Buffalo: A Sense of Place

(It’s a movie. Click the arrow). 

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Blizzard Things

The blizzard of 2014 showed that government can work. The way in which the county in particular handled the storm, public affairs, and its response was impressive. County leadership, led by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, used social media in particular in one of the most effective ways I’ve seen any local elected use it. Poloncarz was tweeting live updates from the county’s command center day and night during the storm, and was answering people’s questions and otherwise keeping us informed about conditions.

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City government, however, was attempting to maintain a “business as usual” mode, not declaring driving bans while surrounded by them, and with Mayor Brown silent on social media. It led to a short-lived #whereisByron hashtag on Tuesday night, as people wondered where the Mayor was (answer: trying to get to Albany for a pre-state-of-the-state fundraiser. He didn’t make it.) 

With that said, in light of the State of the State Address on Wednesday, where Andrew Cuomo again pointed to “too many governments” as the main reason why taxes are so high, there is no reason why we need to maintain a county government as a separate deliberative taxing authority. Since almost all of its tasks are ministerial in nature – mandates from Albany amounting to imperatives like, “feed the hungry”, “heat the homes of the poor”, “administer Medicaid”, “administer [insert state program here]”, and “plow the roads”, we don’t need a separate legislature and all of its ancillary costs in order to accomplish these basic tasks.

Speaking of the State of the State, Cuomo indicated that Buffalo will get a $100 million to research genome therapy. This is huge – the ability to treat disease by replacing defective genes is the next frontier in medical research. 

Sloppery

1. I alternated between WBEN 930-AM, the Buffalo news station, and a Torontonian station, 680 News (CFTR) Friday morning. WBEN did the list of closings, traffic & weather, news, and featured several interviews with people who work outside, commenting on what it’s like to work outside (breaking – it’s cold when it’s cold, and hot when it’s hot). 680 went through its repetitive pattern of news, weather, traffic, sports, business news, and commuter issues. There was no talk of school or business closings. Just typical big-city news. It was a fascinating comparison. 

2. Cold feet? The warmest socks I ever owned were marketed in the US as “Swiss Army socks”. They aren’t anymore, but you can buy them online from the Swiss manufacturer, Rohner. The original is CHF 28 (about $32), and shipping is a flat $10.60 for orders under $160. I am still looking for an American retailer who carries them, but they’re worth every penny, IMHO. 

3. Even with very low temperatures, somewhere in Buffalo there will be a guy walking around today in shorts and boots. 

4. I coined a new word yesterday wholly by accident – “sloppery”. It is a portmanteau of “sloppy” and “slippery” and described the super-fine powder causing people with crap tires to slide around the roads Thursday and Friday. 

5. Speaking of which, get yourself some snow tires

6. My predictions for 2014 are contained in this article for the print edition of Artvoice

7. Trina Tardone and Emily Trimper, come on down! You’re the next contestants on, How Creepily Did Dennis Gabryszak Sexually Harass You?! (That makes 6 accusers. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire; but where there’s a blazing inferno, shit’s going down.)

7. Nickel City Chef 2014 tickets go on sale today. They may already be sold out. 

 

10 Worst of 2013

Because it’s the end of the year, it’s compulsory to do a nostalgia listicle, right? This is culled from my own posts here at Artvoice daily, and not intended to be comprehensive.  Everything chosen essentially at random.  

10. Dennis Gabryszak

Oh, look. Another entitled do-nothing superfluous, self-important Albany hack who sexually harasses female staffers. If it was one staffer, it’d be worth a listen. Two staffers, and it’s going to raise eyebrows. Three staffers? Now it’s a thing. Four, and the fourth is still working there? Cringeworthy. The fact that Gabryszak has said nothing is thanks to some fantastic legal advice, but equally horrible political advice. 

9. Donn Esmonde

Donn Esmonde proved himself to be an ass throughout 2013.

It started when this retired suburban Long Island native decided that he is against quality education for children in suburban districts. One with questionable ethics, to boot. I look forward to more Tielman quotes, self-congratubation, and cheery, irony-free invocations of “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. 

8. The Conservative Party

To paraphrase Linda Richman, the Conservative Party is neither conservative nor a party. Discuss.

Ralph Lorigo’s personal fiefdom proves that political feudalism is alive and well in the 21st century. While the deceptively named Independence Party is now running all its endorsements through its statewide committee (and the NYGOP), Lorigo’s faction will endorse the occasional Democrat, but the criteria are always murky. This year, the CPWNY went out of its way to defame Republican Buffalo mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez

7. Tim Kennedy

See Number 6, below.

This guy came up with over $80,000 – much of it from inactive campaign accounts with no money in them, and none of which was properly disclosed – to sabotage Democrats in 2013. 

