February 28, 2008

Christy Over The Top Again

We'd like to wish Niagara County Legislator Dennis Virtuoso well. Although we do not have details, apparently Virtuoso was involved in an accident tonight that has required an examination at a local hospital. Virtuoso was scheduled to appear on LCTV's Legislative Journal this evening. Due to his accident, Virtuoso was gracious enough to contact the station and let them know he would be unable to appear. He also found a substitute guest. Unfortunately, the graciousness displayed by Virtuoso was lost on host Tom Christy.

While introducing his substitute guest Sylvia Virtuoso, Christy stated that Dennis Virtuoso told him that he would not be able to appear on the show this evening because he had "blurred vision and a foggy memory". Christy responded with, "So the doctor told you you're a Republican". Personally, I find the remark almost humorous. But once again, Christy is interjecting his personal beliefs, his personal political beliefs, into a show that was designed and created to educate the public about government. Government, not politics.

Some will say that government is politics. It's not. Having County Clerk Wayne Jagow on Legislative Journal to talk about the DMV is governmental. Having Nancy Smith on to talk about HAVA is governmental. Having Tom Christy say that Republicans have blurred vision and foggy memories is completely and unequivocally political, and goes against everything that LCTV was founded on. In LCTV's by-laws, Article 3, Section Five, it states that the purpose of the station is to "develop and cultivate the community use of cable telecommunications media in a non-discriminatory manner". A "non-discriminatory manner". Labeling Republicans with "blurred vision and foggy memories" would hardly fit with that by-law.

Once again, we have to ask - where is the LCTV Board of Directors? How can they continue to allow this type of editorializing on this channel that is a clear violation of the station's own by-laws? The Board of Directors, which according to LCTV's website includes Roberta Harper-Chair, Jackie Davis-Vice Chair, Donna Landers-Secretary, John Benoit-Treasurer, Michael Casale, Mary Brennan-Taylor, Doug Farley, Paul Foster, Debbie Gaskill, Gerard Hogan, Mike Norris, Esther Owens, Mark Sanders and Melisa Niver, are allowing their own reputations to be tarnished by the ongoing fiasco at LCTV. Is there an end in sight? We hope so as much as you do.

Niagara Greenway Funding Battle

While the Niagara River Greenway Commission attempts to reach consensus on the rules for the committee that commands $3 million in annual spending on Niagara River Greenway projects, there has been a different battle brewing below the surface.

Niagara Times has learned that an internal struggle between Niagara County's ad hoc committee to review proposals for Greenway funding and to determine which proposals will be submitted to the commission for approval and County Manager Greg Lewis has been ongoing for some time. Apparently, while the committee has been working together towards agreement on how the annual payout will be distributed, Lewis has been coming up with his own list of projects to fund, and in the process, attempting to supercede the authority of the committee.

Niagara County's portion of the $3 million, $390,000 each year, is for development along the county's Greenway trails. They include the Erie Canal, county winetrails, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.

Once again, we need to point out that Lewis thinks he is charged with running Niagara County. Folks, we elected 19 people to represent us. Right or wrong, good or bad, they are the ones who are responsible to the people who put them in office. Lewis is a fly-by-night wannabe brought in by the Dems in 2003 to close Mt. View. He answers to no one and doesn't believe he should answer to anyone. It's time the County Legislature take a look at this embarrassment who appears on LCTV looking like someone who just woke up from sleeping under a bridge. He's not a manager, he's a dictator in sheep's clothing.

February 26, 2008

Sports And Arts On My Mind

I'm a big Sabres fan, and today the saga of defenseman Brian Campbell should end with either his signing of a mongo contract or being traded because Golisano et al couldn't make the economics work. Certainly the latter will create more heartburn for the Sabres in the wake of the Drury and Briere fiascos a year ago.

What's on my mind is what are reasonable expectations for our sports teams given the state of the local economy, and do we as fans need a big reality check?

The front page of the Buffalo News describes the unfortunate close of Studio Arena Theatre. I write unfortunate because it seems I should, but I must admit I've never been there. It seems a simple case of supply and demand...and the demand just wasn't there to keep Studio Arena open.

Is that much different for the Bills and Sabres? Economics dictate the Bills play some games in Toronto. Economics dictate the Sabres will always be losing talent to free agency. And while fans will be doing a lot of handwringing over the stuff (myself inlcuded), are our sports team really just one more victim of the failure of the politicians in this state to create a competitive economic environment where we can all live and thrive...and have the disposable income to support the arts and sports that interest us?

