Clarence Redefines Adaptive Reuse

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The town of Clarence’s Industrial Development Agency is doling out welfare to a multimillion-dollar development being planned on Transit Road. The IDA approved tax incentives for Russ Salvatore, Jr.’s plan for a mixed-use complex near Casey Road under its “adaptive reuse” policy. Unfortunately, however, Salvatore demolished all the structures on the parcel, thus rendering any “adaptive reuse” wholly impossible. 

Salvatore’s project may be laudable in every way, but here it invites public scrutiny because it is applying for an opportunity not to pay sales and property taxes that would otherwise be due. 

The town of Clarence is a sleepy exurb that has beautiful parkland, wide open spaces, quaint neighborhoods, and sprawling subdivisions. On its website, the Clarence IDA boasts having created 500 jobs in the last 10 years. A public benefit corporation, the IDA exists to assist businesses that locate and grow within the town. The IDA does this, in part, by offering tax incentives such as sales tax relief on construction materials and equipment, assistance with bonding and leasing, and other tax exemptions. 

New York has high taxes and thick red tape. Since no one is serious about changing the state’s business inhibition schemes, the incentives that IDAs like Clarence’s dole out are meant to counteract the general burden of “New York” in exchange for job creation and, usually, payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). These incentives are not available to you as a member of the general public – there is a process that must be followed before an applicant is considered worthy of the tax breaks. From the IDA’s minutes from the public hearing held April 21st

This project is eligible for adaptive re-use and it is in the Transit Road Enhancement Area. It will be a 20,000 sq. ft. office mixed use building including residential and retail use. The project amount is approximately $2.5M. The assistance will include mortgage tax abatement and sales tax on materials and/or equipment purchased for incorporation into the Project. There will be no property tax abatement. 

The Erie County IDA defines “Adaptive Reuse” as, “rehabilitating buildings that have been empty for three years or more and are at least 20 years old.” The strategy behind this policy has to do with the large local inventory of distressed, aging properties and the unique – often prohibitively expensive – challenges companies face when considering the possibility of renovating a long-abandoned structure into something new. What adaptive reuse is not, is the demolition of existing structures and starting from scratch with a parcel of shovel-ready land.

Yet, that’s exactly what Salvatore has done on Transit Road, and the Clarence IDA has taken money out of your town’s and county’s coffers, and taken money away from the school district, in order to subsidize a private multi-million dollar project. The County Executive is threatening to sue

“When you tear the structure down and remove everything associated with it, that is not the adaptive-reuse policy contemplated by Erie County and others,” Poloncarz told the Erie County IDA board Wednesday. “I was very disappointed to see the Clarence IDA give a tax break for a project when the entire site was demolished.”

The $2.5 million project is two-thirds residential and one-third retail in nature, which also does not qualify for incentives under common policies developed and adopted by all of the area’s IDAs, Poloncarz noted.

Lawrence M. Meckler, town attorney for Clarence, disagreed with Poloncarz. “As part of adaptive reuse, you can demolish a building if that’s necessary. Nothing in the regulations would disqualify demolition as adaptive reuse,” Meckler said. “… The question is, does it or doesn’t it qualify for incentives? And it absolutely qualifies. … We did everything by the book.”

As a retail project, it doesn’t qualify for any IDA incentive program.  Astonishingly enough, the developers should have to pay sales taxes and mortgage recording taxes like you or I. It is ineligible for any “adaptive reuse” program, because no existing structure is being adapted or reused. The town attorney says, “nothing in the regulations would disqualify demolition as adaptive reuse”. But it is completely antithetical to the policy itself. Meckler twists logic here by suggesting that the town is subsidizing the “adaptive reuse” of a structure by demolishing it. 

…he said the project qualifies because it’s an “adaptive reuse” despite the fact the developer is demolishing the building. Meckler said it’s an 85 year old dilapidated structure that would only be developed through incentives.

No one opposes the project – just its welfare handouts. The biggest recipients of welfare and taxpayer handouts in Clarence are developers and businesses. It is shameful and outrageous for the Clarence IDA to forfeit mortgage and sales taxes that benefit the town and the county – including school taxes to help fund education – to enable Russ Salvatore’s grandson to develop a parcel of land on Transit Road for private retail and residential use. To do so under a wildly disingenuous and impossible interpretation of the words, “adaptive reuse” is shameful. This is illegal and this is theft. This is the town’s business interests and one-party Republican rule stealing from you. Literally this is your family – your tax dollars – going to subsidize a wealthy developer’s project. The rich and powerful business interests scratch the backs of the Republican hegemony, and vice-versa, and you pay for it. 

That’s what happens when there exist zero checks and balances within a one-party dictatorship. 

Debate Night in America

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Monday night, the world watched an adult female, who had spent time and effort preparing for an important meeting with her opponent, debate a petulant, unprepared child who eschewed preparation, relying instead on interruptions, one-liners, and lies. 

