August 31, 2007

Spitzer's Ethics Amnesia

From the NY Post
Gov. Spitzer Wednesday afternoon told an upstate TV station that Communications Director Darren Dopp - front and center in the "Dirty Tricks" scandal that's embroiled the administration for nearly two months now - "didn't violate any rule or any law, any ethical obligation that we are aware of."

No "ethical obligation that we are aware of?"

OK. So, if that's the case, why did Spitzer suspend Dopp from the state payroll?

The governor ordered the suspension after Attorney General Andrew Cuomo confirmed in detail the reporting of Post State Editor Fredric U. Dicker on Dopp's role in the bungled smear of state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. To wit, Dopp and Bill Howard, assistant Homeland Security secretary, recruited acting State Police superintendent Preston Felton into a plan to embarrass Bruno.

True, the Cuomo report didn't declare that a crime had been committed. But that may have been because Cuomo lacked the power to question Dopp (or other key aides such as Spitzer chief of staff Richard Baum) under oath.

On top of that, Spitzer's deputy chief of staff, Sean Patrick Maloney, and policy director, Peter Pope, were designated as "special counsels" - whereupon lawyer-client privilege shielded them from Cuomo's questioning.
As a result, Cuomo was unable to learn exactly how far up the chain of command this apparent conspiracy went - into the governor's office, for example.

Even so, following the release of Cuomo's report, a supposedly outraged Spitzer suspended Dopp indefinitely.

"Indefinitely" ended Monday: Dopp's $175,000 salary was restored just before he is to testify before the State Ethics Commission - and while Albany County DA David Soares is continuing his own investigation of the matter.

Spitzer's newfound support for Dopp - during the same interview, he declared that the suspension was "arguably too severe" - sure looks like another signal to Dopp to stay loyal to the governor as the multiple probes continue.

Even more troubling, frankly, is the prospect that Spitzer is actually telling the truth - that is, that he sees no ethical transgressions in Dopp's conduct.

Not to wear out the facts, but Dopp did sic the State Police on his boss's most bitter political enemy - nobody is disputing that, after all.

If Spitzer really doesn't see the ethical issues raised by this entire affair, then maybe he truly is beyond help.

Either way, it remains that Eliot Spitzer was handed a resounding mandate to reform the politics and government of the Empire State - and he squandered it in the blink of an eye.

And it seems that he hasn't noticed.

August 30, 2007

LaBarbera Plea Raises Questions

Niagara County Legislature candidate Bob LaBarbera plead guilty Tuesday night in the Wheatfield Town Court, before Town Justice John Mattio, to Driving While Ability Impaired by alcohol.

This is a lesser offense than Driving While Intoxicated, but an admission nevertheless. Of course, this admission of guilt raises other questions:

1. Do the people that have publicly come to his defense feel that it is acceptable to operate a vehicle while one’s ability to do so is impaired?

2. LaBarbera claimed he would accept responsibility for his actions, but it would appear that he made a decision to accept responsibility for a lesser charge rather than the charge that the arresting police officer at the scene felt was appropriate. We will never know what his BAC was because he refused the Breathalyzer. Wouldn’t acceptance of responsibility include submission to the only test that would have told us how much alcohol was in his system?

3. Of course, as any slick lawyer will tell you, it is much easier to beat a DWI with no BAC results.

4. A plea of guilty is an acknowledgement of inappropriate behavior.

5. Does LaBarbera really think that people will believe that this is the very first time that he ever drove a vehicle while his ability was impaired and he happened to get caught. Any bets on the odds of that happening?

6. A refusal to take a breath test results is an automatic REVOCATION of one’s driving privileges. The odds of getting this revocation rescinded are virtually non-existent. In fact, a person who refuses a breath test is told at the scene of the ramifications of the refusal. Bob LaBarbera knew the night he was arrested that his driving privileges would be revoked if he refused the breathalyzer.

7. My legal sources indicate that conditional driving privileges may not include driving around the County to attend meetings or meet with constituents or attend political ceremonies. Who is going to drive him around?

8. Finally, and most disturbing, is that reliable sources have also told me that it is the policy of the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office to refuse a plea bargain on a refusal, regardless of the circumstances. How was Bob LaBarbera offered a plea?

From the Blog Administrator

As we approach the three month mark from the inception of Niagara Times, I'd like to thank everyone who has participated. I do, however, have a request. There are a fair number of posts that are going up anonymously, and I'd like to ask folks to use a name.

You don't need to register, but when you comment, the blog gives you the option of "Anonymous", "Other" or your blogger display name. If you do not want to register, you can still use a name by clicking the "Other" radio button.

The blog does give the option of not permitting people to post anonymously, but I would prefer to not enact that restriction. If you are concerned about privacy, the blog does not allow the administrator to see the names or emails of individuals who have registered.

So please choose an ID and enjoy the site.

David Klein
Blog Administrator

August 29, 2007

Candidate Jason Murgia

Jason J. Murgia, who is completing his first full term representing the 1st District in the Niagara County Legislature, is seeking re-election to his county position.

A registered Democrat who is a member of the majority caucus, Murgia currently serves as first deputy majority leader, and he chairs the influential Administration Committee. He had been mentioned as a possible candidate for Mayor of Niagara Falls, but instead hopes to continue working for his constituents in the 1st District.

“I am flattered that so many people had encouraged me to run for mayor,” said Murgia. “But my heart is still with the 1st District. I want to continue the important work we have started in the County Legislature. It is an honor to represent the 1st District, and I hope to have that honor for at leasttwo more years.”

Murgia was appointed to the vacant legislative seat in January 2005. That fall, he defeated his primary opponent by a 3-to-2 margin and won the general election without opposition.

In 2005, he worked with churches, non-profit agencies and elected officials to keep essential education and employment-related programs at the Niagara County Trott ACCESS Center on 11th Street. He also helped secure $50,000 to support these important programs. He worked with city and county officials last summer to fund emergency repairs of the Pine Avenue Business Association’s gazebo, which had collapsed, and was needed for a series of public events.

Murgia has been a strong advocate for Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and has worked to secure homeland security funds and low-cost power to help the hospital provide a high standard of care. He spoke out last year for the City of Niagara Falls to receive its fair share of casino funds, and he secured $10,000 for the Niagara Falls Greeters Program.

