, better foreign policy ideas, better medical care, better access to medical care, and excels at just about anything it touches. Switzerland is a wealthy and law-abiding first world functional state. Less than 8% of Swiss live below the poverty line – in the US it’s 15%. Unemployment in this country with a private health insurance mandate is 2.9% – in the US it’s 6%. The Swiss have this whole “functioning society” thing down pat. They do share our mistrust of foreigners and immigrants, however. 

The Swiss are armed, because they have what we call a well-regulated militia. And the Swiss know from regulation. 

And they own their extremely well-regulated guns to protect their country – not to overthrow their Cantonal or federal governments because some asshole on the radio decided there’s tyranny afoot. 

If Sandy Hook didn’t convince you that we have a serious problem, or if the almost weekly spate of mass shootings didn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.  Instead, we have a bunch of guys carrying semiautomatic rifles into Target and Starbucks, because arglebargle. 

Maybe the $100 billion annual cost to taxpayers from gun violence will convince you, if nothing else. 

Will stricter gun laws make a difference? I don’t know. 50-state uniformity would be nice. Expanded background checks would be swell. 

What about expansion of mental health services – that’s the one the gun people like to highlight.  Ok, folks. I’ll go for that. But you realize you have to pay for it. You have to set it up right, run it properly, and fund it adequately. Given the ease with which Obamacare was passed and implemented, please don’t insult my intelligence by pointing to “mental health treatment” as the answer because you know and I know that you don’t want to pay for it. 

How about legislation that allows, say, the families of the slain Las Vegas cops to sue Alex Jones and his corporate empire into bankruptcy? Oh, I’d love to see guys who yell “fire!” in the most crowded of lunatic theaters every single day have to pay for the natural results of their incitement. 

What do we do? 

I don’t know. 

But what I do know is – whatever we’re doing isn’t working. 

New Suburbanism

The Congress for New Urbanism came to a city to talk about how great cities are. It went out to some of the suburbs that are on the urbanist-approved list, and apparently engaged in some interesting discussion about how prosperous people like their development and planning. 

We’re talking, of course, about a Buffalo that is overwhelmingly poor; joblessness and underemployment are wildly popular careers. But we’re meant to believe that “bad development” and “parking lots” are the real socioeconomic plague in western New York

Celebration, FL

This is a city where the weekly Monday columnist writes about the city’s “strategy” for dealing with scores of vacant lots – not surface parking mind you, but straight-up grassland. The East Side of Buffalo was liveable and walkable. It was compact and diverse. If it’s what everyone wants, why did everyone leave? 

It wasn’t just racism, you know? It was the postwar American dream – to abandon noisy, crowded cities, slums, and tenements to chase the American dream. To have a little patch of land and a house and a quieter existence. To this day, some people like living in a suburban environment for a variety of reasons. To each his own. 

I agree that New Urbanism can do a lot to improve the ways suburbs develop, grow, and change. I would love for every town to resemble Celebration, FL, the Disney-developed New Urbanist model. It has sidewalks, mixed use communities, a distinct downtown, it’s bike-and-pedestrian friendly, the garages are in the back and not fronting the street. Houses are closer together. It’s very nice. It would be great to have a development like that locally. 

Buffalo, though. This is a city where the Monday paper reveals how the at-war school board is so feckless and incompetent that 1,000 families have no idea where their kids are going to school next semester. That doesn’t matter to the childless, though. 

Through Colin Dabkowski, we learn some more about the CNU

But something [CNU speaker Jeff] Speck said toward the end of his presentation gave me serious doubts about the movement’s claims to inclusivity and its interest in improving life for all urban residents. Speck espouses a theory of urban development he calls “urban triage,” a term that means infrastructure investment should go largely to a city’s densest and most-prosperous neighborhoods at the expense of outlying areas.

In explaining that philosophy, Speck said cities need to “concentrate perfection” in certain neighborhoods, distribute money in a way that favors those neighborhoods and focus primarily on downtowns in an effort to increase the health and wealth of citizens.

“Most mayors, city managers and municipal planners feel a responsibility to their entire city,” Speck wrote in his book “Walkable City,” a follow-up to “Suburban Nation,” the so-called “Bible of New Urbanism” that he co-authored with Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zybek. “As a result, they tend to sprinkle the walkability fairy dust indiscriminately. They are also optimists – they wouldn’t be in government otherwise – so they want to believe that they can someday attain a city that is universally excellent. This is lovely, but it is counterproductive.”

