December 31, 2007

Can Dyster Save Niagara Falls?

With his swearing in as Mayor of Niagara Falls this Tuesday, Paul Dyster becomes the successor to what has been a slew of one-term mayors. We do have high hopes for Dyster, despite questioning some of his initial appointments. For the most part, he has said the right things, and his willingness to enact a nationwide search for many key positions within his administration does show a willingness to think and act outside the box.

Dyster won with a staggering 80% of the vote in November. Now its time to show what he can do. The question is, what can he do? Can Paul Dyster turn Niagara Falls around? The city has been decimated by political and economic decisions that were made long before Paul Dyster came along. Even before Vince Anello, Jake Palillo, Jim Galie and Irene Elia sat in the mayor's seat.

So what will Paul Dyster be able to do that a long line of predecessors were unable to do? Yes, there are good things happening in Niagara Falls. The opening of the new Conference Center Niagara Falls in 2005; the redevelopment of the United Office Building, the new Theater in the Mist; the redevelopment of the former Holiday Inn Select as a new Crowne Plaza Resort with several restaurants including the city's first Starbucks Coffee; and other attractions such as the Niagara Aerospace Museum and the planned Niagara Experience Center; and of course, the Seneca Niagara Casino.

But what about the socio-economic woes of the city? Is opening a Starbucks going to address the staggering illiteracy rates that plague Niagara Falls? And as we've seen, a casino is hardly a panacea for the neighborhood around the Seneca Niagara Casino. Is revamping the Holiday Inn Select going to stem the tide of the massive amounts of drugs that are trafficking through this city every day?

As I've said before, I love the Falls. Obviously, since it draws 14 million people a year, I'm not alone. But what is it going to take to turn this world-class destination around? Another casino/hotel, this one 52 stories? That's not the answer. Buffalo Ave is a wasteland. From the 190 exit right into the city, the entire strip needs to be demolished. But who's going to do it? Is it the responsibility of our government to make this investment? Will anyone from the private sector ever make that type of commitment, knowing the return on investment is possibly non-existent?

Maybe this is alot to lay on Dyster, considering he hasn't even taken office yet. But we, as did 80% of the voting public in November, have high expectations of Dyster. Of course, we also had high expectations of Anello, Elia, Palillo and Galie. We can only hope that Dyster can differentiate himself from his predecessors, and return Niagara Falls to the glory days of years gone by - if that's possible.

December 30, 2007

Hiding Black Interracial Crimes

A very interesting piece I came across. Although not specific to our area, there was a high profile case in Lockport a year or two ago that would apply to Dr. Williams' thoughts on the issue. Dr. Williams is African American.

Hiding Black Interracial Crimes
By Walter E. Williams

If you’re like I am, you’ve heard scores of media reports about the 2006 Duke University rape case, in which three white lacrosse players were falsely accused of raping a black stripper at a wild party at the home of one of the team members. These guys, convicted by the news media and Duke faculty, were later found innocent. It turned out that Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was running for re-election. In seeking the black vote, he concealed DNA evidence that would have exonerated the lacrosse players.

You might remember hearing scores of stories about the 1998 murder of James Byrd, a black man who was stripped, chained to a pickup truck and dragged through the streets until he was decapitated in Jasper, Texas. The incident provided fodder for the NAACP and others to attack then-Texas Gov. George Bush, during his 2000 election campaign, for not supporting hate crime legislation. It turned out that two of Byrd’s murderers were sentenced to death, and the other, life in prison.

I don’t know about you, but it was just recently that I heard about a gruesome murder in Knoxville, Tenn., that is far worse than the false charges in the Duke rape case and is at least as horrible, if not more so, than the dragging death of James Byrd. Unlike the Duke rape case and the Jasper lynching, the national news media’s coverage of the interracial Knoxville murders paled in comparison. On Jan. 6, 2007, University of Tennessee student Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, were carjacked and kidnapped in Knoxville. Both of them were later murdered.

According to a 46-count indictment, suspects Darnell Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman, all blacks, are charged with committing rape, including sodomy against Christian and Newsom, both of whom are white. After being raped, Newsom was shot several times and his body was found burned along nearby railroad tracks. Christian was forced to witness her boyfriend’s rape, torture and subsequent murder before she was ultimately raped, tortured and murdered. The police discovered her body inside a large trash can in the kitchen of the home where the murders took place. Before disposing of her body, the murderers poured bleach or some other cleaning agent down her throat in an effort to destroy DNA evidence. Trial dates have been set for next May.

What have we heard from the NAACP, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and others who rushed to judgment and outrage as they condemned whites in the cases of the “Jena 6″ and Don Imus when he referred to the Rutgers ladies basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s”? Where were the national news media and public officials? You can bet the rent money that were the victims black and the perpetrators white, Knoxville would have been inundated with TV crews, with Jackson, Sharpton and other civil rights spokesmen and politicians from both parties condemning racism, possibly blaming it all on George Bush.

According to the 2004 FBI National Crime Victimization Survey, in most instances of interracial crimes, the victim is white and the perpetrator is black. In the case of interracial murder for 2004, where the race of victim and perpetrator is known, more than twice as many whites were murdered by a black than cases of a white murdering a black. The failure of civil rights leaders, people like Jackson and Sharpton, as well as politicians to vocally condemn black-on-white crime — and the relative silence of the news media in reporting it — is not simply a matter of double standards. It’s dangerous, for it contributes to a pile of racial kindling awaiting a racial arsonist to set it ablaze. I can’t think of better recruitment gifts for America’s racists, either white or black.

