Managing the Water Authority

When it comes to attorney Chris O’Brien’s application to join the board of the Erie County Water Authority, one has to remember that Mr. O’Brien stands to gain absolutely naught from this appointment. He won’t get new clients or cases through his association with the ECWA, he won’t gain or lose any political clout – he’s a generous contributor, and asks nothing in return, and the position isn’t one with a high enough profile that it might enable him to market his personal political brand in some way. 

Staffing a public authority involves political considerations? Fetch me my fainting couch. I guess the installation of Jack O’Donnell in 2010 and the pending application of Chris O’Brien reveal that, in the end, elections matter. 

By way of full disclosure, Chris is a personal friend of mine, and there’s no upside here for him. All he’s doing is applying to someday appear on an Al Vaughters expose of the way the Water Authority conducts its business; he’s applying for a headache. It’s an administrative board, and he’s been the principal of a law firm for decades. Sometimes, people just want to commit public service in the first degree. That this application is remotely controversial is just dumb. 

Money, Money, Money

1. Anyone else getting the sense that the Cuomo billion for Buffalo is just a new way for our local Very Important People® to further enrich themselves and their friends on the public teat? We’re attracting a business from Albany?! What does Albany have to say about that? 

2. Congratulations to the Republicans + Tom Loughran for passing a 2013 county budget with an $8.5 million shortfall.  That’s just the kind of fiscal conservatism we need in Erie County. This is precisely the sort of “parental supervision” that the control board was put in place to provide, right? Oh, wait – you say the control board also has problems with what the Republicans and Tom Loughran did? Wait, you say that it’s somewhat suspicious that Amherst’s Democrat joined the Republicans and one of the few increases in the budget is for something called the “Amherst Symphony Orchestra”? 

While Democratic legislators tend to fight for things like funding the culturals and social services, Republicans tend to like things like road maintenance – things that the towns should be handling, but got the county to subsidize for them over the years. So now, with the budget as passed, the county executive needs to find $8.5 million worth of things to cut beyond what the legislature Republicans allegedly “cut” to eliminate the extra $18 additional bucks per year a $100,000 house in Erie County would have paid to help maintain a healthy cultural scene, and our roads.

I’m also especially disgusted by the Legislature’s right wing refusing to negotiate or compromise with the Democrats. As I pointed out yesterday, young Joe Lorigo should be held up for especial scorn for his ignorant, disingenuous statement about how hard people are fighting to raise taxes; Chris Collins went to court to raise them higher in 2008.  

Someday, Erie County will be free of the despicable stranglehold the Lorigo family holds over its politics. They are neither conservative nor proponents of good government, and they would rather promote an unbalanced budget than compromise and otherwise govern. 

The Comptroller’s office said Poloncarz’s budget is sound and reasonable. The control board conducted its own independent analysis, and found that Poloncarz’s budget is balanced and reasonable, and its board unanimously approved the budget and Four Year Financial Plan on October 26th.  By contrast, the control board’s chairman publicly expressed the control board’s concerns that the Republican amendments are unbalanced and unreasonable when he testified at the Legislature on December 3rd.

Here’s what Poloncarz said last night: 

…the Legislature has voted 6 to 5 to approve a 2013 Erie County Budget with the set of amendments proposed by Legislators Mills, Dixon, Hardwick, Lorigo, Rath and Loughran that we have talked so much about over the past week…

…Although I have earnestly kept the lines of communication open throughout this process in hopes of reaching a compromise that ensures the fiscally stability of the county and protects the programs and services demanded by the public, none could be reached.

In fact, earlier this afternoon, I proposed a package to Legislator Hardwick that would meet them half-way.  It cut the proposed property tax in half—to about $4 million, or 9 cents per $1,000—along with a set of difficult, yet real, cuts in discretionary spending to make up the rest.  I was told that it doesn’t go far enough to meet their definition of compromise.

So here we are.   Although the people spoke when they elected me as their County Executive, their voices have been muted by this Legislature.  And while the legislature has a role in the process, all I can say is that I am disappointed in its action.

I am disappointed that a majority did not agree that after closing more than $20 million of a $33 million gap with targeted cuts across the board, and a responsible use of fund balance—in order to ensure the quality of life programs and services mandated by the people remain, we needed to propose a small property tax increase to find that last $8 million.

I am disappointed that when it was clear they would not accept any property tax increase—no matter what—instead of proposing real cuts in spending to offset the loss of revenue, they, instead, chose gimmicks that look good on paper but do nothing to reduce our obligated costs—not a single dollar.

Throughout this process, no matter how many times they said it, their math simply doesn’t add up.  And their refusal to present a single piece of data in support of their claims shows me they knew that as well. It sounds eerily similar to the debate we recently witnessed on the national level: it all comes down to arithmetic and their numbers don’t add up.

I can accept that we have different opinions on how we should spend our finite resources.  But, I cannot accept a difference in facts on what we have to pay and what we don’t. 

Instead of doing what is right, though difficult, they chose to do what was easy and wrong.