Just wondering as the clock ticks for Mr. Campbell.

February 25, 2008

Battle In The North Country

There is a battle going on in rural Northern New York. A nasty and expensive campaign between two State Assemblymen, Republican William Barclay and Democrat Darrel Aubertine, has generated significant statewide interest. The two are looking to fill the seat vacated by former State Senator James Wright. So why the interest in a race that for years was a virtual blip on the political map? Because the balance of power in New York state politics potentially hangs in the balance.

The New York Times wrote, "The 48th Senate District, in the upper reaches of the state, almost irrelevant in state politics for so long, has become the Fort Sumter of a multimillion-dollar war between Democrats, led by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and Republicans, for control of the Senate. Indeed, voters in this icy swath of hinterland along Lake Ontario, including Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties, will have a big say over whether a balance of power shifts in Albany for the first time in 40 years."

From Sunday's Albany Times Union: "The opening shot in the battle for the state Senate begins Tuesday in the snowy, sparsely populated North Country, where state party money, hordes of volunteers and attack ads have transformed the steady drumbeat of local issues into a spectacle of knock-down, drag-out Empire State politics."

From Thursday's New York Sun: "In a quirk of politics that is startling even by Empire State standards, a band of irate fishermen who live almost 300 miles from New York City may play a pivotal role in determining the fate of the state Senate."

Obviously with the amount of money, resources and bodies being poured into this area, both Republicans and Democrats view this race as crucial to their respective efforts. With Election Day less than 24 hours away, a single race with statewide implications will have political eyes watching closely.

February 22, 2008

Thoughts On Our County Executive, er, County Manager

Visit Niagara County's homepage, then check out Orleans and Genesee County, two counties very similar to us. On the Niagara County homepage, County Manager Greg Lewis is prominently featured while the Legislature is relegated to the status of a county department. To the contrary, the Orleans County site hardly mentions the manager and the Genesee site is much the same.

This is just one example of what I think is a bigger problem: Our County Manager, Greg Lewis, thinks he is our County Executive. No one elected him to anything. His job is to run the day to day operations of the county and on that, he's done a decent job.

But Lewis wants to be more. He wants to be the big cheese in Niagara County and takes every opportunity to box in the people we elected. Did you know that no department head can speak to the people we ELECTED without talking to Lewis first? What the hell is that about? Lewis is the one who has proposed massive tax increases each year and only through the work of the Legislature have those increases been significantly introduced.

Lewis acts as if all of his ideas are pure and noble and the minute a legislator attempts to move somehting, he accuses them of being political.

And for someone who wants to be the face of the county, it would be helpful is Lewis actually tried to look the part. His sloppy presentation (his union suit pajamas are becoming the stuff of legend) is an embarassment to all of us. He's makes our county look like a bunch of backwood yokels.

My sources have told me that one reason County Clerk Jim Sobczyk was made County Auditor was to reign in Lewis and to begin aggressively overseeing and auditing the way the county functions. Anyone who knows Jim knows he will be a thorn in Lewis' side.

Word on the street is that only Legislator Clyde Burmaster regularly stands up Lewis and holds his feet to the fire. Props to Burmaster. Now lets see the rest of the legislators follow suit and put Lewis where he belongs...answering to the people we elected.

February 21, 2008

Upstate/Downstate Disconnect

The following is a youtube video from October of 2007 in which former State Senator James Wright is forced to defend Upstate NY, once again, from the diluted perception of one NYC Senator. We've all heard about NYC interests and the disconnect between Upstate and Downstate, but when you actually see and hear a NYC lawmaker talk about how Upstate doesn't need or deserve any Homeland Security money because there is nothing Upstate worth defending, it's quite disconcerting.

February 20, 2008

Explosive Racial Charge Against Larry Soos

Some of you may recall the 2006 Election for U.S. Senate in Virginia. Former popular governor George Allen, a Republican, was considered the heavy favorite for much of the race. Then, at a little attended campaign event, he saw an African-American staffer of his opponent and referred to him as "macaca" which is a racial slur.

Now, no one believed Allen to be an old school racist, but throwing this term around called into question his judgment, his sensitivity to others and quite frankly his intelligence. Allen lost the race.

Fast forward to North Tonawanda in 2008 and Mayor Larry Soos. Now we've been critical on this page of Soos for his handling of the concert series and other missteps. But this is well beyond any discussion of policy.

