December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

With the holidays upon us, Niagara Times will likely be updated sporadically over the next week or so. We'd like to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

We'll leave you with a video of the greatest Christmas song of all time, White Christmas, sung by Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn.

December 23, 2009

Senate Dem's True Colors Shine Through

If this video of Democratic State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer stammering and stumbling her way through a question about the state budget isn't downright disturbing, it might be funny. Unfortunately, there is no humor in her incompetence, and every one of us pays the price for her ineptitude and the inpetitude of her Democratic colleagues in the State Senate. It's only a few minutes long and worth a look.

And taxpayers wonder why we’re in a financial mess right now?

The best game Paterson has is to simply say we’re in trouble and the best his Democrat friends in the state Legislature have are geniuses like this to address it.

Please feel free to use this when the Liberals says people really want Democrats to run state government and remember this when Assembly and Senate campaigns gear up next year.

December 22, 2009

Preparing To Govern

Every now and then, here at Niagara Times, we enjoy the prognostication business. And today is no different.

The Republican leaders of the Niagara County Legislature will be meeting very shortly to map out their vision for the next year, and to determine which lawmakers will hold leadership posts as the Majority Caucus, having won its most decisive electoral victory yet, organizes the government come January.

We’re fairly confident in the following predictions:

· Bill Ross wins a deserved seventh term as Chairman of the Legislature, a feat that insiders tell us would make him the longest-serving chairman of that body. Niagara Times has been happy to criticize Ross on various issues, most notably his failure to lead efforts to remove County Manager Greg Lewis. But, after a year that has included winning what are starting to look like real concessions from NYPA Boss Richie Kessel and his now-famous stare-downs with Francine DelMonte, we have to declare ourselves happy with this outcome. We also happen to know that he is a perennial favorite of new GOP Chairman Mike Norris’, and that Norris himself is likely to back Ross.

· Rick Updegrove continues as Majority Leader. This one is a no-brainer, because Updegrove is, honestly, the Majority’s best legislator. While we’re the first to admit the Lockport lawmaker has a tendency to make his point in the lengthiest way possible, his willingness to take on Dennis Virtuoso when the rest of his caucus would often sit on their hands has earned him the title of “leader.” Moreover, though, Updegrove’s singular command of issues, particularly where economic development and job creation are concerned, makes him the strongest Majority lawmaker.

· Clyde Burmaster holds onto the Vice Chairmanship for another term. Ransomville’s legislator, the sometimes-mercurial Burmaster, will continue in his role as vice chairman. And honestly, the role suits him. Burmaster, Ross, and Lockportian Gerald “Butch” Farnham constitute the longest-serving Majority members, and Burmaster has an ability to accomplish a great deal in a back-up role. And, while Burmaster has always signaled a desire to return to the dais as chairman, his style has always been a bit more heavy-handed than Ross’, and we expect that a number of issue in the next year will require Ross’ dexterity.

All three of these individuals’ staying on should be no shock, but given the once-turbulent nature of GOP Legislature leadership, it marks a new era for the Republicans.

On the Dem side, we’re willing to bet that Virtuoso stays another term as Minority Leader. We’ve let our displeasure with the Niagara Falls Democrat be known on numerous occasions, but the truth is he’s probably the best cage-fighter on his side of the aisle.

December 21, 2009

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

I swear that there should be some sort of mandatory training of newly elected officials on the protocol and etiquette of speaking publicly. Even more importantly, those newly elected officials should have at least some iota of understanding of the community in which they have been elected to serve.

Take for instance Jack Smith and Andy Chapman, two aldermen-elect in the city of Lockport.

At a meeting held last week, an architect proposed that the city should build a banquet facility overlooking the locks of the Erie County. Now, our criticism is not directed at the architect one bit. After all, he is not from this area and he doesn't know the community. He is simply looking at a possible vacant piece of land and making what would normally be a very suitable recommendation based on the information he has been provided.

