Hey, It Could Have Been “Damn Ukrainians”

carlThey held the “Yay Carl” rally on the steps of City Hall Wednesday afternoon, and it was sparsely attended. I drove by at around 5:15—Carl was waiting to speak and looking upon his creation—and most of the crowd was made up of reporters and curious passersby.

Carl, of course, went out of his way to promote this rally, sending out two emails to his followers about it in the past week. The Buffalo News reports that there were about 50 Carl supporters, but I question that number—there were about 50 people there altogether.

It was organized by a tea partier from Clarence whom I had to deal with as she worked from January—May to fail the Clarence school budget and elect two wholly unelectable school board candidates. She has no stake in the Buffalo Public Schools, except insofar as she wanted to defend the guy who sent out these emails to prominent western New Yorkers. There is no doubt that some of those emails were racist, many more were hardcore pornography, and all of them were unbecoming a public official, much less one who oversees Buffalo’s educational system.

Her co-organizer is tea partier Jul Thompson, the wife of perennial candidate Rus Thompson. Sources say they’re living in Niagara County now, so query what their stake is in Buffalo city schools, as well. She recently decided that she wanted to re-litigate the authenticity of the aforementioned Carl Paladino emails, and that would be great fun indeed. She also recently addressed the Buffalo School Board and opined on the “insightful” comments of racist white supremacist mass murderer Dylann Roof. Here’s video of it:

That’s pretty amazing to hear.

So, yesterday, she gave a speech to sort of in her own special way explain away Paladino’s “Damn Asians” commentary regarding UB’s International Students.

Hey, everybody! It could have been “damn Ukrainians” that Carl was talking about when he made false accusations against the International students at UB.

But you’ll recall Carl didn’t use Ukrainians because they’re Caucasians—he admittedly had to use a group that looked different. What do we call that again?

There goes that lib’rl media again, askin’ questions and transcribin’ answers!

All of this is a grotesque sideshow of white suburbanites coming to Buffalo to defend the indefensible, especially to tell black people that they really need to STFU about our Carl. You want to like and defend Carl Paladino and the things he writes and says, knock yourself out, but don’t pretend it’s not what it is.

“All of a sudden, I had a brainstorm: Why don’t we have a Pro-Carl Rally and show people in Buffalo how much support Carl really has,”

At most about 50 people, using the Buffalo News’ figure. Then again, most people who work are just leaving at 5.

These people have bought into the Paladino cult of personality, and they don’t so much follow an ideology or type of politics as they do one man. Cults of personality are unseemly; rare in the American body politic, and the easiest gateway to totalitarianism. Ironically—or perhaps just hypocritically—since 2007 these very people have aggressively accused libr’lz of being in the thrall of an Obama personality cult. Now, they organize “spontaneous” rallies of support for their dear leaders and some now back “The Donald” Trump.

All I want to know is, when will they be holding the rally in support of Joe Mascia? After all, Mascia is Carl’s guy. Mascia also owes the Buffalo News over $4,000 for lit they printed for him and he didn’t pay for.

Fusion Voting Jamboree

The 5th Legislative District seat is so hot that people are tripping over themselves to obtain an infinitesimal electoral advantage through ballot shenanigans, including the outrageous and corrupt practice of electoral fusion. “Opportunity to Ballot” petitions were filed for two party lines in that district race. Republican county legislature staffer and Lancaster GOP Committee Chair Robert J. Matthews filed an OTB last Thursday for the Working Families Party – a fusion party not known for its close ties to the anti-labor Republicans. This is the same district where Nick Langworthy filed Green Party petitions for Lynnette Batt.

That’s some abrupt Republican love-fest with left/labor political parties!

An OTB for the Green Party and Working Families Party was also filed in LD-8, currently held by Republican Ted Morton.

All of this is a cheap farce. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dem filing a Green or WFP petition, or a Republican filing a Green or WFP OTB petition. All of it is sleazy, all of it treats the electorate like cattle, and the entire ballot access and fusion systems in New York.

Somewhere recently, I stumbled upon these digital leavings from an obsessed fan:

Alan Bedenko, a local Democratic blogger and self-styled paragon of political virtue, has complained bitterly about these Republican efforts, but remains mysteriously silent on the activities of his pals Poloncarz and Zellner.   Maybe Bendeko wants to safeguard his law firm’s business with Erie County by not biting the hand that feeds?   Or is it Poloncarz appointments he so covets?  At least Langworthy isn’t attempting to steal the Green line.  If he was, he would have circulated an OTB petition for his candidate, Guy Marlette.   Looks like Langworthy didn’t start the war, he’s just playing defense.