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of More Liberty Means Less Government: Our Founders Knew This Well

December 28, 2007

Sweeney Files Complaint

Although the race for Somerset Supervisor is over, things continue to remain interesting in this section of Niagara County. Niagara Times has learned that former Somerset Supervisor John Sweeney has filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Postal Service against an employee of the Barker post office.

From what we have learned, Sweeney is alleging that the long time employee of the post office intentionally withheld Sweeney's political mail days before the election in an attempt to inhibit the mail's timely delivery at election time. Sweeney apparently believes that this action by the postal employee cost him the election.

Sweeney, as you may recall, lost his bid for Somerset Supervisor to incumbent Rich Meyers in a very tightly contested race. The outcome came down to a count of absentee ballots which ultimately gave Meyers a 10 vote victory over Sweeney.

This will certainly be interesting to follow. We'll keep you posted as more details emerge.

What To Watch In '08

As we leave 2007 and head into 2008, we thought we'd take a look at some of the local political races in our area.

Our state and federal representatives will be the focus of the 2008 elections, with State Senators George Maziarz and Antoine Thompson as well as Assemblymen Mike Cole, Robin Schimminger, Steve Hawley and Jim Hayes, as well as Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte all most likely seeking re-election. Congressman Tom Reynolds has also been busy on the campaign trail and raising funds for another term. Louise Slaughter also appears poised to seek two more years.

A burning question in local political circles surrounds Assemblyman Mike Cole. Cole, who was embroiled in an intern scandal last year, may face opposition from within his own party in '08. Certain GOP operatives believe that when Niagara County stood down in '06 to support Cole, Cole blew the opportunity.

Lockport Mayor Mike Tucker would be the likely choice to challenge Cole for the Assembly seat. Interestingly, sources have confirmed with Niagara Times that Assemblywoman Crystal People's camp has reached out to Lockport Third Ward Alderwoman Flora McKenzie to explore an Assembly bid against Cole. This will certainly be one to watch in 2008.

In 2008 we will be voting for a new President. Switching New York's Primary Election date to February 5th certainly puts New York in play in '08.

Although there we be few local elections in 2008, it certainly doesn't appear to be shaping up as a dull political year.

December 27, 2007

O'Connor Saves Benefit - And Seat

As we alluded to in Monday's post, it appears Niagara County Legislator Sean O'Connor has found a loophole in a resolution that would have required any legislator with at least 20 years in office to pay 50% of his health insurance, while still retaining his seat in the Leg.

Unfortunately for both sides of the aisle, this issue has become quite a political hot potato. The Dems are contending that the resolution was designed to force O'Connor out of office, while the Reps state that the resolution will affect no less then eight members of their own caucus should they reach 20 years of service.

What's somewhat disconcerting is the amount of time and effort O'Connor has put into preserving his benefits. Over the past few years that we have followed the Leg, we've never seen any substantive activity from O'Connor. Rarely a resolution, or a proclamation or even some words on the floor of the Leg. Now, from what we have learned, he sent out press releases to GNN, the Buffalo News, as well as channels 2, 4 & 7 protesting his loss of benefits.

What is somewhat less clear is O'Connor's intent. Does he believe that by having this issue broadcast on the news that he will get public sympathy for his cause? Does he think that someone will start a fund to help him get through these difficult times, like when someone is struck with an illness so friends and family put together a fundraiser to help out?

Reading Tom Prohaska's Buffalo News story this morning, O'Connor just may get some contributions. Prohaska goes on about O'Connor finding a loophole and how he'll save $6,000 a year. But nowhere, and this is a fascinating omission, does Prohaska state that the health insurance loophole that O'Connor has found will cost the taxpayers $12,000 this year. Yes, he states that it will cost $12,000 a year, but never reinforces the fact we will foot that bill. Add another 15% or so per year for the rest of O'Connor's life to come up with the total cost.

That being said, this is not an indictment of Sean O'Connor. If I were in his position, I would be doing the same thing. Having served for 22 years, most of those years with the promise of lifetime benefits, O'Connor should fight for them. This is an indictment of the benefit itself. Lifetime health insurance is a benefit that should not be offered to any elected official. I wonder how many other elected or appointed officials across Niagara County enjoy the same benefit.

The Reps also have handled this issue poorly. While there are some who may legitimately be motivated by the fact that elimination of lifetime health will save the taxpayers millions of dollars, others may be motivated by politics.

Chairman-elect Bill Ross, when asked by WGRZ's Kristin Donnelly "Was this resolution politically motivated to get him out of office, or was it to save money?", responded with "I think as I said, it's a double-edged sword, it had a little of both." That's a pretty stunning admission by Ross.

Normally when we hear that an action is politically motivated, we have a tendency to automatically condemn it. But the the $64,000 question is this: Is politically motivated action acceptable when it leads to taxpayers saving money? Maybe more relevant, does it take political motivation to save the taxpayers money?

Personally, I don't care what it takes to reduce my taxes. Close Mt. View, cut services, reduce personnel, privatize any county service that can be privatized, whatever can be done. And if one part-time Legislator losing a $500,000 benefit keeps a half a million in the pockets of the taxpayers, so be it - politically motivated or not.

December 26, 2007

PIO

Last week the Niagara County Legislature approved the hiring of a Public Information Officer (PIO) in its 2008 budget.

Following this move, the Greater Niagara Newspaper slammed the Legislature for the hire, stating that "Public information officers are the ones who would deal with the media and shield the real decision-makers — you know, the ones you voted into office and pay their salary — from any questions". Really? So once this PIO is in place, we should not expect any more quotes or comments from any Legislator because they've been "shielded"?