As the American right hastens its march to the depths of anti-intellectualism, it now denigrates hard work and preparation, likening it to “cheating”. Donald Trump’s embarrassingly cringe-worthy debate performance probably didn’t move the needle for him. With his rudeness, condescension, and incomprehensible word salad, he behaved like any similarly situated D student with disciplinary issues might. On the C-Span split screen – which was devoid of vapid anchors and hot takes – Secretary Clinton appeared calm, poised, professional – Presidential. She took the hits and interruptions with a smile. Understanding Trump’s brand of domination politics, she wouldn’t refer to him the way all of his sycophants are likely instructed to on their non-disclosure forms, “Mr. Trump”. She called him Donald, and the more she got into his head, he dropped the faux-respectful “Secretary Clinton” in favor of dismissive pronouns. The candidates didn’t need to play to their respective bases – they’re chasing after undecided voters in swing states, and Clinton was the better salesperson. Here’s a chart recording his interruptions: 

He sounded okay when discussing trade deals, if ranting repetitiveness is your jam. But when the topic turned to race relations and temperament, Clinton was as cogent as Trump was weak. Clinton went after Trump for what she termed the “racist birther” issue, and it hit him hard, knocking him far off-balance. There were no raucous audiences to cheer him on, there was no array of right-wing demagogues for Trump to insult and demean – just one smart, prepared woman who was ready, willing, and able to hit back. President Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011, and Trump didn’t stop until August 2016 – for that he offered African-Americans, “nothing“. Trump never denied Clinton’s charge that he paid “no taxes”, ranting instead about how the government spends them in a way he dislikes, and claiming he’s “smart”. 

When asked what he meant when he said Secretary Clinton lacks a “presidential look”, Trump said he meant she doesn’t have stamina, all the while audibly sniffing, pounding back glasses of water, and losing his cool at the slightest provocation. When confronted on his refusal to release his tax returns, he got a cheer from his audience partisans when he said he’d do it, even against his “lawyer’s advice”, when Secretary Clinton releases the 33,000 emails she deleted. Maybe Clinton should demand that Trump then produce proof that he’s actually under audit – he keeps saying it, but doesn’t uphold for himself the standard he sets for everyone else. 

Meanwhile, the Clintons have released 30+ years’ worth of tax releases, and Trump is the first candidate in modern times to refuse to release any. I wonder why a lawyer is advising him not to show them? 

The most effective part of Clinton’s presentation, however, was after a particularly ugly and ill-informed swipe Donald Trump took at our friends and allies in various military alliances – Germany and Japan, in particular. He insulted them as deadbeats whom America shouldn’t protect if they won’t pay for the protection. Clinton didn’t respond to Trump, looking instead at the camera and reassuring our friends and allies around the world that she knows the election has caused them a lot of consternation, but that they can be sure that America will uphold its commitments under our various military alliances, then reminded Trump that the only time NATO invoked its mutual self-defense clause under Article 5 of the treaty was after September 11th, and our NATO allies continue to fight terrorism around the world. 

Trump? “I haven’t given a lot of thought to NATO”, he said before launching into his spiel about how the other members need to pay up. 

Clinton also came prepared with the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe from Venezuela, whom Trump had derided as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping”. 

If “telling it like it is” means being unable to handle 90 minutes’ worth of predictable questioning from a network anchor, and coming across as a ranting, lying lunatic, then I guess Trump’s base came away satisfied with his performance. But if you think being President is an important job that demands thought, good temperament, information, and preparedness, then there’s only one candidate who showed up Monday night to meet that standard. Amazingly enough, being President is more complex than calling in to “Fox and Friends”.

Debate Night in America

trump

Monday night, the world watched an adult female, who had spent time and effort preparing for an important meeting with her opponent, debate a petulant, unprepared child who eschewed preparation, relying instead on interruptions, one-liners, and lies. 

As the American right hastens its march to the depths of anti-intellectualism, it now denigrates hard work and preparation, likening it to “cheating”. Donald Trump’s embarrassingly cringe-worthy debate performance probably didn’t move the needle for him. With his rudeness, condescension, and incomprehensible word salad, he behaved like any similarly situated D student with disciplinary issues might. On the C-Span split screen – which was devoid of vapid anchors and hot takes – Secretary Clinton appeared calm, poised, professional – Presidential. She took the hits and interruptions with a smile. Understanding Trump’s brand of domination politics, she wouldn’t refer to him the way all of his sycophants are likely instructed to on their non-disclosure forms, “Mr. Trump”. She called him Donald, and the more she got into his head, he dropped the faux-respectful “Secretary Clinton” in favor of dismissive pronouns. The candidates didn’t need to play to their respective bases – they’re chasing after undecided voters in swing states, and Clinton was the better salesperson. Here’s a chart recording his interruptions: 

He sounded okay when discussing trade deals, if ranting repetitiveness is your jam. But when the topic turned to race relations and temperament, Clinton was as cogent as Trump was weak. Clinton went after Trump for what she termed the “racist birther” issue, and it hit him hard, knocking him far off-balance. There were no raucous audiences to cheer him on, there was no array of right-wing demagogues for Trump to insult and demean – just one smart, prepared woman who was ready, willing, and able to hit back. President Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011, and Trump didn’t stop until August 2016 – for that he offered African-Americans, “nothing“. Trump never denied Clinton’s charge that he paid “no taxes”, ranting instead about how the government spends them in a way he dislikes, and claiming he’s “smart”. 

When asked what he meant when he said Secretary Clinton lacks a “presidential look”, Trump said he meant she doesn’t have stamina, all the while audibly sniffing, pounding back glasses of water, and losing his cool at the slightest provocation. When confronted on his refusal to release his tax returns, he got a cheer from his audience partisans when he said he’d do it, even against his “lawyer’s advice”, when Secretary Clinton releases the 33,000 emails she deleted. Maybe Clinton should demand that Trump then produce proof that he’s actually under audit – he keeps saying it, but doesn’t uphold for himself the standard he sets for everyone else. 

Meanwhile, the Clintons have released 30+ years’ worth of tax releases, and Trump is the first candidate in modern times to refuse to release any. I wonder why a lawyer is advising him not to show them? 