Smith and Chapman (and apparently Chapman's wife), on the other hand, should know better. They should know that there is a banquet facility sitting on the canal, just a few hundred yards downstream, the Lockport Canalside Banquet Center. Apparently this little tidbit of information escaped them as they expressed their joy at the prospect of the city building a facility to compete with Mike Murphy's place.

While the fact that this little nugget escaped the trio, it is also disconcerting to see elected officials so eager to spend public dollars to compete with private entities. This is my concern with IDAs as well, but a topic for another time.

There are, in reality, a plethora of locations in eastern Niagara County that are used as banquet facilities, beside Canalside. Chapman and Smith should have know this before they encouraged the use of millions of dollars in public monies be used for this Main Street project.

I'd suggest these two take a crash course on the city, and soon. The prospect of more ignorance is not going to bode well for them for the next two years.

December 18, 2009

Friday Ruminations

New York's Senior United States Senator, Chuck "Don't Ever Get Between Me and a TV Camera" Schumer is still doing damage control after he called a US Airways flight attendant a "bitch" after she asked him to turn his cell phone off. Ironically, he made the comment to New York's Junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, a supposed advocate for women, but has to this point refused to condemn her mentor's demeaning and sexist remark.

We're thinking that New York State Governor David Paterson is a regular reader of Niagara Times, because it certainly appears that he has taken our advice. In our November 10 post, titled Political Advice For David Paterson, we suggested that Paterson be more defiant, use the bully pulpit and call out by name the legislators who refuse to enact substantive reforms and significant budget cuts. Paterson started doing what we suggested, and voila, his poll numbers have risen for the first time in over a year. You still can't afford to put me on the payroll, Dave, but keep checking in, my advice here will always come at no charge.

NYSUT is suing Paterson for his withholding of school aid payments. Hold firm, Dave!

The ties between the disgustingly corrupt organization ACORN and the New York-based Working Families Party continues to be scrutinized. Any candidate who willingly accepts the endorsement of the Working Families Party should have his head checked. They're dirty, and everyone inside politics knows it. This story also sheds some light on how screwed up the WF Party is.

Liz Benjamin of the Daily News has an interesting piece on Paterson's prediction that Obamination will stay out of the 2010 Democratic primary election for governor. Considering Obama's plummeting approval rating, I'm thinking Cuomo would just as soon have B.O. stay the hell out of New York. The prospect of him prancing all over the state stumping for Cuomo makes me nauseous.

Western New York state senator Bill Stachowski will face a primary challenge from Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy. Stack has been virtually useless during his 28 years in office, but Kennedy is not the answer for WNY. Kennedy has never shown the fortitude to stand up for anything - that is not the kind of representation we need in Albany these days.

Two Western New Yorkers have been nominated for new upper-echelon UAW posts. Isn't that like being promoted on the Titanic?

December 17, 2009

County Employee Firing

I caught this piece from yesterday's Buffalo News this morning, and once again, was astounded by the arrogance of the union head representing the alleged thief. Obviously I'm not alone, since the article has drawn 26 comments from the public so far.

The story details the allegations against a Niagara county employee who has been charged with stealing two snowplow blades and some bridge railings from the county Public Works garage and selling them for scrap. The union president states his intention of filing a grievance on behalf of the employee because the union head, Ed McDonald, believes the county's firing of the suspect was too harsh of a penalty.

Now, there are certainly two sides to this story. Part of me says the county is acting way too prematurely on this and should wait until the case is adjudicated. After all, if the suspect, Joel Allen, is found not guilty, the county will have some serious egg on its face.

But the reality is that it is very unlikely that Mr. Allen will get off the hook for this one, especially considering that there is supposedly a surveillance videotape showing the the two plow blades being loaded onto a trailer.

So let's get back to Mr. McDonald's comments. In the story, he is quoted as saying, "We’re going to file a grievance on his behalf, alleging the penalty was too harsh." I'm sorry, the penalty of termination for stealing county (and thus taxpayer) property is too harsh? Really?