They chose to adopt a budget that is not balanced—from day one—and a Four Year Plan that isn’t balanced today or in the future.

Throughout this process, we’ve fixated on whether or not there is or is not a property tax increase, on this number or that number but what we need to really ask ourselves about this budget is what have we accomplished?

That’s frankly, what I am most disappointed about of all.  I am disappointed that instead of a budget that builds upon the many great successes we have had already this year, we now have a budget that takes us a step backwards towards the fiscal crises of years past.

Instead of moving forward on the many exciting economic development initiatives we have worked so hard on—and are beginning to come to fruition—we will be forced to shift that focus on correcting the structural issues within this budget and Four Year Plan in an attempt to stave off a hard control board.

This was entirely avoidable.  All it would have taken was one more Legislator to stand up and show the kind of leadership this community deserves from them.

In the coming days and weeks, I will begin to do everything in my power to rebalance this budget and the corresponding Four Year Plan. 

 The only thing missing from this scenario is a deep inhale of one-shot tobacco money.  Happily, Poloncarz will veto every spending increase that the right wing put in place. Yes – increase; almost $200,000 worth. They didn’t just make phony cuts on paper, they also increased spending on some items. Because protect the taxpayer. 

More despicable to me than bullshitting their way into an unbalanced budget is the legislature’s right wing refusing to compromise with Poloncarz. Compromise, as any political science professor will tell you, is what government is all about. Or supposed to, anyway. 

Of course, most local media are simply parroting the notion that your property taxes won’t be going up. Let’s don’t discuss what else is going on. Just keep it stupid and incomplete – the way you perceive your audience to be. 

Welcome back, Failboat. We missed you. 

The 2013 Erie County Budget: It’s a Thing

It includes everything the voters said they wanted. It includes a minimal property tax increase – smaller than what Collins imposed when he came to office. It takes care of new, expensive mandates from the state. It is in balance, and the control board has signed off on it. “It” is County Executive Poloncarz’s proposed 2013 budget.

By contrast, the Republican minority, joined by Democrat Tom Loughran, are pushing an alternative budget with no tax increase, but one that the control board is unhappy with, and one which will be woefully out of balance.

James Sampson, chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, also told legislators that the control board has concerns over how the proposed cuts would impact the budget – including how jail overtime would be managed to stay within budget and how the county would meet additional projections for savings for vacant positions. The board last month found Poloncarz’s budget projections reasonable, but has identified potential “risk” factors in both Poloncarz’s proposed budget and the changes proposed by the legislators.

The stability authority operates currently in a “soft” advisory status, but its members could determine whether to remain advisory or increase its oversight to a “hard” control board if they find the budget is out of balance early next year.

“No one wants that latter option to happen,” Sampson said. “The county executive doesn’t. We don’t, and I’m sure the people and the Legislature don’t want to see the control board having to go hard again.”

Here, Poloncarz makes his final pitch for doing the fiscally right and responsible thing.

Republican Legislator Joseph Lorigo gets honorable mention for best demagoguery:

“Quite frankly, I’ve never seen people fight so hard to increase taxes.”

Well, he must not have been around when Chris Collins did so in 2008.

Erie County Democrats, Politics, and Governing

The Democratic Party in Erie County needs to change, and it needs to do so fast. 

In just a short period of time – less than 10 years – the Erie County Republican Party has gotten its act together while the Democrats have foundered. The fault for this lies not with Len Lenihan or Jeremy Zellner. It doesn’t lie with Erie County Conservative Party chairman Ralph Lorigo or with the state Independence Party chair Frank MacKay. It doesn’t lie with Steve Pigeon. It lies with everyone. 

Frank Max partisans will go out of their way to blame Jeremy Zellner. What good does that do? From a micro standpoint, it might make you feel better – even though we are without any evidence that any electoral outcomes would have been different had he been the party’s chairman. But from a macro standpoint – for the overall good of Democratic politics in Erie County, it is a further descent down a rabbit hole of recriminations and unnecessary shaming and blaming, which is wholly counterproductive. 

Want to blame someone? Look in the mirror. 

I’m writing this because I want Democrats in Erie County to succeed. 

Republicans don’t even have to do battle with Democrats. Democrats are perfectly fine battling amongst themselves. It’s dumb, it’s counterproductive, and it needs to stop

On Election Night, the Erie County Democratic Party lost key high-profile races, Kirsten Gillbrand, Barack Obama, and Brian Higgins will serve new terms. Mike Amodeo lost, Kathy Hochul lost, and David Shenk lost. While some factions will gloat about this, and declare that it proves some intramural point, it reflects poorly on everybody in every faction

In the last ten years the Republicans in Erie County have gone from being an elitist club of enduring failure (excepting some safe suburban zones), and completely reinvented themselves into a party with young candidates, brash candidates, new and controversial ideas, and – most importantly – a large pot of money.