The most effective part of Clinton’s presentation, however, was after a particularly ugly and ill-informed swipe Donald Trump took at our friends and allies in various military alliances – Germany and Japan, in particular. He insulted them as deadbeats whom America shouldn’t protect if they won’t pay for the protection. Clinton didn’t respond to Trump, looking instead at the camera and reassuring our friends and allies around the world that she knows the election has caused them a lot of consternation, but that they can be sure that America will uphold its commitments under our various military alliances, then reminded Trump that the only time NATO invoked its mutual self-defense clause under Article 5 of the treaty was after September 11th, and our NATO allies continue to fight terrorism around the world. 

Trump? “I haven’t given a lot of thought to NATO”, he said before launching into his spiel about how the other members need to pay up. 

Clinton also came prepared with the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe from Venezuela, whom Trump had derided as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping”. 

If “telling it like it is” means being unable to handle 90 minutes’ worth of predictable questioning from a network anchor, and coming across as a ranting, lying lunatic, then I guess Trump’s base came away satisfied with his performance. But if you think being President is an important job that demands thought, good temperament, information, and preparedness, then there’s only one candidate who showed up Monday night to meet that standard. Amazingly enough, being President is more complex than calling in to “Fox and Friends”.

What is a Bribe?

HMMM

The Republican Chairman of the Erie County Legislature, John Mills, impels me to post this question. The word, “bribery” and “bribe” has come up recently in two instances; the first involving Governor Cuomo’s body man, Joe Percoco, and the second where Mr. Mills accused County Executive Mark Poloncarz of attempting to “bribe” him. 

Bribery, as you might imagine, is a criminal offense. A felony, New York’s Penal Law generally defines “bribery” as a situation where a person, “confers, or offers or agrees to confer, any benefit upon a public servant upon an agreement or understanding that such public servant`s vote, opinion, judgment, action, decision or exercise of discretion as a public servant will thereby be influenced.” What’s not clear there for Mr. Mills is the “benefit upon a public servant” part, I suppose. 

In the case of Mr. Percoco, he allegedly solicited “ziti” – payoffs and bribes – from an energy company and a Syracuse developer. For instance, the energy company allegedly sent Mr. Percoco on a vacation, paid for a fancy meal, and gave Percoco cash payouts, all amounting to almost $300,000. Those are items from which Mr. Percoco profited personally. Likewise, Percoco, with a help of a friendly lobbyist, allegedly pressured the energy company to secure a $7,500/month job for Percoco’s wife

So, bribery is conferring a benefit upon a public servant from which he profits personally – a payoff, a kickback, a well-remunerated no-show job. 

Here’s what bribery is not. 

No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens 

It’s not a government executive fashioning a budget soliciting a deal from an adversary. Hell, in Hamilton, there’s a whole song about it – Room Where it Happens, which musically dramatizes the Compromise of 1790. Hamilton was desperate to get Congress to pass his plan for the federal government to assume the various states’ Revolutionary War debts via an excise tax, and to issue new bonds to refinance the national debt. Southern agrarian interests, led by Representative James Madison, were staunchly opposed, as they had largely paid off their debts. On the other hand, the Southerners wanted the capital moved further south from New York City. 

Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton appealed to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson for help, and Jefferson arranged a meeting between Hamilton and Madison. In exchange for Madison backing off his opposition to Hamilton’s debt plan, Hamilton agreed to move the seat of national power to the banks of the Potomac, shared between Maryland and Virginia. 

No one really knows how the
Parties get to yes
The pieces that are sacrificed in
Ev’ry game of chess

This was political horsetrading – you have a thing you want for your people, I have a thing I want for my people, let’s work something out. This is how things happen every day. Compromise is at the very heart of American democratic government where there exists an adversarial, two-party system, and a checks and balances on power. 

So, John Mills ran to the media with an audio recording

In the voicemail, Poloncarz mentions $800,000 available to repave a major road in Mills’ district and also mentions his desire to speak with the Orchard Park Republican about several other issues of importance to him, including pending legislation and union contracts.

“That, to me, is a bribe,” Mills said. “He made the call to do this, and it was wrong.”

No. It is not a bribe. Not objectively, not legally, not ethically, not morally, not linguistically. Had Poloncarz offered to transfer $800,000 to Mills’ bank account, that would be a bribe. Had Poloncarz sent the money to Mills in bags of cash, that would be a bribe. Had Poloncarz offered to coerce some donor to give Mills’ family member a no-show job, that would be a bribe. 

“I will allocate this county money to fix a road in your district, rather than using it to pay for any one of a number of other public priorities that others like you have presented to me as pressing, in exchange for your assistance on moving legislative matters and union contract negotiations along” is not a bribe in any sense or under any definition. 

Poloncarz replayed the voicemail for a Buffalo News reporter. In it, he mentions the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees blue-collar union and Erie County Medical Center.

Poloncarz tells Mills: “I know you’ve got a number of things to talk on, not the least of which is the charter, but I want to talk about AFSCME, I want to talk about ECMC borrowing, and also roadwork.

“You saw the letter that was sent over by Loffredo,” Poloncarz continued in the voicemail, referring to Public Works Commissioner John C. Loffredo. “We have about $800,000 that’s not allocated right now for roadwork. As I said to you before, I can do Boston Springville Road, but I want key commitments on a couple things, then I’ll sign over that stuff to get that road done. Give me a call when you get a chance.”

Mills said that $800,000 had been committed for repaving of Boston Springville Road four months ago by the Department of Public Works.

Poloncarz said that he doesn’t save personal voicemails from legislators asking him to consider their various pet projects in exchange for their support on other issues, but that he receives such requests regularly. When the county executive sought the release of money to boost his efforts to prevent lead poisoning or respond to the opioid crisis, he said, legislators wanted commitments from him to pave their district roads first.