Interesting concept. As someone on my Facebook page pointed out, the point of triage is to identify and treat the people who need it the most, not to follow the path of least (and wealthiest) resistance. 

As a movement, New Urbanism seems primarily concerned with making prosperous neighborhoods more prosperous and then hoping against hope that the benefits of that prosperity magically extend into sections of town untouched by their charming design sensibility. Hence “urban triage,” a term that connotes a lack of concern for the human occupants of those neighborhoods deemed unworthy of infrastructure investments.

On a recent bicycle tour through the East Side led by activist and East Side resident David Torke and local planner and New Urbanist Chris Hawley, it’s obvious that this neighborhood needs infrastructure development and that local activists and urbanists recognize this need. To suggest that we need to choose between developing our downtown and improving the lives of residents in blighted neighborhoods, as New Urbanists’ “urban triage” philosophy would suggest, is beyond irresponsible.

You need to read the whole thing, right down to the time that another speaker – Andres Duany – casually threw around “retarded” to describe things he doesn’t like. 

Celebration, FL

The underlying ideas of New Urbanism are great – who doesn’t like pretty New Urbanist places like Seaside or Celebration? Who doesn’t like East Aurora or Hamburg’s new downtown? Who doesn’t like pretty things over ugly things? Right? Who doesn’t want to eliminate ugly surface lots and replace them with some nice infill development, right? 

But consider this: 

 She later (Tweet since deleted) argued that many people she knows who live in the suburbs are depressed as a result of being “bored shitless”. Of course, depression is an illness – a treatable disease. It’s due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, which explains why it can be treated with medicine. To suggest that depression is triggered by some sort of mystical bored shitlessness is ignorant and helps to perpetuate the myth of depression as mental weakness rather than disease. 

And that’s a lot of what I find from Buffalo’s urbanists – new and old. They don’t like the suburbs (or the people who live there), so they denigrate them and the people in them. At some point yay cities becomes boo suburbs. I don’t quite understand why that is, but whatever makes you feel better about your choice, right? 

You don’t like the suburbs? Bully for you. I do. Bully for me. But I don’t have to justify my choice by denigrating yours.

June 6, 1944: Souviens-Toi

US GIs Marching to the Docks June 1944

70 years ago today, thousands of Allied men crossed the English Channel to land on the beaches of Normandy to help defeat European fascism. 

Anyone with a passing general knowledge of history knows about D-Day and its significance – the war was over less than a year later. This montage of then-and-now images published by the Guardian is simply incredible

Less well-known in the US is the fate of the French town of Oradour-sur-Glane. On June 10, 1944, the town was under the control of Vichy France.  That day, a German Panzer division massacred 642 men, women, and children – most of them shot and then burned alive in the town church – for no known reason. It’s suspected that the massacre was in retaliation for the killing of some German soldiers in the area (possibly in another town also named “Oradour”) by the French resistance. 

The French government left the town as it stood on that day. It is a monument to the relentlessly brutal German occupation, and to the innocent victims of Naziism. 

A Peugeot allegedly belonging to the town doctor stands where it was parked as the doctor arrived back to town from a house call just as the round-up of villagers began. 

Via Wikipedia

Here, two visitors walk through the ruins of the village, where time stood still. 

Via Wikipedia

 

Via Oradour.info

Racist Assault at a Cheektowaga Dollar General (Update)

Do you know this woman? 

She’s got some interesting views on race. Put another way, this is on the front page of Reddit as of Wednesday morning. 

My favorite part is when she’s on the phone (depicted above) with, ostensibly, her husband and rhetorically asks, (around 2:30) “oh, he knows the cops? How many cops have I stripped for? “

This woman is not only allowed to walk the streets of Cheektowaga, she’s got two kids in front of whom she’s yelling “ni**er” at a Black man whose only offense was to start his car when her boy was nearby, apparently startling him. 

Maybe we can set aside the facile Buffalo exceptionalism for a moment and revisit the idea that our people are no better or worse, necessarily, than those anywhere else in the United States. Perhaps instead of “everything is awesome”, we can use incidents such as these to identify and treat a racist cancer plaguing a place that has acute resentments borne out of ignorance and economic hardship. 