Let’s look at the Comptroller’s race. After two Poloncarz victories – countywide milestones for Democrats – we lost this time. Millionaires and developers like the Collinses, the Corwins, Paladino and his collection of companies have used their deep pockets to expand their political influence. That new reality allowed races like Stefan Mychajliw’s to be exceedingly well funded against an awkward Democratic unknown from a small exurb whose selection was almost cynical in its electoral tone-deafness. After 2010, Democrats lost Paladino’s money for good – he was sometimes a reliable Democratic donor in certain, key races. Mychajliw has no personal fortune from which to draw – indeed, he made much of his thrift during the campaign – beater car, cracked-screen smartphone. Whereas just 6 or 7 years ago, a Republican candidate like Stefan would have been expected to self-fund and expect little help from the party, there is now a vat of reliable fundraising from within and without the region. This is in large part thanks to the rise of suburban new-money political activism, but also the unchallenged leadership of its party committee, led by all-around nice guy/hardnosed warrior Nick Langworthy. 

Republicans also suffer from infighting; they just don’t turn it into World War III. 

Shenk was poorly funded, unlike his opponent. Shenk was an unknown, unlike his opponent. Shenk seemed out-of-place, awkward, unlike his polished opponent. What Shenk had was a large Democratic enrollment advantage. His job performance as interim comptroller? He literally sent out a release critical of Poloncarz’s proposed property tax hikes the day before election day – too little, far too late, and completely overshadowed by other news.  His first advertisement was introductory; in a 30-second spot, he wasted 5 seconds telling you he commuted to work every morning. His script had him emphasize that he was “your” county comptroller, as if that was somehow persuasive to viewers who probably don’t know what the comptroller does. Hell, the comptroller-elect ran on an  “I’ll stop patronage” platform – well outside a comptroller’s job description.  Shenk the unknown battling against Stefan Mychajliw – a person who came into your living rooms every night for years as “red coat” asking the “tough questions” of politicians – had to go directly on offense. He had to knock down Mychajliw’s favorables immediately to have a fighting chance. It wouldn’t have been hard – Mychajliw is uniquely unqualified to be comptroller; after the Republicans spent so much effort explaining that Phil Kadet (2009) or John Canavan (2005) were CPAs, now we had a Republican who had no finance background whatsoever. Instead, we learned about Shenk’s commute. 

Shenk’s second ad was much better, but it was too late. In the end, it was a closer race than I expected it to be, but it was a failure nonetheless. Mychajliw had already wrapped up the Conservative and Independence fusion party lines, theoretically giving Democrats a way to vote for him without using the (R) line. Advantage: Stefan. 

The Amodeo race was even more shambolic; he was never given a fair shot. Like Shenk, he was underfunded. Like Shenk, he didn’t set out to contrast himself against his opponent’s weakness. Like Shenk, he was the victim of the anti-Lenihan/Zellner faction, which used Steve Pigeon’s ties with Ralph Lorigo’s Conservative Party to run Chuck Swanick, first in a Democratic primary, and later in the general election, gleaning the 12% homophobe vote. Despite their protestations to the contrary, Swanick’s sole reason for being in that State Senate race was to punish Grisanti for his vote in favor of same-sex marriage. He was funded almost exclusively by “loans” and money from the gay-hating “National Organization for Marriage”. When he failed to get the Democratic endorsement, Swanick continued with his campaign, appearing in exactly one TV spot, paid for by the Conservative Party. In it, he looked like Ralph Lorigo’s kidnap victim.

There was nothing whatsoever wrong with Amodeo as a Democrat, by the way – the whole thing had to do with the fact that Lenihan wouldn’t endorse Swanick. And why should he have? Swanick was most recently a failed party-switcher; reeking still from the stench of the recent Erie County budget meltdown and tax hikes. Why would Lenihan have endorsed someone so virulently anti-marriage-equality and anti-gay that he accepted money from a PAC totally opposed to the type of progressive policies the Democratic Party should be promoting? Grisanti had buckets of money and support from bipartisan sources. He outspent Amodeo by a ridiculous amount, even going negative against him for no apparent reason. It was a uniquely vicious and relentless campaign from someone who really had the race sewn up tight. $20,000 per day in advertising, the Democrats were caught looking like beggars. 

Yet Democrats I spoke with in the waning days of the campaign brought up Amodeo within their first breath. It was their big hope – he could still pull it off!  But Amodeo wasn’t just underfunded – he was the direct victim of an epic battle for control of the party, and had only one party line against a guy with the (C) and (I) endorsements lined up.

Some of the recriminations are hilarious. For instance, when Shenk personally asked Buffalo’s Mayor for help with his campaign, the Mayor flatly refused. When others in the party tried to intervene for help from the Mayor’s faction with the Hochul, Shenk, and Amodeo races, they were met with the mayor explaining that none of those people concerned him. Pigeon’s faction went one step further – they actively opposed the Democratic candidates for Comptroller and State Senate. When Democrats are in the trenches, all Democrats should pull together to help out; to do their part. Primary season is one thing, but when they’re over, that’s no time to go AWOL because your guy lost. 

Here is the most important lessons the Democrats in Erie County should take from the whole thing: you need to recruit new blood to what’s become a shallow bench of candidates. Too often we see the same names over and over again, and most of them do absolutely nothing, except ensure their own longevity. You need to locate and cultivate new sources of campaign funding. You need to come to the realization that an enrollment advantage means nothing in the face of a Republican candidate who can credibly appeal to Democrats.