“I have been able to accomplish a lot for the district because I’m willing to work with anyone,” he said. “I’m not out to destroy anyone or score political points at someone else’s expense. I just want good government, and so do my constituents.”

“My campaign will be a positive one,” he added. “I think people have had enough of cynical, negative politics, and I don’t want any part of that kind of campaign.”

Murgia is known for his work as proprietor of the Orchard Grill, a thriving restaurant on Main Street in Niagara Falls. He also works as the 21st Century Grant
coordinator for the Niagara Falls City School District, where he oversees community use of Niagara Falls High School.

Murgia grew up in Niagara Falls and attended local schools before earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing from
the University of South Carolina in 1994. Murgia then returned to Niagara Falls to help revitalize the city.

Fact Check - Merrill Bender

In the August 24 US&J, Niagara County Legislature candidate Merrill Bender admonished the Majority Caucus for "failing to keep open a wonderful county home for our seniors and closing the Mount View facility, which was a moneymaker for the county before they took control."

A financial review of county documents sheds a very different light on Mr. Bender's interpretation of what is and what is not a "moneymaker". Keep in mind, Bender stated the facility was making money prior to the majority caucus taking control, which was in January of 2004.

In 2003, Mt. View lost $1,356,042.00
In 2002, Mt. View lost $811,268.00
In 2001, Mt. View lost $968,944.00

If you are going to be a candidate for public office, and make public statements such as the one regarding the profitability of Mt. View, you should take the time to verify your figures. If not, someone else will.

August 28, 2007

Candidate Dan Engert

My name is Daniel Engert and I am the endorsed Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate for Somerset Town Council. My opponents have filed opportunity to ballot petitions and so I will be involved in a primary for all of the above lines. Our town has been mired in a controversial PILOT award to the AES Somerset power plant. I believe however, that the critical issue facing the town and voters is “Who do you feel is best able to lead and maneuver this town through a change process that is obviously necessary in Somerset?" No matter the outcome of the PILOT litigation, it is obvious that we need to make some strategic decisions (that involve change) about the future in Somerset. Why should the voters in Somerset vote for me?
1. I am committed to working hard to develop and ENCOURAGE new ideas and approaches to promote small business. I believe that our town has a great deal of potential, in the way of skills, talent and resources. If elected, I will initiate a concerted focus in this area.
2. I will bring a spirit of cooperation and partnership to make certain that the interests of our residents resonate with our town officials so that the TOWN can effectively direct its own future. I will be accountable to the taxpayer only! I will maintain close ties to the constituents and will communicate regularly about what is going on in the town. I will commit to maintaining good, positive working relationships with all government, business and civic leaders/organizations to make CERTAIN that Somerset is part of discussions with issues relative to our town!
3. I will demand accountability with all contracts and expenditures, including our legal services, to ensure that we are wisely utilizing tax dollars in the best interest of our town’s objectives! I will strive to evaluate procedures and practices to ensure that town government is lean and efficient in all matters.
4. I believe it is crucial to have committed leaders in Somerset who have the interests of the town at heart and who will work to UNIFY this great community and move forward during this trying period in our history. I will commit to be that type of leader by respecting the will of the voters. Petty politics and retribution should not be part of our town government. Representatives and/or other town officials who actively engage in this sort of political manipulation and interference solely for the sake of control should not be tolerated.
Thank you again for the opportunity.

Green Knocked Off Own Line

The Phyllis Green saga took another turn today when it was learned that Green, who created an independent line by the name of Community Pride, failed to file her acceptance for the very line that she herself formed.

After claiming that the Republicans were secretly throwing their support behind newcomer Richelle Pasceri, Green apparently sought refuge with the Niagara County Democratic Elections Commissioner, Nancy Smith, to guide her through the election process.

Smith printed Green's Community Pride petitions and her acceptance, and would have been responsible for the timely filing of said acceptance. This, as we now know, never occurred. Failure to file the acceptance is an immediate disqualification from appearing on the ballot.

Green vehemently claimed that that the Republicans were out to get her because Green failed to knock Pasceri off the ballot, so the question now begs: Are the Dems also out to get you because they (and you, once again) failed to cross your t's and dot your i's?

The Greenies Take Spitzer to Task

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Governor Spitzer vetoing legislation that would essentially eliminate any CWM expansion in Porter by not allowing any toxic landfills in areas that could dump into the Great Lakes. This was a Maziarz/DelMonte bill that also passed last year and was vetoed by Governor Pataki.

Some people wondered if the green crowd in Lewiston and Porter would hammer Spitzer the way they did Pataki. Well, we have our answer in this column by well-known activist Amy Witryol in the Gazette.

http://www.niagara-gazette.com/opinion/local_story_239132152.html?keyword=secondarystory

While Amy hammers away, the lack of comment from statewide environmental groups on this issue is interesting....are they uninterested because Niagara County is light years away from Albany or is the Governor right about flaws in the bill..and if the bill is flawed, how quickly will he move to find an alternative solution?

August 27, 2007

Primary Election Candidates

If you are a candidate involved in a Primary Election this year, we at Niagara Times would like to provide you a forum to promote your candidacy. Simply email us at the link provided on this page, and we will print your information. We would prefer the text of the information in the email, not as an attachment.

In a nutshell, please provide a synopsis of why the people of your respective district should vote for you. Please keep your information to 200 words or less. We will copy and paste your content as received, so please check it for spelling and grammatical accuracy.

Please include the office you are seeking and which lines will encompass your primary.

Politicians vs. Appointees

This little blurb in the Buffalo News over the weekend got me thinking. Is it better to have politicians themselves sitting on all these different boards or are appointees who are somewhat insulated from day to day politics better suited? Think of things like IDA, NFTA, Bridge Commission, NCCC, etc., etc. Pros and cons both ways.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, still new to the job, has been fielding some questions of late as to why the comptroller should be the sole trustee of the state’s huge $154 billion pension fund.

He’s a pretty persuasive guy. After running through the accountability and legality arguments for this paper’s editorial board, he got to the one that hooked us — if New York scrapped its tradition of comptroller independence in favor of a board of directors, just who do you think would get to appoint the board members?

