14 Gerrymanders

During the 2010 election, one of the main themes had to do with reforming state government. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch spearheaded an effort to promote independent redistricting, and sought to hold lawmakers accountable. With NY Uprising’s list of “heroes” and “enemies” of reform, Koch’s group managed to bring the issue to the forefront. 

Yesterday, the State Senate’s proposed districts were released, and there’s nothing independent  about the way they were drawn. Koch is predictably incensed, accusing lawmakers of breaking their pledges, and calling the process, “disgraceful” and accused lawmakers who broke their pledge of losing all “credibility”.  For his part, Governor Cuomo has already said he may veto the entire effort.  Here’s how the LATFOR redistricting task force was created: 

The Task Force consists of six members, including four legislators and two non-legislators. The Temporary President of the Senate appoints one legislator, Michael F. Nozzolio (Co-Chair), and one non-legislator, Welquis R. Lopez. The Speaker of the Assembly also appoints one legislator, Assemblyman John J. McEneny (Co-Chair), and one non-legislator, Roman Hedges. The Minority Leaders of the Assembly and the Senate each appoint one legislator: Assemblyman Robert Oaks and Senator Martin Malavé Dilan.

Let’s take a look at the current and proposed Senate and Assembly Districts covering WNY. 

Grisanti’s district is to be entirely in Erie County, while Maziarz absorbs Niagara Falls. Ranzenhofer gets his first urban area way out in Monroe County, while Kennedy gets most of Buffalo, Cheektowaga, and Lackawanna. Gallivan’s district remains largely rural, except it doesn’t reach as far east as before, and he has suburbs such as West Seneca, Lancaster, and Henrietta. The careful line-drawing protects incumbents – little more.  Just look at how carefully districts 60 and 63 carve through Buffalo’s west side: 

Street by Street

 Assembly lines aren’t much better. 

Street-by-Street

(Giglio (A-149), Burling (A-147), and Goodell (A-150), whose current districts cover counties in the Southern Tier, rural counties further east and south, are omitted). It would appear in the Assembly that Smardz may lose his district, and it should be noted that Congressional lines have yet to be drawn or proposed. 

If the system is a broken one, this is the process that is in most need of repair. Despite several years’ worth of guarantees and promises concerning apolitical independence, we’re right back to square one, and it’s wholly unacceptable. A veto is the only thing Governor Cuomo can do to send a message to the citizens of the state – and their legislature – that the status quo is unacceptable. 

 

The Cuomo Plan

Wilkommen in Buffalo

Governor Cuomo came to Buffalo yesterday to further outline his vision for moving Buffalo forward, and how the city can use the $1 billion the administration pledged.

The announcement has been met with all the hand-wringing, complaints, and angst that accompanies any sort of big news about Buffalo, with outside conservative commentators arguing that the money amounts to spending good money after bad.

But comparing the mistakes of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to our current state reveals little more than a prejudicial ignorance of what Buffalo is today. The city is financially sound, but politically broken and economically wounded. The most critical thing Cuomo said yesterday to the assembled Buffalonians was to stop looking backwards. Our nostalgia and t-shirt based economy is all well and good, but it’s not growing the city, educating our kids, reforming our government, keeping graduates in the region, or attracting business and industry here.

The key to the billion is that it’s not just a handout. It’s a line of credit that’s conditioned upon business, industry, and government agreeing on a plan – we’re not always good at thinking about the long game around here. Once we have an idea of what we want the billion to accomplish, we can set out to meet that goal through a specific plan.

We haven’t had city leaders express what they’d like Buffalo to look like in twenty or forty years, and it’s an important conversation to have, given the way in which our visionless city leadership is content to cut ribbons and tread water. The billion dollars here is a sort of Marshall Plan – it’s not, as the Wall Street Journal would have you believe, a welfare payment – Buffalo’s TANF for the year.  If we set up the right apparatus with the right people with the right vision and concomitant plan, this could really be something.

The problem now is pulling all of that together without the usual suspects getting all grabby.

Acropolis Under Siege

Yesterday, the Elmwood Village Association stabbed one of its own in the back.

The Elmwood Village Association is in favor of the proposal to expand the second floor of 708 Elmwood Avenue for restaurant purposes only. The Association does not favor the establishment of a bar on the second floor of the building. Additionally, the Elmwood Village Association is in favor of allowing a music license for the establishment on the following conditions: music must be kept at a sound level consistent with dining and quiet conversation and must be terminated at a reasonable hour; music is not allowed on any patio; and live music and DJs are not permitted to perform on the premises. Elmwood Village Association is in favor of a second floor patio at this location with the understanding that music will not be permitted and that the patio will close at a reasonable hour.

