July 31, 2008

Thruway Authority Award

We at Niagara Times have never attempted to portray this site as some hard-hitting news source, just a site to stimulate some discussion, good or bad, right or wrong, on various topics of interest. We are periodically able to break a news story which the mainstream media then picks up and runs with, and we're okay with that. We've also from time to time been critical of various local media outlets for what appears to be their willingness to "create" news as opposed to searching for and reporting the news. That being said, we are astonished by what appears, at least on the surface, to be the lack of acknowledgement of a glaring problem.

Making barely a blip on the media radar recently has been a story related to the tentative awarding of a New York State Thruway Authority contract to Niagara Majestic Tours, a Niagara Falls-based company that offers travel arrangement, tour and non-tour transportation services.

With the awarding of the contract, Majestic Tours will staff the Angola and Clarence information centers. It will be the first time in roughly three decades that a private company will staff the centers. Majestic will also be in charge of selling hotel stays and tour packages on commission to tourists who stop at the public information booths.

The award has raised some concerns among the hospitality industry because a private company beat out both the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. and the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau, public entities that would be less likely to steer business to certain customers, as a private company may.

However, as problematic as these aspects may be, the heart is the issue lies in the fact that the President & CEO of Niagara Majestic Tours is Doreen O'Connor. What seems to have slipped through the media cracks is the fact that Doreen O'Connor is married to Sean O'Connor, a Niagara County Legislator, and an employee of Majestic Tours. According to the Department of State Division of Corporation Entity Information website, the business is listed out of the same address as the O'Connor home.

Sure, someone is going to make the argument that it's her company and he just works for her, and the business just happens to be run out of their home. But we have a county legislator with strong ties to a business entity that is competing against a county agency, and the wife of a county legislator, who as we all know is getting taxpayer-funded lifetime health insurance from the same county, competing against a county agency.

Now, we are not begrudging anyone the opportunity to make a living. But these awards were made based off of a bid process. Would a county legislator be in a position to know what a county agency is going to bid, then outbid that agency?

Maybe everything is legitimate, but it simply looks bad. We'd encourage the Thruway Authority to take a second look at this award to confirm that no inside information was used to obtain the award and to examine Mr. O'Connor's role in Majestic Tours. Otherwise, it looks questionable at best.

July 30, 2008

Paterson, Time To Walk The Walk

Governor David Paterson has drawn the line in the sand. He has called on his colleagues in Albany to return with the intent of addressing the state's massive budget gap, and he has sent a message to state's the public sector employees, warning of budget cuts and layoffs. Good for you, Dave, it sure makes for great sound bites.

But we have to wonder if there is any substance to what Paterson is saying. Fred Dicker of the Daily News, a frequent critic of Albany, is also questioning Paterson's lack of details to address the state's fiscal woes. From the DN...

Gov. Paterson last night candidly laid out the harsh realities of New York's deteriorating financial condition - but he was largely silent when it came to proposing the solutions needed to address them. Sure, the governor talked about the fire-sale leasing of such core state assets as roads, bridges and tunnels - just the sort of thing near-bankrupt Third World nations used to do under pressure from the colonial powers.

And of course he said he'll consider reducing the size of the state work force, and demanding further cuts in state-agency spending.

But Paterson never mentioned the unrelenting special-interest grips the teachers and hospital-workers unions have on state government, which have driven up health-care and school-aid costs to unsustainable levels. He never said that the high cost of taxation, energy and labor for businesses are the reasons so many new and expanding companies don't want to locate here, and why the state became overly dependent on Wall Street revenues. And, most importantly, Paterson failed to point out that New York's notoriously spendthrift Legislature must be brought to heel if fiscal sanity is to return to the state.

Paterson's repeated promise to speak truth to power has ignored the fact that, as governor, he is the power - and not merely the interested observer his speech last night suggested. So give our accidental governor a midterm "A" for telling New Yorkers what the legislative leaders don't want us to know: that revenues to the state treasury are plunging at a dangerous rate and something drastic must be done soon.

But be prepared to give Paterson a well-deserved "F" if he fails to follow up with a specific agenda of cuts and savings when he brings lawmakers back to Albany on Aug. 19.

July 29, 2008

Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Saga Continues

The silence coming out of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission regarding the departure of long-time General Manager Tom Garlock has been deafening over the past week. It's obvious to all that there is a deliberate effort being made to hide the circumstances of Garlock's departure and any discussion of a sweetheart send off package (rumored to be $250K plus lifetime health insurance.)

Yesterday, Business First may have found the first crack in the Commission's wall of silence...see below. Perhaps Governor Paterson should make accountability of agencies and commissions part of his speech this afternoon to reign in the cost of government.

Departing commissioner: Garlock was fired
Business First of Buffalo - by James Fink Business First

Just a few days after the long-time general manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission abruptly resigned, one of the commission's directors has resigned in protest. Brian Wilkie, a Canadian representative on the eight-member board, has left his seat. He claims that the resignation of Tom Garlock as general manager was engineered by his fellow commissioners.

Wilkie, a manager of Niagara Peninsula Energy Inc., a city-owned firm that distributes electricity, told the Niagara Falls Review that the other commissioners' role in Garlock's sudden departure was "unconscionable, unethical and harmful to the commission."In his resignation letter, Wilkie said "he refused to endorse this action."

Garlock had been the bridge commission's general manager since late 2000. The commission oversees the operations and maintenance of Lewiston-Queenston, Rainbow and Whirlpool bridges between Western New York and Southern Ontario.Garlock, a Lockport native, led the commission through several construction projects aimed at improving traffic flow on the three bridges.