So, New York politics being what New York politics is, maybe it is best to just leave well enough alone"

August 24, 2007

Chinese Trade Deficit

It's interesting that the multiple recalls of Chinese manufactured products have created such a frenzy in the U.S., and rightly so. Two-thirds of the products recalled in the United States so far this year were manufactured in China, according to analysis by The Washington Times.

Of the 234 items recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) this year, 154 were manufactured in China, 43 were manufactured in the United States and 37 were manufactured elsewhere in the world. Recalled products run the gamut from children's jewelry, car seats and toys to gas grills, furniture and all-terrain vehicles.

The number of Chinese-made product recalls in the United States has doubled in the past five years, according to the nonprofit Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine. Chinese products accounted for 60 percent of the total recalls in the U.S. last year, which numbered 467 — a record.

But there is another problem with China, one that threatens the very foundation of this country. The United States and China share the most imbalanced bilateral trade relationship in the world. The United States imports more goods from China than it exports to a tune of $202 billion dollars each year. All told, China alone accounts for nearly 26% of the United States' $725.8 billion trade deficit.

Some in Congress have gone as far as to say that the US is "destroying its industrial base to support a communist country's industrialization."

It does not take an economist to see that a $725.8 billion trade deficit is unsustainable.

The status quo leaves open the very real and immediate danger of several economic catastrophe scenarios, including the fact that the trade imbalance with China places the United States in a potentially dangerous security situation. The outflow of U.S. dollars to China has enabled the Chinese to buy more and more government securities. This has given China tremendous leverage over the United States, since a quick sell-off of these securities would send interest rates spiraling up.

Some industry analysts believe that deindustrialization represents simply another phase of economic development. What the United States loses in manufacturing jobs, it gains in service and technology-driven jobs. That's hard to believe when we make our calls to AOL, Citibank or many other "service" business only to have an operator from India answer the call.

One thing is certain, when two of the world's most powerful economies are walking such a tight rope, every economy in the world shares a stake in the outcome.

August 23, 2007

More Power Coalition Fun

As expected, former NPC Director Mark Zito has filed suit against the coalition seeking close to $70 million. Zito says he was promised a percentage bonus based on the overall settlement. If Zito wins, he says the first round is on him.

Seriously, isn't it amazing that a public policy issue that is probably more important than anything else this community has seen in the last decade and will impact us for 50 years going forward seems to have been a shoebox operation run out of the back of someone's car? Zito probably deserves the bonus for being the only person who actually took the time to do his homework and gain a working knowledge of the New York Power Authority and the Niagara Power Project. That same cannot be said for the local officials of both parties who seemed to just be passengers on this train.

From what I'm told and have read, Zito actually negotiated a pretty good deal for the Coalition until the members turned on each other and bastardized the deal to the point that they settled for less than Zito had gotten them.

The real question will be can the same clowns who slept walk through this issue actually use their settlement booty to accomplish some lasting good for Niagara County or will this just be another government money pit? Unfortunately, I think we know the answer.

Where are the Campaigns?

It is 26 days until the Primary Elections on September 18. There are important elections from Niagara Falls to Somerset and all points in between. So......where are the campaigns, where are the candidates, where is the coverage?

Regardless of where you stand on any particular candidate or issue, this silence so close to an election is not healthy. We want spirited, back and forth discussion over where people want to take our communities.

Niagara Times is working on some interesting ideas on how to provide information on these races that hopefully we will be announcing shortly. In the meantime, if you spot any campaign activity, let us know. The silence is deafening.

August 21, 2007

RIP Betty Hoffman

The articles on the passing of former N.T. Mayor and State Assemblywoman Betty Hoffman seem to hark back to a time when maybe politics wasn't quite the bloodsport it has become today. Maybe it's a little naive, but wasn't there a time when you could run rough and tumble and at times even dirty campaigns but then put that aside and govern? Today, we are in the perpetual campaign cycle, which I don't think is at all a healthy thing.

How nice it was to hear people refer to her as a non-partisan mayor. Is there anyone today in a local leadership role that you could call non-partisan in their approach to governing? Certainly no one comes to mind immediately.

Goodbye Betty.

Homeland Security

Interesting article in the Buffalo News over the weekend about New York State receiving supplemental Homeland Security funding to the tune of $55 million with a whopping $311,000 coming to Buffalo/Erie County/Niagara County and the rest going to New York City.

Of that small portion for Western New York, you can bet very little of that will find its way to Niagara County. According to the article, most will go for Maritime Security.

Now follow my train of thought on Homeland Security, and note this really gets me angry:

1) The Canadian border represents such a terrorist threat that we must make it damn near impossible for people to cross the border, creating delays that last several hours. We don't care if we kill tourism and impact trade, we must protect Western New York from all the terrorists who want to shop at the Outlets....BUT......

2) Western New York is not really at any risk for terrorism so we don't see any reason to make any significant investment in the region when it comes to Homeland Security dollars.

This inconsistency is typical bureaucratic doublespeak and yet I don't see any federal elected officials calling them on the carpet over this nonsense.

We get government agencies making decisions that sound good in press releases yet have zero appreciation for the huge ramifications they have on border communities such as ours.

August 17, 2007

China Recalls

There are so many factors at work here that it's hard to pinpoint the problem. However, the ultimate responsibility is of the American consumer. The need for all things in one convenient, low-cost location is driven by the go-go-go mentality of today's society.

No one forces people into Wal-Mart. You make a conscious decision to shop or not shop there.

Sams Club and the other mega-stores are indicative of American's gluttony. More, more more. What's it leading to? More fat Americans, more heart disease and less social interaction.

Remember when we were kids? No X Box, no cell phones, no cable TV. We went out to play at 9 am and our mothers had to call us in (multiple times) as the sun went down. We invented games, hit baseballs, tossed around the football or whatever we wanted to do. Maybe we just "hung out".

These days, I have a neighbor who I truly believe to be a vampire. At 10 years-old, I'm not sure he's seen the light of day. He has an obsession with video games. His dad tries to get him to come out and play ball, but the kid wants to stay inside and play Blackhawk Down or whatever "simulated" game he has.