From what we understand and have confirmed, a harassment seminar was held last week at North Tonawanda City Hall for city employees. The seminar was to cover all forms of harassment.

During the seminar, the woman who was running it was looking for "jurors" for a fun mock trial exercise, which is pretty typical for these kinds of events. The facilitator had the list of employees involved in the seminar, including long-time City Accountant David R. Jakubaszek.

For those of us who grew up in WNY, perhaps there is nothing more frightening than realizing you have to call out one of those long ethnic surnames with which you have no idea how to pronounce.

So too was the case with this facilitator as she attempted to call forward Mr. Jakubaszek to participate in this mock jury.

Leave it to Mayor Larry Soos to ride to the rescue. As the facilitator struggled to properly pronounce the name, Soos shouted out "Don't worry, he's just a Polack".

Now regardless of the intent of Soos' words, which we doubt were meant intentinonally to offend, is this what we can expect from an elected leader? And lest anyone jump to Soos' defense too fast, just think if this were an African American or Latino surname...would it be OK for Soos to insert an ethnic slur in that case?

Much like the Allen comment, this raises a whole bunch of questions about Soos' intelligence, judgment and really whether he's fit to be mayor of the Lumberjack City.

We've already heard some grumblings from the Polish Community, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this whole thing blow up in short order. These types of comments have a way of simmering for a bit before they explode.

As for Soos, it's time he learn that he is Mayor and as such it expected to exude a certain amount of decorum....he's not just the local barkeep making off-color comments to his buddies any more.

February 19, 2008

Baby Joe Thinks About Politics

I don't know why the idea of Baby Joe Mesi running for State Senate intrigues me, but for some reason it does. And I don't necessarily have one clear thought on it, just some gut shot reactions:

1) Does this mean he is giving up on being Heavyweight Champion of the World? I always wanted to see him get a shot at the belt.

2) It's a shame that people who are famous for a host of reasons suddenly head to the front of the line for public office just because they have some name ID. It reminds of Law and Order's Fred Thompson, who had a pretty lackluster career in the Senate, suddenly being the frontrunner for president. Once the hoopla died down so too did his chances.

3) Similar to the point above, once someone with a little juice jumps into the political arena, they quickly lose that little spark they had....they become just another candidate. This is especially true in long elections. Gov. Arnold was able to win in a highly unusual recall election that happened so fast he never really got bloodied. Baby Joe is in for one long fight for the Senate.

4) Who knew Baby Joe had ties to former Democrat Chairman Steve Pigeon? Mr. Pigeon really is quite the behind-the-scences force in local, state and national politics.

5) Does anyone know where Baby Joe stands on any issues at all?

6) Given the continued changing demographics in this state that make it more and more Democrat each day, I wonder if famous people like Baby Joe will automatically be Democrats when they choose to run because it's much easier to win that way.

7) WNY is home to some top notch legislators on both sides of the aisle who view the job as a 24/7 affair and are really committed to getting things done...Senator Maziarz and Congressman Higgins come immediately to mind. Does anyone really believe Baby Joe will have this type of dedication?

8) What Senator would want to go toe to toe with Baby Joe in a heated debate knowing that Joe could kick his butt out behind the Capitol afterward? (OK, I know it wouldn't happen, but it makes me laugh.)

9) Will he really run knowing he has to disclose his finances?

10) If he is serious about this, should we assume he never fully recovered from his injuries?

February 18, 2008

Irony Can Be Pretty Ironic

The Democrat presidential race continues to plug along with neither candidate appearing capable of capturing the necessary number of delegates before the national convention. This means that so-called super-delegates...comprised of members of Congress, party luminariers, union bosses, etc., etc., numbering some 800...could decide the Dem nominee.

Now, Senator Clinton, for the momemt, holds the lead with these super-types essentially because she was the perceived front-runner from the get-go and we know that political players like to be on the right bandwagon. But since Senator Obama has made this a race, the super-delegates are getting squeamish. Obama has been particularly effective in calling on super delegates who are elected officials to cast their votes in the way their constituents did....kind of a "follow the will of the people" type argument. Clinton, of course, is opposed to that, saying the rules are the rules and the super delegates should follow their own instincts in choosing who is best to lead the party.

OK, now to the ironic party. Remember the 2000 election and claims that George Bush stole the election from Al Gore because Al Gore won the popular vote but Bush won the electoral college? Remember claims that the will of the people was being subverted? Remember major Dem leaders like Hillary Clinton beating this drum?