He declined to comment on the latest developments. Garlock has been a prominent figure in the local economic development scene, having also served as Buffalo Zoo president and as a key legislative aide to a number of Niagara County elected officials. With Wilkie's resignation, the commission is down to two members.

Diane Vitello, a Niagara Falls attorney, resigned her post earlier this year after she was named a judge. Under its bylaws, the commission has four Ontario directors - all appointed by Ontario's Ministry of Government Services - and four New York directors, all of whose appointments come from Albany.Gov. David Paterson, who was in Buffalo last week, declined to comment on Garlock's departure and when asked about naming a replacement for Vitello responded by saying "yes."

Quick Hits

If the reason the chairman of the Monroe County Independence Party resigned is that party officials believe that his wife accepted $5,000 in “bribe money” from the campaign of Democratic congressional candidate Jack Davis, does that mean that they believe Davis offered $5,000 in "bribe money"?

I've never read an Indian treaty, but I'd love for someone to point out exactly where there is a provision in there allowing Native Americans to sell tax free gas & tobacco. Apparently this judge has found that provision, and another year of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes will go uncollected.

The Buffalo News has a short snippet related to the finalization of Niagara County's purchase of land in Cambria to build a new Public Works campus. The article stated that "the project is under design, and a detailed plan and cost estimate are expected this fall. A preliminary estimate was $40 million." Wrong. The preliminary estimate was $15 million. How the press continuously allows this buffoon of a County Manager to slide for his repeated screwing of the taxpayers is beyond belief. Someone please show the courage to call him out on his multi-million dollar miscalculation.

Kudos to the Niagara County IDA for agreeing to return the full $2 million that it borrowed from the county in the late 1980s to create a revolving loan fund that has been used in the years since to assist area businesses. We're also glad to see, as Gazette reporter Mark Scheer notes, "a commitment on behalf of the Republican-led majority caucus to use a $2 million loan repayment from the county’s Industrial Development Agency to support tax rate stabilization in 2009".

Last week we touched on some very positive news related to job growth and hotel occupancy in Buffalo Niagara. The good news continues with the announcement that the construction boom continues in Western New York, according to a report issued Tuesday morning by McGraw-Hill Inc. Contracts for future construction in Erie and Niagara counties totaled $157.95 million in June, running 77 percent ahead of $89.29 million in the same month a year ago.

Congressional candidate Jack Davis has a Web site that slams his 26th CD Democratic primary opponent, Jon Powers.

July 28, 2008

NYPA Leadership Turmoil

The New York Power Authority continues to remain in a constant state of chaos with the unexpected resignation of the chairman of the State Power Authority, Frank McCullough Jr. He leaves with two years left on his current term. His departure, along with the the forced resignation of NYPA CEO Roger Kelley, should be seen as an opportunity for Niagara County to have a greater say in the operations of the organization.

As we know, the Niagara Power Project is the biggest electricity producer in New York State, generating 2.4 million kilowatts.

NYPA states that economic development is a top priority for the New York Power Authority. Most people in our community would agree that economic development is a top priority for our region. As so many corporations are reliant on cheap electricity and an abundance of fresh water, it would seem that NYPA and Niagara County would be on the same page.

When Roger Kelley, a Western New Yorker, was appointed to head NYPA, excitement abounded. Then it quickly waned. Kelley was a disappointment as NYPA CEO, barely acknowledging WNY's significance in contributing to NYPA.

Let's hope that changes soon. Richard Kessel, former chairman and chief executive officer of the Long Island Power Authority, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Kelley. Even if the head of NYPA is from outside our region, it is imperative that Western New York, and Niagara County, have a voice at the NYPA table - our economic development future may depend on it.

July 25, 2008

Friday Ruminations

For the first time in decades, the Buffalo Niagara region's job market has grown faster than all of the other 13 major metropolitan areas in the state. While the nation has lost jobs for six straight months, the Buffalo Niagara region has added jobs for six consecutive months. Good news indeed.

At the same time, hotel operators in Erie and Niagara counties are experiencing something their counterparts in the rest of the country are not -- filled rooms. Hotel occupancy over the past six months has risen significantly in both counties. Niagara Falls led the country in occupancy rates in June and for the first six months of '08. Great news.

The Buffalo Bills start training camp today. Our prediction is a 6-10 season. If they don't give Jason Peters a new contract soon, cut that win total in half. The Bills have the longest current streak in the NFL of not making the playoffs.

In case you missed it, the Niagara Falls Reporter front page has a picture of Niagara County Dem Chair Dan Rivera sneaking in the back door of the Red Coach in Niagara Falls during a protested fundraiser. Appropriately, the headline is "Back Door Dan".

Kudos to Gov. David Paterson for signing into law a new version of the Brownfield Cleanup Program. The moratorium that the state enacted earlier this year had threatened to derail several WNY projects. They can now move forward.

The New York Times has an excellent piece on the new brownfields law.

The death of a DOT worker by a distracted driver is horribly tragic. Best wishes to his family as they attempt to cope with this tragedy.

The cloud over disgraced former guv Eliot Spitzer simply will not dissipate.
The state Commission on Public Integrity charged four members of the Spitzer administration on Thursday with misusing the State Police as part of a political vendetta.

Shades of "Laurence" Spitzer's anger are evident in a chain of emails released by the State Commission on Public Integrity related to the Spitzer administration’s efforts to smear Joe Bruno.