I’m not sure that this article was “complaining bitterly” rather than simply pointing out how ridiculous the system has become. My mysterious silence had to do with the simple fact that Langworthy had submitted the petitions in the past tense, while “my pals Poloncarz and Zellner” had done no such thing by that point. So, it would seem to me to be premature to condemn something that hadn’t yet happened; after all, it doesn’t matter for whom you circulate petitions if you don’t file them.

I certainly don’t “covet” any further appointments – my appointment to serve as an unpaid volunteer on the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library board wasn’t something I sought, and I have already disclosed my firm’s representation of Erie County on multiple occasions. So, I suppose I’d respond by noting that probably no one in western New York has written more articles critical of New York’s fusion voting system than I. Indeed, ever since the days of Joe Illuzzi’s politico-financial love affair with one-time Independence Party chair Tony Orsini, I have written countless articles about how fusion and cross-endorsements count among the very roots of corruption in New York politics – unless you abolish fusion, no effort to clean up politics can be successful.

I think that the Green Party’s ballot should be unmolested by Democrats and Republicans alike – I find it unseemly that a Green OTB was filed for any candidate of any other party. As for the others – Working Families, Independence, Conservative – all of them should be forced either to run their own candidates or fold. The Independence fusion Party is a patronage pit designed to trick voters who intended to register as what New York calls “unenrolled”. It’s no accident that, at various times its line has been within the sole control of Steve Pigeon. The Conservative fusion Party also has an unholy alliance with Pigeon from time to time, especially insofar as it helps serve the dual purpose of (a) helping Republicans; and (b) sabotaging the Democratic committee.

As a partisan Democrat (I’m also a committeeman – full disclosure!) I deplore and denounce the use of fusion voting and minor parties, regardless of who’s doing it. All of it is designed to cheapen and degrade our system.

Carl’s Spontaneous Yay Carl Demo

Hey, kids! All those mean people are saying horrible things about Uncle Carl! Won’t you show up to a “support Carl” rally at 5pm Wednesday on the steps of City Hall?

All of your favorite kids from Getty stock photos will be there!

The image, specifically, is called “Kids K through 12th Grade” and here’s what the rally is all about!

Carl even went on WBEN to argue that he’s not a racist! You guys! And from whence did this totally not-at-all-astroturf display of spontaneous affection for our Carl come from?


Carl's Kids!

All the kids say: Yay Carl!

The Heroin Epidemic & Erie County

The Buffalo News’ headline announces that there have been ten heroin overdoses in just 24 hours. People throughout WNY are dying after taking a deadly mixture of heroin and fentanyl. Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein calls it a “public health crisis”. It’s not limited to any one neighborhood or town – it’s regional. We are apparently on track for overdoses to double those of 2014.

In 2007, the Erie County Legislature received $1.4 million from Albany to fund a program “targeting drug abuse among young people.” Then-County Executive Joel Giambra supported the program, and the control board was on board with the county’s participation.

In 2008, new County Executive Chris Collins abruptly pulled the county out of the program before it had even had a chance to begin. Why?

Collins’ deputy, Mark Davis, who has been reviewing a long list of county contracts, deemed it not in the best interest of county taxpayers, aides said.

…Collins administration officials reasoned that county caseworkers already focus on drug abuse, as do numerous not-for-profit organizations. The county also was expected to provide an office and computer equipment for what was going to become a new unit, so the program was not totally free to Erie County taxpayers.

Further, Collins and Davis did not want the 20 new unionized employees, to be represented by Local 815, Civil Service Employees Association, to become the county’s responsibility if the grant money dried up after the first three years, the aides said.

The County under Chris Collins pulled out of a specialized program to tackle drug abuse because “the taxpayer”.

“Under the grant, New York State dictated how the program would run,” said Collins spokesman Grant Loomis, “and the administration does not feel those terms make for an efficient program.”

Loomis said the county is asking the state and its Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services whether Erie can use the money to hire private or nonprofit agencies that target drug abuse.

So, a program that was funded by Albany and approved by a prior administration, the county legislature, and the control board were just set aside unilaterally by Chris Collins. To be fair, Collins had an alternative proposal – that the county would spend the $1.4 million to hire more counselors at ECMC, but that’s not the same.

“I’m really not happy about this,” said Legislator Robert B. Reynolds, D-Hamburg, one of the lawmakers who want to know how Collins can abandon a program, especially one that helps young people, after the Legislature and the control board had approved.