“Hey, John, I’ll make the road in your district a priority over other roads in other districts that are in worse shape if you’ll work with me on these other initiatives.” is not a bribe. I don’t think John Mills knows what a bribe is. I don’t think he knows how bribery works, or why it’s inappropriate to publicly release a private voice mail – or, better yet – stupid to release one that quite clearly contradicts the very point you’re purporting to make. Two things: 1. I guess voice mails are now subject to public consumption; and 2. New York is a one-party consent state. 

Perhaps, like Hamilton in 1790, if Mr. Mills wants to get county crews fixing that road in Springville anytime soon, he should take a piece of advice from Aaron Burr: Talk less. Smile more. 

Bharara & Schneiderman: The New Untouchables

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Nine people were arrested across upstate and western New York, indicted for allegations of bribery and bid-rigging in connection with Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. Cuomo’s own deputy, Joe Percoco, stands accused of bribery, soliciting a $90,000 no-show job for his wife in exchange for exerting his influence in the capital on behalf of a Syracuse power company and developer. Lobbyist and Cuomo family confidante Todd Howe pled guilty and is cooperating with authorities. Howe’s firm handled lobbying for the Syracuse power company and developer, and for local development firm, LPCiminelli. SUNY Polytechnic’s Alain Kaloyeros, local developer Lou Ciminelli, and executives Michael Laippe and Kevin Schuler all stand accused of rigging bids for construction that unfairly and illegally favored LPCiminelli. 

All of this speaks to the culture of quid pro quo in Albany – private firms spending big money to lubricate the gears of government to win big contracts and earn big profits on the public’s dime. It was pretty open and rather brazen, as it happens when the alleged gangsters in question are unencumbered by omerta

It was as comically bad as this: with respect to the Percoco bribery charges, the parties involved referred to the bribes as “ziti”, harkening back to the mafia series The Sopranos, whose characters used the euphemism “boxes of ziti“. 

Perhaps, on the bright side, this episode might lead Unshackle Upstate and other business-entity advocacy groups to dummy up. They’re doing just fine in New York’s “anti-business” climate, because they know better than anyone how to navigate and exploit political money and speech for private gain. 

More seriously, however, good job, defendants. Nice work destroying and degrading something that had/s the potential to do so much good for so many people in this region. Thanks so much for taking an initiative that perhaps balances as much risk as it does hope for economic activity and jobs and turning it into an abbreviation for bribery, graft, and typical upstate corruption. Sure, they’re “innocent until proven guilty” in court, but the public relations damage is already complete. The Buffalo Billion is no longer a risky public investment in private enterprise, but a corrupt public scandal. The Watergate Hotel sympathizes. 

Here’s what this means. Buffalo and New York are run by a mafia. Not mafia in an ethnic sense, nor in any sense strictly parallel to what you find in a Scorcese movie. It’s not based on neighborhood or nationality, or even political partisanship. It’s a mafia based solely on money and power, and it is allowed to thrive within a system that has been especially designed to incubate it; that no one has the political will – or ability – to smash.

It is a system that is self-perpetuating, too. Like Matt Damon in The Martian, we plant potato seeds of corruption, graft, and bribery to yield bountiful and plentiful kickbacks, no-show jobs, and phantom profits. The mafia bosses are the three men in the room. Their staffs are the underbosses. The appointees are their caporegimes. Sometimes they co-opt other, smaller families, like the IDC, for their mutual gain. The dictatorship of the bureaucracy – those are the soldiers; the countless people who close their eyes, do their jobs, and shut their mouths until pensions vest. 

New York government is populated with gangsters, and the whole operation is a racket. How else do you explain, for instance, paying $50,000 for an actual person to man a toll booth and act as a human ticket dispenser in the year 2016? 

It’s tough to bring down a mafia family. Preet Bharara and his US Attorney’s Office, as well as Eric Schneiderman and his AG’s office, are the New Untouchables.

Heir-Head Skittle Analogy

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Last weekend, a New Jersey man planted myriad bombs throughout the tri-state area, intending to kill innocent passers-by.  A couple of the bombs went off, and although no one was killed, dozens were injured on 23rd between 6th and 7th. This New Jersey man, Ahmad Rahami, was born in Afghanistan in 1988 and came to the United States with his family in 2000; when he was 12 years old. His father opened up a fast food stand in Elizabeth, which ran into some flak with neighbors and there was activity within the city council and in the courts over its operation. Rahami was a naturalized American citizen.

In the aftermath of an act of terrorism perpetrated by an Afghani-American, the Republican presidential nominee’s son Tweeted this: 

The image “says it all”, how? Not only is this facile Skittles analogy all wrong, it’s right out of Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer

That’s the cover of Der Giftpilz, or the “Poisonous Mushroom“. This children’s book taught German kids in the 30s and 40s that, “just as it is often hard to tell a toadstool from an edible mushroom, so too it is often very hard to recognize the Jew as a swindler and criminal”. Streicher was tried and hanged at Nuremburg. 

But aside from the clear regurgitation of some of the most insidious Nazi racial propaganda, how are Skittles like people; from what war or conflagration are these Skittles seeking refuge? What “politically correct” agenda was being served? If the bombings were the thing that prompted Trump to Tweet this, what does Syria have to do with Rahami? What the hell logic is going on here in this heir-head’s mind? 

By all accounts, Rahami was a grade-A scumbag before he tried to maim and kill people with shrapnel propelled by homemade bombs. He allegedly beat and stabbed his own sister. He traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, and may have been radicalized while on one of those trips – he spent a year in Pakistan. But he lived with his mom and dad and had a job at the family business. What he attempted to do in New York and New Jersey is abhorrent, and he deserves fully to be prosecuted. 