6.  Pigeon, Max, Mazurek & the AwfulPAC

It’s like a shit-stained comet, coming back to streak across our pleasant skies every few election seasons.

Yet again, former Erie County Democratic chairman G. Steven Pigeon assembled a horrible band du jour to sabotage the county committee’s election year efforts. Cheektowaga town Democratic chairman Frank Max believes himself entitled to the office of county chairman, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s the only one who thinks so. (He’s been rather silent on the whole Gabryszak thing, don’t you think?) Pigeon and Max, their EmoDems, along with Kristy Mazurek, whose elbows are as sharp as her tongue, got AwfulPAC going just in time for the September primaries. Add in some dubiously sourced campaign cash from various entities, as well as $80k+ from state Senator Tim Kennedy, who owes Pigeon one for maneuvering him into that office, and you’ve got this year’s comet’s skidmarks. 

What did they accomplish? Wes Moore lost, but viciously sabotaged Democrat Wynnie Fisher. Rick Zydel lost, and Pat Burke came out of nowhere to beat everybody. Dick Dobson defeated the politically tone-deaf Bert Dunn, but AwfulPAC abandoned Dobson in October, proving that they were really just Democrats for Tim Howard all along. They tried to take credit for a win in Rochester with which they had nothing to do. Oh, and they returned the queen of transactional politics, Barbara Miller Williams, to the county legislature. But because it’s easier to cast it all as a big loss for Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, that was the narrative we were all fed

5. Donald Trump

Everyone’s favorite birther started out the year by releasing a forgery of a birth certificate. Why won’t Donald Trump address the allegations that he is the spawn of an orangutan? 

Oh, and now he’s “considering” a run for Governor of the state of New York.

4. The WNY Voter

Byron Brown coasts? Barbara Miller Williams elected again? Carl Paladino elected to the Buffalo school board? Horrible turnout numbers for elections? Can’t we do better than this? 

3. Tim Howard

The elected Erie County Sheriff decided to also appoint himself to a Supreme Court judgeship, but elevated himself to the New York Court of Appeals – maybe even the Supreme Court! 

He unilaterally decided that he wasn’t going to enforce the NY SAFE Act (see #1, below), thus completely misunderstanding how the constitution works and what roles the various governmental branches play. 

2. Chris Collins

Seriously, take your pick – whether it’s his criticism of an historic deal with Iran, Collins’ vigorous support of a government shutdown in a hopeless effort to get the President to ditch Obamacare – and then claiming he didn’t support it at all, or his jejune “poll” of his constituents, Chris Collins proved time and again that he is the worst Congressman WNY has sent to Washington in perhaps forever. No amount of Buffalo News rehabilitation will change this. 

1. Concern-trolling and the NY SAFE Act

If you really think that limiting magazine capacity and requiring more stringent background checks in order to purchase a firearm is a tyrannical usurpation of your 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, in a state that already has among the strictest gun laws in the country, you’re having a bit of an overreaction.

I liken it to the kid in class who craves attention, so he casts himself in the role of victim in order to feed the craving. We see you, and your Gadsen flag. However, society has a similar compulsion to balance the right of people to, e.g., send their kids to school and not have them come home in the box because an unhinged lunatic had an arsenal versus your right to own an arsenal

Dishonorable mention:

The same collection of Buffalo plutocrats who gave us such hits as “Dr. James Williams” are now agitating to pay off Buffalo School superintendent Pamela Brown in an effort to be rid of her. Forget that there have been incremental improvements in results under her tenure; forget that Williams was a trainwreck of a disaster, bought and paid for by M&T Bank’s Robert Wilmers; and forget that Brown has been in her current position since June 2012. The bottomless pit of racist, sexist, misogynist invective that some are hurling at her for not adequately herding all her myriad feline coalitions has been appalling. I don’t know why the likes of Paladino don’t just come right out and say what they mean – that she and the board members who appointed her are a sordid collection of incompetent negresses. Brown isn’t perfect, but relentlessly sabotaging her, dehumanizing her, and delegitimizing her isn’t going to fix much. At least give her a chance to succeed or fail. 

Coming soon: best of 2013. If you have a nomination, email me here

Carl the RINO and Donny’s Shovel

1. Tea Party Champion Carl Paladino: 

Who better to lead a protest than a perpetually incensed, elderly millionaire? What better thing to protest than “socializing” America? Who better to “send a message that RINO’s [sic] who support an elected Democrat…have no place in the…Republican Party”? How about the developer millionaire who was a registered Democrat for 31 years, until 2005, and who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to convenient Democrats who were positioned to help his business goals? He attended a Democrat’s fundraiser just this year. Oh, and this from the Buffalo News

Speaking of Paladino, several of the 2010 Republican candidate for governor’s companies recently dropped $9,000 on Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner’s housekeeping account, according to campaign finance records. This occurs even after Zellner moved Democratic Headquarters out of Paladino’s Ellicott Square.