July 24, 2008

CWM

Chemical Waste Management (CWM) has been in the news lately for two proposals that would impact their business operations. The first, which consists of sending almost 75,000 tons of toxic waste from a Superfund site north of Glens Falls to CWM, appears to be a no-brainer. After all, who wants 1,500 truckloads of PCBs running through their neighborhood?

But this facility in Porter is the only hazardous waste dump in the Northeast, so is it better to ship it through New York State to some other location even further away? The company has already taken in nearly 33,000 tons of waste from a project site in Schenectady County, and nearly 25,000 tons of contaminated soil from a site in Delaware County came to CWM last year. This simply looks like another case of not-in-my-backyard. The reality of the situation is that we do have a hazardous waste facility in Niagara County. They need to be able to do what they are in business to do.

Which leads us to the second recent issue for CWM. They have placed an application with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to expand the current facility. CWM officials have asked the state to allow them to build a new, 50-acre landfill on their 710-acre site.

Again, we must wonder why the opposition? They are a hazardous waste landfill. Does anyone like the fact that there corporations in the past have polluted earth? Of course not. But CWM is in business to take that material and either clean it or place it in a location which will keep it away from the general population. Who in Porter did not know this when they moved there?

As a side note, I'd love to know what the Erie County Leg is doing passing a resolution opposing the expansion of CWM, especially since Erie County has shipped 116,000 tons of hazardous waste from Erie County projects alone in recent years.

The other part of this equation is brownfields. The state is investing hundreds of millions into remediating brownfield sites. Many of these sites are contaminated. If corporations which are investing in these sites experience exponential costs of shipping the material because it now needs to go out of state, many of these projects will not get done. The economic impact would be very detrimental.

In the end, it comes down to CWM and their ability to conduct business in a responsible manner. There are massive amounts of regulations that they must follow. The day that they are no longer a responsible neighbor, some of this criticism may be appropriate. Until that day, they are simply another business in Niagara County and should be treated as such.

July 23, 2008

Cloud Over Niagara Falls Bridge Commission

Tom Prohaska has the story today about Tom Garlock leaving as general manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. This is a story we heard late Monday but details have been very sketchy. Prohaska's article is also short on details as no one seems willing to talk.

Here's what some insiders have told us but we haven't been able to confirm. Garlock's contract was up and he asked for a big raise and did so rather arrogantly. The board balked and decided to replace him even though Tom wanted to negotiate down.

Supposedly, Tom said he was going public with a host of information about that could be embarrassing to the organization.

So, while the board didn't change its mind on Garlock, it did offer a tidy little severance package. The number we've heard is a quarter of a million dollars plus lifetime health insurance.

OK, you can pick your jaw up off the floor. Yes, a government agency may have just given away a quarter of a million of the public's money and a lifetime of benny's to its outgoing general manager.

Ladies and gentlemen, if this information is indeed confirmed....and given how coy Norma Higgs, the vice chairwoman of the Commission was being in the Prohaska article makes you suspect they want to keep this quiet...watch all hell break loose in the Comptroller's Office and the Attorney General's Office.

July 22, 2008

Leg To Hire PIO

In various Niagara Times posts over the past month, comments have periodically touched on the hiring of a Public Information Officer by Niagara County. While many of the comments have been negative, we believe that this is a good move, as long as members of the Niagara County Legislature do not view this hiring as a "shield" from the media and the public, as some critics have expressed a concern with.

What can be gained her far outweighs the expense. The new PIO, Christian Peck, has a solid marketing background, something that every organization can use more of. He appointment does not appear to be political, also a very good sign.

We've heard that the county has instituted a Canadian marketing effort and a marketing campaign to show off our abundance of fresh water to water-starved states. We say the more marketing efforts the better. In today's global economy, we're not only competing with the Southeast and Southwest parts of the United States, we're competing with Far East and other areas.

Of course, there are the handful of idiots that would prefer to see the county fall flat on its face with every waking day, but that's a story for another time. We say good luck to Peck.

July 21, 2008

Golisano Supports Del Monte's Opponent

We've made it clear on the pages of Niagara Times that we believe New York State Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte is quite useless in representing the 138th Assembly District. Most of the district, which includes Niagara Falls, Porter, Wilson, Newfane, Hartland, Lewiston, Cambria, Wheatfield and the Town of Niagara, has been largely ignored by Del Monte during her nearly eight years in office. Her focus has been solely Niagara Falls, and the results of her efforts to beautify that city speak for themselves.

The biography on her Assembly home page touts the fact that she authored legislation to create the Niagara Wine Trail - in 2001. If you need to go back seven years to cite legislation you "authored", you've been pretty ineffective. Of course, the same biography states that the Seneca Niagara Casino "will soon be connected to a new 26 story hotel". Way to stay up to date, Francine.

Apparently we're not alone in our perception of Del Monte.
Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano has given the legal maximum of $3,800 to the Assembly campaign of Paula Banks Dahlke, Del Monte's opponent in this Fall's race. Golisano pledged $5 million of his own money to fund candidates who agree with his agenda of lower taxes, less state spending and government reform. Considering Del Monte's close ties to Manhattanite Shelly Silver, leader of the Assembly Majority, as well as the rest of the NYC puppeteers that guide her around, we're not surprised by Golisano's contribution.

Del Monte is a formidable candidate, handily disposing of Dan Bazzani two years ago. If nothing else, let's hope that this is a wake-up call for Del Monte that people are watching and she needs to stop catering to the interests of NYC.

Niagara Falls is a world-class destination. Do something with it. You're a Democrat, Niagara Falls has a Dem Mayor, a Dem State Senator and we have a Dem Governor. No more excuses, Francine, step up or get out.