Now, you have Democratic primary voters turning out in record numbers to cast their votes for either Clinton or Obama in a race that has really caught fire....especially compared to the apathy being expressecd by Republican voters who are staying home in their primary elections.

And now it seems Clinton is willing to use political insiders to snatch the nomination and take away the will of Dem voters in many of these states. Maybe irony is the wrong word here....hyprocrisy might be a better fit. Whether you like Hillary or not, the Clinton machine has a reputation for doing and saying anything to get what they want.

This is old school backroom politics at its worse and many liberals who complained about 2000 should be out front saying so right now....their silence is deafening.

February 15, 2008

Gun Control

A former student dressed in black walked onto the stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire on a packed science class Thursday, killing five students, wounding 16 and setting off a panicked stampede before committing suicide. Another student died overnight, bringing the death toll to seven. The campus gunman has been identified as 27 year-old student Steven Kazmierczak

The shooting was the fourth at a U.S. school within a week.

On Feb. 8, a woman shot two fellow students to death before committing suicide at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge. In Memphis, Tenn., a 17-year-old is accused of shooting and critically wounding a fellow student Monday during a high school gym class, and the 15-year-old victim of a shooting at an Oxnard, Calif., junior high school has been declared brain dead. A student at Virginia Tech killed 32people last year. Columbine, which at the time seemed like such an anomoly, has become a faint memory tainted by a slew of copycat killers.

The graduate student who massacred students in Northern Illinois University lecture hall bought three of his four guns on Saturday - indicating that he had been planning his assault for at least six days. But how long did it take for him to get his guns, and is it is time to look at gun control again?

The Brady Bill Act initially required purchasers to wait up to five days for a background check to occur before being allowed to purchase a handgun. The waiting period provision of the Act expired in 1998 when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) came online. NICS is managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The system runs database checks on criminal records. A handgun purchaser may still have to wait for up to three business days if the NICS system fails to positively approve or deny his or her application to purchase a firearm; if the denial is not issued within those three days, the transfer may be completed at that time.

Many will claim that the Second Amendment protects their right to bear arms, but the Supreme Court has said differently. Since the Second Amendment right "to keep and bear arms" applies only to the right of the state to maintain a militia, and not to the individual's right to bear arms, there can be no serious claim to any constitutional right of an individual to possess a firearm." (Stevens v. U.S., United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, 1971).

Obviously, the system in place is not working. Our country is the most violent country in the industrialized world. While we are spending billions policing the rest of the world, we are unable to stop the violence on our own streets. I'm not sure what the answer is, and I'm not sure how many dead children we'll have to see carried out of their classrooms, their supposed sanctuaries, before our government take effective steps to end these slaughters.

February 14, 2008


The announcement that Niagara County Sheriff Tom Beilein will be leaving his current position to take a job with the New York State Commission of Correction has been the worst kept secret in town. Look for former baseball great and current department Chief Deputy Jim Voutour to be appointed the next Niagara County Sheriff.

Over the past week or so, I've had a specific phone number appear on my caller ID 11 times. Since it was an Ohio number that I did not recognize, I figured it was some type of solicitation. Last night at 6:30, while helping my daughter with homework, they called again. This time I answered it. This Ohio number that kept calling incessantly, 216-589-0214, was someone wanting to sell me a subscription for the Union Sun & Journal. Yes, the US&J outsources their subscription solicitations to the great state of Ohio. So much for their slogan of "Your Hometown Paper".

Governor Eliot Spitzer was in Niagara Falls yesterday, where he declared "this is a city that is just poised for dramatic development". He alluded to the $100 million Niagara Experience Center as well. Considering the city's history of unfulfilled promises, pardon us if we're just a bit skeptical.

Speaking of Spitzer, shortly after taking office he announced the creation of the Commission on Local Government Efficiency. In a statement, Spitzer said "We must consolidate New York’s multiple layers of local government – those 4,200 taxing jurisdictions that cost taxpayers millions each year in duplicative services and stand as yet another impediment to change". Each county was then to submit the areas that they are recommending for consolidation within their respective counties. Niagara County's recommendation? Working to establish the Erie/Niagara Geographic Information System Initiative. That's it? That's the best the county could come up with? I'm not sure what County Manager Greg Lewis is doing in his office, but it certainly doesn't appear to be looking for more efficient ways for Niagara County to operate.