Since Erie is New York’s largest upstate county, with a large number of child-protective cases, it was to be an “evaluation county” whose experience with the program would determine whether it should continue.

At the time, people were scrambling even to find out if what Collins had done was legal. Did he have the authority to simply disregard previously voted-on and approved county actions?

The Legislature gives the county executive authority to sign contracts, but it is unclear what happens when the county executive decides not to or wants to cancel a contract.

The county’s state-appointed Fiscal Stability Authority cannot affect Collins’ decision.

“Under our authority, we review and approve or disapprove county contracts of $50,000 and above,” said Chairman Anthony J. Baynes. “Even if we approve a contract, if someone decides at a later date that they do not want to enter into the contract or to cancel that agreement, that’s not within our scope.”

Collins’ staff is drafting a letter to lawmakers explaining his reasoning. Meanwhile, Legislator Thomas J. Mazur, D-Cheektowaga, is among those who want an opinion from the Legislature’s new lawyer.

“I don’t think he can just pull the plug on a project like that,” Mazur said.

The County Legislature reacted in May 2008 with a resolution, “Opposition to the County Executive’s Termination of a 100% State-Funded Grant to Provide Substance Abuse Services for At-Risk Families“:

2008 Erie County Resolution Re: Substance Abuse

The matter was referred to the committee on health and human services, and the only member to vote against sending it to the full legislative body was Ed Rath. The full legislature voted on the resolution, and the minutes record: “MR. MAZUR moved to approve item Number 3. MR. REYNOLDS seconded. MR. MILLS, MR. RANZENHOFER, MR. RATH and MS. IANNELLO voted in the negative. CARRIED. (10-4).”

In hindsight, it’s shameful and anti-democratic that the County Executive was permitted to simply refuse to implement a program that the legislature and his predecessor had pushed forward and approved, with support from the control board. Government ought to help and protect its poorest and most vulnerable, and Mr. Collins – who has since been promoted to Congress – not only abdicated that role repeatedly during his tenure as County Executive, but did so by simply ignoring duly enacted laws and procedures. Having pledged to run government “like a business”, I’d be wary of any business that would act with such cavalier disregard to the dictates of its board of directors. I’d avoid any business that would refuse to participate in a cost-free program to help vulnerable customers struggling with substance abuse.

Let’s Talk about Iran

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Economic sanctions have been known to work in the past. We punished the South African apartheid government with sanctions, and that helped bring about change. Burma had suffered under sanctions for years until it decided to re-join the world community a few years ago. We sold Pepsi-Cola to the Soviet Union, and communism fell in 1991. Sanctions haven’t ousted Cuba’s or North Korea’s regime, nor did they prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons.

We’ve been engaged in a cold war with Iran since the 1979 Islamist coup that overthrew the Shah, and the subsequent hostage crisis. Even Ronald Reagan didn’t go to war against Iran, choosing instead to fund and supply Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, and ultimately to illegally sell arms to Iran and use the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Yet after all that, Iran is still a theocracy led by mullahs, and Sandinista Daniel Ortega is back in power in Nicaragua.

Sanctions have had a negative effect on Iran, and they have not been one-sided since the US teamed with China, Russia, Germany, the UK, and France to engage Iran in negotiations over its nuclear ambitions. It was the sanctions that brought Iran to the bargaining table. After months of negotiations, there is a treaty that will gradually lift sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to shut down – or at least delay – its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. This is no small thing – our refusal to engage Iran only emboldened it to grow its nuclear program by leaps and bounds over the last decade and a half.

This Fox News “analysis” finds that 70% of Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability came about while Obama has been President. But it isn’t about us – it’s been growing steadily from zero in 2000. Calling Iran part of the “axis of evil” and imposing sanctions barely put a dent in their plans. Confronted with this reality, we have two choices: war or diplomacy. The US and its negotiating partners chose the latter. War, as we’ve seen – not learned – in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, can be as ineffective as it is blood-soaked.

The Iranian government is no friend of the United States. Neither, for that matter, are China or Russia. But Germany, France, and the UK are, and two of those allies are run by conservative governments. The proposed Iran deal doesn’t contain everything the United States wanted, but Iran walks away having made concessions, too. That’s the nature of diplomacy and negotiation – everyone gives up something, everyone walks away somewhat disappointed.