But don't forget about Hartland in the process; Tom Golisano won't and neither will we.

July 18, 2008

Friday Ruminations

It's great to see that business, political and community leaders have banded together to build a twin ice rink and recreational facility in the city in the City of Lockport. Many of those who support the relocation of the YMCA from the city to the town are apparently furious over several developments related to the ice rink, including one YMCA board member who has resigned because YMCA Exec Director Mark Albiez refused to consider expansion to the former Jubilee building, the new home of the ice rink.

One has to wonder about the ongoing controversy surrounding the Lew-Port school district. They fail to get approval on a $10 million funding program related to the Greenway Commission, former board members being sued for actions during their terms last year, while being thrown under the bus by the current school board, the school district attorney is forced out after 20 years of service and while while a dozen of her colleagues were granted tenure status, one teacher, who appears to be being used as a pawn by warring board members, was denied her tenure.

Congressional candidate Jack Davis once again finds himself in hot water after giving two "consultants" $5,000 each. The problem? Those consultants are
the wives of the two men who will determine the Independence Party nomination for the 26th Congressional District. Of course Erie County IP Chairman Anthony Orsini says the payments and Davis’ pursuit of the endorsement are not connected, nor will the $10,000 influence the party’s decision. Uhhh huh.

Kudos to Buffalo Mayor for his efforts to reduce the number of take-home vehicles for city employees. Twenty of the Buffalo Police Department officers who take their taxpayer-funded vehicles home average $106,000 per year in salary. Of course, that didn't stop Union President Robert Meegan Jr. from telling Channel 7 that a detective may not be able to make it to the scene of a homicide because his wife has the car. You're making $106,000 a year and you have one car? Simply another negative reflection on public sector unions and their warped sense of entitlement.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has raised over $22,000 in campaign contributions during his first six months in office, including donations from several top city workers. Sheriff's candidate Ernest Palmer has vowed not to take a dime from any member of the Sheriff's department. More candidates should take Palmer's lead on this one. Dyster legally can take donations from his employees, but it simply looks bad.

Kudos to Niagara County for opening the dialogue on transferring all State Supreme and Family courts from Niagara Falls to Lockport. In Erie County, if you need to go to Family Court, there is one location, in downtown Buffalo. Next on the radar should be DMVs. You get a license once every eight years, who's going to complain about going a extra few miles to the DMV once every eight years? Close the NT and NF DMVs.

July 17, 2008

Suckers

So, the amazing new project at NRG that was going to bring new clean coal technology to WNY, create thousands of construction jobs and help launch our rebirth has been taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery by the Power Authority. OK, who honestly didn't see this coming.

No matter what you read today, this outcome was obvious from the beginning back in 2006 when a tired Pataki Administration deemed the Huntley Plant in the Town of Tonawanda the winner of a taxpayer-funded sweepstakes to build a clean coal plant.

Actually, it was NYPA's call and NYPA actually punted. Rather than designate NRG the winner, they said they would continue to work with NRG to make the Huntley project feasible. That was doublespeak for lets make an announcement of a project that will never happen.

The fact is:
1) NRG didn't have the technology to do what they wanted
2) It was way too expensive and NYPA knew it from the get-go
3) Pataki would be out of office in a few weeks and the new governor wasn't going to be saddled with this.
4) Spitzer and now Paterson's team of enviros HATE coal plants, even if they are clean.

The fact is, the AES plant in Somerset had a sound technology and a workable plan. AES should have been given that award and people would be working today on that plant. Many believed at the time that NYPA didn't want a viable project and that's why AES was passed over for NRG.

Just add this to the list in ways in which the New York Power Authority screws Niagara County and all of WNY.

July 16, 2008

A Nice Gov To Work For

Hey, Big Spender! That would be Gov. Paterson.

The New York Sun reports that Paterson, since succeeding Eliot Spitzer in March, has expanded his payroll to the point where it's now larger than the combined staffs of the governor's and lieutenant governor's offices four months ago.

He has also handed out hefty pay raises to his staffers - including his 28-year- old chief flack, whose pay now nearly equals the governor's own, and another staffer whose salary was doubled, to $130,000.

Indeed, fully 35 percent of Paterson's aides now get six-figure paychecks.

Now, all this might well be just a case, as the governor's office insists, of "paying competitive salaries" to attract "top-flight talent."

But this is the same governor who, upon taking office, ordered an across-the- board 3.5 percent budget cut for every state agency.

In fact, Paterson directed that any commissioner who couldn't make the cut "and still be effective" should "take another look at it."

And if that still didn't work, he warned, "maybe we'll have somebody else take a look at it."

But when it comes to his own office, "austerity" isn't in Paterson's vocabulary.

The governor's office now has 176 employees, up from 160 under Spitzer. Paterson's yearly payroll totals nearly $15.7 million, an increase of more than 10 percent over the $14.2 million Spitzer was spending.

Paterson says he plans to reduce spending via "attrition."

The "attrition" dodge is the oldest in the book. It never happens.

And it won't - because New York's accidental governor appears to have a problem saying "no" to his own.

He needs to work on that.

NY Post

July 15, 2008

Hobel Declines Dem Line

New York State Senate candidate Don Hobel has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination for the line that he had previously expressed a desire to seek, even circulating Democratic petitions for the position.

Hobel seems like a pretty amiable gentleman. He frequently attends Wheatfield and County Leg meetings, always willing to offer his opinion. He has been a champion for transparency in government, often talking about the need for politicos to be upfront with the public.