Didn’t the EVA insist on Bank of America building a faux second floor above it when it bought Pier One? Are we to understand that a faux 2nd floor for appearance’s sake is good, but an actual 2nd floor being used by a business in a poor city with a perpetually struggling economy is a horror? The Dining Roomer attended last night’s community meeting regarding the Acropolis expansion, and noted that it went less than smoothly.

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Seriously – who lives in a city to get peace and quiet? It’s the most outrageous argument I’ve ever heard, and it would be comical if it wasn’t adversely affecting a miniscule Greek restaurant that has been a good neighbor, and a good community citizen for many years.

UPDATE: Read what Newell Nussbaumer writes about the matter at Buffalo Rising today. I think he’s exactly correct.

Fact-Checking McCarthy's Story About Grisanti's Money

Courtesy Tom Dolina at Tommunisms.com

Bob McCarthy reports in Thursday’s Buffalo News that State Senator Mark Grisanti (SD-60) reported receiving “nearly $247,000” and that, of the 85 reported donors, only one was from western New York.

The insinuation here is that Grisanti’s local support is slipping, and that he’s dependent on money from outside the region to mount next year’s re-election bid.  It’s an insinuation that is false, and McCarthy is deliberately ignoring or confused by the fact that Grisanti has chosen voluntarily to follow an unnecessarily stringent financial disclosure pattern for a State Senator in a non-election year.

1. All of the checks from outside the area arose from a fundraiser that New York Mayor Bloomberg held in October for Republican Senators who voted in favor of the same sex marriage bill last summer. At that fundraiser, most donors pledged money, and the pledges were fulfilled in early December, and reported in January.

2. When Grisanti files, he itemizes every single donation – even if it’s under the $100 threshold – in order to maximize transparency.  He files to make sure everything is out there, because he has nothing to hide.

3. Grisanti held several local fundraisers during previous reporting periods, but none during the time covered by the January periodic, which would have started in mid-December.

4. If you look at Grisanti’s disclosure (and compare it to that of Maziarz, Kennedy, and Ranzenhofer), he filed pursuant to the tighter election year schedule despite the fact that 2011 was not an election year for him.  In his unnecessary 32 day pre-primary filing, most of his individual donations came from within WNY.  All of the individual donations in the 11 day pre-primary disclosure were from WNY.  In the 32 day pre-general filing, only one individual donation came from outside WNY.

5. Had Grisanti, like his colleagues, opted not to follow that tighter election-year cycle during the last half of 2011, all of those pre-primary and pre- and post-general election disclosures would have been contained in the January filing that McCarthy wrote about.

6. The shorter version is, Grisanti’s January disclosure only covers December 2011. The other Senators’ disclosures covers July – December 2011.

So, McCarthy’s insinuation about Grisanti’s support coming almost exclusively from outside the area, and that this is somehow out of the ordinary for a State Senator, is not a fair representation of the facts in this particular instance.

 

Fact-Checking McCarthy’s Story About Grisanti’s Money

Courtesy Tom Dolina at Tommunisms.com

Bob McCarthy reports in Thursday’s Buffalo News that State Senator Mark Grisanti (SD-60) reported receiving “nearly $247,000” and that, of the 85 reported donors, only one was from western New York.

The insinuation here is that Grisanti’s local support is slipping, and that he’s dependent on money from outside the region to mount next year’s re-election bid.  It’s an insinuation that is false, and McCarthy is deliberately ignoring or confused by the fact that Grisanti has chosen voluntarily to follow an unnecessarily stringent financial disclosure pattern for a State Senator in a non-election year.

1. All of the checks from outside the area arose from a fundraiser that New York Mayor Bloomberg held in October for Republican Senators who voted in favor of the same sex marriage bill last summer. At that fundraiser, most donors pledged money, and the pledges were fulfilled in early December, and reported in January.

2. When Grisanti files, he itemizes every single donation – even if it’s under the $100 threshold – in order to maximize transparency.  He files to make sure everything is out there, because he has nothing to hide.

3. Grisanti held several local fundraisers during previous reporting periods, but none during the time covered by the January periodic, which would have started in mid-December.

4. If you look at Grisanti’s disclosure (and compare it to that of Maziarz, Kennedy, and Ranzenhofer), he filed pursuant to the tighter election year schedule despite the fact that 2011 was not an election year for him.  In his unnecessary 32 day pre-primary filing, most of his individual donations came from within WNY.  All of the individual donations in the 11 day pre-primary disclosure were from WNY.  In the 32 day pre-general filing, only one individual donation came from outside WNY.