Realistically, the position of GNN is not unexpected. They do nothing but focus on the negative of this community, not only in politics, but in general. So, despite a county budget that reduces taxes in '08, the only editorializing we see from GNN is on the PIO position. Pathetic, but predictable. Although practically every organization in the world has some form of PR person, the Niagara County Legislature is hiring one because they want to "shield" themselves from whomever GNN thinks they need to shield themselves from.

Also predictable was the response of Legislator Dennis Virtuoso on Scott Leffler's Dialog show. Scott asked Virtuoso who may be in the running for the new position. After stating that a member of the media had been asked by the Majority Caucus to serve as the PIO, again, Virtuoso stated that a member of the press told him that he was asked by the Leg to serve in this new position, Virtuoso went on to say "I think they're looking for someone more political, I think this is going to be like a full-time campaign manager". HUH? You just stated that the Majority Caucus asked a member of the press to serve as the PIO, but they're looking to hire someone political in the same breath? Are you complete idiot? And where is Leffler to pick up this huge contradiction?

If the Majority was looking to fill the position with some political hack, would they have asked Tom Prohaska of the Buffalo News to be the PIO? Would they have asked Mark Scheer to be the PIO? Of course not. Even knowing this, it didn't stop Virtuoso. He went on to say "I wouldn't be surprised if the person they hire is doing political work on the side". Scott's response? "Wonderful, nice to hear".

Just let Virtuoso throw out anything he wants, Scott will suck it up without any thought whatsoever. And don't worry about the reputations of Prohaska or Scheer, stating that they'd be nothing but political hacks I'm sure doesn't bother them in the least.

In case you missed it, Scheer confirmed in his December 22nd article that he was in fact asked by a member of the Leg to serve as the PIO, stating that "the legislator suggested I might be a good fit for the job, considering my background and all the contacts I have developed in the community over the years". Right, that sounds like they're looking to fill the position with some political hack. Good call, Dennis.

What is somewhat disconcerting is Scheer's response to being asked if he'd consider the position. Scheer went on to state that "In fact, as I told the lawmaker in question, I couldn’t imagine a day when I’d ever switch sides, so to speak".

If that does not crystallize the relationship between GNN and the Leg, I don't know what does. It shows the pure disdain that GNN has. Why do there have to be "sides"? Nevermind, I just answered my own question.

December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for any religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin. ~ Jay Leno

Merry Christmas to all!!!

December 24, 2007

Breaking News - O'Connor Resigns From County Leg

Niagara Times has learned that Niagara County Legislator Sean O'Connor (D-Niagara Falls) submitted his letter of resignation to Legislature Chairman Clyde Burmaster on Friday. Speculation had been running rampant that O'Connor would run for the 5th District seat, then vacate the position prior to his swearing in because of the resolution the Legislature passed earlier in the year that would have required all Legislators, including O'Connor, to pay 50% of their lifetime health insurance premiums.

Legislator Kimble tried unsuccessfully to reinstate lifetime health insurance benefits, at 100% taxpayer expense, for Legislators at the last meeting.

What has fueled further speculation of O'Connor's intent is the wording of his resignation letter. Apparently he stated that he is resigning from his "current term". Some believe that with the use of the wording "current term", O'Connor may have found a legal loophole in the resolution that may allow him to come back and be sworn in in January, while retaining the full lifetime health insurance benefit.

This situation may get more interesting very soon. Either way, we wish O'Connor the best and thank him for his years of service to the community.

December 21, 2007

Dyster Showing It's Same Old Niagara Falls

Mayor-elect Paul Dyster has vowed to fill his administration with the best and brightest he can find. Well, turns out the first position he has filled is with local retread Dave Kinney:

(From the Buffalo News: Dyster also announced he plans to appoint David L. Kinney, a former Niagara County parks commissioner, as director of public works. Kinney also has worked as a deputy director of parks and public works in the city and as a supervisor and manager at Carborundum Co.)

Kinney is part of the Restiano/Granieri machine and most recently was a failed candidate against Rebecca Cuddahee for County Legislator a few years back. His government positions were pure patronage hires. Amazing that the best and brightest that Dyster can find are old Falls political operatives.

December 20, 2007

Grocery Store Coming To The City?

Sources have told Niagara Times that City of Lockport Mayor Mike Tucker is in serious negotiations to bring a grocery store back to the city. From what we have learned, the business is a well-established company with strong local ties.

Nearly 10 years ago, Jubilee pulled out of the city, leaving Lockport without a grocery store. Although the current potential grocer had expressed an interest in the former Jubilee building, sources have told us that the $800,000 asking price Benderson Development is seeking is much more than the prospective owners are willing to pay.

The lack of a grocery store downtown has created a hardship for many in the community that are unable to drive or simply cannot get to Tops or Quality. Let's hope Tucker can close the deal on a grocery store for the people of the area.

December 19, 2007

2008 County Budget

The Niagara County Legislature has adopted its 2008 budget which on the surface seems like a fairly successful attempt to keep costs down while maintaining services. The countywide average tax rate will be $8.71 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is 2 cents lower than this year’s rate. The spending total is $302 million, which is $8.5 million less than this year’s budget.

What caught my eye is the county tax rate per thousand. While some in the community believe that the tax levy is the most critical component of the budget, those who understand government know that the tax rate truly drives what we as property owners pay, not the levy (which incidentally went down $5.6 million).

To once again attempt to clarify the difference, if a company comes into Niagara County and opens a business that is assessed at $50 million, the taxes which are derived from that company increase the tax levy by the appropriate amount. Because the tax levy has gone up, that does not mean that the amount we as homeowners pay will go up. What matters is the tax rate.