General Motors decision to offer massive buyouts to it's employees is sure to have a trickle down effect on Delphi Lockport. Of the many stories that I've read on this issue, none contained a more stunning fact than GM currently spends $130,000 per employee per year. No wonder they can't compete globally. A fantastic take on the massive health care expense of GM can be found at http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2005-06-22-gm-healthcare-usat_x.htm.

Lastly, I had the opportunity to watch the entire Roger Clemens testimony before Congress last night (DVR is wonderful). Being a huge baseball fan, I love Clemens. I love his intensity, his desire and his drive. I love when he chucked a bat at Mike Piazza, accidentally of course. But Roger is lying. He used HGH. Although I don't believe the Department of Justice will ever win a perjury case against him, the court or public opinion is already in. And baseball suffers another black eye. Sad, so sad.

February 13, 2008

A Weighty Issue

Pardon me while I deviate from the usual political topics. This weekend I was stunned by what I saw. No, it wasn't Tom Christy with his hair combed. It wasn't John Lombardi on a basketball court, and it wasn't Tim Marren at a John McCain rally.

It all started on Saturday when my wife said she was heading to Tops to do the weekly grocery shopping. At that point, I announced I would like to go. Now, our grocery bill usually hovers around $180 a week. This, combined with my propensity for sweets, brought my wife to a stunned silence. Afterall, me in the cookie aisle could make for an ugly, ugly grocery bill.

So we headed off to the store where I found my wake-up call. In a nutsell, I cannot believe how much junk food this store sells. I found myself literally at a standstill. Aisles and aisles of crap. Shelf after shelf or obesity-inducing garbage. People with little or no will power must have a very difficult time walking through Tops.

The question is, does Tops have a responsibility to adjust their inventory in order to steer their customers into a healthier life style or should they simply give their customers what they want? We've seen some of the contributors to the societal obesity problem make changes. Fast food restaurants are offering healthy choices and have changed their cooking oils to a healthier blend. Many snack makers have also changed the way they make their products to make them "healthier".

Obesity in children is at an all-time high. Many argue that this trend is due to other factors that lead kids into sedintary lifestyles, such as video games, computers, etc. Children don't go out and play anymore.

Nearly 19 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight, and 61 percent of overweight young people have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children who are overweight also are more likely to suffer from bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and low self-esteem, and are more at risk for developing adult health problems, including heart disease and diabetes, according to the CDC.

But this isn't just an issue for kids. It's an issue for all of us. The costs associated with treating obesity-related illnesses are massive. A 2003 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the annual cost of treating obesity-related illness at $93 billion, or 9 percent of all U.S. health costs. And taxpayers paid half the bill through the government's Medicare and Medicaid health programs.

In 1991, only 12 percent of American adults were considered obese, according to U.S. government data. By 2001, that was up to nearly 21 percent, a 75 percent increase. Other studies indicate that 65 percent of the population is overweight and 30 percent is obese.

If those numbers are right, only 35 percent of adults are at or below a healthy weight. And 15 percent of children are overweight, double the number 30 years ago.

The health and economic effects of all this fat are daunting. Average U.S. life expectancy, which has been rising for more than a century, is poised to decline as a result. The annual death toll from obesity-related illnesses – diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers – is estimated at 300,000, rivaling the 400,000 who die from smoking.

These are stunning figures. Little did I know that a simple trip to the grocery store would open my eyes to this massive problem. Fortunately, each of us can do our own part to right this ship. As for me, I'm avoiding the cookie aisle and heading out for a walk.

February 12, 2008

What Will The Democrats Do?

Republican or Democrat, this story from the NY Sun highlights why we are all in for a rude awakening if the Governor's office, the Senate and Assembly all fall to one party. For those who think NYS is not ruled by NYC interests, let this be a wake up call. The article is as follows, in it's entirety:

The increasing probability that Republicans will lose control of the state Senate for the first time since the 1960s has pointed conversation in Albany to an intriguing topic of speculation: Once Joseph Bruno is dethroned, what would Democrats do with their power?

I posed that question to several Democratic lawmakers, and their responses suggest that the difference between the parties as it relates to legislative priorities is far more striking than one might assume given the leftward drift of Mr. Bruno.

In their appeal to voters, Republicans are promoting themselves as the last defense against an out-of-control, authoritarian governor.

The focus on Mr. Spitzer minimizes the extent to which Senate Democrats have a mind of their own and adhere to a political philosophy that, while overlapping with some of Mr. Spitzer's agenda, is more closely aligned with progressive social and fiscal policies.