5. Had Grisanti, like his colleagues, opted not to follow that tighter election-year cycle during the last half of 2011, all of those pre-primary and pre- and post-general election disclosures would have been contained in the January filing that McCarthy wrote about.

6. The shorter version is, Grisanti’s January disclosure only covers December 2011. The other Senators’ disclosures covers July – December 2011.

So, McCarthy’s insinuation about Grisanti’s support coming almost exclusively from outside the area, and that this is somehow out of the ordinary for a State Senator, is not a fair representation of the facts in this particular instance.

 

Leave Acropolis Alone

Is Acropolis a good or bad citizen of Elmwood Avenue?

Are we knee-jerkedly predisposed in Buffalo to discourage and punish success?

Do you live within earshot of one of the city’s busiest commercial districts because you treasure peace and quiet?

Acropolis on Elmwood, fresh off a recent renovation and expansion, is looking to further expand to the second floor. Some people in the neighborhood are opposing this – some reasonably, some with libelous outrage.

The city has already approved the work that Acropolis is doing – adding space to the second floor for small banquets and parties; it’s not a huge building. Yet some residents nearby are engaging in blood feud tactics to protest what they think will become a “nightclub atmosphere” in the miniscule second floor.

2 On Your Side attempted to reach those opposing the expansion but we were unable to track down a name or a group.  There is a public meeting scheduled for Thursday night for both sides to voice their opinion to Buffalo Common Council member Michael LoCurto

Typical – ad hoc group makes stuff up, arbitrarily opposes private enterprise, refuses itself to be accountable to anyone.  One opponent spoke with WKBW / Buffalo Business First:

“The expansion of a full bar at that location would have severe negative impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood,“ said Lynda Schnekloth. “Including excessive noise, increased traffic, competition for limited parking spaces, safety concerns, property values.”

Isn’t that a good thing for a city – increased traffic and less parking? Doesn’t that mean we’re doing something right? And how will a soundproofed tiny banquet area increase noise or “safety concerns” any more than Cecelia’s next door, or Blue Monk across the street, or any of the other nearby bars or restaurants? What proof is there that a thriving Elmwood business district will adversely affect property values? Any more than, say, break-ins to cars and homes, underperforming schools, theft of architectural features?  Let’s be real – if you want quiet and ample parking, you don’t live in the Elmwood Village. If you want a walkable, thriving, vibrant neighborhood that brings with it the headaches of living in a city environment, you do. It’s really that simple.

It’s like moving to the airport and complaining about the planes.

Buffalo Rising agrees:

While Buffalo Rising has seen far more people in favor of the expansion, what critics now seem to be misunderstanding is the music.  Acropolis is simply not a place for overly loud music.  It’s a place where a DJ can play eclectic trendy music to cater to the bar.  People can still have conversations over the music.   This type of relaxed bistro lounge atmosphere with DJ is popular with young professionals and has been for some time.  Right now, though, the City of Buffalo is holding his music license, so he is prohibited from playing music until the Common Council decides what it is going to do on January 24th.

Tsouflidis is reaching out to his critics, calling for an open community meeting, followed by a tour of the new upstairs space where the entire community can come out and learn more about the project and have a dialogue about any concerns that they may have.  It will be critical for supporters of the expansion to also attend this meeting or contact Delaware District Common Council Member Michael LoCurto’s office at mlocurto@city-buffalo.com to voice their support.  The meeting will be held on January19th at 6:00, in the Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church, downstairs in the loaves and fishes room.

The expansion of Pano’s several years ago was also riddled with controversy. Having a nice place to sit, have a drink with friends, and be able to hear your conversation is what adult city dwellers like to do. The protests against this are reminiscent of the neighborhood protests that ended a planned hotel at the corner of Elmwood and Forest, near Buff State. It’s a sorry state that businesses have to spend money and energy responding to – and often succumbing to – propaganda and lies, unless they’re well-connected and donate money to the right people, in which case they can, for instance, taunt politicians from illegal billboards on ironically crumbling, speculatively owned buildings.

Maybe Acropolis should be a future Cash Mob destination.

Collins, Marines, and SOPA

1. And in the end, Mr. Collins merely had to unplug the lights and radio in order to return them to their rightful owner, the people of Erie County. He didn’t need to deal with a guy he fired, he didn’t need to go to Cappellino’s.  It’s simply wonderful to be rid of him and his sense of nobility and entitlement, isn’t it? The notion that he’s looking to (a) challenge the well-liked, hard-working Kathy Hochul; and, in turn, (b) primary David Bellavia, who is still waiting to run that race, is simply delicious.