Twenty-five years ago, we didn't need to simulate anything. We created. It may have been the stupidest game ever thought up, but we didn't care; it was fun.

Elton John recently stated that the internet needs to be completely abolished because he believes it is destroying good music, saying: “The internet has stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating stuff."

On CNN.com, the poll asks "Which invention do you think will be the most commercially successful?"

We must quench our insatiable appetite for the newest high-tech gadget.

Even now, I have to justify sitting here on my wireless laptop, with my Blackberry in hand while looking at video on my cell phone. Honestly, it's pathetic. So, I'm going to put my computer down, head outside and see if any of the neighbors are out.

Maybe we can get a wiffle ball game going.

Playing the Toy Blame Game

I was going to tee off on the Buffalo News editorial this morning that people shouldn't blame the Chinese for the toy recall being conducted by Mattel over lead paint. But the more I thought about it, the more I'm agreeing with them. Here was my train of thought.

1) Toy manufacturers like Mattel, along with a host of other companies, have gone overseas as a way to lower their costs and make more money. They're greedy and they should be blamed.

2) The Wal-Mart effect. Wal-Mart long ago abandoned any notion of Buy American and is all about forcing companies like Mattel to produce super cheap goods. The only way Mattel can do that is go overseas, so it's Wal-Mart's fault.

3) With Wal-Mart putting price pressures on manufacturers, they must find cheaper ways to lower their prices. The unionized American worker demands too much, especially in benefits and legacy costs and won't recognize the realities of the global economy. So manufacturers like Mattel must look for cheap labor elsewhere like China. It's the union's fault.

4) As more Americans lose their jobs or are underemployed, they are shopping at places not based on quality or service...no, they are most concerned about price. So whoever can sell Barbie accessories at the best price makes the sale. Mom and Pop toy stores can't compete with Wal-Mart's prices and are forced out of business. Since we are rewarding the Wal-Mart business model, we the consumers are to blame.

Hmmm, this is too hard. I think I'll just stick to blaming the Chinese.

August 16, 2007

Apolito: Two Wrongs Do Make a Right

Niagara County Legislator Harry Apolito (D-Lockport) has repeatedly, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to bring the City of Lockport some relief on the taxes the city pays on it's raw water lines.

Although Apolito didn't initiate this action on behalf of the county, his persistence is admirable. But one has to wonder what Apolito is thinking when he repeatedly, openly suggests that the city should apply for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) through the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) in order to achieve the desired relief on the water lines.

Apolito's logic? The IDA granted a PILOT to AES that doesn't create any jobs or lead to any expansion, so if it's good enough for AES, it's good enough for Lockport. Keep in mind, this is the same Apolito that has incessantly criticized the AES PILOT to the point of calling for massive changes to the IDA board.

Last evening, Apolito went as far as to attend the Lockport Common Council meeting, stood at the microphone, and directed Mayor Michael Tucker and the Council to apply for a PILOT on the water lines. Yes, it is very obviously election season.

But that does not excuse Apolito from the double standard that he is advocating. If you feel that the AES PILOT is wrong, promoting a second PILOT based on the same criteria as the first certainly does not make it right.

Spitzer Vetoes CWM Bill

The Governor vetoed a Maziarz/DelMonte bill that would have banned siting hazardous waste fills in locations with a potential to discharge into the Great Lakes System. In other words, it would have stopped the CWM expansion in Porter.

Now, I'm all for anything that stops hazardous waste from coming into our community, so I appreciate the frustration of many of the activists who had hoped Spitzer would do the right thing and sign the bill but now feel very let down.

My question: Governor Pataki, who was generally recognized as a Green Governor, vetoed this last year. Spitzer is also Green and has appointed some very well-known enviromental activists to top positions in his administration and yet he vetoed the bill. So, is there something terribly flawed in this approach and the good people fighting this fight just aren't listening to the concerns coming out of Albany or does this show that both Republicans and Democrats, regardless of how green they supposedly are, will carry the water for a big corporation like CWM?

August 15, 2007

Western Terminus...Is There a Dumber Issue?

OK, if I'm missing something on all this bickering over whether the Tonawandas or Buffalo should be the Western Terminus of the Erie Canal please tell me. Legislation is on the Governor's desk that would restore Buffalo as the Western Terminus. People in the Tonawandas are very upset about this. I just don't get why it matters. People claim it will impact tourism and hurt investment. How? Do people envision a conversation that goes like this:

"Geez honey, I say let's take the kids on a trip to the Tonawandas this year. Gateway Park is beautiful and the kids can learn some history about the Erie Canal. Oh, wait a minute. The Tonawandas aren't the Western Terminus, it's Buffalo. Well, let's go there instead."

C'mon now, this is foolish. Investing in the waterfront in North Tonawanda is great and worthwhile and the Western Terminus nonsense won't matter a lick.

August 14, 2007

Moving Forward in a Post Vince World

Much has been written about the failure of Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello to get on the ballot, meaning come Dec. 31st, his tenure is over. The Niagara Falls Reporter does a nice job in detailing his amazing fall from grace, although they may do it with a little too much glee.

Now that the Falls is guaranteed a new Mayor, I thought it would be interesting to see what one piece of advice you might have for whoever takes over the unenviable task of presiding over the Honeymoon Capital.

Clearly, it would be very easy to be sarcastic here, but I'm serious. Let's have your ideas.

My suggestion: Focus casino dollars into neighborhood revitalization. That could mean starting a homestead program for casino workers, tearing down dilapidated houses or paving city streets. Invest in the people who have invested their lives in being citizens of Niagara Falls.

Knowing When to Say When

There's an old saying that comes from a beer commercial that goes like this: Know when to say when. In this case, we're not talking about levels of alcohol consumption, but of running for political office.

Current City of Lockport 2nd Ward Alderwoman Phyllis Green is running for the 1st Ward seat in the city. After unsuccessfully attempting to have her opponent, political novice Richelle Pasceri, thrown off the ballot, Green vows to fight on.