In Niagara County, the tax rate has gone down. For me, as a Town of Lockport resident, my tax rate is going down almost 4.5%.

But as alluded to before, the tax rate is what we need to focus on. If you live in the City of Lockport, your combined tax rate is over $50 per thousand. The county portion is $8.69 per thousand. If you live in the City of Lockport, approximately 15% of your combined taxes are county taxes. But you still have idiots in the local print media, radio and cable who believe that the county portion of our tax bills is the problem.

As a Town of Lockport resident, I'm ecstatic with the outcome of the 2008 budget. Could more have been done? Sure, but I'll take a tax reduction every time. In fact, I don't need a reduction, just hold the line. To the Leg, the County Manager and the department heads, thank you for doing your part to reduce my taxes. Maybe the school districts will take heed.

County tax rate per thousand by municipality are as follows:

Cambria, $7.83, down 34 cents; Hartland, $7.81, down 34 cents; Lewiston, $8.70, down 18 cents; City of Lockport, $8.69, up 1 cent; Town of Lockport, $7.83, down 34 cents; Newfane, $7.84, down 31 cents.

Niagara Falls, $8.43, up 25 cents; Town of Niagara, $12.70, up $1.42; North Tonawanda, $8.50, up 25 cents; Pendleton, $7.80, down 34 cents; Porter, $7.81, down 34 cents; Royalton, $9.34, up 56 cents; Somerset, $9.81, up 37 cents; Wheatfield, $10.60, up 11 cents; Wilson, $8.41, up 25 cents.

December 18, 2007

Change

A few readers have inquired about the name change under which posts are listed, which is Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes was a political philosopher, and someone I've studied and admired for years. He is the founding father of modern political philosophy. Directly or indirectly, he has set the terms of debate about the fundamentals of political life right into our own times.

Judge Restaino

I must admit, I don't know Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert Restaino. To date, we've refrained from passing judgement on the man accused of "an egregious and unprecedented abuse of judicial power" by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC).

Restaino, you may recall, put 46 defendants behind bars after no one would take responsibility for a ringing cell phone in his courtroom. This action has lead to Restaino being placed on paid suspension while the New York Court of Appeals reviews the decision by the CJC that ordered the judge permanently removed from the bench.

I'm sure there are two sides to this story. One would assume that there are signs outside the courtroom directing those who enter to turn off all cell phones. They are a distraction and an annoyance at times. But, someone could have simply forgotten to turn his or her phone off. It happens. It doesn't excuse the infraction, but, it's not life and death.

What I'd like to know is who was the coward who wouldn't take responsibility for the phone when Restaino asked whose phone it was. And since you are responsible for dozens of other people going to jail and for the likely removal from the bench of one well-respected judge, how the hell do you sleep at night?

The Niagara Falls City Council has shown their support for Restaino. They voted unanimously to authorize city attorneys to file a brief with the state Court of Appeals in support of Restaino.

Niagara Falls activist Ken Hamilton stated that he believes the decision was unfair to Niagara Falls voters. Really? What about the nearly four dozen people who were jailed in Restaino's temporary lapse in judgement, most of whom are likely from the Falls? Was it unfair to them to be fingerprinted, locked up and forced to post bail with no due process whatsoever?

Whatever the outcome, I do wish Restaino the best. From what I've heard, he is a fair judge with a strong history in the community. Removal from the bench is too harsh of a punishment for one momentary lapse for someone with his track record. Let's hope he's learned his lesson and gets a second chance-we all deserve one.

December 17, 2007

Pigs at the Trough

I would be willing to listen to an argument that county legislators are underpaid. They make, what $15K a year for a job that comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot more grief. So maybe, just maybe, I'd listen to bumping the salary a bit.

But don't try to tell me that they deserve lifetime health benefits paid for by my tax dollars, long after they have left office, if they serve for 20 years. Yet Renae Kimble has submitted a resolution to do just that. What an outrage.

The legislature made a bold move to end this practice in a vote earlier this year...let's see if they have the gumption to stick with it. I know some of the geezers are clamoring to restore this benny, but the young legislators are loathe to face voters again with this on their voting record.

So, to all my fellow taxpayers, get out your scorecard and let's keep track of who is a pig at the trough when this vote to give legislators lifetime health benefits comes up soon. Democrat or Republican, let's vow that whomever votes for this does not get our vote when election day comes around.

December 15, 2007

Show Him The Money!!!

This is freshman New York State Senator Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) giving an animated dissertation on why he needs a pay raise.

Adams told his colleagues that he didn’t understand how some of them are getting by on the base salary of $79,500 a year, saying on that wage “you qualify for public assistance.”

December 14, 2007

Massage Parlor Redux: Let's Be Fair

I have to admit I laughed a little when it was reported in GNN that the Niagara County Democrat Committee took a $1,000 donation from those accused of using massage parlors as a front for a prostitution ring. Actually, I thought Rivera's explanation was right on point: you can't vet everyone who sends a campaign committee money and if you find out that it's tainted you send it back.

Now, Rivera said the Dems don't have the cash to send back and we can debate the merits of that, but to somehow imply that the politicos did something wrong here is absurd. I thought the story was done.

But now there is today's Buffalo News. The article discusses a letter written by Assemblyman Schimminger to help the massage parlor expand in the Falls, it talks about real estate brokers, talks again about Rivera...and I ask, what is the story? Where is the news?

A massage parlor ring was a front. The culprits have been arrested and will be brought to justice. To try to start implying that people like Schimminger and Rivera should have known illegal activity was going on or should have been more diligent is patently absurd.