But now we have the spectacle of the American right taking up common cause with Iranian extremists, united in the notion that this deal is a colossal disaster. The new, ultra-right Israeli government is opposed because it says the deal doesn’t go far enough, yet the only alternatives are status quo or war. Israel is under constant threat from Iran, and is surrounded by enemies, some of whom are funded by Iran. Others have complained that the Iran deal doesn’t free American prisoners or other tangential concessions. This is true, but what recent history has shown us is that bringing a malefactor in from the cold can have a moderating effect on its behavior.

For as long as the US has maintained an economic embargo against Cuba, that island’s Communists have been able to use that as an excuse for its own failures, and as a rallying cry to perpetuate that aging revolution. Now that relations with Cuba are slowly being normalized, Cuba becomes less isolated, less able to cast blame on discontinued scapegoats. Change might be hastened through engagement. The Iranian people showed the world a few years ago that they are eager for freedom and democracy. The simple fact is that Iran has the potential to be a stabilizing force in the Middle East. Obviously, we have a very long way to go before that might happen, but we’re already informally aligned with Tehran in the fight against ISIS, especially in Iraq, which has effectively become an Iranian client state. The enemy, after all, of my enemy is my friend.

The neoconservatives’ thesis was that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would help to stabilize the Middle East and improve Israeli security. We got the exact opposite result. The Arab Spring’s other short-term successes have also generally turned into catastrophic failures, with few exceptions. The problem is that these countries – these peoples – have never known what it is to be a free democracy. All of them have been colonized and oppressed, manipulated and beaten into submission. What military might and the secret police couldn’t accomplish, religious extremism filled the gaps. During the cold war, we’d align ourselves with whomever opposed the communists, including religious fanatics. Engagement with Iran and verification of compliance with this treaty can lead to serious, perhaps productive discussions about not only American prisoners in Iran, but also Iran’s behavior as a regional power. Iran, after all, isn’t Iraq. It’s far more advanced, much more diverse, has an exceedingly different history.

I harbor no illusions that this deal with Iran is going to further moderate that country’s regime, nor that its hostility towards Israel will diminish, or that it will become some overnight good international actor. Not that these things are impossible – just unlikely. I also don’t trust the Iranian regime any more than I trust Putin’s Russia or the PR China. However, we have diplomatic relations and engage in negotiations with myriad governments and states whom we don’t especially like or trust. We have an opportunity here to at least partially set aside two generations’ worth of existential hostility and take a small step towards building a more stable Middle East – one less threatened by a putative nuclear Iran tomorrow than yesterday. It bears mentioning that, even with this deal, the US will maintain its own trade embargo and sanctions until Iran stops exporting and funding terrorism.

An economically crippled Iran is a threatened Iran, and what better way for it to perpetuate its own aging revolution than to export war and misery in the name of Allah? The notion that tightening sanctions would force the Iranians to give more ground is ludicrous; the suggestion that we back it up with a threat of force – no matter how vague or specific – is even worse. After all of these negotiations with the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, in what way does it advance American interests to jettison this deal? It would effectively mean that the United States does not negotiate in good faith and cannot be trusted – exactly the thing we accuse the Iranians of doing and being. If the UK’s Conservative PM David Cameron is on board with this deal, what possible reason would there be for an American conservative to be opposed? Seriously, if Angela Merkel – who just brought Greece to its financial knees – if on board, how is this some sort of appeasement? The Economist explains,

… the problem faced by those who would like to see the deal collapse is that they have yet to offer any attractive alternatives. Ordinary Iranians are desperate to get back to having a normal economy, while American voters have little appetite for going to war with Iran to prevent it getting a nuclear weapon. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted just before the agreement on April 2nd was announced, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restricts the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions, by a nearly two to one margin.

And this, from the Atlantic,

In 1943, Walter Lippmann wrote that “foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power.” If your commitments exceed your power, he wrote, your foreign policy is “insolvent.” That aptly describes the situation Obama inherited from Bush.

Obama has certainly made mistakes in the Middle East. But behind his drive for an Iranian nuclear deal is the effort to make American foreign policy “solvent” again by bringing America’s ends into alignment with its means. That means recognizing that the United States cannot bludgeon Iran into total submission, either economically or militarily. The U.S. tried that in Iraq.

The risk of an Iran re-introduced into the world economy is that it will use that to wreak more havoc throughout the region. On the other hand, there is a possibility that it will moderate its rhetoric and actions, finding that it’s easier to govern when your people and their economy isn’t weighted down by sanctions. No one says Iran will become a responsible international actor overnight, or for that matter, ever. But without a deal, Iran will have a nuclear weapon practically on-demand. With a deal, that will not be the case. An Iran without nuclear weapons is preferable to the alternative.