So in reading the Buffalo News story in which Hobel states that he will no longer seek the Democratic line for the Senate seat, one cannot help but wonder if Hobel has any comprehension of the depths of his hypocrisy. As stated previously, Hobel circulated petitions for the seat, and submitted those petitions. Fine, most people are allowed that right.

With his withdrawl from the Dem line, the Democratic party leaders now have the opportunity to replace Hobel on the ballot, most likely with candidate Brian Grear. Once again, not a problem, this scenario plays out frequently in politics.

Hobel explained his decision to withdraw from the Democratic line: “Back a couple of months ago when they didn’t seem to have a candidate, [Niagara County Democratic Chairman] Dan Rivera asked me to run,” Hobel said. “A couple of names have surfaced that would run better campaigns than I.”

The problem with this situation arises when Don Hobel, champion of transparency, continues to explain how this scenario came to be. Hobel said the deal was in the cards for him to circulate the nominating petitions, then withdraw, from the time he agreed to have his name placed on Democratic nominating petitions for the Senate seat held by 13-year Republican incumbent George D. Maziarz.

In essence, he agreed to place his name on a nominating petition and have people circulate those petitions. He himself circulated those petitions to registered voters within the Senate district, all the while knowing that he would be withdrawing his name for consideration at some point.

Is this legal? Of course it is. Is it ethical for the man who stands at virtually every Leg meeting chastising the Leg for their lack of transparency to perpetrate such a fraud upon the voters who signed his petition? When you stood on the doorstep of someone who was signing your petition, Don, did you tell them that you had actually already cut a deal with party bosses to withdraw your name for consideration? For someone who is such a champion of transparency, I'm sure you were completely upfront with each and every person.

Then again, instead of being a concerned citizen working for the betterment of the community, you could simply be a shill for party bosses cutting back room deals.

July 14, 2008

Niagara County Politics

The past week has been a very contentious one in Niagara County politics. Much of what has transpired has played out all over local and statewide media outlets. Over the past few years, politics in the county has gotten somewhat nasty. There have been accusations by both sides of dastardly deeds, from anonymous political mailings to flat out slanderous accusations. But how did we get to this point, and is this the new face of politics?

Shortly after assuming the role of Niagara County Democratic Party Chairman, Dan Rivera stated that politics is a "blood sport". Does it need to be? Are the days of political bosses getting together in the back room at Cammarata's to work together gone?

When local media outlets talk or write about political happenings in the county, are they helping or hurting the political environment? Scott Leffler, who hosts Dialog on WLVL, despises many of the local, state and federal politicos. With Leffler, his disdain is primarily directed at the GOP, who have been very successful over the past three election cycles in Niagara County. So when Leffler goes on the air railing the incumbents, is he moving politics in the county forward, or is he setting them back?

When the editors of local newspapers actively seek out negative stories, or worse yet seek to create negative stories about local politicos, are they doing the community a service?

This website is often is a source of political ongoings. Despite the perception, we try to present information in an unbiased manner. True, we rarely harp on political leaders such as GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek, but Wojtaszek keeps his name out of the headlines. And he wins most of the time. So are we doing the community a disservice by publishing the Roberts resignation letter? We didn't write it, we didn't instigate the actions which lead to the letter. In reality, we'd never heard of her before the letter was provided to us. So by printing a letter that a supposedly "loyal" Democrat decided to leak, did we impede or promote the progress of politics in Niagara County?

I've had email conversations with US&J reporter Mark Scheer. I told him the old cliche of newspapers having great power and with great power comes great responsibility. That's true for all media outlets to some degree. Can the media help re-shape politics in Niagara County, or are we destined to continue down the path of negativity?

July 10, 2008

Breaking News-Leading State Dem Stands Up Rivera

Local hardball stings Albany heavyweight

Senate minority leader does a U-turn at fundraiser amid protest against Niagara Democratic chairman

By Tom Precious and Thomas J. Prohaska BUFFALO NEWS STAFF REPORTERS
Updated: 07/11/08 6:42 AM

The State Senate’s top Democrat got a taste of hardball politics — Niagara County style — Wednesday night, when he was greeted by a few dozen protesters who turned out calling for the resignation of the county’s Democratic chairman.

Senate Minority Leader Malcolm A. Smith of Queens refused to attend a Niagara County Democratic Party fundraiser in Niagara Falls after being confronted by protesters demanding the resignation of County Democratic Chairman Daniel Rivera for grabbing a female colleague’s nose.

Diane M. Roberts, the victim of the nose grab, did attend the fundraiser and later issued a statement opposing the protesters.

Rivera called the incident “a politically orchestrated hit job” for which he blamed

Gary D. Parenti, a longtime foe of his within the Democratic Party. Parenti denied any involvement.

Smith, the scheduled headliner of the $500-per-person event, waited for 45 minutes while a small group of pickets urged him not to enter the gathering in the Red Coach Inn. After a brief chat with leaders of the group, Smith said he would not attend and then drove off.

A video of the event, posted on the Web site YouTube.com, shows Smith telling an unseen questioner, “I came down here planning on going to the event, but I understand there was some roughhousing with a young lady, and the respect I have for women as well, that’s why we’re sitting back here taking a look.”

Protest organizer Kathryn Lake Mazierski of Lewiston, a former president of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, said Smith sat in his car outside the event for nearly 45 minutes. Meanwhile, Mazierski, who worked on Parenti’s unsuccessful 2006 Assembly campaign, said she could see Smith working the cell phones.

The video then shows Smith standing outside a sport utility vehicle in the Comfort Inn parking lot, talking with Mazierski and Elaine Pienta, a Lewiston Democrat and Rivera foe.