But how does this sick act by one perverse asshole lead to the conclusion that accepting Syrian refugees is our misfortune? The immigrant story – indeed, the refugee story – is not tragedy for the United States, but a triumph. It’s not for nothing Rahami’s father could open up a fast food business in New Jersey and make some sort of living in a new world. It’s not for nothing the manhunt for Rahami ended when the Sikh owner of a bar called “Merdie’s Tavern” called the cops. It’s not for nothing that it was an American Cypriot refugee who took the picture of Skittles that Trump, Jr. Tweeted

I’ve already written that Trumpism is not dissimilar from fascism. From its very creation, the Trump campaign has been founded on the notion of white resentment – against Mexicans, against Muslims, against any minority group who can reasonably be scapegoated. The world is changing in many ways – socially and economically. Not only aren’t the coal mines coming back, but neither are steel mills. By the way, gay people can get married to a same-sex partner, to boot. For many people, this is all too much. America is gone. Obama and Hillary have taken it away. The liberals and Nancy Pelosi must be stopped. 

On top of that, the immigrants. The refugees. They’re coming for your jobs; your children; your lives; your women

They’re here. And I’ve been saying. This is going to be like the Trojan horse. We’re letting tens of thousands of people flow into this country and they are bringing in, in many cases, this is cancer from within. This is something that’s going to be so tough and you know they stay together, so nobody really knows who it is, what’s happening. They are plotting. They keep plotting, and this has been going on for so long and everybody knows it and the good law enforcement, we have such great people. That’s the best thing we have going is that we have great law enforcement. They know about it.

Trump says, “Cancer from within”. Like this Nazi Russian-language propaganda from 1943 branding Jews as “people of contagion”. 

‘They are plotting; they keep plotting”, says Trump. Like this 1942 cartoon accusing Jews of a “conspiracy against Europe”? 

But racial animus isn’t enough – Trump also has to attack our fundamental principles. The bomber was shot; we have a duty to provide him with medical care, and even if you think he doesn’t deserve it, it keeps him alive to face justice.

But the bad part: Now we will give him amazing hospitalization,” Trump continued. “He will be taken care of by some of the best doctors in the world. He will be given a fully modern and updated hospital room. And he’ll probably even have room service knowing the way our country is.”

We have a constitutional duty to provide him with legal defense if he can’t afford his own lawyer. Again: it’s not our race hate, but our Constitution that makes America great

“On top of all of that, he will be represented by an outstanding lawyer,” Trump added. “And his punishment will not be what it once would have been. What a sad situation. We must have speedy but fair trials and we must deliver a just and very harsh punishment to these people.”

The Constitutional guarantee of a right to counsel doesn’t just protect people whom you think are guilty, but all people who stand accused of a crime. “His punishment will not be what it once would have been” – what, exactly, does that mean? Guillotine? Hanging? Is that what will make “America Great Again?” 

Stoking the fires of racial and class resentment isn’t going to turn back the clock to a happier time, when it was “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”; when women and minorities knew their place, and, ironically, trade unions succeeded in the working class into the middle class. Railing against “political correctness” so that white millionaires can feel more comfortable using racial epithets, isn’t going to lead to any great regression, either. 

Within the Trump campaign, all of the hallmarks of a fascist movement are there; authoritarianism; scapegoating of immigrants and minorities for real and perceived social and economic ills; disregard for the Constitution and rule of law; spouting lies and falsehoods with impunity; “stab in the back” mythology; “take our country back” jingoism; appeals to class warfare, here inciting the working class to blame the pointy-headed liberal elites for their own economic misfortunes in a changing economy, etc. Mussolini blamed the socialists. Hitler blamed the Jews. Fascism was a perverse reaction to Marxist collectivism; while Marx emphasized class over the individual, fascism holds that national and/or racial identity take precedence over the individual. Toil for the good of the proletariat; toil for the victory of the Volk. 

Trump (so far) has blamed the Mexicans and Muslims – especially the Syrian refugees. But they haven’t done anything. Their only crimes are that they’re not like Trump. From Vox, 

A report released last week by the Cato Institute measured the risk to Americans posed by refugees. The report found that an American’s chances of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack in any given year are 1 in 3.64 billion. America’s murder rate — at 4.5 per 100,000 capita — is about 163,800 times higher.

Therefore, math being a thing, if three Skittles are deadly terrorists, you’d need a bowl of 11 billion Skittles to match the statistical likelihood of harm. Aren’t Republicans better than this? Shouldn’t they be

At this point, the only difference between Naziism and Trumpism is that Hitler believed that all the Skittles were poison. 

#WNYVotes 2016: Primary Edition

_5__Jeremy_Zellner

The defeat of Mazurek, Flaherty, and Coppola don’t just mean triumph for Wallace, Flynn, and Small. Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner and his party apparatus were also big winners last night. The 2016 primary saw the utter collapse of the Steve Pigeon faction, which goes to show you that nine felony indictments count for something. 

Assembly 143

Political newcomer Monica Wallace absolutely humbled “Crybaby Kristy” Mazurek by a gaping margin of 76 – 24%. This was a colossal blowout, and was the centerpiece of this year’s defeat of Pigeonism. Wallace – who has never been involved in party politics or factional squabbles – came to this race with an appeal to ethics, good government, and restoring trust in Albany after the previous two Assemblypeople left office in disgrace.  

Mazurek tried to ride that same road, but it was an impossibility. For that district, capability and integrity matter more than ever, but she instead ran on her family name and ethnic identity, glossing over her many problems by blaming her illness, or how mean her opponents are. Yet she and her treasurer couldn’t – or wouldn’t – competently navigate campaign finance requirements, and Mazurek has $30,000 in federal tax liens, which she never addressed or explained to voters. In a year where ethics in Albany is a big deal, she revealed herself to be Steve Pigeon’s power of attorney for matters arising out of the sale of his downtown apartment. In the end, her surname and ethnicity couldn’t compete with a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, multitasking mom, wife, lawyer, teacher, and taxpayer. 