Fight for what? Fight for the hypocrisy that has marked your campaign? Remember, this is the same Phyllis Green who voted herself a 23% pay raise, rationalizing that the Council needs to raise their own pay to attract candidates. A new candidate steps forward and Green wants her booted off the ballot.

Green sought to deny the voters of the First Ward their right to choose and she should be ashamed of herself. We know, Phyllis, candidates have the right to challenge blah blah blah. YOU did it days after saying we need more candidates, therein lies your hypocrisy.

We need new ideas and new perspectives from our elected officials. Phyllis, it's time to say "when".

August 13, 2007

The PILOT in Court: Put up or Shut Up

I see Judge Kloch has the merry band of miscreants back in court regarding the never ending saga of AES. I know a lot has been said on this by many of us, but if we want closure, one way or another, it's time for people to put up or shut up.

1) Niagara County: Clyde Burmaster must direct his attorneys at Philips Lytle to either prove fraud or end this nonsense. From what's been written, they've proven only one thing: that they can make a lot of money off of the Legislature. Burmaster et al, when this charade is over, you're going to have to answer for all of the taxpayer money you've wasted on legal bills.

2) AES: There is continued talk of investment and this PILOT is about the future. If you're going to invest in this county, then start doing it already. Let's break some ground and put people to work.

3) Barker Schools: Waaaa. We're poor. But we've heard rumors that you've hired the recently retired Superintendent Steve LaRock at a rate of $500 per day. As soon as this is confirmed, we'll be all over this story. And maybe Prohaska can actually do some real reporting.

4) Somerset: Still too afraid to release Shoemaker's legal bills to the public. You should be ashamed of yourself. Your cries that you have been wronged by secret IDA meetings would ring more true if you weren't the ones hiding information from the public.

Etiquette question: When Philips Lytle and Shoemaker go to dinner to celebrate how much money they made off the rubes in Niagara County who kept suing each other, who picks up the tab?

Doesn't Sound Contrite to Me

Did anyone catch this gem, Bob LaBarbera's letter to the editor begging for an open mind from voters? I'm not a psychologist, but there is something disturbing about the way he uses words like "incident", "mistake" and "matter", but can't bring himself to say "my arrest for DWI." Clearly, this is about damage control, not an act of contrition:

Legislature candidate asks for perspective
Updated: 08/12/07 8:10 AM

An embarrassing, well-publicized incident occurred recently that has adversely affected my campaign. While most have been extremely supportive, I can certainly understand the stance of those who have taken a negative view of my viability as a candidate.

This unfortunate mistake is not typical behavior for me, but is, nonetheless, no excuse. I am dealing with it through the courts and recently fielded the calls on community TV. The condemning mailings sent by some anonymous political opportunist, or their group alleging lack of remorse on my part, have already begun. This will not be the last mailing of its kind to draw attention to my indiscretion in an attempt to divert the people away from the existing political issues.

Anyone who questions my remorse in this matter need only note the fact that I apologized publicly through the airways, did not dodge the issues and fielded all the calls. As I face my personal difficulties, I only ask for an open mind in separating the personal and political issues. Although I know better, I would hope we can move forward from the personal issues to the real issues, and how they can be dealt with.

Politically, we are enabling a transition from private business to public service makeup of our work force in Niagara County. This causes our county’s economic slide to advance. Government employment will not alleviate our shrinking tax base; only private business can accomplish this.

Preserving and providing new jobs is the only way we can keep people from moving to greener pastures and the tax base from eroding. Overemployment in government only increases our reliance on the taxpayer to fund these jobs. Frivolous patronage positions continue to increase, further shooting our sinking economy. The businesses that receive preferential tax treatment by our IDA, without honoring the guidelines, simply place more of a tax burden on our already strapped residents.

This strategy is gaining momentum under the control of our majority caucus in the Legislature. The breakup of this controlling force in the Legislature must happen for the residents to have a fighting chance. I only wish to be an advocate for the people, as our Founding Fathers intended, and, in addition to fielding your calls, would set up a Web site to poll constituents on all matters I could influence. This would be a complete reversal of the current process.

IDA reform is essential. If the IDA would only observe the criteria under which they are supposed to operate, taxes, jobs and businesses would all contribute to stop the demise of our economy. Performance bonds should be a required by PILOT recipients to protect the county from those businesses who do not honor their commitments. Unnecessary political patronage positions must be eliminated. They are not only economically unfeasible; they send the wrong message to our constituents who need restored confidence in our local government.

When are these issues, as well as concern for the residents going to be recognized by the caucus with the votes? The only chance we have for change is to make the effort to vote in the primaries to select candidates who will act on our behalf, not on the political whims of the power brokers.

Robert S. LaBarbera Niagara Falls

(Editor’s note: LaBarbera pleaded not guilty July 24 to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated and has vowed to stay in the race for 6th District legislator. He is running in a Democratic primary against incumbent Danny W. Sklarski, a registered Democrat who votes with and has been nominated by the Republicans.)

August 10, 2007

Destruction of a National Pastime

Although we focus primarily on politics, you have seen a mild intermingling of sports related issues addressed. As I watch the Bills and surf the web, I came across this story which sums up Barry Bonds breaking the home run record better than any other I have seen. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser, and enjoy as I have:
http://www.theonion.com/content/news/destruction_of_national_pastime

August 9, 2007

Housing Code Violations

The Lockport Common Council is considering going after landlords who own property which is not up to code. Apparently the light bulb has clicked on for the Council. In certain portions of the city, the housing stock has depreciated significantly.

This is not only the fault of the current Council, as many an Alderman has sat in the council chambers for years as the housing stock has deteriorated, but this one seems to have a real solution, as offered by Alderman Joe Kibler.

Kibler's solution? Clean up the properties and send the landlords their respective bills. Are you serious? Is that the best that you can come up with? Do you have any idea of the depths of the problem?

Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Let me break it down for you, Joe. People own properties in the city. People don't maintain said properties. City (state) has laws on the books which govern said properties. If you break the law, you go to jail. There is no better way to send a message.

Fortunately, Judge DiMillo has taken a very aggressive stance on this issue, better than Watson and Hurley. They are/were afraid of their own shadows when it comes/came to dealing with housing violations.