An issue of great divide between Republicans and Democrats in Albany is rent control.

A decade ago, Mr. Bruno tried to eliminate rent control laws altogether, and last year his conference shot down a push by Democrats for new regulations that would have significantly slowed down the rate at which regulated apartments in the city are decontrolled and thus eligible for higher market rents.

Democrats told me they would renew that push and would also back a repeal of the so-called Urstadt law, passed in the Rockefeller era in 1971, which handed to Albany authority over New York City's rent regulation laws.

The shift on rent control would be one consequence of New York City becoming the Senate's geographic base of power. Another change — and one suburban voters should pay attention to — would be in the distribution of education aid. Senate Democrats would want to see more money going to New York City schools and less to Long Island districts.

In our conversations, Democrats repeatedly brought up the Rockefeller drug laws, the mandatory sentencing statutes for people convicted of non-violent drug crimes. "We would like to see the Rockefeller laws fixed so folks are not serving these extraordinary periods of prison for relatively minor matters," a Harlem Democrat, Bill Perkins, told me.

Democrats envision pressing for a repeal or a far more significant scaling back of the law than what was approved by Senate Republicans and Governor Pataki in 2004.

Upper East Side Democrat Liz Krueger predicted that the Senate "would become a pro-choice majority conference literally overnight," rallying behind Mr. Spitzer's Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, which would protect and strengthen abortion rights in the state, even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

It's much less clear whether Senate Democrats, some of whose members tilt conservative on social issues, would immediately join the Assembly in legalizing gay marriage. At the very least, they would probably get behind a civil unions bill.

A Democratic take-over, Ms. Krueger said, would also effectively end the debate in the Legislature over whether to restore the state's death penalty.

After a spate of trooper shootings, Republicans last year demanded that Mr. Spitzer and the Democrat-controlled Assembly pass legislation that would revive New York's dormant death penalty statute in cases involving the murder of police officers and terrorists. "You won't hear the continued cry to bring back the death penalty," Ms. Krueger said.

Ms. Krueger also pointed to an issue where Senate Democrats and Mr. Spitzer don't see eye to eye: taxes. Her conference, she said, favors "a progressive and more equitable model of taxation," similar to the proposals championed by the union-backed Working Families Party.

Whereas Mr. Spitzer has refused to tinker with the state's income tax, Senate Democrats would likely seek to increase the rate for wealthier residents and perhaps lower it for those on the bottom of the ladder.

The Senate Democratic solution to the problem of rising property taxes may be to allow school districts outside of the city to raise revenue by taxing income instead of property, according to Bronx senator Jeff Klein, a rising star in his conference.

Democrats insist, however, they would demonstrate more fiscal restraint than their Republican counterparts, if only because they wouldn't face the same pressures to curry favor with voters as Republicans have in a Democrat-leaning state.

"You'll see a stronger commitment to fiscal responsibility," a Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan Democrat, Martin Connor, said. "They walk off with hundreds of millions of pork dollars. We don't need it. We're not trying to support an artificial majority. I don't need $5 million to buy my district in November."

As for the question of allegiance to Mr. Spitzer, who is clearly hoping that the Senate Democrats will be one problem he doesn't have to worry about, lawmakers left it open. "I don't think we're going to be yes men and women," Mr. Connor said.

In other words, Mr. Spitzer, who prides himself as a moderate Democrat, may be their patron, but he's not their master.

February 11, 2008

Parochial Thinking

So much for all this talk of regionalism. The same goes for trying to address the dysfunction of Albany. Nope, let's look out for ourselves, the rest of you can fend for yourselves. At least that's what Tim Marren thinks. Marren, editor of the Lockport Union Sun & Journal, thinks that Lockport Mayor Mike Tucker is doing such a fine job in his current position that he should stay right where he is. Tucker's name is frequently tossed about as a potential candidate for the 142nd Assembly seat.

Come on, Tim. Yes, Tucker is doing an excellent job for Lockport. But what about the bigger picture? I do agree that losing Tucker would have an impact on Lockport, but, no one can say what that impact would be. Having him as our Assemblyman, and more importantly, taking his successes to Albany, cannot be a bad thing.