Some of the public comments hit the nail on the head, including:
  • You would think they (the union) would want this thief out of their midst, because it makes all government employees look like thieves. Instead of defending him they should have been pushing for his removal.
  • Just shows you they were more concerned keeping his union dues than keeping the employees honest.
  • The Union will surely say that he's misunderstood and really needed the money for his sick child, wife, third-cousin or necessary oxycontin or the like.
  • Penalty too harsh is a bunch of horse-S**t. That is what is wrong with society. Lying and stealing can't be condoned on any level and especially when the public is paying your wages.
  • Anything short of murder will get you defended by the union, and even then they would probably spend hard earned honest money to defend them.
  • McDonald's comments epitomize why unions are hated so much. And his comments reinforce the perception that unions only exist to protect the worst workers. What does the union do for the worker who gets up every day, goes to work, does his job, keeps his mouth shut and isn't stealing? Not a thing.
I hope the county prosecutes this guy to the fullest extent, with no plea bargains. If a plea deal is given, it will likely be an ACD or probation, the union will file a grievance, and they'll win. To avoid this, the guy needs to spend a year in jail. then we'll see how fervently the union works to get him his job back. Then again, if it means a few hundred bucks more in union dues, I'm sure they'll do everything thing they can to make sure he's back on the payroll in no time.

December 16, 2009

Filling Vacancies

While there is sure to be some level of criticism of the Niagara County Legislature's plan to amend their current method of filling vacancies between elections, the legislature is making the right move with the proposed revision to the law.

Currently, the rules say a person appointed to fill an unexpired term must be a registered member of the same political party as the former legislator. The legislature is proposing to drop that requirement and allow the appointment of anyone who lives in the affected the district.

In this day and age, less registered voters are choosing to affiliate with the two major political parties, and more voters are choosing to go with the Independence Party, the Conservative Party, the Working Families Party or simply opting not to affiliate with any party.

In addition, all too often the public is screaming that politics gets in the way of the decision making process.

The way the current law is written, the legislature is pigeon-holed into the selection that they can make. Opening up the selection process to interested individuals of any political party will greatly improve the pool of candidates from which to choose, and increase the likelihood that the most qualified person will be chosen.

Considering that there have been a fair amount of mid-term vacancies over the past few years, this is a good move that can only benefit the public.

December 15, 2009

No "Change You Can Believe In" For These Folks

Remember these Words: “If we pass this stimulus it will jumpstart the economy, create 4 million new jobs, it will hold unemployment under 8%”.

Obama LIED and the Economy DIED.

December 14, 2009

County To Expand Public Comment Period

There is so much rhetoric in political circles these days that centers around transparency in government. The public demands more of it, and elected officials are always campaigning on it. Unfortunately, all too often the talk is just that.

The Niagara County Legislature, however, is apparently moving ahead with improving transparency in government with a resolution on the agenda to expand the public comment period.

Currently the public is allowed to speak for three minutes on any item on the agenda or for anything in the best interest of the county at the beginning of the meeting.

For years, the regular speakers at the county legislature have complained that the three minute rule was unfair, that they needed more time to make their points. Obviously the county legislators heard they're complaints and are now opening up a public comment session at the end of the meeting that does not carry the same time restriction.

Kudos to the county legislature for taking a definitive step in the right direction.

December 11, 2009

Anderson & Fruscione Misguided

Two members of the Niagara Falls City Council have sponsored a resolution calling for the resignation of Niagara Tourism Convention Corporation President John Percy. The sponsors, Sam Fruscione and Bob Anderson, are irate that Percy hasn't given them the detailed reports that they have sought on the agency's expenditures. They're also perturbed that Percy hasn't done enough to hire more minority employees.

Percy has refused to disclose, among other pertinent information, the salaries of NTCC's employees, aside from his own, receipts or detailed expense reports for travel that has included overseas trips and how much private consultants are paid.