By the way, Mazurek claimed she ran a relentlessly positive campaign. False. Mazurek attacked Wallace for not giving up enough time for public or charitable service. Working for a federal judge is defined generally as “public service”.  Not only did Kristy Mazurek lose by a huge margin, her brother and sister-in-law lost their Cheektowaga committee races. Not at all a good day for that family. Kristy Mazurek is unqualified to be anywhere near elective office, and the voters knew it. 

I hope that all of Mazurek’s and AwfulPAC’s victims from 2013 enjoyed a chilled glass of something bubbly last night. You deserve it. 

Senate 60

This year was – what, the tenth (?) time Al Coppola tried – and failed – to return to the State Senate, where he served from February 2000 – January 2001, after winning a special election to replace Anthony Nanula, and then subsequently lost the primary to Byron Brown. He’s well-liked in some corners of Buffalo’s West Side, but the Senate District is more than just one neighborhood. Parkside community activist Amber Small raised an impressive amount of money, ran a professional and competent race, won herself – after much delay – the endorsement of the party hierarchy, and soundly defeated Coppola 67 – 33%. 

Small’s real challenge comes over the next six weeks, as she goes up against multi-millionaire Chris Jacobs, who overwhelmingly defeated his own perennial candidate, Kevin Stocker. The margin of victory in that Republican primary was Mazurekesque in its decisiveness. Jacobs and the state committee, however, revealed that they will not play nicely – they will be relentlessly negative and lie if they have to. Jacobs and the Republicans spent ridiculous amounts of cash on radio ads slamming Stocker and accusing him of corruption and criminality. They even slammed Amber Small in a last-ditch effort to harm her and lift up Coppola. It became quite clear that Jacobs is afraid of going up against Small. She is young, smart, a political newbie, and enjoys a pretty wide enrollment advantage. If Jacobs and the GOP are willing to lie, accusing Small of campaign finance irregularities that don’t exist, they’re going to make October very ugly. 

District Attorney

John Flynn defeated incumbent acting District Attorney Michael Flaherty last night 45 – 40%. Mark Sacha earned 14% of the vote, as well, which means the anti-Flaherty vote was pretty overwhelming. Flaherty wasn’t incompetent, and he indicated a willingness to address election law crimes by prosecuting alleged vote fraudster Rus Thompson. But Flaherty didn’t show any willingness to go after public integrity overall. For instance, Mazurek’s own campaign finance disclosures were an absolute shambles from day one. Investigate that – Mazurek’s finances were being handled by people with years’ worth of experience, yet the newcomers were the ones who followed the law. 

Democratic Headquarters pulled out all the stops for John Flynn, and their efforts paid off. They got their message out, they got their vote out, and Flaherty’s campaign was being run by people who have a blood feud going with Zellner’s HQ – Jim Eagan and Rich Horner, to name a couple. They went so far as to hijack a “Flynn for DA” URL to redirect to Flaherty’s website, and stuck a crime victim in front of a camera to politicize her brother’s murder

With their ringleader under indictment and further investigation, the Pigeon faction of nominal Democrats is in dramatic decline. The money spigot has been largely shut off, the patronage jobs have dried up, the friendly vendors, consultants, and hangers-on are exposed as incompetent, and left high and dry. The hacks who relentlessly puff people like Mazurek, Stocker, and Coppola are left embarrassed. 

What’s left of the Pigeon forces’ efforts this year weren’t just about trying to defeat the HQ-endorsed candidates so they could crow about how ineffective Jeremy Zellner is, and how he should go back to fetching coffee for the big kids; their efforts were supposed to bring about a competitive race for the county party chairmanship. There might be a race, but it won’t be competitive. 

Three great Democrats defeated their insurgent opponents last night, and all of Bob McCarthy’s yellowed, Pigeon-fed, hand-wringing columns about Zellner’s youth, inexperience, and ineffectiveness will have to be filed away once and for all. 

 

Gymkhana Nine: Buffalo

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Ken Block is a drifting, rally-racing daredevil. Each video from his Gymkhana series routinely earn tens of millions of views on YouTube, each. “Gymkhana” is basically running a car through an obstacle course in the fastest possible time. Drifting is encouraged. 

Here’s episode nine, which Block filmed in Buffalo and Eden this past summer. 

The Tables Turn on Crybaby Mazurek

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Tomorrow – Tuesday September 13th – is primary day. If you’re a Democrat in the 143rd Assembly District, it is your responsibility to vote for endorsed candidate Monica Wallace.  Why? Because Wallace is uniquely qualified to serve as your legislator in Albany, and will – once and for all – allow the district to move past its recent history of scandal and embarrassment. Polls are open from 6am to 9pm.

By contrast, Wallace’s opponent is wholly unfit and unqualified for public office. 

In 2013, Kristy Mazurek was the treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, or “AwfulPAC“. This entity was a Steve Pigeon front organization that raised and spent close to $300,000 within a matter of weeks, in order to sabotage the Erie County Democratic Committee and its slate of endorsed candidates. No surprise, then, that Mazurek enjoys current funding from a shady, probably illegal, Republican-financed PAC. For its part, Mazurek’s own AwfulPAC is now the epicenter of a state and federal investigation into widespread fraud and corruption. It’s already seen a Supreme Court Justice resign in disgrace and its mastermind indicted on nine felony counts. Mazurek herself reportedly cooperated with investigators, but has not yet been charged with any crime. 