This woman is a symptom of a much larger problem that our #Buffalove tends too often to brush aside. 

UPDATE: She called in to WBLK to defend herself. We learn: 

1. Her name is “Janelle Ambrosia”; 

2. She’s having a very bad day; 

3. The man who took the video “almost hit” her kid with his car, but did not hit anyone with anything; 

4. The man who took the video allegedly called her a “crackhead cracker”; 

5. She thinks that someone shouldn’t be able to post videos – “ex-specially” of her kids – on YouTube; and

6. She is unapologetic – “what am I supposed to do? Apologize?” 

 

Kathy’s Clownshoes Congress Campaign: So Far

Photograph by the author 2009

Here is the updated compendium of Weppner posts that have appeared here since she decided to run for Congress. 

In terms of politics, opinions, and pronouncements, there’s hardly much difference between Weppner’s lunatic ravings and Chris Collins’ constant drumbeat of anti-middle class millionaire resentment; it’s a very fine line between WBEN caller and representative from NY-27. 

A few weekends ago, the Buffalo News’ Jerry Zremski picked oversome of the more malodorous parts of the Weppner mindswamp, and asked her for an interview. She declined, and agreed instead to answer via email. The result was a glorious, factual recitation of some of the things she’s promoted and said, and her weak explanations for them. (Weppner Vetted 3/24/14) Much of it surrounded her very outspoken involvement in the “birther” nonsense, questioning whether Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, or part of some half-century-long conspiracy to overthrow America. 

The candidate’s response to Zremski’s article was jaw-droppingly horrible. (Kathy Weppner Tries to Explain; Fails 3/25/14) I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. The passive-aggressive whining about being on vacation, the declaration of war on the librul meediya. 

Among Weppner’s defenses was that she was just asking questions, like everyone else, about the birther issue, and other halfhearted denials about being part of some wider birther movement. A quick listen to an online radio show on which Weppner appeared reveals not only that she was more than just “asking questions”, she was an active believer in the lunatic rantings of the fringe dead-ender birther movement. (How Not To Be A Birther, By Kathy Weppner 3/26/14). 

Now, much of the information that the Buffalo News and I had been using to vet Weppner came from recordings of her own WBEN radio show, as well as materials that she published on her blog “str8talk.wordpress.com”. Up until Zremski’s article, that site was still intact. After Zremski’s piece, she began selectively deleting certain passages, such as the racist “White Guilt” article she reprinted, verbatim, without comment. Soon, she took the entire site down altogether, and redirected the url to her campaign website; it remained, however, still visible via the waybackmachine. Finally, by 3/31, her campaign had successfully petitioned Archive.org to remove her entire internet archive from its site, and we are now left with not a single piece of evidence that she ever published a blog or had a radio show. Despite the fact that she proudly touts her WBEN radio show on her campaign bio, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any lasting evidence of its existence. (Kathy Weppner: So Proud of Her Radio Program She Deleted All Evidence of It 3/31/14). 

All we’re left with now is transcripts of her several calls to the Rush Limbaugh radio program.  Everyone knows who Rush Limbaugh is – he’s the fascist, racist, drug-addled, misogynist radio troll who spits hatred on a daily basis over the publicly owned airwaves. 

In 2008, Weppner called in with a particularly dumb theory about how Hillary Clinton was going to get the Democratic nomination because Obama was such a racist who “bathed his children” in hatred of white people.  Also, “October Surprise” and other such half-baked nonsense. (Kathy From Williamsville Calls Rush Limbaugh in 2008 3/31/14). That same day, I found a campaign image on her Facebook page that used the House seal, in direct violation of federal law. (Kathy Weppner Violates Federal Law 3/31/14)

In 2011, Weppner called Limbaugh to vent about how people need to start attending tea party rallies, or else we’d have “nothing left”. Also, her kids are serving in the military to protect things like Chris Lee and sovereign debt. It was a quick recitation of a couple of dopey talking points generating no discussion whatsoever. (Kathy Weppner: Why Are American Troops Fighting for Shirtless Chris Lee? 4/2/14). 