2. A video showing American Marines pissing on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters has everyone saying predictably angry things. That’s why you should read what Hamilton Nolan has to say about war, and what we should really be pissing on.

3. For some unknown reason, the federal government appears poised to pass the improperly named “Stop Online Privacy Act“, or SOPA. It criminalizes sites that store, maintain, stream or otherwise offer pirated content, and permits the government to revoke IP addresses and domain names. Also, once an offshore piracy site is summarily deemed illegal by the US Attorney General, the government can force domestic ISPs to block their customer’s access to those IPs. Furthermore, the proposed penalty would weaken security when you’re, say, doing online banking. But most ridiculously, SOPA allows the government to block your IP and track what you’re up to on the internet.

Deep packet inspection is the only way to block data from specific Web pages, or URLs. It also may raise new privacy concerns about SOPA because it relies on intercepting customers’ Web browsing, analyzing the protocols to see what’s going on, and reviewing the packets’ contents. That looks a lot like wiretapping, and a bipartisan group of House members soundly condemned it when a company named NebuAd tried it in 2008.

SOPA restricts and monitors Americans’ internet experience, censors what websites they can see, monitors what they’re doing, and places unreasonable burdens on domestic ISPs and hosting companies. It would create a governmental blacklist of websites. The whole thing takes the unbridled nature of the internet – the free-wheeling communications platform we all use and depend on, and turns our experience into something resembling a third-world authoritarian dictatorship, all so some Chinese website doesn’t offer pirated Metallica MP3s. The cure is worse than the disease. Senator Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of SOPA. Senator Schumer supports it, as well. It’s time to contact them and urge them to vote against the internet blacklist. Also, visit the “Stop American Censorship” site for more information and how to get involved.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Political Shorts

1. I am hearing that ex-County Exec Chris Collins is telling people that he’s going to run against Kathy Hochul for Congress in 2012. The redistricting issue is not yet settled, so it’s unknown what Hochul’s district will look like. If true, it immediately reminds me of the story in the Buffalo News in early 2010 whereby Collins – angrily, his natural state – confronted Hochul over whether she would be running against him for County Executive. As we all know, wealthy unemployed person Chris Lee went looking for sex with transexuals on Craigslist, resigned his Congressional seat, and Hochul went on to defeat Collins’ neighbor, Jane Corwin in May.

2. I’ve always been curious about the connection between Entercom and the SPCA – the hearts of some of the ultra-conservative hosts on Entercom bleed for animals while they have little compassion for down-on-their-luck humans. A tipster (actually, it’s the guy we all know as Doc Maelstrom, whoever he might be) emails the following with respect to the current controversy surrounding the Niagara County SPCA:

For the sake of disclosure it should be revealed that the President of the Niagara County SPCA, Brandy Scrufari, works for the President of the Erie County SPCA, Larry Robb, at WTSS radio. Robb is VP/GM of WTSS and several other Entercom radio stations where Brandy Scrufari has been working for the past 20 years. To have the Erie County SPCA scrutinize the claims of cruelty against the Niagara County SPCA is disingenuous considering the relationship Scrufari and Robb have had for two decades. Do not expect this investigation to reveal anything that Scrufari does not want revealed.

http://www.niagaraspca.org/Board%20of%20Directors_1

http://www.yourspca.org/page.aspx?pid=511

3. The atmosphere at yesterday’s Erie County Legislative reorg session was nothing like the last one, where the so-called “reform coalition” broke away to create a de facto Collins-friendly Republican legislative majority caucus. In 2009, when staffers were fired, Sheriffs were on hand to intimidate and impliedly threaten. Yesterday’s session, where Betty Jean Grant was unanimously elected chairwoman, was downright friendly. There was camaraderie among the legislators and their staffs, there were smiles, handshakes, and relief. The session took a little over an hour, whereas 2009’s went on for hours. While there is already some acrimony over borrowing versus spending from the general fund, yesterday’s session bodes well for a more functional and less acrimonious 2012 – 2014. There was some staff turnover yesterday, but I frankly detected more relief than anything even from those who didn’t know what their fate would be.

Here are some reminders from 2010:

Buffalo Right-Wing Freakout of the Day

Poloncarz transition team conducting interviews at SEIU’s office.

It’s got everything – McCarthy transcription of non-scandal nontroversy, “raised eyebrows”, strawmen everywhere, and eevil yoonyunz.

(This will be an occasional – not daily – feature. Because seriously, right wing media can only be consumed in small doses.)