Let’s Talk about Donald Trump

Yesterday, Donald Trump, who is of German ancestry (Drumpf), Tweeted this:

It was quickly deleted after people like John Schindler pointed out that the troops shown in the red stripe are, in fact, wearing the uniform of the dreaded Nazi Waffen-SS, the war criminals who ran the death camps.

The ad would also work this way,

Don’t let’s forget that Trump was feted by the local Republican committee, which urged him to run for Governor against Cuomo.

Let’s Talk about “Mistakes Were Made” in Campaign Finance

Dream deeply - Google Chrome 2015-07-13 15.08.57

Everyone makes mistakes. The more charitable among us ask people to learn from them, lest they be repeated.

When it comes to issues relating to New York’s already comically lax and porous campaign finance regulations, mistakes can certainly be tolerated, but only up to a point.

After a while, “mistakes were made” becomes a convenient excuse uttered to avoid criminal liability.

One of the first things a student of criminal law learns is to define “mens rea” and “actus reus”. The latter is the commission of an illegal act – anything from stealing a piece of candy to murder. The former involves the trickier question of intent. The penalty for the illegal act of homicide is different for intentional murder as opposed to accidental manslaughter. It can even be excused altogether in the case of, say, self-defense. Therefore, it behooves someone caught doing something wrong to simply say it was an accident – a mistake or clerical error.

That might make a prosecutor’s job more difficult, but intent is usually proven through circumstantial evidence.

The Buffalo News published a story on Sunday written by Bob McCarthy, but the information therein was clearly supplied by Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr. McCarthy and Mohr explain that the Buffalo Republican Committee is out of money, and that its prior chairman stands accused of draining its treasury by making donations to political committees controlled by rogue nominal Democrat G. Stephen Pigeon.

Pigeon is believed to be a target of the state and federal investigations into campaign finance illegalities we’ve come to know as “Preetsmas“. At least since his ouster as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee, Pigeon has made a career of of attracting and funnelling big money to thwart the Democratic Party and help transactional malefactors like Pedro Espada, or the Republican Party, as happened in Erie County in 2009 and 2013. He stands accused of doing this through careful manipulation and exploitation of the outer edges of campaign finance legality. When he or his lieutenants push through the regulatory envelope, they can just say it was a clerical error; a mistake; inadvertent.

But they’ve been doing this for years. They’re professionals. This is what they do. Nothing is a mistake – all of it is calculated, based on the presumption of regulatory and prosecutorial distraction and inaction.

The Buffalo Republican Committee contributed a jaw-dropping $9,200 in October 2014 alone, and none of the recipients of that money accounted for it in mandatory reporting to the state Board of Elections. $4,700 of that was donated to yet another, hitherto unpaid-attention-to Steve Pigeon ratfcking PAC called “WNY Freedom”.

Pigeon set up “WNY Freedom” in late 2013, around the same time that the Preetsmas target WNY Progressive Caucus (a/k/a “AwfulPAC“) was winding its activities down. Its first donations, as the News reported, came from Carl Paladino.

Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino, who also is not suspected of any wrongdoing, said Pigeon asked him to donate $1,000 in October 2013 – immediately after the WNY Progressive Caucus raised $267,000 for opponents of candidates backed by Pigeon adversaries in Democratic headquarters.

For some reason, Carl didn’t just send a check for $1,000, but instead broke it down into five separate $200 donations made by five separate Carl-controlled LLCs, making good use of New York’s execrable LLC loophole.

“WNY Freedom” filed “no activity” statements in every 2014 financial disclosure report to the State BOE, which leads me to believe that Pigeon was planning to use it for whatever Pigeoning sabotage he was planning to undertake against Democrats during the 2015 election cycle – a sabotage that has been thwarted thanks to a distraction courtesy of state and federal investigators. And that’s the problem, because the city Republicans gave WNY Freedom $4,700.

Paladino told the News that he gave the money to Pigeon’s PAC because

He said he viewed the city GOP and Pfaff as helpful toward building a new majority on the School Board, but never knew how his donation would be used.

We still don’t, as WNY Freedom has never disclosed any expenditures whatsoever. It is true, however, that Pfaff helped Paladino by assisting in gathering petitions for Patty Pierce, Paladino’s majority ally on the school board. It should be noted that Pfaff lives in Kenmore.