Unless you can show they somehow knew they were helping a shady operation...and there's zero proof of that...then this is simply some "gotcha journalism" that hurt the reputations of people who really had no role.

December 13, 2007

I'm a Little Confused

For a long time now we have been hearing about how tourism is going to drive the economy across all of Niagara County. Much has been invested along the canal specifically to bring people to communities like North Tonawanda.

So I don't get while Mayor Soos doesn't care that the concert series is leaving N.T. for Lockport and I don't get why he thinks several thousand people coming to the canal every week in the summer is a bad thing. Sure, you need to deal with security issues with a group that big, but hey, that goes with the territory. It would seem to be that Mayor Tucker in Lockport has scored a major coup here.

Canal Concert Series to dock in Lockport
By Aaron Besecker - NEWS NIAGARA BUREAU

A popular, free summer concert series will leave North Tonawanda for Lockport next year, organizers plan to announce Thursday.

Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker said an announcement is planned for 1 p.m. in the Ulrich City Centre in Lockport.

The Canal Concert Series, which has jammed Gateway Park for eight Saturday nights each summer since 2001, has featured national acts and drawn as many as 15,000 concertgoers for a single event.

The entire Buffalo News story can be read at http://www.buffalonews.com/cityregion/niagaracounty/story/227250.html

December 12, 2007

Massage Parlor Busts

I can't help getting a little bit of a chuckle about the meganews that the shutting down of four massage parlors has become. One has to imagine that there are some people who are going to do everything within their power to squash the release of the businesses clientele lists.

Considering that the list allegedly includes a judge, a sheriff's deputy and police captain, one has to wonder if the list will ever become public. The judge apparently would use the Wheatfield location as his location of choice for his "massage".

The regular guys ought to be sweating it out too. Should the list become public and your name appears on it, try explaining that to your wife.

Of course, that may be no consolation to Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello and Niagara Falls City Development Corp. Executive Director Ralph Aversa, both of whom attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Lotus Spa on 3rd Street in the Falls. Fortunately for them, the $10,000 grant that the business applied for from the city was not approved. I'd love to see that on a brochure touting the businesses that the city has helped cultivate.

The charges levied against the business owners are federal charges and would certainly carry jail time if they are convicted. The outcome for the patrons would seem to be more of a gray area. Whatever the results, we can only hope that this case ends with a happy ending for everyone involved.

December 11, 2007

How Low Can Eliot Go?

Speaking of Gov. Spitzer, we wonder: Just how low can his approval ratings go? Lower than in the new Siena College Research Institute poll? Only 36 percent of New York voters have a favorable opinion of Spitzer, according to the survey; 51 percent have an unfavorable view.

His job-performance rating is even worse: just 27 percent positive, and a stunning 70 percent negative. (Ouch!)

With each passing month, the numbers continue to plummet: The percentage of voters who view Spitzer favorably is down five points from last month, 18 points from the month before and a total of 31 points since May.

You'd think Spitzer would get the message - but there's no sign of that so far.

Voters began souring on the governor soon after Post State Editor Fredric U. Dicker broke news in July of Team Spitzer's Dirty Tricks campaign to smear Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

Spitzer could've stopped the bleeding right there - by showing that he wasn't personally involved in the scandal. That would've meant cooperating with authorities probing the affair and, most likely, testifying about it publicly.

Instead, he stonewalled at every turn. His aides fought nearly every request for papers and sworn statements. Spitzer himself has used one excuse after another for not telling his side of the story publicly and under oath.

Just last Friday, he blamed Public Integrity Commission rules for his refusal to disclose any testimony he may give that body. Yet experts say that no law bars his release of a transcript.

Apparently, Spitzer doesn't care that 70 percent of New Yorkers insist that he come clean. (Leaving folks to wonder just what exactly it is that he's hiding.)

Nor are his ratings rebounding despite his decision to scrap his driver's-licenses-for-illegal-aliens idea. That plan cost him big-time in the polls; now that it's history, you'd think the ratings would bounce back - but no such luck.

That they fell yet again suggests that voters are growing ever-angrier with Spitzer's failure to tell the truth about Dirty Tricks. They'll keep falling, too, until that whole sordid affair is unveiled.

Meantime, he'll have no reservoir of public support or good will to draw on as he pushes his political agenda. He faces months, if not years, of paralysis.

Spitzer may be tempted to pander to this group or that to garner support. Never mind the damage that could do New York; it won't even work for him.

Actually, the driver's-license fiasco appears to have been born of just such a temptation; again, it backfired miserably. As will, we suspect, his apparent catering to soft-on-crime liberals by loosening parole restrictions on violent felons. (See above.)

No, there's only one hope for the gov: Tell the truth. Publicly. Under oath.

And Spitzer knows it.

The longer he waits, the worse it'll get.

NY Post

Cry Me A River

Does anyone else think New York judges are being a little whiny here? So their raises are tied up in politics...boo hoo. They knew what the job paid when they took it. They wanted the cushy life of being a judge but now they are DEMANDING more taxpayer money or else they will sue. Glad to see it's about public service. Here's an idea...go back to the private sector where you can earn the big bucks if money is what drives you.

NY's chief judge says she may sue over judicial pay raises
By SAMUEL MAULL - AP

The state's chief judge says she may file a lawsuit next month if state lawmakers end a planned December session without voting to give raises to New York's judges.

Judge Judith Kaye said she expects lawmakers to return to Albany in mid-December. If they fail then to hike New York's judicial salaries, which are the 48th lowest in the nation, the judge said she may sue the state.