One of my biggest criticisms of Mayor Byron Brown is that he is too concentrated on the politics and interoffice management of the city’s government, and offers up no broad, aspirational goals, nor any plan to achieve them. Democrats in Erie County need to maintain existing relationships with labor, and continue the hard work to reverse years’ worth of right-wing demagoguery against worker rights, but start coming up with some new ideas and better plans for the future that can appeal across party lines. 

Finally, Kathy Hochul’s loss to Chris Collins was particularly devastating. The blame for that loss cannot be affixed to the party apparatus, or to any sort of factionalism. Instead, she was out-spent in a district that became even more red than the one she won in 2011. She had her own funding and her own excellent campaign infrastructure at her disposal, and she lost because she lost. She ran an aggressive campaign and did as well as any Democrat could be expected to do. 

On the other hand, Justin Rooney from Newstead mounted a credible challenge to Mike Ranzenhofer in SD-61, which has recently expanded to the Rochester area – new territory for them both. We need more Justin Rooneys, and Justin Rooneys need more support and more money. 

So, what can we do immediately to stop this? First of all, the best way to maintain weakness through factional squabbles is to start laying blame for it on anyone, or any side. Whether you’re in with the Mayor, with Pigeon, or with Zellner: you’re a Democrat. Start acting like one. That means the governing should be more important than the politics should be more important than the power. The factionalism exists because it’s a battle over control – a battle over patronage and the money and political loyalty that comes from it. (The Republicans are not immune here – their cozy relationships with the (I) and (C) fusion parties has to do with overcoming their enrollment disadvantage in exchange for patronage and favors. This is why electoral fusion is a horror that anyone with any interest in good government should strongly oppose). I don’t care how the factions decide to make peace and unify, but without it, the party will continue to fail or underperform. Things Democrats stand for will lose in the battle of ideas to things Republicans do  – fiscal meltdowns, “trickle down” fantasies, union-busting, homophobia, corporate welfare, punishing the poor and working class, playing budgetary games to hide fiscal time bombs. 

We need to not only stop associating with the likes of Ralph Lorigo, we should be openly challenging his party’s entire platform (such as it is), and electoral fusion itself. 

We need to not only stop associating with the so-called “Independence Party” and add “abolition of electoral fusion” as a platform plank. 

We need to stop playing factions off each other and get back to the work of electing good-quality Democrats to office. 

We need to overhaul our messaging and become more transparent and inclusive. 

We need to start better appealing to suburban voters who self-identify as small-c conservatives. 

We need to come up with a specific vision for this county, and propose ways to get us there. 

We need to improve outreach to people who sit on the sidelines because the system is so sordid, and solicit ideas, advice, assistance, and counsel. 

We need to grow our bench, and encourage more people to come in from the private sector to make government work better. 

We need to locate and cultivate new and more reliable sources of funding of campaigns. 

We need to especially target elected officials who have spent more than 20 years in office and have little achievement to show for it – regardless of party. 

We need to start thinking outside the traditional Democratic box and realize that western New York’s unique position within a unique statewide power structure leaves us as a political, economic afterthought, but with that comes flexibility and freedom. 

We need to identify structural and infrastructural problems that cost us money due to years’ worth of bad planning, bad politics, and bad government. 

We need to outperform the Republicans on the battleground of ideas. 

We need to change how we perceive ourselves before we can change how others perceive us. 

We need to consider abandoning the practice of endorsing candidates in a Democratic primary. 

When the primaries are over, Democrats should back Democrats, period. 

We need to create and implement policy-based criteria for endorsements.  Why, at the reorganization, did the party not consider adopting marriage equality, anti-fracking, or minimum wage platforms? Then use them as criteria for endorsements.

You know who cares about trivial gossip fed to the Gramignas and other Illuzzi heirs about this faction and that faction? No one, that’s who. 

We need to come to the stark realization that the infighting and toxic recriminations are repelling good people from becoming (or staying) involved in the system. What you’ll have left is people with their hands out, looking for their cush jobs, and the region will be stuck in neutral, if not reverse. 

We need to stop fighting Democrats and start fighting Republicans and Conservatives and the Independence Party. 

By the same token, we should welcome, support, and encourage good ideas, regardless of their source. 

At the very least, we should be having open, honest, vibrant debate about these ideas in a transparent process. 

I’ve been writing about this stuff for almost ten years. I’m still hopeful about this region’s future, despite how acutely screwed up everything is. I see a lot of good things happening on the fringes – things happening not because of government or politics, but in spite of them. There is so much love for this area, and so much energy out there just waiting to be unleashed if someone would just take the lead. If someone would come out and say, this is what we should be doing,  and here’s how we can get there together. Democrats in Erie County should be at the forefront, helping to lead that discussion and helping to formulate that plan. 