Pigeon earlier this year blamed “clerical errors” for discrepancies in figures reported to the Board of Elections for purchases of television advertising by the WNY Progressive Caucus and the actual amounts spent at local stations.

Pfaff, meanwhile, acknowledged mistakes in keeping WNY Progressive Caucus records, especially in reporting that Pigeon received $25,000 from the committee for consulting services. Though Pfaff acknowledged listing the $25,000 as an expenditure, he called it a mistake. He and Pigeon said the money was never received, with Pigeon blaming “sloppy” record-eeping for the entry in the campaign reports.

Pfaff now claims more mistakes and problems communicating with the state board for the failure to record any donations to WNY Freedom.

Pfaff went on to claim that the state board didn’t recognize that he had replaced someone else as treasurer of WNY Freedom. It’s true that the state BOE lists a Franklin Street address for WNY Freedom, not Pfaff’s Kenmore address. But it would have been incumbent on Pfaff to take affirmative steps to make the necessary changes and disclosures – not wait until July 2015 when Bob McCarthy starts calling. The Buffalo Republicans went from $20,000 to $450 in one reporting cycle.

“Two guys came in and gave me their card. We had a pleasant chat,” he said. “I did not knowingly or willingly break election law. I just don’t do that.

“There was poor record-keeping and poor filing,” he added. “I don’t do this for a living, I do it to help out people. And people make mistakes.”

They sure do, but how long have David Pfaff and Steve Pigeon been doing stuff? Over a decade? How do you not know to accomplish one of the most basic things – disclosing contributions made to the political committee for which you’re supposedly treasurer. And if Pfaff wasn’t the treasurer, then it was the treasurer’s duty to do it correctly. This is neither rocket science nor some obscure trap for the unwary.

Former Buffalo Republican Treasurer Joseph J. Surdyk Jr. last September initially made out his committee’s check to People for Accountable Government, another Pigeon-connected independent committee that was active in the 2008 campaign. According to a copy of the check obtained by The News, Surdyk then crossed out People for Accountable Government as payee and substituted WNY Freedom.

Although things are somewhat quiet on the Preetsmas front, don’t for a second think that Kristy Mazurek and Steve Casey have been taking the summer off. They both carried petitions for Michele Brown, a Family Court candidate, and for Mike Drmacich, who is running for Tonawanda City Court. I’m still trying to figure out why Drmacich has a picture with Conservative fusion Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo on his website.

As for Pfaff, who is now on staff with Senator Marc Panepinto, his name has come up repeatedly throughout this Preetsmas holiday season; (here, here, here, here, here, and here). He has been politically involved for years, most of that time as one of Pigeon’s worker bee.

There’s no way “mistakes were made” here, just like no mistakes were made in any of this. Everything that is happening was undertaken deliberately, with the expectation that nothing would come of it; that even if the authorities got wise to it, there’d be a slap on the wrist.

The only “mistake” that was made was overplaying their hand in 2013 and catching the attention of the county and state Boards of Election, and the office of the Attorney General and U.S. Attorney.

Let’s Talk About the Eastern Hills Mall

Rendering of the "Amherst Town Centre"

Rendering of the “Amherst Town Centre”

I’ve lived in western New York for almost fifteen years – all of them in the Northtowns. I have visited the Eastern Hills Mall countless times – mostly to pick up something quick that wasn’t worth a trip to another municipality. As land values surrounding that mall have gone up and people have moved into East Amherst, Williamsville, and Clarence, I’ve waited for someone to invest some money into that place and make it at least nice.

New owners a decade or so ago put a new sign up on Transit and brought in a Dave & Busters, an Orvis, and even a Brooks Brothers 346 store. There’s a Gap, a Spencer’s, and a handful of other stuff, but it’s like an appendix – it’s there, but if you lost it you’d never know the difference. Dave & Busters is leaving, Brooks Brothers is gone, and Orvis is your go-to place for overpriced fishing supplies and $100 casual shirts.

I’ve seen some pretty nice re-dos of old malls – the Yorkdale in Toronto comes to mind. But the Eastern Hills Mall is tired and unpleasant. It’s a sad mall surrounded by crumbling surface parking that’s used more often for Transitown’s overflow inventory and teaching motorcycle operation rather than accommodating thousands of putative disappointed shoppers.

The Eastern Hills Mall needs to be demolished, at least in part. In its place, the owners should build the region’s first lifestyle center. That’s what the owners of the Nanuet Mall did in Rockland County a few years ago, and the difference is night & day.