"I so don't want to do that," Kaye told The Associated Press. "I've been a lawyer for 45 years, and I know the pluses and minuses of litigation. To me it is a last resort, but I've come just about to the end of my patience."

"If they don't do it now, they'll come back in an election year, and nobody wants to talk about raises in an election year," she added.

The sticking point has been that legislators want a raise, too, their first since 1999. So they tied a raise for judges to a raise for themselves. But that proposal got hung up amid a dispute with Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Spitzer spokesman Errol Cockfield said, "The state's judges are long overdue for a pay raise. We fully agree they deserve one, and the governor has introduced a bill that does not tie an increase to any other conditions."

At the very least, the judge said, she wants the current average salary of $136,700 raised to $165,200. As chief judge, Kaye earns $156,000 a year. She noted that first-year lawyers in some large Manhattan firms earn more than she does.

Kaye said most law school deans and top assistant district attorneys, people who constitute a pool from which many new judges are expected to be drawn, would have to take a pay cut if they accepted a job on the bench.

"I am ashamed to face colleagues in other states," the judge said in reference to salaries for New York's judges.

Kaye said lawmakers' failure to vote on a pay hike during the past nine years is effectively, given the rate of inflation, a pay cut and an intrusion on judicial independence, and therefore illegal.

It is rare, but not unprecedented, for the state's top judge to sue the state.

December 8, 2007

LCTV and Tom Christy

I cannot even begin to understand how misguided Tom Cristy is. While flipping through the channels this morning, I paused on Legislative Journal while Christy was talking to a caller. The conversation turned to school taxes.

Christy went on a diatribe about Niagara County being the highest taxed county in the country. He stated that when Legislators used to come on, they would focus on the fact that school taxes are by far the biggest portion of the tax burden. Christy then stated that the Legislators must bring a resolution demanding that the school districts do something to address their portion of the tax issue. If the Leg does not bring such a resolution, well, then they "eat it" as he said. In essence, if the Leg doesn't bring a resolution directing the school districts to take responsibility for taxes, then the entire problem is the fault of the County Legislature.

From what I understand, Christy worked for the Democratic Majority of the New York State Assembly for 12 years. He went through the Leadership Niagara program. He is going for his M.B.A. By all accounts, one would think he has a reasonable understanding of how government works. So why would he state that the Niagara County Legislature must DEMAND that school districts take responsibility for their portion of the tax bill? Anyone who follows politics knows that a county legislative body has absolutely no jurisdiction over any school district.

Unfortunately, that didn't stop Christy from giving his opinion as to why he believes that the Leg won't pass such a resolution. Christy stated that the Leg is afraid to pass such a resolution because teachers are in a union. Yes, the Leg, in which the Reps have a 14-5 majority, have weathered the Mt. View storm, and every other union challenge over the past four years, is afraid. Not only that, he stated that teachers give money to candidates, and the Republicans don't dare mess with the massive amount of money that teachers dump into Leg races. Huh?

Can someone be so amazingly dead wrong when it comes to understanding politics? Teachers don't dump money into races in support of Republican candidates. Secondly, teachers don't get involved in Leg races. That's an important point to note and I'll tell you why. Because it absolutely reinforces the point that the Leg has no control over school districts. If they did, if they could give the school districts orders and mandates, you would definitely find the teacher's unions involved in county politics. The fact that they stay out of county politics reinforces the point that the Leg can't touch them.

That doesn't stop Christy. He tells the Leg if you don't tell the schools what to do, you wear it. So which is he, stupid or ignorant?

And, once again, where are the LCTV Board of Directors? Where is Roberta Harper? Where are Jackie Davis and Donna Landers and John Benoit? You are supposed to be the leaders of LOCKPORT Community Television Board of Directors. It's not Erie County TV, it's not Niagara County TV. It's Lockport TV.

I know a few of the people on the LCTV Board. I never thought of this board as a bunch of resume padders, but unfortunately it appears that none of them are willing to address the cancer that has infected their station and my airwaves.

December 7, 2007

Newfane Burglary

The incident in Newfane on Thursday in which three young men allegedly burglarized a home and brandished a gun while fleeing the scene is quite disconcerting. Although Newfane has had its share of issues with rambunctious youth over the years, this is an incident that one would not expect to happen in this sleepy community.

The three men, none of whom are from Newfane, are all facing multiple burglary and weapons charges after being arrested late Thursday morning.

Kudos have to go out to law enforcement officials from Niagara County, the New York State Troopers and the Border Patrol, who lent their helicopter during the search, for their fantastic response to the incident. Without their quick call to action, this confrontation may have come to a much more unpleasant ending.

Although these young men are 19, 18 & 18 years of age, these are not boys being mischievous. They entered the home of a stranger, robbed the home, and flashed a gun while leaving the scene. Let's hope the courts don't treat this as a "kids being kids" incident and sentences them accordingly.

December 6, 2007

Criminal Sentences

A North Tonawanda drug dealer was placed on interim probation for six months. William A. Bacon, 29, had pleaded guilty to attempted fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

A man who crashed his truck into a guardrail May 19 avoided jail time Wednesday in Niagara County Court, where he was sentenced on a felony count of driving while intoxicated. Timothy J. Gima, 51, was placed on five years’ probation.

Thomas Stout, 24, of North Tonawanda will be on five years’ probation for driving while intoxicated. He had pleaded guilty to felony DWI.

Wayne C. Gaige, 54, of Mapleton Road, Wheatfield, drew five years’ probation. He had pleaded guilty to two felony counts of driving while intoxicated, settling a case that included three arrests: Dec. 21, 2005, and Jan. 20, 2006, in Wheatfield, and Feb. 17, 2006, in the Town of Niagara.