Mazurek is now running for the State Assembly to replace disgraced incumbent Conservative Angela Wozniak who, in turn, replaced the disgraced Dennis Gabryszak. Mazurek had worked for Gabryszak and claims to have been a victim of his harassment. She brought a lawsuit that has since been dismissed because she waited five years to bring it, and the statute of limitations is three. She is appealing the dismissal

What is often lost in the AwfulPAC narrative is what it actually did. It mostly produced direct mail and other advertisements, some of which were practically defamatory in their rank falsehoods. Here is a sampler of mailers that AwfulPAC sent out to Democrats in 2013 to attack County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and former County Legislator Tim Hogues. 

They attacked other candidates similarly, including Lynn Dearmyer. The language and imagery used and sent to predominately white households is pretty blatantly racist. Betty Jean Grant is “radical” and “extremist”. “They” are “dead set” on “raising our taxes”. 

They leaked a false and defamatory story to PoliticsNY.net, accusing Wynnie Fisher of being a lunatic. Also, 

 I wrote about this in some detail in June of 2015 as “The Story of Preetsmas”. 

Grant and Hogues were understandably outraged. 

Mazurek was typically flippant. At bare minimum, Mazurek cut and signed the checks that paid for those inflammatory and racist mailers. 

Hoges and Grant made a formal complaint to the Board of Elections, which turned it over to the Attorney General, and the Feds got involved, too. Mazurek dismissed all her critics, detractors, and complainants as “crybabies“. 

Just three short years later, the tables have turned. Factually accurate negative mailers slamming Mazurek have hit mailboxes in the 143rd in recent days. The Monica Wallace campaign is only producing or sending a couple of them; most are being put out by NYSUT as an independent expenditure. 

Who’s the crybaby now? 

Too funny! This is a woman who literally called the Shredd & Ragan show in 2014 to try and intimidate them into keeping me off their air. Why is she now so aggrieved? 

Would you look at that? Finally, someone used Mazurek’s Georgia mugshot in a piece of campaign lit. Mazurek has been arrested for two (2) DWIs, one in Georgia (which she pled down), and one near Albany, where she was convicted in 2008 of a misdemeanor, but failed to pay the associated fines. The DMV suspended her license in September 2014 and issued a scofflaw summons. In 2015, Mazurek was pulled over and later found responsible for operating without a license in Clarence Town Court, and paid a fine. 

There’s no real excuse for driving drunk; certainly not cancer. I’m not sure how cancer is to blame for her ongoing close association with indicted felon Steve Pigeon, or her inept and illegal handling of the AwfulPAC treasury, or her unpaid taxes, or attempts to intimidate radio shows or bloggers or candidates whom she hates, or defaming candidates for office. I know lots of people who have suffered from cancer, yet the disease never compelled any of them to behave in such a manner. 

I’ve joked a lot in the past about how everyone in WNY politics is awful in their own way; myself included. But some are far more awful than others. Some confuse vice with virtue, bullying with oppression, friendship with conspiracy, lies with honesty. Kristy Mazurek is a convicted criminal; power of attorney to a man indicted of nine felonies. She is wholly unfit for public office. Indeed, based on her current and past misdeeds, had she already been elected to office, responsible Democrats would feel the need to disavow her; to demand her resignation. Albany itself is already a cesspit of horrible, corrupt people, and dysfunctional beyond reason. Albany already serves to empower the powerful, enrich the wealthy, and screw over hardworking New Yorkers. It is not structured in a way adequately to answer to the electorate. The power of incumbency is so strong that most legislators vacate their Albany offices in disgrace, if not in handcuffs. Albany should be made better, not worse. 

So, given a choice between someone so wrapped up in western New York’s own provincial brand of corruption, and Monica Wallace, who is a wife, a mom, a lawyer, a former clerk to a well-respected Federal Judge, and a law professor, who do you think would do a better job of doing the people’s business in Albany? Of bringing your concerns to downstate leadership in order to give families and working western New Yorkers a fair shot?

Three years ago, Kristy Mazurek used a corrupt slush fund to defame her opponents with false and racist mailers, then called them crybabies for complaining. Now, she wails when her own misdeeds – her alleged and real criminality – are raised as issues against her. Call it hypocrisy, call it chutzpah, call it karma, but the people in the 143rd know better, and Mazurek’s former victims hopefully have champagne at the ready. 

Small has Republicans Running Scared

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Amber Small is winning the Democratic primary in the 60th Senate District, so the state Republican committee is now in league with Small’s opponent, perennial candidate Al Coppola, to destroy her reputation with outright lies through direct mail and an article in another Buffalo weekly

Coppola’s opponent is Amber Small who heads a non-profit 501c3 in the Parkside Avenue area of Buffalo (near the Buffalo Zoo). Small is being investigated for violations of the Federal Hatch Act. I’m not a lawyer, however the law is very simple. An employee of a non-profit organization must not engage in political activity or face a fine of 2 years salary and the non-profit may not be able to ask for a grant for the following 2 years. 

That’s not true on two counts. 1. Small is not under investigation by anyone for “violations of the Federal Hatch Act”, nor does the article cite any proof for that assertion; and 2. I know plenty of employees of non-profits who engage in political activities, because working for a non-profit doesn’t shut down someone’s 1st Amendment rights to engage in political activity or speech. A simple Google search reveals that employees of nonprofits or other agencies receiving funds are permitted to run for office. The Hatch Act can apply to employees of a private, not-for-profit organization “if it receives federal funding and if federal legislation other than the Hatch Act contains a provision that the recipient not-for-profit should be treated as a state or local agency for the purposes of the Act”. 

The Parkside Community Association receives no federal funding. Zero. The Hatch Act does not apply. 