Marren goes on to say, "The reason Tucker’s name has come up so many times with regard to the Assembly seat and even other higher offices is because he’s doing a fine job. Because he’s doing a good job for Lockport shouldn’t be enough for him to be plucked from the Lock City and plopped down in Albany". Then who should we send, Tim? You continously harp about the incumbents and you don't want other local officials who are doing well to try to make positive changes in Albany, so should we look for the worst local officials to send to Albany?

One thing is clear-if Tucker does enter the race for Assembly or some other elected office, he will be a strong candidate to contend with. For now, let's hope he, and Lockport, continue to enjoy success.

February 8, 2008

Mills' Golden Goose To Keep Laying Eggs

Below are excerpts from a Buffalo News story regarding the Newfane School Board's decision not to legally challenge former School Superintendent James N. Mills’ $1 million whole-life insurance policy.

This issue is offensive on many levels. Firstly, this is the kind of benefit that has driven school taxes to over 60% of our tax liability in Niagara County. Unfortunately, this type of benefit is common. One would think that there would be some level of public outcry over massive benefit packages such as this that are handed out to school administrators. This is also another reason why we don't need a dozen school districts in Niagara County. The City of Buffalo, which is a small city, has more children in its district than all of the districts in Niagara County combined, and they operate under a single administration.

Secondly, why would any of the Newfane Board members vote against pursuing termination of Mills' huge policy? Spending $10,000 to save the taxpayers of the district over $400,000 doesn't seem like an unreasonable risk. Not wanting to pursue it simply looks bad.

Lastly, when members of alleged taxpayer groups are publicly advocating in favor or elected officials getting lifetime health insurance, where is the public outrage over a half a million dollar life insurance policy? Why is the media not calling on school districts to put an end to such extravagance?

The policy will cost the district a total of $519,000 over a 15-year period that began in 2005.

The board gave Mills the policy as part of his 2005 contract, a move that requires the school district to spend $34,610 a year on the premium. Though his contract was to run through the end of 2009, Mills decided to retire Dec. 31, 2006, and took the life insurance benefit with him.

However, on Nov. 27, the board, by a 5-2 vote, quashed a motion to take legal action to kill the policy. Pieszala and member Gretchen DeWitt voted for it. The motion was made after the board had legal research done on the issue but “decided not to pursue it,” Pieszala said, adding that the vote came late at night after an executive session.

“We consulted with the Buffalo law firm Harris Beach, and they basically told us, ‘We are not going to tell you you have a winner here.’ But they felt it was worth pursuing,” Pieszala recently told The Buffalo News.

“I truly believe we could have had an answer to whether we could have been successful for under $10,000. We stood to save about $415,320 in the premiums we wouldn’t have had to pay over the next 12 years if we won. We possibly could have recovered the $103,830 we already paid toward it. I thought it would have been worth a try.”

As a board member, she said she felt it was her duty to investigate and try to recover as much money as possible because “we have a financial responsibility to the residents of this district. So I felt it was worth a try.”

Member David A. Adams said it was not that the other board members felt Mills was entitled to the policy. He said he didn’t feel the district should pay for it either. “We all pretty much agreed in principle that it was wrong for him to have the policy at district expense, and that it all seemed a bit underhanded. But it also appeared that it legally might stand,” Adams said.

He said everything would depend on how the law was interpreted by a judge. “We got several legal opinions, and basically, it was: ‘Well, you have a good argument but . . .,’ and the but was going to cost money and they weren’t guaranteeing anything,” Adams said. “. . . So it became a question of how much money you wanted to keep throwing at it and not win. With the lawyers, there was no, ‘We’ll do this for ten grand and that’s it . . .’

“We were in a no-win situation. At least that’s how I looked at it.”

February 7, 2008

Ruffalo's Game of Smoke & Mirrors Continues

For the past several weeks, the administration at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has been engaged in a campaign blaming Niagara County for its financial woes and layoffs. Although it has been hard to peel through the layers of rhetoric, it seems to me that the issue has always been the processing of Medicaid applications and the reimbursement rates. New York State establishes the reimbursement rates for service. New York State establishes the guidelines for processing Medicaid applications. New York State establishes the eligibility requirements for Medicaid benefits. If these state guidelines need to be changed, shouldn’t the hospital’s criticism be directed at the state officials elected to represent the area in which the hospital lies, State Senator Antoine Thompson and State Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte?