But the longer we continue down the same, generations-long path of 50s era thinking, pandering to fusion opportunists, and reluctance to change, plan, and expand, the longer we’ll keep seeing results like Tuesday’s. Let’s stop being Pigeonistas and Headquarters guys and Byron’s people and start being Democrats. 

 

Quick Take

Quick take because President Obama didn’t start giving his acceptance speech until almost 2am. If you see me today, steer clear. I’m tired and filled with mixed emotion. 

POTUS: Barack Obama won re-election rather handily, and a great deal of people – mostly made up the disingenuous and the dumb – owe Nate Silver from 538 a massive apology for doubting his predictive models and for complaining about “skewed” polls. Silver was right on the money, and people like the always-wrong Dick Morris, and a whole set of mostly Republican “pundits” were beyond wrong. Science and math win over “gut” and “feelings”. Maybe it has to do with boomer conservatives all being former hippies. You know, “me, myself, and I”. I’ll write more about this later, but a win is a win, and watching Fox News during part of last night, I found the most amazing Vaudeville show ever produced

NY-27: This is devastating. Make no mistake, the electorate of the 27th Congressional District has left me – themselves – effectively without Congressional representation. For all intents and purposes, I’m an inadvertent, unvoluntary liberal tea partier.  Only for real. Late last night, Kathy Hochul, who has served in Congress with excellence and bipartisanship sent this: 

“Early this morning I called Chris Collins and congratulated him on being elected to Congress.  I encouraged him to work across the aisle and offered to assist him in any way I can.  I also volunteered to help him make a smooth transition in January to ensure our constituents are well served.  Congress can do better, and the people of this country deserve better than what Washington has given them.”

Collins is all over the air saying Hochul lost because of her Buffalo China ads. I’ll agree that they went too hard on that tack, and didn’t push the real issue – that she’s bipartisan and he’s completely partisan. Mr. Obamapelosi has no business claiming not to have been more negative than Hochul in the race. Thank God Obama won, otherwise you’d see the rapid dismantling of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and a whole variety of so-called “entitlements” that you depend on and pay for

Comptroller: Voters chose name recognition over qualifications, such as they were. No surprise there. Now what, Stefan? 

Other than that – marriage equality won referenda in Maine and Maryland – a first. Horrible red-baiting Congressman Allen West is gone. Michele Bachmann almost lost. Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown in Massachusetts; democrats took back “Teddy Kennedy’s seat”. 

A mixed night, but a relief that we will continue to move forward with President Obama. Hopefully Washington will start to get things done, now that the Republican’s chief policy aim of preventing Obama’s re-election is extinguished, they can get back to governing

 

 

Maxed Out

Congresswoman Kathy Hochul

They brought in allies and operatives – many of them festooned with red armbands, without a hint of irony or historical perspective. They demanded that the vote be overseen by an outside observer – Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. They enlisted the assistance of Governor Cuomo, who used surrogates to cajole and persuade the members of the Erie County Democratic Committee to replace outgoing chairman Len Lenihan with Frank Max of Cheektowaga. 

Max’s support came not just from the governor’s arm-twisting, but from two breakaway party factions. City Hall told the governor that it could work with Max, but not with Lenihan #2, Jeremy Zellner. The Steve Pigeon faction has a reasonably consistent alliance with city hall, because they share an anti-Lenihan sentiment. 

How did it work? When a committeeman arrived at Saturday’s reorganization meeting at the Hearthstone Manor, she was handed a ballot upon check-in. The ballot was turned over after the committeeperson had shown an entrance card and ID, and then signed a receipt acknowledging its receipt. 

Before you hop on the “Democrats are hypocrites” with respect to voter ID, voting for the chairman of your regulated private club isn’t the same as voting for an elected official. The latter invokes constitutional rights, the former does not. 

Each ballot contained the committeeperson’s name at the top, and weighted vote at the bottom. The list of candidates was printed in the center. The attendees ripped the top off, removing their name from the ballot, ticked the desired box, and dropped the ballot in a container. Each container was being watched by Max and Zellner representatives to ensure that there was no ballot-box stuffing. 

The weighted vote is more complicated. It was all calculated based on the number of people within a given election district. Some suburban voters had weighted votes of under 200, while some city voters had weighted votes in excess of 900. 

 Max claims he won more ballots cast, that isn’t how the winner is calculated – Max and his faction knew this full well. One insider who was in the room tells me they didn’t even tally who received how many ballots cast in the counting room. Not only that, but they knew how the weighted votes were allocated and could have – but didn’t – file an objection of some sort in advance of the reorganization. The court case that’s being filed seems to center around the redistricting and reapportionment of the weighted vote in the Town of Amherst. Amherst’s town committee is led by Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward, who is a Lenihan/Zellner partisan. But it’s not clear whether the allegation is that Ward did something wrong. Even Max attorney Peter Reese acknowledged to the Buffalo News that, “[Ward] used an arcane provision of election law to redistrict in Amherst to his advantage.” Election Law section 2-104 is “arcane“? 

Even arcane statutory provisions are valid, though, aren’t they?

Ward rightly argues that the redistricting was done well in advance of the reorganization, and Max’s people had an equal opportunity to run people for new committee seats earlier this year, but didn’t.