Todd M. Sanney Jr. of Lockport was placed on five years' probation. He had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Frank J. Marino, 32, of Niagara Falls, drew a wide-ranging sentence Thursday in a felony case of driving while intoxicated. He was placed on probation for five years but also ordered to serve 10 weekends in jail and 20 days in the county work program, pay a $1,000 fine and attend mental health court in Niagara Falls. Marino was pulled over Jan. 30 in Niagara Falls. It was Marino’s fourth drunken-driving arrest.

A former Niagara Falls man, connected to a 2003 burglary case by DNA, won’t have to serve any additional time in prison because of it. Robert E. Wall Jr., 39, was sentenced to two to four years in prison for his guilty plea to attempted second-degree burglary but made the time was made concurrent with the seven-year sentence Wall is serving for another 2003 burglary.

A Newfane man who had pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree burglary was placed on five years’ probation. Edmund F. Merchant, 20, of South Main Street, Newfane, broke into a house on Dutton Place in Newfane on March 5.

Jamil T. Marable, 30, of Tennessee Avenue, Niagara Falls, pleaded guilty to attempted third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance for selling cocaine at Fashion Outlets USA in the Town of Niagara on July 21, 2006. The Niagara Falls drug dealer was given five years’ probation.

Peter T. Jackson, 38, formerly of Willow Street, Lockport, was fined $1,000 and sentenced to five years’ probation for his guilty plea to a felony count of driving while intoxicated.

A combination of jail time, probation and $12,470 in restitution was prescribed for a burglar. Tommy M. Pace, 43, of Cleveland Avenue, Niagara Falls, will serve six months in jail to lead off a five-year probation stint. Pace pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted third-degree burglary after stripping copper pipe from homes.

What do all of these sentences have in common? They were all handed down by Niagara County Court Judge Peter Broderick. So what we've learned is that if you drive drunk, including felony DWI, get arrested and appear before Broderick, you're walking out of court.

If you break into some one's home, steal their belongings, get arrested and appear before Broderick, you'll be walking out.

If you deal drugs, get arrested and appear before Peter Broderick, you'll most likely be home the same day. If you crash your car into a guardrail, which could have been a person, you're going home. If you get four DWIs and appear before Broderick, all is well, just head on home.

But they all got probation. The drug dealers, the burglars, the felony DWI offenders, I'm sure none of them will ever commit their crimes again.

Unfortunately, Matt Murphy, as District Attorney, has also shown a propensity to go soft on criminals and cut deals.

Is it any wonder that Niagara County has become the haven for drug trafficking that it is?

Even in Lockport, where Judge Bill Watson was censured for inappropriate conduct related to his campaign promise of putting criminals in jail, it's become a joke. Repeat offenders are regularly brought before Watson and continue to be released without penalty. A man who was once feared on the bench has become a pussycat.

When does it stop? At what point do judges take some responsibility for the crimes that are committed on our streets? At what point to Assistant District Attorneys and Public Defenders stop cutting deals?

The police are doing their jobs. They risk their lives everyday to bring down the scum that plagues our streets, only to have some spineless lawyer who's afraid to actually go into court and try a case undercut his efforts. Cutting a deal is much easier, and it makes the D.A.'s office conviction rate look much better.

But nothing is being done to keep the criminals off the streets. Lawyers and judges need to take some responsibility for the crimes that are committed in this community. Until they do, we'll continue to be a haven for drug dealers and drunk drivers.

December 5, 2007

The Rumor Mill

I'm continuing to hear that Legislator Renae Kimble has an interest in getting her own person, Laura Allen, installed as the next Democrat Board of Elections Commissioner and is going so far as to reach out to Democrats who are part of the Majority Caucus for help in doing so. This would mean that Ms. Kimble would be staging a palace coup and throwing out Nancy Smith who is close with County Dem Boss Dan Rivera.

Here's my "Board of Elections for Dummies" understanding of how this works. Picking a BOE Commissioner starts with the respect parties and their committee members. Assuming that Rivera controls his committee, they would submit the name of current commish Nancy Smith to the Democrats on the Legislature. Normally this would be it...but it doesn't have to be.

Essentially, the Dem Legislators could reject the Committee's recommendation and eventually make their own. This is where Ms. Kimble's ability to line up Dem legislators in the Majority Caucus would be huge.

Let's handicap this. Assume that Dennis Virtuoso, Sean O'Connor and Kyle Andrews stay with Rivera. That's three votes.

Renae goes her way. That's one. Jason Caferalla, the new member of the Minority Caucus, has no love for Dan Rivera, who backed his primary opponent. So that could take Ms. Kimble to 2.

In the Majority caucus, you have Jason Murgia, Danny Sklarski and Andrea McNulty who are all registered Dems. If they lineup with Renae, which is entirely possible because they really don't have a dog in the fight, she wins, Allen is in and Smith is out.

This would be a huge powerplay on Kimble's part and probably re-establish her as one of the top three most powerful elected Democrats in all of Niagara County (with DelMonte and Dyster.) Will she go for it and if so, can she pull it off? It will be interesting to watch.

December 4, 2007

Property Taxes

With the local media repeatedly espousing the statement that we are the highest taxed county and state in the country, when measured as a percentage of home values, I decided to do a little research. Although doing a little homework is apparently over the head of a local newspaper editor and a wannabe MBA student/talk show host, the numbers speak for themselves.

Property taxes -- the principal source of revenue for cities, counties and school districts -- are calculated by multiplying the nominal property-tax rate by the assessment ratio (the percentage of the value of the property that is taxed) by the value of the property.