As for Kibler, it seems we will have two more years of his insight and wisdom to guide us, as he is unopposed for re-election, and we can all hold our collective breath waiting for the city to act on the slumlords killing the city.

The Serenity Prayer sums up this situation pretty well: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

August 8, 2007

The Mess In North Tonawanda Schools

We’ve covered some school board issues in earlier posts, focusing on the fact that it's a thankless job and fewer and fewer people are willing to serve. This morning I’ve received some information about what’s going on in the North Tonawanda school district, which makes you wonder; of those who do serve, are any at all competent? And what can be done to clean up this mess, and who should be held accountable? Can't we at least expect a school board to check references before hiring a superintendent?

This is what I’ve received from some very reliable sources, it will make you sick:

Sail Away,

I’m told that the North Tonawanda City School Board recently offered Superintendent Vincent J. Vecchiarella, $160,000 to leave the district with nearly four years remaining on his contract. According to those same sources, Vecchiarella declined the offer, instead telling the school board that they’d need to pay him the full value of the contract whether he left the district tomorrow or at the conclusion of his contract, which reportedly expires in 2010.

Intense labor strife, accusations of dirty business dealings by the purchaser of the former Lowry Middle School building, and attempts to reward loyal followers by hiring them to important instructional positions for which they weren’t qualified have made Vecchiarella’s brief tenure with the district tumultuous.

Even more disturbing, are the accusations that Vecchiarella has made numerous unsolicited phone calls to the cell phones of female high school students. According to a parent of a 16 year-old student whose friend was one of those allegedly contacted by Vecchiarella, “It has to be the worst kept secret in North Tonawanda.”

Creating turmoil in a community is nothing new for Vecchiarella. A recent Tonawanda News story recently quoted a source who worked in the Pine Valley School District during Vecchiarella’s tenure there, but chose to remain anonymous, fearing reprisals from Vecchiarella. “I feel bad for the people in North Tonawanda,” the source said. “If anyone came out here and actually talked to people, they never would have hired him.”

In the same Tonawanda News Article, Arlene McLaughlin said she’s seen Vecchiarella’s penchant for creating teacher turmoil firsthand. McLaughlin is the director of career and technical education and a longtime teacher at Buckeye Union High School District in Buckeye, Ariz., where Vecchiarella was once superintendent. McLaughlin indicated that Vecchiarella did “unbelievable damage to the Buckeye Union district.” In the story, she said that Vecchiarella ripped the community apart by forcing people to battle one another. This, she said, to cover up the fact that he was completely incapable of doing his job.

Teachers in North Tonawanda echo McLaughlin’s sentiments. One teacher, who also declined to be identified fearing retribution by Vecchiarella, said, “In my nearly 20 years with this district, Vincent Vecchiarella is without a doubt the worst thing to happen to this district. He has been caught looking through the desk drawers of teachers and secretaries, he calls girls on their cell phones. I mean this guy is disgusting.”

“Even worse, everything about Mr. Vecchiarella’s actions tells us that he doesn’t care about the kids”, he added. “Class sizes are sky high, even at the elementary level. Course offerings, including Advanced Placement at the High School, have been cut. How are our kids going to have any chance at being successful beyond high school?”

Spitzer's "Happy Talk"

Let's say you are a scandal-ridden governor looking for some love. Where would you find it? Well, if you are Eliot Spitzer, aka Steamroller Spitzer, immersed in a scandal that threatens to destroy your political career, you go looking for love in the Daily Kos with a divorced from reality "Happy Talk" blog post that makes no mention any pending unpleasantries.

Spitzer's "Happy Talk" love fest on the Daily Kos will have no effect in stopping the scandal investigations but perhaps it is temporarily therapeutic to brag about himself to his fellow leftists in his blog post titled, Congratulations on a Great Weekend:

"While we are seeing a mounting reform movement at the national level, I would also urge you to be aware of some of the important developments that are occurring in statehouses across the country. There are some exciting things happening, demonstrating that your activism is also paying dividends at the state level."

If you thought that being mired in a sordid scandal would have induced at least some humility in Eliot Spitzer you would be wrong. The governor goes on to boast:

"We have had some tremendous successes already and have laid the ground work for future progress."

Unfortunately for Governor Spitzer, few were unwilling to buy into his self-glorification "Happy Talk" love fest:

"Used to be a fan Spitzer until Troopergate. I can't believe you would use taxpayer monies and the state police to try and set up a state Senator Joseph Bruno. Those are Nixon-, Bush-, Clinton-type tactics. You are above that."

"Lawyers he needs, regardless of where he gets them. Our love he doesn't need, and he won't be getting any from me until he comes clean."

"Your credibility is under serious strain - and that's saying something coming from folks like me who have touted you as an archetype of the good politician. At one time I thought you would make a great President. Please respond, Governor, and don't insult us with more dissembling."

To read more of Eliot Spitzer's "great weekend", check out http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/8/6/132753/5797

August 7, 2007

Spitzer in the Falls at 4:30

From an Emai:

Sail Away,

Thought you might like to know that Governor Spitzer will be in Niagara Falls at Trolley Park on Main Street at 4:30 p.m. to sign legislation that will enable Niagara Falls to move forward on its new courthouse. All the local dignitaries are expected to attend and the public is invited. Should be a good event.

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

While the local media have brushed up against the new alliance beteween Ed Shoemaker, the Lockport Attorney and a GOP powerhorse "way back in the day", and County Dem Boss Dan Rivera, I don't think they have covered how deep this relationship goes. The reason for this unholy alliance is their distaste for GOP Boss Henry Wojtaszek.

Let's take a look at some of the interesting races in Niagara County:

1) Somerset: Town Supervisor Rich Meyers won on a reform platform last year by attacking the legal billings of Ed Shoemaker, who is town attorney. Shoemaker has made hundreds of thousands of dollars off this small rural town, and yet won't release copies of his billings. Meyers beat Shoemaker's candidate, John Sweeney, in the GOP primary last year. The town board was still controlled by Ed. Now, this year there is a brouhahah between the pro and anti Shoemaker forces in the GOP primary for all town offices including a Meyers/Sweeney rematch. The new wrinkle? The pro-Shoemaker forces are also the ENDORSED DEMOCRAT candidates in the election.