The charges of ballot-stuffing are vague and don’t name names – the police were not called, no one is being haled into court over it, and in this smartphone age, no one took so much as a snapshot. By failing to pre-emptively challenge the Amherst redistricting, and by calling in the state party committee to don a blue helmet and oversee the process, the complaints from the losing side seem to be nothing more than soreness and sour grapes. 

In fact, Miner – whom Frank Max asked to attend and oversee the process – was in charge of the counting room. If she did not raise an objection (and there’s no report that she did), the count was fair on its face. If part of their strategy was to challenge the procedural legitimacy, it flew in the Max camp’s face. That explains why the allegations of counting improprieties are relegated to rumor and won’t be part of the litigation. 

It would be great if the Democratic party in Erie County could be unified, but any such unity is a three-way street. Conspicuous in their absence were any mouth-noises from the Pigeon or Brown camps about pledging to work with the ultimate winner. (Zellner and Max pledged to work with anyone, to their credit). To Pigeon and Brown, this is part of a decade-long effort to wrest control of the party apparatus back even though Lenihan found it in debt and utter disarray. Over ten years, almost always fighting a war on two fronts – against Republicans and breakaway Democratic factions, Lenihan navigated the party ship to a scandal-free path of successes that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. 

It would be great if the party could now unify behind Zellner, but no one’s holding their breath. Zellner is more pitbull to Lenihan’s likeable teddy bear, and has alienated many party stalwarts. The likelihood of these people shrugging off their personal bias in favor of party unity is slight. The Cuomo camp will have to reassess how wise it was to attempt to cajole and bully party loyalists to do something they couldn’t do in good conscience. The governor is alleged to have held up big civic issues such as the Bills lease over this idiotic party battle. If accurate, holding the entire community hostage over a party squabble is rank governmental malpractice. 

Party politics is by its very nature a massive battlefield of competing egos, and Erie County Democrats have proven time and again that these egos are most often unreconcilable. Maybe that conflicted status quo is better than the alternative. 

 

Running Government Like A Business

Had he not been such a consistent Collins sycophant for so long, I might just feel some sympathy for Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard. After yet another episode of a dangerous detainee being mistakenly released under his tenure, there was something new in the mix – candor. The new Democratic administration and Legislature weren’t looking to place blame, but to solve the problem. 

A longstanding one that’s been known for a long time. 

Howard and Collins had both viciously fought off any criticism from Democratic electeds and politicians like, e.g., then-Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, about hiring more staff to adequately do their jobs. This despite multiple tragic and embarrassing cases of inmate suicides, early releases, and escapes – most notable among them being Ralph “Bucky” Phillips’ escape from the Alden Correctional Facility, which resulted in three shot cops, one of whom died. 

Most recently, an accused attempted murderer was mistakenly released for about 20 hours on March 8th due to an epic paperwork screw-up. Howard was brought before an Erie County Legislature committee to explain what happened. Now unshackled by any loyalty to the Collins crew, Howard was uncharacteristically forthcoming. He blamed the screw-up on overworked deputies and clerks, many of whom were on their third consecutive 16-hour day. Some had made mistakes when entering information from the court, and rebuffed questions about the release from a newer clerk. 

Legislative chairwoman Betty Jean Grant asked Howard whether the Sheriff’s Department had asked for more staff to rectify this issue. 

Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman said yes and that the former county executive punished the department for the request.

“We asked for seven additional records clerks at $13.18 an hour for the 2011 budget, and the executive reponded by cutting all of our secretaries, administrative clerks, and eliminating management positions and reducing my salary,” Wipperman said.

Get that? Collins’ relentless push for “efficiency” and “running government like a business” resulted in punishing the Sheriff’s office for asking for adequate staffing. 

In answer to Hogues’ and Grant’s questions on what steps have been taken to prevent further mistakes on improper inmate releases, Howard said:

  • Paperwork from State Supreme Court and Erie County Court on inmates is now immediately entered into the jail’s computer records once it is sent over from the courts.
  • Efforts have been increased to speed up the activation of a new universal computer system that would electronically transfer the most recent court actions inputed by court clerks, eliminating the need for those records to be manually updated by sheriff’s records clerks.

In addition, Howard said the state’s Commission on Corrections, which oversees local jails, will meet at 2 p.m. Monday with his department to review its final draft of a staffing-needs analysis of the sheriff’s jail management division.

That document is expected to require the county to hire 60 to 80 new employees, both civilian and sworn personnel, to meet the manpower needs of the downtown Buffalo Holding Center and county Correctional Facility in Alden.

What we’re learning is that the Collins-Romney Six Sigma, “run government like a corporate raider” ideology is an abject failure. The needs and goals of government services like running a jail and policing the community cannot be held to the standards of the American private sector. 

Just because a corporate worker is overworked, underpaid, given few benefits, and threatened daily with outsourcing doesn’t mean that’s any way to run a Sheriff’s Department. 