As the conversation becomes audible, Smith can be heard saying, “We respect women’s rights, and I’m not going to cross the line for somebody who abuses women.”

Before leaving in his SUV, Smith added, “You don’t have to thank me. It’s easy to do the right thing.”

At issue was the recent resignation of Roberts, of Lewiston, as vice chairwoman of the county Democratic Party. She left her post after accusing Rivera of grabbing her by the nose twice and yelling obscenities at her during a conversation over a news release at an April fundraiser in the Niagara Club.

The video shows Roberts smiling and waving at the pickets from a second-floor window of the Red Coach Inn.

“Surprisingly, these individuals — championing women’s rights allegedly based on my personal situation — had not a clue who walked past them as I entered the building,” Roberts wrote in a statement she released Thursday.

“When advised later by a member of the restaurant staff that I was inside the building, one of the protesters made the statement that it did not matter how much I had been paid to attend! To be clear, I was not paid a dime to attend and went fully of my own volition.

“I am intrigued by the amount of attention this clearly political attack by political operatives has garnered. It is nothing more than an attempt to distract the voters from the real and important issues — job creation and the lowering of taxes to stimulate economic growth.”

Rivera said he did not fault Smith for refusing to attend.

“It was conveyed to me that he was basically intimidated and threatened,” Rivera said. “He was being spoon-fed political garbage by Gary Parenti’s political operatives. I’m not going to fault Sen. Smith. He was put in an extremely ugly position by people who have ulterior motives.”

Parenti said, “I had nothing to do with it. I’m not trying to take over the party. I have so many other things to do. I’m involved with [B. Thomas] Golisano’s PAC [political action committee]. I’m doing presidential [campaign] stuff. I’m active in the party, but I’m not trying to take it over.”

Parenti sued Rivera for libel after Rivera published a newspaper column during the 2006 Assembly primary campaign attacking Parenti’s criminal record as a drunken driver, allegedly through the use of sealed court records that Rivera might have accessed through his work as an insurance investigator.

Parenti won an out-of-court settlement; Rivera lost his job with the insurance company but is now working for a law firm.

Roberts suggested that the protesters would be better off volunteering at shelters for battered women if their concern is protecting women.

“My commitment to the Democratic cause — and especially to the Democratic female elected officials from this area — is as strong as ever and untouched by any personal issue which existed between myself and Chairman Rivera,” she said.

Mazierski said, “I don’t think Daniel Rivera, based on his conduct, is fit to lead the Democratic Party in Niagara County. . . . The only motivation we have is, Dan Rivera needs to go.”

On the local Democratic Party’s Web page, the evening was promoted as a “private reception” with Smith, who is in line, if the Democrats are successful in the fall elections, to become the Senate majority leader.”

Cort Ruddy, a spokesman for Smith, said Smith’s staff had been told about the issue.

“The protest was our first indication of how serious things were,” he said.

Asked if Smith has a position on whether Rivera should continue as county chairman, Ruddy declined to comment.

YouTube - Niagara County Dems Rebuffed (Part 1 of 2)

YouTube - Niagara County Dems Rebuffed (Part 2 of 2)

Obama/Clinton Ticket?

I must admit, I don't get it. I don't get how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are now best buddies. Clinton, who is working with Obama to fill the coffers of his presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee, helped raise about $4.1 million at one event in New York last night. Obama is helping Clinton pay down her campaign debt.

Of course, this is the same Clinton that went on “Meet the Press” and accused the Obama campaign of, among other things, distorting her Martin Luther King Jr. comments and agitating racial tension. In another dust-up, Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson, while stumping for Clinton, made a thinly veiled reference to Obama’s admitted drug use.

Clinton and Obama had tangled over Obama’s statement that he would be willing to meet in the first year of his presidency with the leaders of countries antagonistic to the United States. Clinton called Obama’s comments “irresponsible” and “naive.” Obama countered by accusing the Clinton campaign of hatching a “fabricated controversy” and suggested that her position put her on the same track as the Bush administration.

The two had angrily accused the other of nasty politics over a Hollywood donor, David Geffen, who once backed Hillary Rodham Clinton's husband but now backs Obama.

Clinton and Obama had clashed over NAFTA, health care and the war in a debate.

They swapped some of the most negative attacks of the campaign two days before the Pennsylvania primary, each unleashing television ads that accused the other of maintaining ties to special interests they both claim to reject.

So the question begs: Do people buy it? Do people believe that these two individuals who showed such disdain for each other are now working together for the betterment of the country? More importantly, would the public buy into an Obama/Clinton Democratic ticket?

The old saying, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" comes to mind here. They may dislike each other, but they hate Bush and McCain more. I'm not sure that's what's best for the country, but it certainly seems to be the direction we're headed.

July 9, 2008

More Problems for Rivera

I had the feeling this was going to be one of those issues that would slowly boil and then get really hot. I'm referrng to Dem Boss Dan Rivera's run-in with Lewiston Dem Chairwoman Diane Roberts that led to her resignation from the county party's leadership. A leading women's rights advocate has now gotten involved and this doesn't bode well for Rivera. See below:

Picket seeks resignation of party leader
Democrat targets fundraiser today
By Thomas J. Prohaska - NEWS NIAGARA-->
NIAGARA FALLS — A Lewiston Democrat announced plans Tuesday to picket the Niagara County party’s fundraiser today to demand the resignation of Daniel Rivera as party chairman.
Kathryn Lake Mazierski, former president of the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she wants party officials to speak out against Rivera for grabbing the nose of Diane M. Roberts, Lewiston Democratic chairwoman, at a fundraising event in April at the Niagara Club.