2) Lockport: Majority Leader Rick Updegrove is facing a GOP primary from Charles Dahlquist. According to Shoemaker, he hooked Dahlquist up with county Democratic Chairman Daniel Rivera because he knew the Democrats needed someone to take on Updegrove. Dalquist is Shoemaker's mechanic. Dalquist will also be the Dem candidate.

3) Cambria: Wright Ellis, the long-time GOP Supervisor, is now on the outs with Republicans who have backed former GOP Legislator Shirly Urtel. The reason for the split according to the Gazette: "Ellis, who is chairman of the Niagara County Sewer District, may be at odds with his party in a matter pitting towns against the county. The sewer district last year approved a payment to attorney Robert Roberson, but legislators in the GOP-controlled body denied the claim." Wojtaszek claimed Roberson already had been paid by the district and was attempting to charge twice for the same work.

“I don’t think (Ellis) handled the sewer district well,” Wojtaszek said Tuesday. “He’s cost the Town of Cambria money for letting Roberson double charge them.” BUT THE MISSING FACT IN THIS STORY? ROBERSON IS SHOEMAKER'S LAW PARTNER!!!

So, while Wright will face Shirley in the GOP Primary, Wright will also be the Dem candidate in the Fall election.

4) Newfane: Merrill Bender, a self-proclaimed taxpayer watchdog who has his own tax/bankruptcy problems and is best known for making inaccurate statements at Legislative meetings, was recruited by Shoemaker to run a GOP primary for Legislature against John Syracuse. And you know the punchline....Bender is also the Dem candidate in November.

So there you have it. One can't blame Rivera for looking for alliances to win races, after all Wojtaszek and the GOP perfected this game of cross-over endorsements.

But getting in bed with Shoemaker? Politics does make strange bedfellows, indeed.

August 6, 2007

NCCC Profs are in the $$$$

How about the article in Sunday's paper about salaries at NCCC. I've always had a lot of respect for the college, but these salaries seem way out of whack. We all argue about high taxes, but until public employee salaries are brought into line, things will never get better.

NCCC SALARIES: The faculty earns top dollar

By Jill Terreri/terrerij@gnnewspaper.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara County Community College pays its professors on average 14 percent more than their peers around the state and its administrators 15 percent less, a Niagara Gazette analysis has found. In addition, salaries for professors and program directors are greater than those earned by the top earners in county government.

The college president said the high wages are a result of union contracts which require a fixed number of promotions every year. The president of the union that represents teachers, librarians and counselors — 17 of whom earn salaries over $100,000 — said his members have worked at the college for a long time and the students benefit from that experience.

“I’d like to think we’re better than the other community colleges in the state,” said Faculty Association President Joseph Colosi, noting the college’s reputation and graduation rate. “I think it’s a product of a quality faculty.”

Go here for the full article: http://www.niagara-gazette.com/nccc_salaries/local_story_217111102.html?keyword=topstory

Opposition to HSBC

The local Gannett newspapers regularly run unscientific polls on their websites, which often touch on a variety of topics. The Tonawanda News and the Niagara Gazette have decided to focus their current poll on the local sports frenzy du jour, the Buffalo Bills. Their polls ask "How many games will the Buffalo Bills win this season?". Fair enough, it is the start of training camp, and many Bills fans are getting ready for another season of heartache. The Union Sun & Journal, however, has decided to go a different direction with it's online poll.

The US&J poll wants to know if it's online readers "Are you in favor of an HSBC data center in Cambria?" This poses several questions: Are you, the US&J, in favor of the data center? Do you, the US&J, believe that this is only an eastern end of the county issue? It certainly appears that way because if you didn't, it'd be running county wide. Most importantly, who are the nearly 25% of the poll respondents who are against the HSBC project in Cambria?

I suppose that there are some people who would prefer to keep the area in it's current rural setting, and I could certainly understand that. Most of us live in an area because we enjoy that type of setting, whether it be urban, suburban or rural.

But this area is starved for economic revitalization. We have heard Elliot Spitzer refer to our area as Appalachia. How are we ever going to progress if we are opposed to new projects? Is this the infamous "not in my backyard" mentality at work?

Who is opposed to a $1 billion investment in our county that will bring millions in revenue to multiple municipalities? Who is opposed to 350 construction jobs and 56 well-paying, full-time jobs?

I cannot even begin to fathom the small-minded thinking of some people in this county. Let's get our heads out of the proverbial sand, start embracing investment in our community and maybe we can differentiate ourselves from every other upstate county in New York that is struggling to survive.

August 4, 2007

Good Grief

The Niagara Gazette's Cheers & Jeers section is regularly pretty lame, but this week's was particularly bad. Frank Parlato pays a portion of what he owes in back taxes and somehow that's a reason for cautious optimism. Let's say what everyone knows: Partlato's goal is to hold onto the old Occidental building long enough for the state to overpay him a boatload of money to make that site the new Niagara Experience Center. Whatever he's doing, legal or illegal, it's just plain wrong. It's people like this who have turned Niagara Falls into a cesspool.

August 3, 2007

More Troubles for Spitzer

Governor Spitzer's energy adviser Steven Mitnick has resigned amid an investigation into claims that he threatened a Republican on the state Public Service Commission.

In April, a PSC member appointed by former Republican Governor George Pataki said Mitnick had threatened her in an effort to get her to back off efforts to investigate Consolidated Edison over last summer's major blackout in New York City.

PSC Cheryl Buley says that during one of the agency's public meetings, Mitnick had threatened her career five or six times since the governor took office January first.

Mitnick's resignation is the latest turmoil to hit the Spitzer administration. The governor has suspended one of his top aides and reassigned another after the state attorney general said the staffers had used state police to keep tabs on the travels of Sptizer's main Republican rival, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Feedback on Last Night's Show

I'm curious as to people's opinion on the Pulse last night. I actually thought Wojtaszek and Rivera would throw a few more fastballs at each other but things remained pretty civil. A couple of thoughts:

1) Earlier posts mentioned that they thought Wojtaszek would be the odd man out with Leffler and Confer joining River in the attack. Actually, Scott played in right down the middle and should be considered "moderator material" for future political debates in the community. I don't think Confer said five words, but maybe he didn't feel a need to given that the guests aren't afraid to talk.