Collins' Exit Interview

Outgoing County Executive Chris Collins granted an exit interview to the Buffalo News’ Bob McCarthy. This is no surprise, as McCarthy had been quite vocally assuming all summer that, solely on the basis of Collins’ own deep pockets, he would cruise to an easy re-election.

We all know that didn’t happen.

A week after the election, McCarthy transcribed the concern-trolling from several grumbling Republican insiders. Among their concerns,

How did a county executive who fulfilled all his promises with minimal effects on taxes and no scandals manage to lose?

And in yesterday’s Collins interview, McCarthy repeats – almost verbatim – the same Collinsphilia nonsense.

This time, the defeat seems to genuinely hurt. Collins struggles to grasp how he lost after keeping all his campaign promises of 2007 while running Erie County without a hint of scandal.

Setting aside Collins’ sour grapes and complete lack of self-awareness, it is untrue that he “kept all his campaign promises” and was somehow free from scandal.  The first step to getting better, they say, is admitting you have a problem.

The Buffalo News' Bob McCarthy

First of all, to say Collins didn’t have scandals is to ignore the time when he referred to the Jewish Assembly Speaker as the “anti-Christ”, and the time when Collins jokingly demanded a “lap dance” in order to save a seat at the State of the State address for a well-connected female executive at a local construction company. It ignores the fact that, to some people, informing them days before Christmas that they’d be losing their state-funded daycare services and that they’d have to quit their jobs to watch their kids, is quite scandalous indeed.  It ignores how Collins and his newfound nouveau-riche friend Carl tried to bully David Bellavia to drop out of the NY-26 race.

Secondly, Collins did not “fulfill all his promises“. Collins raised taxes, deepened regional cleaves, and ran on“Three Rs – Reforming Erie County government, Rebuilding the local economy, and ultimately, Reducing taxes.”

He did not reform county government – in fact, he resisted and blocked reforms almost routinely (another “r”); he did not rebuild the local economy, but ensured that stimulus funds were hoarded to artificially improve his balance sheet; and he did not reduce – but raised – taxes.

That’s breaking your promises, and that’s failure under any measure. It’s no wonder he lost

As for the remainder of Collins’ pity party,

Over and over again, the county executive turns to a consoling statistic — 39 out of 44.

That’s the number of county municipalities that voted for him on Nov. 8, only to be “overruled” by the cities of Buffalo and Lackawanna, and towns of Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and West Seneca.

That he won a plurality of small-population towns means nothing. People vote – not square footage.

Practically everyone he meets on the street, he said, says they cast their vote for him. His friends and supporters still tell him he was on the right track, and he firmly believes that the struggles and turmoil of his first term had set the stage for a second term of unparalleled success.

“With everything we had fixed,” he said, “frankly, the next four years would have been cruise control.”

Gee, that “cruise control” quip would have made a great campaign slogan. I guess this reveals that people are polite to Mr. Collins when they encounter him on the street.

Collins lost in the cities and big towns, he now says, because of the “polarizing” nature of politics and a stagnant economy that brought home Erie County’s Democratic plurality of 135,000 voters.

The influence of unions in the Poloncarz campaign energized city Democrats, he said, while stoking a “class warfare” mentality that piggybacked on the rhetoric of Washington and Albany.

That’s rich, coming from a guy whose entire agenda involved marginalizing and harming the poorest in the cities in an effort to gain political support in the wealthier suburbs. It’s a hallmark of current Republican thought that it’s important to kick the poor when they’re down. Slackers.

He rejects opponents’ claims of “arrogance” in running government, instead reasoning that his “noisy” four years energized entrenched interests and the status quo.

The “arrogant” label he now says, stuck with voters as part of a four-year “agenda” of The Buffalo News.

Chris Collins attended exactly zero candidate forums this past election cycle. He begrudgingly attended the one televised debate, and the two that weren’t. He couldn’t even be bothered to drive .5 miles up Goodrich Road to speak with voters at Clarence Town Hall at a candidates’ forum hosted by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. It’s not his money that makes him arrogant – it’s his arrogance that makes him arrogant.

“I don’t believe people voted against me because I was successful in business or I live in a nice house,” he said. “I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth.

“It’s just that class warfare polarizes the country,” he added, “so certainly there is an impact now in local elections, and it plays a role in polarizing people back to party affiliation.”

Never forget that Collins was phenomenally successful at exploiting suburban phobias and resentments at the expense of the poorest in the cities. No one played the class warfare game better than he.  Erie County is better off for returning first Chris Lee, and now Chris Collins back to their lives of gentlemanly leisure. Jane Corwin is the last of the hyperwealthy GOP troika left standing, and her loss to Kathy Hochul last May foreshadowed what happened to her next-door neighbor in November.

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