This one is one of my favorites – Kathy Weppner complaining about how no one from Congress held any town hall meetings in WNY so she and her cohorts could go and disrupt them. Yet she is so deathly afraid of the opinions and pronouncements that she spat when no one was looking, she deleted all evidence of them. I can only hope that Weppner takes her own advice and hosts some town halls.  I have some questions for her. (Kathy Weppner on Town Halls 4/3/14

Weppner called Limbaugh in July 2008 to ramble off a litany of groups whom she resents.

You know, we have ended up with a society where all the people that work in government, all the politicians, the teachers, the firemen, the policemen, all of our state governments, municipalities, and we are in a very heavily governed area here in western New York, all of them are living inside the castle walls, and all of us, everybody else is living outside of the castle walls. And all of the rules they make protect them, where our people, the public employee, they can retire at 55 here and they live to 85.

Yeah! To hell with our first responders and educators! Good talk, Kathy! (Kathy Weppner on Whom She Resents 4/4/14). 

There was the call to Limbaugh in 2009 – just a month after Obummer overthrew ‘Murrka, and Weppner threatened to go Galt because Barry and his cadres were going to just take everything anyway and give it to the lazy takers, (ostensibly the aforementioned teachers, firemen, policemen, and lazy blacks). Meanwhile, I learned that even physicians who receive Mexican medical degrees can earn a tremendous amount of money here in the United States. Weppner. What a card! (Kathy Weppner on Going Galt 4/4/14). (I posted the actual audio here on April 30th). 

We discovered that Weppner’s rag-tag campaign team includes a treasurer who has – interesting – taste in caricatures, and developed a blatant ripoff of mobile app “Angry Birds”, but here we had angry “patriots” killing famous leftists like Al Sharpton and Karl Marx. (Weppner’s Carnival Sideshow 4/9/14)

If you’re looking for a nice yacht, cheap, try Kathy’s! (Weppner Selling Yacht 4/10/14).  We’re waiting for Kathy’s Obamacare report with bated breath! (Guns, Mental Health & Fascism 4/11/14)

Kathy introduced herself to the “girls” of western New York with this amazing video. You see, if women fight for equality, they’re embracing victimhood, or something. (Girls, Can We Talk?(!) 5/11/14)

Mrs. Weppner wrote an amazing piece blasting the Common Core, and calling for the immediate abolition of the Department of Education. Unfortuately, it needed some corrections. (Kathy Weppner’s Common Core Piece 5/23/14).

Here, our plucky tea partyist campaigns quite literally on the graves of our fallen heroes. (Kathy Weppner, Solving All the Problems 5/28/14).

Just hours after a madman went on a shooting rampage in California, Kathy graciously and with utmost sensitivity posted a YouTube video explaining how America was founded on the principle that armed lunatics should have the capability to commit treason at any time. (2nd Amendment and Kathy Weppner 5/29/14)

She then promptly took the video down, without explanation or apology.  She also knows all the things about Ohio fertilizer runoff. (Kathy Weppner’s Clownshoes: Now with Guns and Corn! 5/30/14)

Far be it from me to decide for you whether Ms. Weppner presents a good choice for Congress. I think her words and actions (still waiting for the return of the Str8t Talk archive!) speak for themselves. 

Albany’s Culture of Corruption & Fusion

In your real day-to-day life, does last week’s Zephyr Teachout / Working Families Party brinksmanship with Governor Cuomo matter to you? 

Mr. Langworthy hits on a key point of New York’s fundamentally corrupt electoral fusion system – all of this chasing of third, fourth, and fifth lines involves extortion and bribery.  All of it. Every single one.

The system is dirty because the system is set up to be dirty. 

You want to be angry about Cuomo dismantling the Moreland Commission on public corruption literally overnight to cut a budget deal? I’m angry, too, and hope the US Attorney in Manhattan truly does pursue what scraps he’s been able to gather. Asking Albany to clean house reminds me of Jesse Pinkman, the young henchman from Breaking Bad, attending group drug counseling so he can sell meth to other attendees. 

 But the system itself can’t be reformed as long as fusion is permitted to be legal. You can bet that just about very time a politico chases a minor party fusion line, there’s some degree of corruption afoot. The “Independence Party” is the worst, but they’re all cut from the same cloth. 

It really doesn’t get any simpler. If you want to end Albany’s culture of corruption, you have to end Albany’s culture of corruption. Just. Do. It. 