Now, we're no fan of Percy. He has used NTCC funds to take trips to Prague, Delhi, London, Mumbai, Milan, Berlin, Geneva and a host of other locations that he has not revealed. In addition, NTCC is spending $1 million to construct new offices in Niagara Falls - as if there aren't enough vacant buildings in the city to utilize. But Anderson and Fruscione are misguided in their blame of Percy for tourism failures in the city.

It is estimated that 13 million people visit Niagara Falls each year - it's a natural tourist destination. The failure or simple unwillingness of Fruscione and Anderson to see this is what is so disconcerting.

We don't need to be spending millions of taxpayer dollars each year to attract visitors to the the region - the city needs to be putting millions into improving the infrastructure of the city, demolishing the miles of decrepit buildings that line the city's streets, reducing the tax burden on businesses to attract private capital investment and working to advance some semblance of retail traffic in the heart of the city. None of this is happening, despite the fact that 13 million visitors come to Niagara Falls each year.

What they should be focusing on his how to turn the "day tripper" into the "overnight tripper". The economics of a visitor spending $60 a day versus $360 day should be simple enough for even Fruscione and Anderson to understand.

These two need to get their own house in order before they start blaming Percy for the tourism failures of the city. This smoke and mirrors garbage does nothing to divert attention from their own failures. Until they do, the city will continue to be scorned and ridiculed.

December 10, 2009

DelMonte Misfires On Melson's Loss

Sometimes I have a bit too much time on my hands. But when I read a quote attributed to one of our elected officials, I like to take a few minutes to confirm the veracity of the quote.

Take for instance, State Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, the highest ranking Democrat in Niagara County. In this piece from the Buffalo News that appeared on November 6, Delmonte was asked about the defeat of Nick Melson, a Delmonte staffer, in his bid for the Fifth District County Legislature seat to newcomer Vince Sandanato.

DelMonte goes on to state that Melson received more votes on the Democratic line than Sandonato did on the Republican line, but Sandonato had the three minor-party lines and that put him over the top. That would be wrong, Fran.

Official results from the race break down accordingly:
  • Melson had 830 votes on the Democratic line
  • Sandanato had 853 votes on the Republican line
  • Sandanato had 101 votes on the Independence line
  • Sandanato had 69 votes on the Conservative line
  • Sandanato had 49 votes on the WF line
Now, no one would dispute the statement that having the minor party lines helped cushion the margin of victory for Sandanato, but DelMonte is unequivocally incorrect when she stated that Melson received more votes on the Dem line than Sandanato did on the GOP line, and that the reason for Sandanato's win in a district that was held by a Dem for nearly 50 years was his having gained the I & C.
It shows just how out of touch Delmonte is with the local political scene and her willingness to simply make excuses for herself and her organization.
What DelMonte should have been saying to the press, if she had the courage to actually take responsibility and tell the truth without trying to spin every scenario into some incomprehensible justification, is to acknowledge the fact that Melson's loss of the WF line to Sandanato in the Primary Election was pretty significant in influencing the final results. Sandanato still would have won, but that loss was crushing for Melson's campaign.
So Francine, and any any elected officials for that matter, be careful what you say in the press. Someone out there might actually be taking the time to check it out.

December 9, 2009

Lewis Turning Back The Clock On Niagara County

When multiple readers inside the government contacted us last week to tell us they were having trouble accessing Niagara Times on their office computers, we began to wonder what was up.

Well, it didn’t take long to get an answer from a very reliable source inside the Brooks Building.

It seems that County Manager Greg Lewis had a fit of rage when a county employee made a casual remark about him being “in the final year of his county manager gig.” Lewis then apparently pressed the employee, who said he’d seen the Greg Lewis Countdown drop below the One Year mark on this blog.

Now, if you’re viewing this blog from anyplace other than a Niagara County government office, you’d be able to verify that. But we are told that Lewis was so enraged by the employee’s “insolence” (his word, not ours) that he summoned the county’s IT Director to his office and demanded he block county employees’ access to the Niagara Times.

From what we’re told, that was a tall order, and would have made it impossible for county employees to view a number of other websites, so Lewis eventually settled for the IT Department just blocking the Countdown clock.