Both the Eastern Hills and Nanuet Malls were built around the same time – ca. 1970. Here’s what Nanuet used to look like:

And here’s what the Eastern Hills Mall looks like today:

And here’s what the Nanuet Mall looks like now, reconstituted as the “Shops at Nanuet”:

In Nanuet, they turned the old anchor stores – Macy’s and Sears, for example, into free-standing department stores, but tore down the mall and transformed it into a little walkable neighborhood. It’s got sidewalks, angle parking, the buildings are built to the curb, and you can walk around just like in the olden days.

I realize it’s not the Elmwood Village or even East Aurora or Main Street in Williamsville. It’s manufactured, it’s fake, and it’s a managed shopping center property. It’s still a mall, albeit one designed like an old-fashioned downtown. As malls have become less popular, many have been reconstituted into “lifestyle centers” – something popular throughout the country, but non-existent in WNY. Benderson, now based in Florida, owns and manages many lifestyle centers down South. It proposed one for Maple in Amherst where the gun range used to be near UB, but the neighborhood killed that, so now it’s just overgrown weeds.

Here are renderings that Benderson commissioned for what was going to be called the “Amherst Town Centre“. It would have boasted not only retail, but a hotel, second-floor office space, and a residential component- a true mixed-use development, and it would have been a first for WNY and introduced our strip-mall obsessed region to something new. One was also proposed for Clarence on Transit at Miles, but both projects died sometime before 2010. Clarence has a strict master plan, and re-zoning can be a difficult maze to navigate.

Aside from being more aesthetically pleasing than an early 70s mall with 80s upgrades, lifestyle centers tend to cater to upscale consumers, and the Eastern Hills Mall is surrounded by some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in WNY. They require less real estate, and generate more revenue per square foot.

So, Glenmont MDC Eastern Hills LLC, if you’re reading this, tear it down and build something that isn’t horribly ugly. Build it closer to Transit, replace some of that disused parking with something – anything (trees? park? ice rink facility?) and drag Transit Road into the 21st century.




Chances are pretty good that Preetsmas has at least temporarily put the kibosh on any potential Pigeoning of Democratic races for the county legislature. So, the Republicans have to come up with a different way to futz with Erie County’s Democrats. But it’s not just the Republicans – Democrats in myriad races have also decided to try and add a party line because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The way to run without a party’s imprimatur is through an “opportunity to ballot”.

So it is that Lynette Batt, an 87 year-old Green Party member filed nominating petitions Thursday with the Erie County Board of Elections for the 5th legislative district, the seat currently occupied by Democrat Tom Loughran. The Green Party is unique among New York’s minor parties in that it never issues Wilson Pakulas; that is to say, it won’t play the electoral fusion cross-endorsement game that enriches and empowers the Independence, Conservative, and Working Families Parties. The only way for a non-Green Party member to get on the “G” ballot is via OTB. For their part, the Republicans are running Guy Marlette, so running Batt would be a handy way for the GOP to hurt Loughran and split the left-of-center vote.

Green Party State Committee Co-Chair Gloria Mattera doesn’t know who Batt is, and says the party had nothing whatsoever to do with it. She explained that, “I heard that several people in Erie County were circulating ‘opportunity to ballot’ petitions, and the state committee sent out an email blast asking members to not sign any blank nominating petitions.” Erie County Green Party Committee Chairman Eric Jones, who filed petitions to run for County Executive against Mark Poloncarz, confirms that his committee knew nothing about Ms. Batt or her candidacy, and that he first heard about her “candidacy” on Monday.

Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy personally delivered the 5 pages of petitions to the Erie County BOE on Batt’s behalf.

According to Jones, the only legitimate Green Party candidates are Jones himself, Charles Tarr, who is running for the Niagara District Council seat in Buffalo, and Anthony Baney, running in LD-3 for the Peter Savage seat. Anyone else – DiTullio, Bargnesi, Freedman, Brinkworth, Batt, JaHarr Pridgen, and other judicial candidates (for whom the rules are different), filed an opportunity to ballot, a particularly arcane piece of New York Election Law that the Green Party would actually like to see abolished, according to Mattera. The Greens don’t just not like all this – they think it’s unconstitutional.

The Green Party pointed out that Cuomo’s proposal is similar to the existing opportunity to ballot law, which the Greens and other ballot law experts contend is unconstitutional. The existing law allows non-party members to force a primary with the opportunity for party members to write in any candidate they want by collecting signatures.