Small’s political campaign treasurer is Margaret Shea. The 501c3 non-profit’s treasurer also happens to be Margaret Shea.

So? 

Democrat Small is attempting to stop environmentalist James DePasquale from running on the Green line in the 60th State Senate District. The person who made a claim against DePasquale, is Amanda Huber, a resident of the 59th District, not the 60th. And to no one’s surprise, Amanda Huber also works for Amber Small. Amanda Huber was paid $750.00 by Small on August 15, 2016.

James DePasquale isn’t an “environmentalist”, but a Republican stooge. A Derby resident, DePasquale wasn’t even registered to vote before this year. He registered with the Green Party as part of a Republican effort to raid the Green Party line. Why? So that the left-of-center vote is split in November and so that likely Republican nominee Chris Jacobs has an easier path to victory.

No one from the Green Party carried DePasquale’s petitions – only Republican operatives: Todd Aldinger, former Budget & Legislative Director of Republican NYS Senator Patrick Gallivan, Chairman of the Erie County Charter Revision Commission; Kevin Knapp, Deputy Communications Director for Republican NYS Senator Rich Funke; Jesse Sleezer, Communications & District Director of Republican NYS Senator Rich Funke; Alex Barrette, Campaign Staffer of Republican NYS Senator Rich Funke; James Nash, board member at the Bison Children’s Scholarship Fund; and Jonathan Weir, board member at the Bison Children’s Scholarship Fund. Chris Jacobs co-founded the Bison Fund and currently serves as a Director. Aldinger filed DePasquale’s petitions with the Board of Elections.

DePasquale has no campaign committee, and has not reported raising or spending any money whatsoever, despite somehow retaining the services of myriad Republican staffers to aid in his ballot access effort. Sham.

When the Green Party caught wind of this party raiding effort – not the first time the Republicans have tried to pull this trick – they took action. A hearing was held on September 1st at the offices of Frank Housh, a Buffalo attorney (who serves with me on the County Library Board), to determine whether DePasquale was a bona fide Green Party member. Under a little-used and little-known provision of the election law, parties can hold these sorts of hearings and determine whether an enrolled voter can be stricken. DePasquale did not deign to appear at the hearing, instead sending his Republican attorney, Jeffrey Voekl, who produced an affidavit DePasquale executed that merely repeated platform items from the Greens’ website. The Green Party subcommittee determined unanimously that DePasquale was a sham candidate and not in sympathy with the Green Party or anything for which it stands. This is the key language in Election Law §16-110(2): 

The chairman of the county committee of a party with which a voter is enrolled in such county, may, upon a written complaint by an enrolled member of such party in such county and after a hearing held by him or by a sub-committee appointed by him upon at least two days’ notice to the voter, personally or by mail, determine that the voter is not in sympathy with the principles of such party. The Supreme Court or a justice thereof within the judicial district, in a proceeding instituted by a duly enrolled voter of the party at least ten days before a primary election, shall direct the enrollment of such voter to be cancelled if it appears from the proceedings before such chairman or sub-committee, and other proofs, if any, presented, that such determination is just.

The Green Party subcommittee also decided to file an Order to Show Cause, in a rare move to strike DePasquale from the Green Party voter rolls. That is pending before Judge Michalski in State Supreme Court. 

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Small hired attorney Frank Housh, the defender of the Toys R Us killer, to stop DePasquale’s plans of cleaning Hoyt Lake. Small paid Housh $1,000.00 on August 9, 2016.  Many now suspect the attack on DePasquale may have more to do with the City than the State.

Small hired Housh to challenge DePasquale’s sham Republican-front candidacy. Housh is a criminal defense attorney, as well as an election law attorney. 

Amber Small previously worked directly for City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. Just before announcing her candidacy she met with Maurice Garner, a leader in the East Side’s Grass Roots organization. According to NYS’s LEC (legislative ethics committee) reports, Small has received donations and assistance from some of Byron Brown’s and Steve Pigeon’s closest associates.

According to Google, No results found for “new york legislative ethics commission” “amber small”

Western New York hasn’t witnessed anything similar to this since the days of former Senator Antoine Thompson and Thompson was far more independent than Small. 

Non-sequitur. Similar to what?

According to the Buffalo News, Small was to have a fundraiser in New York City last Thursday, September 8th. This outraged the “Buffalo for Bernie Sanders” people. They hate it when a politician sells their vote anywhere in the United States. The “Buffalo for Bernie Sanders” leadership petitioned for Al Coppola and continues to campaign for him.

Who cares? The Republican candidate is a self-funding multi-millionaire. Fundraising downstate isn’t “sell[ing] a vote”. It’s going to where the money is. Democrats, you see, would like to re-take the Senate majority. That’s what this is all about – preventing that from happening, and the Republicans are pulling out every corrupt, defamatory stop to ensure it. They’ll go so far as to mount sham Green Party candidates and manufacture lies about the Democratic candidate whose only sin is working to better her city and neighborhood, and now wishing to do the same for her Senate District. 

Republicans created mailers accusing Small of using the Parkside Community Association to “print her campaign literature”, but that is also false. A lie. In this instance, likely defamatory. 

Small’s campaign issued the following statement: “The campaign of Amber Small purchased an ad in the PCA Tour of Homes program, as did Congressman Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron Brown, Assemblywoman Crystal People’s Stokes and others. A claim that the campaign was somehow using PCA resources to print political mail is completely fabricated and without any basis in fact. It is blatantly defamatory of not only Amber but the PCA.”

The only reasonable choice on Tuesday is for Democrats to vote for Amber Small, a tough, independent, smart young woman who finds herself under attack by a cabal of Republican misogynists – a “basket of deplorables” – who are deathly afraid of her. 

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