But that’s where things get interesting.

Apparently, the county’s “WebSense” software is now blocking access to various networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—which was the only way Lewis could block the Countdown clock itself. Now, some may not care if county employees can Tweet what they’re doing, but understand, most Fortune 100 companies consider the social networking sites vital to their business models, and we’re told that several county department heads were examining ways to more fully integrate the social and business networking sites—which are increasingly used by the under-50 set for business and social transactions alike—into how the county does business and offers services, which other counties have already done.

Which means Greg Lewis’ fit of pique is going to prevent a lot of county residents from easily accessing information on things like flu vaccinations and road maintenance and county job openings from the networking sites, which are gaining influence every day.

But even if residents are getting screwed, at least Greg Lewis won’t have to suffer the indignity of county workers counting down the dwindling minutes and hours of his existence in Niagara County.

December 8, 2009

County GOP Endorses Lazio For Governor

Kudos to the Niagara County Republican Committee and its new Chairman Mike Norris for getting out front in the race for New York State Governor. Norris and the Niagara County GOP Executive Committee unanimously endorsed candidate Rick Lazio at the party's Holiday Victory Party at the Holiday Inn in Lockport last night.

Lazio is an energetic and individual who is no stranger to Western New York, having spent a significant amount of time during his run for United States Senate in 2000.

According to his website, Lazio has spent much of his adulthood in the private sector, so he obviously understands the constraints of working within a budget, something so many of our Albany politicians are unable to comprehend these days. It's also worthy to note that Lazio started his political career on the local level as a county legislator, working his way up to a United States Congressman.

While no one knows who will ultimately be the gubernatorial candidate on the Democratic side, I'd be a little less inclined than most to think that Andrew Cuomo is a lock, given history after his disastrous primary against Carl McCall for AG in 2002. Cuomo cannot once again risk alienating the minority community, as he did on '02.

Paterson has said he is in the race 'til the end - good for him, we hope he does stay in, though we wish he'd understand the fact that he has nothing to lose politically and should start calling out those who are inhibiting progress in Albany by name. Unfortunately, that's not his style - he wants to play nice and hopes to persuade the legislature to do the right thing. He's so naive is laughable.

Irregardless, a primary between Cuomo and Paterson will be a bloody one, with a multitude of racial overtones. Cuomo can't afford that if he wants to be politically viable now and into the future.

For the Niagara County GOP to come out early in the race for the governor's seat is a smart move politically that can pay dividends later. And Lazio is a formidable candidate who will be tough to beat, no matter the opponent.

December 7, 2009

Campaign Finance 2010

The Buffalo News has an excellent story in today's paper about the projected financial campaign contributions we can expect across the state in 2010. With candidates vying for six statewide offices, 29 congressional seats, the State Senate and the Assembly, political pundits expect campaigns in New York State to raise upwards of $100 million.

Even idiot Antoine Thompson, the dumbest person in the New York State Senate, is pounding the fundraising trail, having staged his second major fundraising event in three weeks — charging up to $5,000 per ticket.

So we got to thinking - who on God's green earth is willing to pony up $5k for an audience with someone of the likes of Thompson?

Well, we're going to find out as soon as the campaign finance disclosure forms are filed. Then we're going to do everything we can to make sure that we publicize the names of these contributors, and their connection to state government or the connection to the candidate himself.

We all talk about going out and pulling the lever to effectuate change, but hitting the contributors and impeding the ability of these candidates to raise money to spread their rhetoric and hyperbole during the campaign season can also be impactful.

Stay tuned, I have a feeling this is going to get very interesting to track.

December 4, 2009

AES Tax Issue Laid To Rest

It's interesting to note that an issue that was the subject of much controversy over the past few years was resolved this week with little fanfare - the AES PILOT. For those who do not know, AES has an 1,800 acre site located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Somerset. The location houses a 675 megawatt coal fired electric generating facility serving 650,000 homes.