“I’m supportive of Jeremy’s efforts,” Paladino said last week. “When it comes to good government, it’s what we do. We support both parties’ central operations to do the right thing.”

Who better to lecture Patrick Lee and Anthony Gioia on who is and isn’t a “RINO” than a self-anointed tea party hero who has given thousands of dollars to Democrats in just the past year? 

2. Buffalo News Columnist Donn Esmonde: 

It’s called “objectophilia“. 

As I grasped your handle and cupped your lean, strong shaft of a body in my left hand, I silently celebrated all of the times, over all of the years, we had done this together.

Donn Esmonde, to his snow shovel. I think the shovel swore out an order of protection. 

3. Bonus thing to Read

From the Harvard Business Review, “It’s Not OK That Your Employees Can’t Afford to Eat“. 

It wasn’t that long ago that in most companies, especially large ones, a fair amount of time was spent worrying about whether the company’s practices towards employees were fair. One of the functions of human resource departments was to advocate for the interests of employees.

The motivation wasn’t entirely altruistic. Since WWI, employers figured they could keep unions out by giving employees virtually all of the wage and benefits they would have gotten from joining unions. Even without that concern, though, the leadership of the company considered it part of their job to strike a balance between the other demands on the business and the needs of employees.  They were one of the important stakeholders in the business, along with customers, shareholders, and the community around them…

…A family of four with one breadwinner is eligible for food stamps if they earn less than $2500 per month. That is the equivalent of a $15 per hour job and a 40 hour work week.  The government has determined that full-time workers earning less than that do not have enough money to feed their families on their own. If that breadwinner earns less than $16 per hour, they are also eligible for Medicaid assistance to provide healthcare. Depending on where they live, that breadwinner is also eligible for subsidies to help pay for housing.

Pre-haunting Scrooge is no way to go through life, and no way to run a country. 

Sense of Place, For Real

While the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors’ Bureau is busy attracting geriatric architecture nerds to come and look at cornices and decorative concrete, the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is doing this: 

There is no mention of “sense of place” or that “this place matters”. There is no talk of “for real“, or Buffalo being more authentic than other places. There is a complete absence of talking heads praising our unmatched street grid or making completely ignorant claims about Buffalo having the only water sunsets west of the Pacific. The CVB’s “For Real” series of videos, hosted by local musician Nelson Starr, are better at showing off the people and things to do in the region, but the signature pieces are pedantic and verbose. 

What this simple video from a local business development agency does that the CVB hasn’t been able to articulate is what makes Buffalo different and attractive. Yes, I realize that it was developed for a wholly different purpose and a completely different audience. But the message and its delivery are matter-of-fact, and emphasize people having fun in our natural and built environments; not the environments themselves. 

Nice work, BNE. You made Buffalo seem like a nice place to live, work, and play. 

One Region Forward Community Congress Workshops: This Week

This week, “One Region Forward” will be holding a series of workshops, soliciting public input regarding planning for a sustainable future for Buffalo and western New York. 

One Region Forward is working to create a long-term vision for making Buffalo Niagara a more sustainable and equitable region by helping inform decisions on how we use our land, coordinate housing and transportation decisions, prepare for climate change and grow and distribute food locally.

Community engagement is critical to this initiative, and One Region Forward has stressed the importance of one-on-one interactions by traveling across the region this year to hear how Buffalo Niagara residents view sustainability in their lives (a full list of engagements to date can be viewed here).

Starting tonight and continuing on through Saturday the 16th, One Region Forward will be hosting five Community Congress Workshops across the region. These workshops will involve a hands-on mapping exercise where small groups of people will be asked to work together to map what they think the future of Buffalo Niagara should look like while answering questions like: How will we get around? Where will we live? Where will we work? Where will our food come from? What will we protect?

To provide some context for the Community Congress Workshops, preview the “What the Data Tells Us” data story, which explores the trends of the past and projects what Buffalo Niagara might look like in 2050 if we keep doing things the way we have in past decades. Also, check out an update on Regional Vision & Values, which summarizes the feedback we heard from citizens at the initial Community Congress meetings in early 2013.