Roberts resigned as vice chairwoman of the county Democratic Party after the incident, but said as she did so that she still supported Rivera because of his performance as chairman.
Rivera went on the offensive, saying: “[Mazierski] has alleged I inappropriately treated someone who says she still supports me. This regrettable incident has become fodder for people who don’t have her best interest at heart. If they want a public apology, I apologize to Diane Roberts, the [Democratic] committee and my own family for what they’ve endured.”

Rivera blamed the picketing plan on Gary D. Parenti, his intra-party enemy who, in the 2006 primary for the party’s Assembly nomination, lost to the incumbent, Assemblywoman Francine Del- Monte of Lewiston. Mazierski had worked on Parenti’s campaign. “I’m not going to resign,” Rivera insisted. “That would only help the person she is shilling for, which is Parenti.”

Parenti and Roberts did not return calls seeking comment on the planned demonstration, but Mazierski said she wants other Democrats to call out Rivera for his “loathsome treatment of women that makes him unfit to lead our party.” She also said she’s “not going to let other female leaders off the hook for their silence.” That, she said, means Del- Monte. “I think as the ranking Democrat in Niagara County, and one who has supported women’s issues and sponsored legislation to help the cause of women, she should be stepping up to the plate and making sure Dan Rivera can’t get away with this,” Mazierski said. “I said plenty of times this was a personal dispute between Diane and the chairman,” Del- Monte responded. “Diane has made it abundantly clear that she still supports the chairman. She hasn’t asked me or anyone else to assist her.”

Rivera charged that Parenti had entered into an “unholy alliance” with State Sen. George
D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, to oust him as the Democrats’ county chairman. “I fully endorse Mr. Rivera for Democratic chairman,” Maziarz said. “I hope he continues on for a long time, because the Republican Party has fared very well under Mr. Rivera’s Democratic Party leadership.”

During the 2006 campaign, Parenti accused Rivera of using his job as an insurance investigator to obtain information about Parenti’s drunken-driving record. Parenti sued for libel, and last year, Liberty Mutual, for which Rivera worked, paid Parenti an undisclosed amount to settle out of court. Rivera lost his job, but neither he nor the company ever has publicly said that was connected to the Parenti incident.

Mazierski called that a diversion attempt, saying: “That’s a way to deflect what the real issue is, which is Dan Rivera’s treatment of women. I don’t think it’s too much to ask her to do the right thing.”

Despite the Roberts incident, Mazierski, DelMonte and other Democrats said Tuesday they know of no effort to unseat Rivera, whose term as chairman will expire in September.
Today’s fundraiser is scheduled for 5:30 p. m. in the Red Coach Inn, 2 Buffalo Ave.

July 8, 2008

Understanding Equalization Rates In Lewiston

Checking both the Niagara County Republican and the Niagara County Democratic party websites as I periodically do, I came across a biography of Jerry Mosey and his platform as a candidate for the Niagara County Legislature's 12th District. In his statement, Mosey states that concerning property taxes, in the “2007 county budget, Lewiston’s rate of increase was around 3.3%, higher than almost anywhere else in the county. That’s unacceptable, plain and simple.”

Here's the problem with that statement: It isn’t that plain and simple. Mosey apparently doesn’t possess even a rudimentary understanding of how taxes are levied in this county. Nor does he possess a basic understanding of equalization rates. Now, that's okay for the average person. But if you are a candidate for office, you damn well better have a basic comprehension of these topics before you open your mouth. Mosey obviously does not.

Niagara County’s tax rate went down this year. Niagara County’s tax levy also went down. So why did Lewiston’s County tax rate go up? Is it because the County decided that Lewiston should pay more as some sort of vindictive plot against the residents of Lewiston? Of course not.

The reality is that the County tax rate went up for the residents of Lewiston because Lewiston does not assess its properties at full value. Lewiston assesses its properties lower than other municipalities, so in order to keep the amounts of school and county taxes being paid by taxpayers across the County equitable, the amounts need to be equalized or adjusted and Lewiston ends up paying more as a percentage by virtue of its refusal to assess at 100%.

If taxes weren’t adjusted, a municipality could say “all properties in our town are worth $1.00 because we say so.” In that scenario, all property owners in that town would pay school and county taxes as a percentage of $1.00 while everybody else assessed at full value would pay the bulk of the tax burden. Fortunately, the Office of Real Property Services is a lot sharper than Jerry Mosey and refuses to allow this to happen.

If Mosey wants to fix his problem with the laws of percentages and their impact on Lewiston, he needs to take it up with Lewiston Supervisor Fred Newlin, not by making misleading and inaccurate remarks as a candidate for office.

July 7, 2008

Monday Ruminations

Sabres owner Tom Golisano is reportedly going to dump millions into Senate and Assembly races this year, possibly including the 142nd district race. So he's going to put up a million dollars on a meaningless seat that in no way effects the balance of power in a district that's going to be gone in three years? The Sabres could really use a top-notch defenseman; maybe the millions would be better spent there, Tom.

New York State Senator George Maziarz, who traveled throughout Western New York last Wednesday with new Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, is pictured with Skelos in the New York Times.

New York State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith is scheduled to be in Niagara Falls this week for a meeting with local politicos.

In what should be a lively exchange,
GOP strategist Karl Rove and former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards will debate the issues of the presidential campaign Sept. 26 at UB.