If you’re like I am, do you draw any comfort or satisfaction from the fact that Cuomo is equally reviled on both the hard left and hard right? 

Donn Esmonde, Ass and Other Things

1. The Buffalo News’ Jerry Zremski has an interesting piece about Williamsville native Andrea Bozek, the current head of communications for the National Republican Campaign Committee. Tagged as fighting a war on the “war on women”, the actual substance of the piece reveals something quite different. Rendered an embarrassment by the ignorant mouth-noises of some Republican politicians and commentators, the Republicans realize that they need to attract women by, e.g., not repelling them. So, she’s not so much going after Democrats as much as she is counseling Republicans to tamp down any misogynistic utterances or actions they might be contemplating, and to focus on a handful of issues affecting contemporary women that won’t offend any Republican principles. 

The fact that this sort of thing is novel or revolutionary is the story, here. 

2. Back when a few Clarence parents put together a hit list of “offensive” books, (articles here and here) I wrote this to Donn Esmonde, the tea party retiree who inexplicably continues to write for the Buffalo News: 

Mr. Esmonde, 

Last year, you threw every Clarence family who believes not just in public education, but excellence in public education, under the bus. Specifically, you wrote about Marlene Wacek, Lisa Thrun, and the Showalters in glowing terms about how hard they were working to prevent runaway spending (which didn’t exist) and runaway taxes (which was, at best, a wild tea partyesque oversimplification of the facts).  You told all of us working diligently to maintain funding that they wouldn’t really cut anything – that these threats were part of a  “false choice”. 

They weren’t false at all, but you never corrected yourself.  All the threatened cuts to teachers, programs, sports, classes, and electives took place. Families had to scramble to raise money to restore some of what we lost. 

You never addressed how wrong you were about the emptiness of the threats because you saw everything through your facile suburbs-suck lens. 

Well, the Showalter-Lahti family (Roger Showalter and Jason Lahti are related by marriage, and both are now on our school board) are creating a brand-new crisis out of whole cloth. Showalter’s sister & Lahti’s wife Ginger Showalter-Lahti has circulated a letter demanding the banning of certain books and texts, and her husband has added this as an item on the agenda. 

These are the people whom you so uncritically promoted as a new breed of school reformer. I hope you’re satisfied. 

(Here is the letter Mrs. Lahti has circulated to certain, selected local families: http://www.scribd.com/doc/211263269/Clarence-School-Curriculum-Letter-March-2014  Here is the letter I sent to the school board: http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/2014/03/09/clarence-schools-urged-to-ban-books/

Some “reformer” you’ve found.

Surprisingly, Donn Esmonde never replied to me. He can dish it out, but can’t take it. Mostly because he’s an asshole who can’t be bothered to defend himself or admit he’s wrong, but also because the whole debacle was an acute embarrassment for him. 

Here’s another one. 

Detestable creature that he is, Esmonde whines about how – boo hoo – a lot of suburban electeds aren’t going to show up for the new urbanism conference that’s being held in Buffalo this coming week. So, he’s trying to shame them.

“It’s disappointing,” said George Grasser, urbanologist and co-chairman of the CNU host committee. “These are the people who can change zoning laws to spur development, who foot the cost for sprawl. This is all about making their communities more livable. They should be here.” Tell it, George.

If our village mayors, town superintendents and council members drop in on even a few of the dozens of CNU events, tours or presentations, they will be less likely to sign off on awful, neighborhood-assaulting hotels; ugly strip malls; Lego-like office buildings; stores fronted by parking lots; and vehicle-first, people-last communities – all of it hard-wired by zoning laws from a previous, car-centric century.

That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? “Liveable”? It used to be “walkable”. Who is to determine what is and isn’t “livable”? Isn’t the homeowner the best arbiter of what is “livable”? Who would move to our suburban ticky-tacky if it wasn’t “livable”.

Zoning codes and design standards aren’t sexy. But they make the difference between walkable, people-magnet neighborhoods like Hertel Avenue or Hamburg village, and irredeemably ugly stretches like Harlem Road in Cheektowaga or Niagara Falls Boulevard. A numbing succession of boxy buildings fronted by parking lots is an awful, inedible fruitcake of a “gift” that gets passed from generation to generation. So is the corrosive cost – in tax dollars and urban abandonment – of sprawl.