2) The LaBarbera mail piece that Dan Rivera pulled out of his pocket was pretty hard hitting and echoed many of the points made by people posting here. I'm not sure who put it out...GOP, disgruntled Dems, the Dem committee itself...but it does vindicate Rivera for pulling the endorsement from LaBarbera. That mail piece shows why this issue won't go away.

That's what jumped out at me. For those of you who watched, anything stand out?

August 2, 2007

Green's Lawsuit

I must admit that I am a bit confused about the City of Lockport First Ward race. From what I understand, Phyllis Green, who lives in the Second Ward, but is running in the First Ward, has filed a lawsuit challenging the First Ward petitions of newcomer Richelle Pasceri. Apparently, the lawsuit comes down to the validity of a single signature on Pasceri's petitions.

Should Green be successful in having that one signature invalidated in State Supreme Court, Pasceri would be knocked off the Republican line in the September primary election. But what is Green so afraid of? Pasceri is a virtual political unknown. Green has at least 14 years in office. Doesn't Green have a record that can stand on it's merits?

What's even more disconcerting is the fact that the Union Sun & Journal ran a story in Sunday's paper highlighting the fact that so many incumbents are running unopposed and how difficult it is to find people in the community who are willing to step up and run for office. What's Green's response? File a lawsuit, which costs $350 just to file, hire a process server to deliver it, which is another $50, hire an attorney, at a cost of which we do not know, and take Pasceri to court and incur further court costs. All to challenge one signature. Someone really, really wants to be Alderwoman.

What Green is doing may be legal, but it looks bad. From what I have heard, Pasceri has made a statement to the effect of "Why is Phyllis denying the people of the First Ward the right to choose?". I think that's a valid question.

Green may have a legal case when she appears in court next week. But the court of public opinion is much more relevant when it comes time to pull the lever. Pull the plug on this lawsuit, Phyllis, let the voters of the First Ward have a choice.

Public Service Announcement

From Bob Confer:
Tom Christy is going on vacation right after Legislative Journal tonight, so Scott Leffler and I are co-hosting PULSE tonight at 10:00 PM on LCTV 20. There are bound to be some fireworks amongst tonight's guests...Henry Wojtaszek and Dan Rivera. As entertaining as it will be it should be quite informative, too. I'm really looking forward to tonight's show.

August 1, 2007

Smith's Dilemma

Town of Lockport Supervisor Marc Smith has stated that he no longer shops at Tops because he does not condone the tactics Tops has used in blocking the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The supercenter would include a grocery store which would compete directly with Tops.

The problem with this is Smith's hypocrisy. What Tops has done is take their strategy straight out of the Wal-Mart playbook. No one is better than Wal-Mart at undercutting the competition. Undercut, then destroy.

What Tops is doing, and Wal-Mart has so successfully done, is defend their turf. It's economics 101. If you have a stranglehold on a marketplace, do everything within your power to defend it.

Football coach Mike Holmgren was an assistant under Bill Walsh. If Holmgren comes back and uses the strategy Walsh taught him against him, you can't blame Holmgren. That is what Tops is doing; using the tactics that Wal-Mart has perfected against them.

Meanwhile, you continue to defend Wal-Mart, while criticizing Tops. You can't have it both ways. Take a step back, take a deep breath and try some objectivity. Otherwise, your legacy will be Wal-Mart. Unless your name is Walton, I'm not too sure that's a legacy worth this fight.

HSBC & the Senecas

The announcement that HSBC is planning to build a $1 billion data center in Niagara County is excellent news. The project will require about 350 construction employees, and once completed, the facility will employ 56 people.

So why is it that there is so little public jubilation over this project? There is virtually no talk of this project on local radio or on local message boards, and from what I have seen, the local message boards have comments like "the bank moving here, I will never do business with the commies." Huh?

Is the hatred driven by the fact that the company got an IDA tax break? Does the hatred run so deep, that any project that the IDA is involved with is automatically despised by those whose priorities are so distorted, that even if a project benefits every single one of us in Niagara County that it MUST be criticized?

Yes, HSBC got an IDA package that will save the company nearly $90 million over 15 years. But the project will also generate nearly $15 million to the town of Cambria, the school district and the county. The property sold for $390,000, so we can assume it was assessed at about that value prior to the sale. At $390,000 the property would have generated about $14,000 per year in taxes. Which would we prefer, nearly a $1 million per year or $14,000 per year. Obviously it's a no-brainer. But sure enough, there were the naysayers opposing any tax breaks for this project.

We have the same situation with the Seneca Golf Course, Hickory Stick. The Senecas applied for and received an IDA package for this project. In this case, you have County Legislators and candidates actually bashing this project. Harry Apolito stood up at the last meeting and slammed the IDA. Candidate Beverly McDonough wrote a letter to the editor and called the golf course package a "fiasco".

Let's look at this "fiasco" Apolito and McDonough are so critical of. This course will be a 250 acre 18 hole professional golf course to be located in Lewiston. It will be open to the public, and it will have a driving range, club house and pro shop and dining facilities.

I would imagine that Apolito's and McDonough's criticism is based on the finances of the project, so let's look at them. This property was bought for $361,000, and it generated $2,930 per year in tax revenue.

The five-year PILOT that the Senecas received will pay the taxing jurisdictions $965,000. $200,000 per year or $3,000 per year? Another no-brainer. And the sales tax revenue projected to be generated over the same five year period? $2.4 million in addition to the PILOT payments. The project creates 25 full-time and 19 part-time jobs. McDonough called this project "corporate welfare".

These are two projects that are of huge benefit to Niagara County. All of the time we hear people say that there isn't enough being done to create opportunities and create jobs. Unfortunately, there are those in the community that, as we've said before, will stop at nothing to enhance their own agenda, even if it means bad-mouthing the good things that are happening. It's even more unfortunate that among these people are an elected official and a wannabe.

Do us all a favor: When the Explore Buffalo Niagara Expo comes to town in the Fall, and there's hundreds of CEO's visting our area, stay home.