But hospital CEO Joe Ruffolo continued his rhetoric and blame campaign by speaking at Tuesday night’s County Legislature meeting. He said that the hospital is saddled with $7 million dollars in uncompensated care, yet he failed to indicate how the county is in any way responsible for uncompensated care. He said that the hospital just wants to be reimbursed for the services it provides, yet failed to demonstrate how the county has any control whatsoever over Medicaid reimbursement to the facility. It made for good television, but was short on substance. I would expect more from an administrator making over $500,000 annually. He has made very serious allegations that he seems unable to substantiate.

Anthony Restaino, Commissioner of the Niagara County Department of Social Services, the agency responsible for processing Medicaid applications, responded and blasted Joe Ruffolo at the meeting, calling him a liar to his face. But the difference between Joe Ruffolo and Anthony Restaino is that Mr. Restaino supported his position with actual facts. Medicaid reimbursement to NFMMC has been stable over the last three years: $9.9 mil in 2005, $9.1 million in 2006 and $9.6 million last year. Restaino added that repeated claims by the hospital that the impact of county Medicaid processing on the facility’s bottom line is a “categorical misrepresentation of the truth.”

In light of the fact that the hospital has yet to produce any documents or reports or figures that would support the Ruffalo’s accusations, it would seem that Restaino may have reason to be upset.

So what is the truth? We will know very soon. Tuesday night, the County Leg passed every single resolution submitted for the purpose of assisting the hospital. Not one single Legislator opposed the relief requested by the hospital administration. So now the ball is in the hospital’s court. If Niagara Falls Memorial fails to bring back the employees it laid off and fails to restore day care services and fails to continue the operation of the Behavioral Services Unit, then Joe Ruffolo will be exposed as the incompetent administrator that I believe he is.

February 6, 2008

Worst Mayor EVER!!

Vince Anello took a lot of heat in different areas for being a terrible mayor, but Vince was at least trying to get some things dones. For pure ineptitude, is there a worse Mayor than Larry Soos in North Tonawanda?

Seriously, you would think he would have learned something in November when voters picked essentially every candidate NOT backed by Soos. You would think he would have learned something from his bungling of the concert series that hopscotched over to Lockport. But nope, Larry Soos keeps stumbling along.

If you read today's Buffalo News, there is an article about how the N.T. Common Council finally got fed up with Soos delaying signing onto a state-funded study of how NT, Lockport and the Falls could merge their water operations.

Eveyrone knows water in NT is ridiculously expensive and some structural changes are needed to reduce the "water bureaucracy." Unfortunatley for all H2O users in NT, Soos has a lot friends that benefit from the high cost of agua and so he's been trying to run out the clock on this study.

Last night, the Council had enough support and overrode his veto so they could engage the contract with the other cities. Good for them.

As for Soos, his unblemished record for ineptitude continues.

February 5, 2008

Candidate Match Game

In honor of Super Tuesday, we bring you the Candidate Match Game. It can be found at http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/candidate-match-game.htm.

About the game
Polls suggest Americans are concerned primarily with a few key issues in the 2008 presidential election. USA TODAY researched candidate positions on those top issues — Iraq, immigration and health care — as well as a few others that may influence the election. We then came up with 11 multiple-choice questions that would help differentiate the candidates and their stances.

As you answer the questions, you can roll over each color bar below the candidates' heads to find background on their positions. Your answers are matched with the positions of the presidential hopefuls to reveal the candidate (or candidates) closest to your views. The sliders on the right allow you to assign relative weights to match the importance that you place on each issue.

February 1, 2008

A $50K Question for the Power Coalition

If there is one group in Niagara County that has been pillaged in the press, sometimes fairly, other times not, it has to be the Niagara Power Coalition. Aaron Besecker, then of the Niagara Gazetter and now of the Buffalo News, made a cottage industry of hammering away on the NPC, especially on legal bills and the lack of accountability.

In some circles, Besecker was accused of being Lewiston Supervisor Fred Newlin's mouthpiece. They may be a tad unfair, although he did allow Newlin to hammer away unchallenged at Mark Zito and the politically-connected Harris Beach law firm, who by all accounts did a good job in getting the coalition deal finalized with the New York Power Authority.

Newlin's antics led to a switch in law firms and Newlin led the NPC to hiring Nixon Peabody and that's all anybody has heard since....until now.

We have been told that the NPC is spending $50K a month on legal bills. That's right, $50,000 A MONTH. And with the deal being signed, what the heck are they doing for the money? It's seems like they are getting a nice payday at our expense.

It's time Aaron Besecker and other media types put Newlin and the NPC back under scrutiny and FOIL these legal bills. Let's find out what is going on and what we are getting for our money.