If sprawl is so horrific, why does it lead to “urban abandonment”? Perhaps it’s a more complicated equation than whether you can walk to the local quinoa stand. 

If nothing else, there is a bottom line that should speak to elected officials: The more livable a place, the higher the property values and greater the tax revenue. It’s no coincidence that values in Elmwood Village soared in recent decades, as more people grasped the appeal of back-to-the-future commercial/residential neighborhoods.

“Livability” involves a lot more than mere walkability and mixed use. It also has to do with functioning government and school district.  It can’t just rely on whether you can walk to the store to buy a pack of gum, but also whether you’re going to need to scramble to enter a lottery for your kid’s school, or pony up for private.

New Urbanism already has traction here. Such villages as Hamburg and Williamsville are recapturing their micro-urban essence. Buffalo is reshaping its future with a progressive “green” zoning code. The downtown waterfront’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” mantra is a CNU staple. What we’ve got, from waterfront grain elevators to walkable villages to a resurrecting downtown, lured CNU here. Many events are open to the public.

Not everywhere wants or needs to be Hamburg and Williamsville. Niagara Falls Boulevard and Transit Road serve their own purpose, just like Delaware Avenue is different from Hertel is different from Elmwood is different from Broadway.

New urbanism is great. Walkability is great. 

But people like Esmonde who proselytize new urbanism to neanderthal suburbanites are like that nightmare friend everyone has who aggressively shoves veganism down everyone’s throat.  There are ways to be something, or to believe something – and even to promote something – that don’t sound like a condescending lecture from an annoying evangelist. 

I wonder what sort of genuine outreach took place between the CNU organizers and suburban electeds – was it an email invitation and a shaming column from Donn Esmonde, or were there visits to planning boards and town boards? Were there in-person pitches or just “your town sucks, you should really go to this”? 

Elmwood Avenue gets a lot of ink and pixels, held up as the model for new urbanism and of what generally should be. But Elmwood Avenue today is not significantly dissimilar from Elmwood Avenue of 10 years ago. The storefronts that aren’t vacant (thanks to short-sighted landlords who demand exorbitant rents and use the empty locations as a tax hedge) are mostly independent local shops.

If we had a vibrant economy, those Elmwood vacancies would be filled, and indies slowly replaced by chains. (Replacing a Blockbuster with a Panera hardly counts). The Gap, Urban Outfitters, Banana Republic, and other mall staples would be filling in the spaces and pushing independents out to new frontiers like Grant Street or Broadway.  We have that small-scale gentrification taking place in fits and starts on Grant, but without the concomitant economic and population growth that happened in places like Brooklyn or Boston’s South End. 

The key to making Buffalo better isn’t to shame suburbanites or laud buildings, but to attract people and their money. While the real estate market is hot in certain Buffalo neighborhoods, we still haven’t tackled the systemic problems that help to prevent population decline or spur population growth and attract wealth. These are people problems – political problems – that no volume of urban planning hand-wringing will solve. 

I get that some town and village executives have day jobs. But there are night and weekend CNU sessions, and a roster of talent that is worth missing work for.

What a condescending ass. 

3. If the new owner of the Buffalo Bills wants a new stadium, he, she, or it will likely build a new stadium. If such a stadium is built, it will likely be done with some contribution from the public through subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives. The hope is that the Bills will stay somewhere in the region, mostly because of the blow it would deal the local psyche if they were to move somewhere else. Esmonde wrote pieces about how Bills fans would shun the team if it moved out of town, and that the Bills need a new owner who “values loyalty over greed“.

So, Esmonde believes that the community values the Bills, and that we should find an unusually ungreedy billionaire to buy the team. If the new owner decides that there’s value to, say, moving the stadium to a different location – perhaps one more convenient to fans from Southern Ontario and parts East – why not examine and support that? Where is the fundamental flaw? If the new owner decides that a retractable roof would draw in more crowds, then this should be looked at closely. If the new owner decides that the best way to keep the team in the region is to fundamentally change the location and design of the team’s physical plant, then do it. 

If moving the stadium so that it can attract big business and big money from the greater Tor-Buff-Chester megaregion, then moving away from the Southtowns might make a lot of sense. 

Neither Esmonde nor the professors whom he cites own or operate an NFL team, so maybe leave that decision up to the people who are taking the economic and political risk of doing that.

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