One Region Forward Community Congress

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Workshops will be held as follows: 

11/12/13: Amherst Central High School 6pm – 8pm

11/13/13: City Honors Buffalo 6pm – 8pm

11/14/13: Parkdale Elementary School East Aurora 6pm – 8pm

11/15/13: Starpoint Central High School, Pendleton: 6pm – 8pm

11/16/13: Niagara Power Project Visitor Center, Lewiston 12 – 2pm

 

No Accountability and the Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy

The reason why the Thruway Authority will never, ever change the toll plazas in Williamsville and Lackawanna has to do with the fact that western New York is a nonentity. No one from Albany needs to pass through here on their way to Erie, and so it doesn’t really matter all that much whether you’re sitting in unnecessary traffic at Ripley, Lackawanna, or Williamsville on the I-90.

It’s 2013 and completely unacceptable that we haven’t made use of the not-very-advanced technology that is available to permit EZ-Pass holders fly by the toll plaza at highway speeds. No EZ-Pass, you can pay cash at a booth located off the main road, like they do in Florida.

The Thruway Authority is, actually, considering changing over to an all-electronic toll collection system, but only on the busiest part of the road, between Yonkers and Harriman. In other words, on the stretch of road Assembly members and Senators living in the New York City area take to get to work in Albany.

A report in the Clarence Bee (paywall) reveals that a meeting was held last week with local elected officials whereby the Thruway Authority made all the arguments for moving the Williamsville Plaza back east, past the Transit exit, relieving some of the traffic congestion on Main Street in Williamsville and other surface roads. But they refuse to do it.

The Thruway had originally slated $14 million to reconfigure and/or move the tolls, but now they’ve only got $6.5 million on the table. They acknowledged that there was not a lot of space available to reconfigure Williamsville the right way, but they were going to try anyway; they were going to go into it half-assed.

While officials from Williamsville, Lancaster, and Clarence pleaded with the Thruway to consider moving the plaza back to Pembroke, the Thruway Authority simply isn’t going to do it, and is talking about using electronic toll taking in a location that is already a bottleneck.

The Thruway Authority, of course, answers to nobody. If you complain, they don’t lose their contract or franchise to run the road. They run independently from the executive or legislative branches, which answer to the public through periodic elections. It has its own bureaucracy and budget, operating as a quasi-independent state-sanctioned entity, and if you don’t like queueing up at a too-small toll plaza using antiquated technology, well you can just go to hell and sit and like it.

Thruway employees get free EZ-Pass, so they don’t care. The Governor jets in and out of here, so he doesn’t care. Our local Assembly members and Senators are the ones who should be making the most noise about Thruway dysfunction, since they have to use the road to get to work, but instead we have Brian Higgins – a federal representative – calling for at least a toll-free stretch between Transit and Williamsville.

There is no accountability, so there is no motivation or impetus to improve service to Thruway consumers. It is more evidence of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy under which we live in New York.

Photos and Politics

Posting will be sort of light the next few weeks as the summer break drifts to a close and the school year begins in a flurry of binders and looseleaf paper. A few things, then. 

1. Do you guys like the photo of the day? Do you miss it? Do you want it back? 

2. If you read nothing else this week, please read this piece at Rustwire (thanks to Kevin Purdy for the tip). Substitute “Buffalo” for “Cleveland” or “Youngstown” and you’ll see that problems in rust belt cities transcend mere party politics and have more to do with the dictatorship of the bureaucracy and a lot of media attention being paid to all the superficial things while glossing over the important, systemic problems. If there is one thing I’ve tried to do since starting a blog, it’s been to draw more attention to the cracks in the foundation, rather than the leaky roof. 

3. I don’t know the first thing about the school or its underlying issues, but it is absolutely unconscionable to announce the shut-down of the Pinnacle Charter School a mere 2 weeks before the school year starts. Disgusting and unforgivable. The state Department of Education must be led by insane people. 

4. Colin Dabkowski’s piece calling the Board of Education “theater of the absurd” and writing it up as a theater review is up, and brilliant

5. Donn Esmonde, continues pecking away for some reason, despite being “retired”.  Here, he lectures the world about the high cost of higher education. I don’t know why we should care about his own personal problems with this particular issue, and I don’t understand necessarily how a ranking of college value will factor in the notion of public service, rather than income potential. In any event, we get yet another glimpse into the life of a union family that, without irony, has a semi-retired paterfamilias who denigrates the notion of higher education for anyone living outside of an arbitrary political boundary.  On Sunday, he took some time out from throwing Bernie Tolbert under the bus and completely ignoring Sergio Rodriguez’s existence to tell us that Byron Brown isn’t all that good of a mayor. Yet the last 1/4 or so of the piece extols how it’s gotten “easier” for certain developers to do business with city hall. Of course it has – it all depends on whose campaign coffers you’re busy stuffing. (See # 2, above). Maybe Donn shouldn’t have told us what a great mayor Byron would be. 

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