Wednesday War ‘n Politics

1. Congratulations to Mitt Romney, who won a couple of states in last night’s Super Tuesday. He appears to have become, at long last, the Republican’s nominee to take on Barack Obama in November. Santorum won a handful of states, and Gingrich won Georgia, which is enough to keep them around and just demolishing Romney day in and day out, but they don’t really have anywhere to go.

2. Incidentally, did you know that the Paladinoist / Palinist wing of the tea party club here in WNY held a Presidential straw poll of its own? Although Romney is very likely to win the New York primary, our plucky band of angry local wingnuts picked Rick Santorum.

3. The debate over what is to become with the Trico building is going to be the big development/preservation fight for the first half of this year. It’s already getting going, as an earlier post will attest. What’s unique about this particular battle is that most people agree that the Trico building is an historically significant landmark, and also that the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is something that’s great for the community and the source of a great many good jobs, and of a knowledge-based future Buffalo industry. It’s going to be a tough battle because it’ll be particularly hard for anyone to demonize or belittle anyone else. It’s also yet another ad hoc battle that we’re so used to, which pits people against each other, creates loads of rancor, and is generally sad and discouraging, regardless of who wins. While I recognize the historic importance of Trico, and the importance of its former factory, I also recognize that Trico is long gone, headquartered in Michigan, and making blades in Brownsville and Matamoros. The building is, to me, subjectively hideous – an eyesore, and refurbishing a former factory – regardless of how historically important – into a medical research facility is impractical, and something the BNMC simply doesn’t want to do. They want a 21st century facility, not a 19th century facility. This is before we even get to the environmental cleanup that any adaptive reuse would entail. My sympathies default to people, jobs, and the future.

4. The Valenti/Brocuglio dynamic duo is back in / still in WNY, depending on whom we’re talking about, and their residential landlord got shafted at Eden court in her eviction effort. The former owners of Valenti’s restaurant have until the end of March to move out of their home, and Judge Zittel did not order a judgment for back rent dating to December.

5. I remember watching the Little Rascals after school when I was a kid, those little unsupervised, depression-era scamps were often tussling with the truant officer. Perhaps it’s time that school districts with big absentee problems revisit this idea.

6. There was a lot of hubbub yesterday about a map released by a special master appointed by a federal judge to try and resolve the ongoing fight over congressional redistricting in New York. Locally, the issue was the fact that both Brian Higgins and Kathy Hochul reside within the redrawn 27th district. Suffice it to say, the court’s map is not in any way final, but it will be the default map should the parties be unable to come to a separate agreement. It happens every time, and acts as a catalyst to move negotiations forward. What does seem likely, however, is that Louise Slaughter’s district will be re-drawn to return her influence to the Rochester area only, and out of the Buffalo metro. NYS Judicial Redistricting Maphttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/84287755/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-1bal4g6s16asfdntsxsd

7. Ron Paul has won a whopping 47 delegates during this primary season. The margin of Romney’s lead over Santorum in the delegate race is more than 200 delegates. Why the hell is he still in the Presidential race?

8. In response to news that the government is looking to get rid of over 800 jobs at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve base, Republican Congressional candidate David Bellavia tweeted this:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/DavidBellavia/status/177124836504645633″]

Well, not really. I received a press release that Schumer, Gillibrand, Hochul, Slaughter, and Higgins jointly released, reading as follows:

“We call on the Air Force to reverse this decision and to identify a new mission for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. As a united delegation, along with the support of Governor Cuomo, we will continue to fight to protect this base, the positions it supports, and the thousands of Western New Yorkers that rely on its services.

“The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is an essential part of our nation’s military force, and we will not rest in the effort to find a new mission.”

Furthermore, Republicans are usually very, very opposed to things like government stimulus of the economy and government employment vs. private sector employment. Somehow, those principles get thrown out the window whenever we’re talking about military spending. The truth is, the air base has a stimulative effect on the regional economy, and losing it diminish that. Also, it’s false to suggest that the local delegation isn’t working to keep that stimulus spending here.

9. Barack Obama is going to have an easy time running on his international affairs record, and sought yesterday to calm the rhetoric coming mostly from the right, agitating for a new war in the Persian Gulf, this time against Iran. Speaking of the unemployed Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney:

The president was withering in his retort. “Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not commander in chief. When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war” — for those who go into combat, for national security and for the economy. “This is not a game,” he added. “And there’s nothing casual about it.”

“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be,” he said.

We need another war like we need another 2008 global financial meltdown. But not to be outdone, Senator John McCain suggested that we ought to bomb Syria due to the political and humanitarian crisis being created by the fascist Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on a months-long popular uprising. It may soon become time for military intervention in Syria, as we took part in in Libya. However, this would need to be a multilateral effort, with the Arab League taking the lead in demanding the intervention. Efforts to do that through the UN Security Council were unsuccessful, due to China’s and Russia’s positions as the permanent member protectors of brutal authoritarian regimes, and the veto that goes with it.

10. Jim Heaney interviews former ECHDC / Sabres guy Larry Quinn, who has some choice words for the risible “lighter, faster, cheaper” method of planning for the inner harbor.