The figures in this table, put together by the nonprofit Tax Foundation, are for property taxes paid by households on owner-occupied housing. As a result, they exclude property taxes paid by businesses, renters and others.

All data in the table come from the 2005 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. Median tax is the median real estate tax paid on owner-occupied housing units for that state. The home-value statistic used is the median value of owner-occupied housing units for that state.

Property tax burdens by state

State - Median tax - Median value - Tax as % of home value - Rank
Alabama - $302 --- $97,500 ----- 0.31% ------ 48
Alaska - $2,241 --- $197,100 ----- 1.14% ------ 17
Arizona - $1,133 --- $185,400 ----- 0.61% ------ 37
Arkansas - $459 --- $87,400 ----- 0.53% ------ 42
California - $2,278 --- $477,700 ----- 0.48% ------ 45
Colorado - $1,297 --- $223,300 ----- 0.58% ------ 38
Connecticut- $3,865 --- $271,500 ----- 1.42% ------ 10
Delaware - $806 --- $203,800 ----- 0.40% ------ 47
Florida - $1,495 --- $189,500 ----- 0.79% ------ 28
Georgia - $1,050 --- $147,500 ----- 0.71% ------ 32
Hawaii - $924 --- $453,600 ----- 0.20% ------ 49
Idaho - $1,226 --- $134,900 ----- 0.91% ------ 24
Illinois - $2,904 --- $183,900 ----- 1.58% ------ 7
Indiana - $1,079 --- $114,400 ----- 0.94% ------ 23
Iowa - $1,355 --- $106,600 ----- 1.27% ------ 12
Kansas - $1,337 --- $107,800 ----- 1.24% ------ 13
Kentucky - $693 --- $103,900 ----- 0.67% ------ 36
Louisiana - $175 --- $101,700 ----- 0.17% ------ 50
Maine - $1,742 --- $155,300 ----- 1.12% ------ 18
Maryland - $2,159 --- $280,200 ----- 0.77% ------ 29
Masschstts- $2,974 --- $361,500 ----- 0.82% ------ 25
Michigan - $1,846 --- $149,300 ----- 1.24% ------ 14
Minnesota - $1,618 --- $198,800 ----- 0.81% ------ 27
Mississippi- $416 --- $82,700 ----- 0.50% ------ 44
Missouri - $1,012 --- $123,100 ----- 0.82% ------ 26
Montana - $1,309 --- $131,600 ----- 0.99% ------ 20
Nebraska - $1,889 --- $113,200 ----- 1.67% ------ 3
Nevada - $1,445 --- $283,400 ----- 0.51% ------ 43
New Hamp - $3,920 --- $240,100 ----- 1.63% ------ 5
New Jersey- $5,352 --- $333,900 ----- 1.60% ------ 6
New Mexico- $707 --- $125,500 ----- 0.56% ------ 40
New York - $3076 --- $258,900 ----- 1.19% ------ 16
N Carolina - $966 --- $127,600 ----- 0.76% ------ 30
N Dakota - $1,326 --- $88,600 ----- 1.50% ------ 8
Ohio - $1,598 --- $129,600 ----- 1.23% ------ 15
Oklahoma - $635 --- $89,100 ----- 0.71% ------ 31
Oregon - $1,910 --- $201,200 ----- 0.95% ------ 22
Pnnsylvania- $1,937 --- $131,900 ----- 1.47% ------ 9
Rhode Islnd- $3,071 --- $281,300 ----- 1.09% ------ 19
S Carolina - $642 --- $113,100 ----- 0.57% ------ 39
S Dakota - $1,404 --- $101,700 ----- 1.38% ------ 11
Tennessee - $794 --- $114,000 ----- 0.70% ------ 33
Texas - $1,926 --- $106,000 ----- 1.82% ------ 2
Utah - $1,130 --- $167,200 ----- 0.68% ------ 34
Vermont - $2,835 --- $173,400 ----- 1.63% ------ 4
Virginia - $1,418 --- $212,300 ----- 0.67% ------ 35
Washington - $2,250 --- $227,700 ----- 0.99% ------ 21
W Virginia - $389 --- $84,400 ----- 0.46% ------ 46
Wisconsin - $2,777 --- $152,600 ----- 1.82% ------ 1
Wyoming - $737 --- $135,000 ----- 0.55% ------ 41
D.C. - $1,444 --- $384,400 ----- 0.38%

Troopergate Reignited

An Albany County grand jury Wednesday will examine evidence in the reignited Troopergate probe, with the inquiry centered on whether a former aide to Gov. Spitzer misled investigators.

The Daily News reported Monday that Albany County District Attorney David Soares has sent a subpoena to Spitzer's office for diarylike notes kept by Darren Dopp, the former aide who fed state police records to an Albany newspaper in an apparent attempt to discredit state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

A source familiar with the papers said Dopp, while serving as Spitzer's chief mouthpiece from Jan. 1 through late July, regularly jotted down notes alongside his typed memos.

The chairman of the Senate Investigations Committee, George Winner, said the new effort by Soares to pry loose administration documents should help shed light on how the scandal erupted.

In his initial look at the scandal, Soares issued no subpoenas and opted not to put witnesses under oath, prompting Republicans to accuse him of waging a whitewash.

Asked about the new subpoena, Bruno said, "All I know is this governor said he would go under oath, twice, publicly, and never has, and is spending a million dollars to keep from replying to [Senate] subpoenas that have been issued."

Spitzer aides had no immediate comment on the upcoming grand jury activity.