AES has been the largest taxpayer in the county for many years, paying more than $19 million in school, county, town and special district taxes in 2005. In October of 2006, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency granted AES a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, reducing their tax burden to $17.3 million in the first year. The payment would have then decreased each year by $500,000 until 2011, when the payment level would remain unchanged until 2019.

Niagara County, the town of Somerset and the Barker School District sued to invalidate the lawsuit. After years of wrangling in the court system, the three entities came to an agreement this week with AES to reduce its tax burden based on the exact same formula that was invalidated by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in May of 2009.

What's interesting is the deafening silence from those who took every opportunity to slam this PILOT when it was first enacted, including political figures and the kooks at the county legislature meetings.

Dan Rivera, the inept chairman of the Niagara County Democratic Committee, tried to make this issue relevant in both the 2007 and 2009 election season. First of all, any idiot knew that this issue is not one that would resonate with the voters. Seriously, you had candidates in Niagara Falls using this PILOT as the foundation of their campaigns against incumbents. I guess they didn't really understand that the actions of the IDA are separate from the legislature. Nonetheless, all of those candidates and Rivera himself have been conspicuously quiet now that the exact same deal that they found so much joy in rallying against has been agreed upon by gentlemen who put their differences aside, sat down together and negotiated a deal in the best interests of all parties involved.

And all of the critics who stood up at the legislature meetings, like the three-minute nutbags, minority leader Dennis Virtuoso and Rivera himself, calling for the head of Niagara County IDA Chairman Henry Sloma, are now eating a large helping of crow, because Sloma was the only one with the foresight and fortitude to do what was ultimately shown to be the right thing.

Thank goodness this issue has been put to rest. Of course, I won't hold my breath waiting for the former critics to acknowledge just how wrong they were - we all know that will never come.

December 2, 2009

Thompson's Fundraising Jaunt Stalls State Government

Antoine Thompson is special. Don't believe me? Just ask the State Senator himself.

In the midst of a vote to address at least part of the state's $4 billion budget shortfall, Thompson was nowhere to be found. Where was our illustrious Senator? In Buffalo, attending a fundraiser. When pressed by the media about whether his fundraising and his inability to find his way back to Albany to cast his vote on the Deficit Reduction Plan delayed the vote, Thompson responded with the golden nugget of "I believe I'm special, but no".

That's the best you can come up with? Was that an attempt at humor? With the state mired in one its worst fiscal crises ever, you're trying to crack jokes? Let me clue you in, you dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks Senator, you're not special. In fact, you're the least special elected official I know of. Why? Because you do nothing for the constituents who put your sorry ass in Albany. It's just too damn bad that the voters of the 60th SD are more stupid than you.

Just as offensive as Thompson delaying the budget vote to attend a fundraiser is one of his other moronic quotes in the Buffalo News piece. After trying to justify why he is such a fuck-up, Thompson went on to complain that he got back to Albany and "did nothing". Okay, so whose fault is that, Antoine? YOUR party is in the majority. YOUR party controls the chamber. So what are you doing to better state government if you are unable to accomplish anything?

You are so damn incompetent it's downright sickening. Not only are you a do-nothing Senator, you're actually impeding progress in state government. In the dysfunction of Albany, that's saying something. I hope you're very proud.

December 1, 2009

Send A Card To A Soldier

One of my favorite bumper stickers is the one that reads "If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher - If You Can Read This In English, Thank A Soldier". Despite the fact that so many of us political junkies disagree on issues, the fact of the matter is that we have the right to disagree with our government, and we have the ability to protest and demonstrate against our government. Too many countries do not have that right.

For over 200 years, the men and women of our country have bravely and proudly served in the United State Armed Services, and many of them gave their lives to protect our freedoms.

This holiday season, let's take a moment to let a solider know that their commitment and sacrifice is very much appreciated.

When doing your Christmas cards this year, take one card and send it to the address below. If we pass this on and everyone sends one card, think of how many cards these wonderful special people who have sacrificed so much would get.

The address is as follows:

A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
Washington , D.C. 20307-5001