Wednesday War 'n Politics

1. Congratulations to Mitt Romney, who won a couple of states in last night’s Super Tuesday. He appears to have become, at long last, the Republican’s nominee to take on Barack Obama in November. Santorum won a handful of states, and Gingrich won Georgia, which is enough to keep them around and just demolishing Romney day in and day out, but they don’t really have anywhere to go.

2. Incidentally, did you know that the Paladinoist / Palinist wing of the tea party club here in WNY held a Presidential straw poll of its own? Although Romney is very likely to win the New York primary, our plucky band of angry local wingnuts picked Rick Santorum.

3. The debate over what is to become with the Trico building is going to be the big development/preservation fight for the first half of this year. It’s already getting going, as an earlier post will attest. What’s unique about this particular battle is that most people agree that the Trico building is an historically significant landmark, and also that the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is something that’s great for the community and the source of a great many good jobs, and of a knowledge-based future Buffalo industry. It’s going to be a tough battle because it’ll be particularly hard for anyone to demonize or belittle anyone else. It’s also yet another ad hoc battle that we’re so used to, which pits people against each other, creates loads of rancor, and is generally sad and discouraging, regardless of who wins. While I recognize the historic importance of Trico, and the importance of its former factory, I also recognize that Trico is long gone, headquartered in Michigan, and making blades in Brownsville and Matamoros. The building is, to me, subjectively hideous – an eyesore, and refurbishing a former factory – regardless of how historically important – into a medical research facility is impractical, and something the BNMC simply doesn’t want to do. They want a 21st century facility, not a 19th century facility. This is before we even get to the environmental cleanup that any adaptive reuse would entail. My sympathies default to people, jobs, and the future.

4. The Valenti/Brocuglio dynamic duo is back in / still in WNY, depending on whom we’re talking about, and their residential landlord got shafted at Eden court in her eviction effort. The former owners of Valenti’s restaurant have until the end of March to move out of their home, and Judge Zittel did not order a judgment for back rent dating to December.

5. I remember watching the Little Rascals after school when I was a kid, those little unsupervised, depression-era scamps were often tussling with the truant officer. Perhaps it’s time that school districts with big absentee problems revisit this idea.

6. There was a lot of hubbub yesterday about a map released by a special master appointed by a federal judge to try and resolve the ongoing fight over congressional redistricting in New York. Locally, the issue was the fact that both Brian Higgins and Kathy Hochul reside within the redrawn 27th district. Suffice it to say, the court’s map is not in any way final, but it will be the default map should the parties be unable to come to a separate agreement. It happens every time, and acts as a catalyst to move negotiations forward. What does seem likely, however, is that Louise Slaughter’s district will be re-drawn to return her influence to the Rochester area only, and out of the Buffalo metro. NYS Judicial Redistricting Map

7. Ron Paul has won a whopping 47 delegates during this primary season. The margin of Romney’s lead over Santorum in the delegate race is more than 200 delegates. Why the hell is he still in the Presidential race?

8. In response to news that the government is looking to get rid of over 800 jobs at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve base, Republican Congressional candidate David Bellavia tweeted this:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/DavidBellavia/status/177124836504645633″]

Well, not really. I received a press release that Schumer, Gillibrand, Hochul, Slaughter, and Higgins jointly released, reading as follows:

“We call on the Air Force to reverse this decision and to identify a new mission for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. As a united delegation, along with the support of Governor Cuomo, we will continue to fight to protect this base, the positions it supports, and the thousands of Western New Yorkers that rely on its services.

“The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is an essential part of our nation’s military force, and we will not rest in the effort to find a new mission.”

Furthermore, Republicans are usually very, very opposed to things like government stimulus of the economy and government employment vs. private sector employment. Somehow, those principles get thrown out the window whenever we’re talking about military spending. The truth is, the air base has a stimulative effect on the regional economy, and losing it diminish that. Also, it’s false to suggest that the local delegation isn’t working to keep that stimulus spending here.

9. Barack Obama is going to have an easy time running on his international affairs record, and sought yesterday to calm the rhetoric coming mostly from the right, agitating for a new war in the Persian Gulf, this time against Iran. Speaking of the unemployed Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney:

The president was withering in his retort. “Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not commander in chief. When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war” — for those who go into combat, for national security and for the economy. “This is not a game,” he added. “And there’s nothing casual about it.”

“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be,” he said.

We need another war like we need another 2008 global financial meltdown. But not to be outdone, Senator John McCain suggested that we ought to bomb Syria due to the political and humanitarian crisis being created by the fascist Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on a months-long popular uprising. It may soon become time for military intervention in Syria, as we took part in in Libya. However, this would need to be a multilateral effort, with the Arab League taking the lead in demanding the intervention. Efforts to do that through the UN Security Council were unsuccessful, due to China’s and Russia’s positions as the permanent member protectors of brutal authoritarian regimes, and the veto that goes with it.

10. Jim Heaney interviews former ECHDC / Sabres guy Larry Quinn, who has some choice words for the risible “lighter, faster, cheaper” method of planning for the inner harbor.

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:

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