While some have cheered the Supreme Court ruling supporting congressional candidate Jack Davis' challenge to the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment," the Rochester D&C highlights the dangerous influence of billionaire candidates such as Davis and Golisano.

Kudos to North Tonawanda businessman Frank Budwey for fighting to protect his grocery store business by attempting to stop the development of a Super Wal-Mart in NT. But we have to ask, why is the outrage always over Wal-Mart? Why not Home Depot, who runs small hardware stores out of business? Or Rite Aid, who runs small pharmacies out of business? Or Walden Books, who runs small book stores out of business?

The moronic quote of the year goes to Bob Roberson. Roberson, who unsuccessfully sued Niagara County two years ago because the county refused to pay him more than $17,000 he thought he was owed as former attorney for the county Sewer District, is trying again.
Roberson's award-winning quote? "Are they going to spend another $30,000 to fight my lawsuit?" What are you insinuating, Bob? Are you insinuating that because you believe that they owe you $17,000, they should not spend $30,000? It's called principles and standing for what's right. Look it up.


July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776


July 3, 2008

The Death Penalty for Child Rapists

I'm one of these people who generally has supported the death penalty over the years but became less inclined to do so following all the reports of people being freed from death row by new DNA evidence. After all, you can't take back a capital punishment sentence once it's been imposed.

But I'm shifting back in favor of it in this way. What if we have conclusive DNA evidence that someone did do the crime? Write that into the statute and let's move on.

I'm on this topic because my blood has been boiling ever since a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled the death penalty invalid for child rapists. Is there a more heinous crime on this planet that sexually assaulting a child? In many ways, it's worse than first degree murder.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the crime and punishment are not equal. You're right in one regard, Jackass Kennedy, even capital punishment isn't enough for these scumbags.

If anyone has been following the case of Brooke Bennett, the 12-year-old missing in Vermont, she turned up dead this morning, most likely caused by her uncle, a former convicted sex offender. This piece of crap never should have been back on the street to begin with.

When are we, as a society, going to come to grips with the fact that convicted sex offenders can never be rehabbed, they are biological mistakes who should be eliminated from the gene pool.

Justice Kennedy, I hope you never have to live through what poor Brooke Bennett's family is dealing with. Sleep well tonight, Justice, in your ivory tower.

And Louisiana, which had imposed capital punishment for child rapists, is going back to the drawing board and looking at chemical castration for sex offenders as an alternative. Let's hope that quickly becomes a national trend.

July 2, 2008

Freedom of Speech

First, with Friday being a holiday, I don't know how much posting I'll be doing over the weekend. So, things may go a little quiet as we head into the weekend.

Today's topic on Free Speech seems appropriate with Friday being the Fourth of July. By Free Speech, we are referring to campaign finance reform, since money spent on campaigns is considered a free speech issue.

The Buffalo News has an editorial about the Supreme Court striking down the so-called Millionaire's Amendment to the McCain Feingold campaign finance reform law.

The challenge to this amendment was brought by local candidate Jack Davis. It basically said if you're running against a millionaire like Davis who is throwing in huge sums of personal wealth into his race, you can raise money beyond the legal limits imposed in the law to even things out.

I've got mixed feelings on this. First, I don't like the idea of millionaires trying to buy elections which is more and more the trend. They're given the fancy title of "self-financing" their races but basically they've got more money than you and are going to use it to get votes.

It seems reasonable that some poor schmuck running against said millionaire should be able to raise more money to compete. But then again, why? So Jack Davis worked hard, earned his own money and wants to use it. And since he did that, you can now run back to big special interests like tobacco, unions, etc. and take more of their money to compete? No, I don't like that.

But then again, aren't these limits really having the opposite impact? After all, I think I'd like my candidate to be financed by one rich sugar daddy who he/she basically owes favors to rather than take smaller, but still sizable, contributions from hundreds of special interests who then want something in return. Plus, these limits have given rise to these 527's that basically have become political hit squads to attack candidates.

Then again, aren't these limits key to somehow regulating the special interest money. Take them away and all hell breaks loose. Plus, public financing seems more like welfare for politicians with no support than the right answer.

OK, it's one of those days where I've talked myself into knots. Maybe some of you can bring some clarity.

July 1, 2008

Don't Go Away Mad Roberson, Just Go Away

So Bob Roberson is once again suing Niagara County for what he says he is owed from the Sewer District, in the neighborhood of $18,000. Why does it seem this law firm just won't go away. For those of you who don't remember, Roberson is partners with one of our very favorite attorneys, Eddie Shoemaker. Their legal billings in the Town of Somerset are the stuff legends are made of.....legend in the fact that the public was never actually able to see detailed bills.

Actually, those opposing Roberson should be leery. I'm not claiming there is a direct link, but consider the following facts:

1) Dan Engert, a Niagara County Sheriff, was overwhelmingly elected to the Somerset Town Board last year.

2) Engert immediately begins questioning the Town's legal billing procedures and has several heated exchanges with Bob Roberson.

3) Suddenly, Engert is on the end of an ethics complaint at the Sheriff's department filed by another sheriff's department employee (this ethics complaint was summarily dismissed but not before Engert had to answer several press inquiries.)

4) Turns out this sheriff's department employee is married to someone who works in the County Clerk's office in Lockport.

5) And who is the Deputy County Clerk in charge of the Lockport office....well looky here, is Wendy Roberson, Bob's wife. And it turns out the two families vacation together.

Bet you never read those details in the Buffalo News or Niagara Gazette.

There probably isn't a link, right? Sometimes these things just happen, especially in small county like Niagara.

But I'm glad I'm not the one opposing paying Bob is $18K.