Under the opportunity to ballot, the board of elections says, “Party members may also circulate petitions to create the opportunity to write in the name of an unspecified person for an office in which there is no contest for the party endorsement.” Batt is a Green Party member, and the process is described as follows,

We have had experience with local Republican judge candidates tricking local Green Party enrollees into signing their Opportunity to Ballot petitions (method 2) to get onto the Green Party ballot line. The Republican candidate never explained what their party registration was or what the petition was for. The Green Party members just assumed that anyone bringing them petitions must be Green Party members also. When the Green Party members found out they had been deceived they worked, successfully, to keep the Republican from getting the Green Party line.

To be clear – both Democrats and Republicans have circulated Green petitions in judicial races this cycle. The party has such a small enrollment – 1,551 in Erie County – that the number of petition signatures needed to get on a ballot (especially in a place like Clarence or Alden) is microscopic. It’s an easy way for a candidate to get his name on an extra line with little effort.

What all of this amounts to is a further illustration of just how ridiculous New York’s electoral system has become. It’s a free-for-all where Republicans circulate Green Party petitions. It’s one thing for a candidate to circulate them to get an additional line – stupid as it is, that’s how the state system works. But in LD-5, the Republicans didn’t circulate OTB petitions for Marlette to get the G line – they are running an actual G candidate to divert a small handful of votes away from the Democratic incumbent.

Godly Hate and Christlike Crimes

IMG_0548_JPGOn Twitter, someone posted a piece of this story, so I reached out to the actual victim to find out what happened. Dan and Alexandra Palmer of North Buffalo sometimes flew a flag that looked like this, alternating it with a Buffalo flag.

The Buffalo flag came down and the US rainbow flag went up when the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same sex marriage came down a few weeks ago. Dan Palmer says,  “I made it a point to fly the rainbow. My wife and I are not gay, bi, or trans but we support equal rights for all people.”

On Monday morning, the couple awoke to find the flag burned on their front lawn with a note placed on top of it. Police and neighbors were milling about. Here is what they saw:

Here is the note that the perpetrator placed on top of his handiwork,

“You have dishonored the flag, Christ ______ the symbol of America, the nation that I love. Just enough _________ You have twisted the flag so many men and women have _______ protect all that it stands for, and in doing so offended not only myself, but the very religion this country was founded upon. The rainbow was the L-RD’s way, the L-RD’s message to all mankind that never again would the earth be destroyed by flood. Homosexuals have taken his message and used it for the symbol of something he does not approve of, and furthermore disgraced my nation’s flag. From now on, whenever and wherever another abomination of a ‘flag’, I will burn it so long _______ gasoline. You can raise your flag, and I will raise ________.

Uncle Sam”

Palmer explains that, “we weren’t able to touch anything, smooth the creases or move the rocks because the police wanted them as evidence. And I was a bit surprised at how seriously they took the situation. There were 3 patrol cars and a detective in an unmarked vehicle. They interviewed as many neighbors as they could rouse, took what evidence they could, searched the block for matching rocks (found in a garden a few doors down.)”

One of the things that flag stands for – whether it has red and white stripes or a rainbow – is freedom and liberty. Your neighborhood homophobe arsonist might, for instance, fly a confederate flag. You don’t have to like it or what it stands for, but you have no right to come onto his property, remove the flag, and burn it with gasoline. That’s a crime.

Likewise, a homophobic firebug who happens upon a rainbow American flag doesn’t have to like it, and can be as “offended” as he wants, but that doesn’t give him a license to commit theft, vandalism, and arson. Palmer adds, “I am also a strong supporter of free speech, even for folks with whom I strongly disagree. If the individual responsible for this wanted to sit on his (or her) own lawn and burn his property, he’d only be wasting his own time and money, as well as doing his neighbors the service of letting them know what a dumbass he is (knowledge that could come in handy,) but this clearly crosses a line”

The Palmers promise to replace the burned flag, and many neighbors express that they will do the same. Palmer, however, has some concerns, “I do not want to cave to bullying or let hate win. But I am concerned about the safety of myself and my family. It’s chilling to think that this was far from an impulsive act. Someone took the time to write out that letter. They obviously stood by and waited for the flag to burn before leaving it.”

I’m heartened by the fact that the police are taking this matter seriously, and sincerely hope that the content and style of the note helps the authorities catch whoever committed this act of hatred. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the perpetrator, when caught, will be charged with a hate crime, which would render something like criminal trespass to be a “violent felony offense”.

Trespass, theft, and arson don’t constitute the free exercise of religion or free speech. Stop using God to justify hate, crime, and hate crimes.

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