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Posts by Casey Bortnick
Jun 18th - 11:31 pm
Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks fired back at State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli Tuesday, responding to a report that ranked Monroe County number one on a list of fiscally distressed municipalities.
“I think there’s a little bit of hypocrisy in this report,” Brooks said.
DiNapoli’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System looked at 23 financial and environmental factors, such as cash-on-hand and operation deficit patterns. Monroe County topped a list of 24 communities in New York State that are fiscally stressed.
“Eighty-three percent of our budget here in Monroe County is controlled by the State of New York and every year the programs grow and grow and grow in terms of their impact,” Brooks said.
One of the most crushing mandates, according to Brooks, is pension costs. Brooks said the county’s pension costs have gone up 157 percent since 2009.
“Who controls the pension costs? The State Comptroller,” said Brooks.
DiNapoli said his office is offering its expertise to those named in this report. He told Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin that Monroe County was measured in five categories of fiscal health.
“We found significant issues and then the scoring was done based on how significant those issues were. There are obviously a host of areas where Monroe needs to do a better job. What we propose to do as part of this monitoring system is not only point out those communities that are in stress and to what degree, but to offer the services of our office on an accelerated basis,” DiNapoli said.
Brooks was skeptical about the “help” being offered by the Comptroller’s office.
“This is the gentleman who wants to come in and help us? Well I have a hard time believing that the state, which is at the root of our problem, wants to come in and fix the problem. You want to fix the counties, fix the mandates,” said Brooks.
The Webster Republican said in her three terms in office the county has done a good job controlling its portion of the budget. Brooks said spending has been held under the rate of inflation and taxes haven’t been raised since 2004.
“Certainly what I see and what I read in that report is that comptroller is saying is that he would like Monroe County to raise taxes so we have a fund balance. To do that, to get our name off of his list, we would have to raise taxes 28 percent I’m not going to do that,” Brooks said.
Brooks said keeping taxes where they are is a commitment she made to the voters. It’s a policy she believes has made Monroe County a model of fiscal responsibility.
“Every year national publications, agencies around this country point to Monroe County for great quality of life,” said Brooks.
Brooks said Monroe County will continue to comply with the property tax cap, and continue to attack what she called a structural deficit created by state mandates. But, she said, any tax increase is off the table.
“I have to take the report with a grain of salt we’re going to continue to make progress in the portion we control and until the state wakes up and says we’re going to help you with the mandated portion of your budget there’s really not much more we can do at this point. We’re not going to raise taxes,” Brooks concluded.
Jun 6th - 2:52 pm
Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs is threatening a lawsuit against Google if it doesn’t stop access to what he calls an “Illegal website.” Jacobs says the site reveals the identities and addresses of hundreds of thousands of pistol permit holders in New York State.
“We believe this is a violation of state law and we hope that Google will voluntarily pull the plug on this website,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs said the former website www.whospackingny.com is still accessible through a mirrored website on Google, MSN, Yahoo and AOL search engines. In a letter to google asking the site be taken down Jacobs wrote:
“The Databases unlawfully assemble and disseminate the names and homes addresses of New York pistol permit holders, in violation of those citizens’ privacy rights and New York Law.”
According to Jacobs, the database was provided to “whospackingny” by the New York State Police several years ago after receiving a Freedom of Information Request (FOIL). The New York SAFE Act, has an “opt out” provision designed to protect the identities of pistol permit holders.
“While investigating this website’s information we have identified over 9,000 Erie County pistol permit holder’s residential information listed. This is unacceptable and I believe completely undermines the privacy provision put forth in the NY SAFE Act,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs plans to discuss the issue with county clerks throughout the state.
May 30th - 11:31 pm
The Governor is not backing down from his push for a multi-million dollar expansion of Buffalo’s Peace Bridge Plaza. The proposal is currently stalled by a divided Peace Bridge Authority.
“The delays on the Peace Bridge are just mind numbing and they discourage people from coming over the bridge,” Cuomo said.
The Governor was asked about escalating tensions between Canadian and U.S. officials after his speech at Genesee Community College Thursday. The Governor, who’s been openly critical of Canadian Members of the PBA, continued to express frustration about the delay.
“They’ve been talking about the Peace Bridge for like twenty years. At this rate, my grandchildren are going to be talking about building and fixing a Peace Bridge. It can’t take twenty years to build a bridge,” said Cuomo.
The Governor would like to expand the American side of the Peace Bridge Plaza and improve the inspection process to get larger trucks off the bridge. Republican State Senators Mark Grisanti and George Maziarz along with Democratic State Assemblyman Sean Ryan have become so frustrated with the delay they’ve called for the dissolution of the Peace Bridge Authority.
“We just started a bridge in the mid-Hudson area called the Tapanzee Bridge. In one year we bid it. We got the environmental approvals and we’re going to break ground,” Cuomo said
The PBA is a bi-national public benefit corporation comprised of ten members: five US and five Canadians. The PBA’s longtime general manager is Canadian. In response to a reporters question, the Governor said the US side has only 18 acres compared to 74 on the Canadian side.
“They have a larger plaza but we need to improve the plaza and we need to do it on a relatively fast timeline,” Cuomo said.
The PBA is scheduled to meet again on June 28th. Cuomo said time is running out.
“The Western New York economy is suffering and it doesn’t have to be,” Cuomo added.
May 24th - 12:54 am
The Erie County Democratic Committee has endorsed Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in his bid for re-election. It’s a move the party’s chairman hopes will unite Buffalo Democrats.
“The Mayor did not support my election for chair. But the minute we talked, five days later, we both said let’s pull this thing together. Let’s work together,” said Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner.
Brown had a strained relationship with former Chairman Len Lenihan, and didn’t receive or ask for the party’s backing four years ago. But seeking a third term, Brown seemed to be looking at the party’s backing differently.
“Having the endorsement of the Erie County Democratic Committee is important. It’s significant. It is a major backing in this campaign and I’m very pleased to have it,” said Brown.
Former FBI agent Bernard Tolbert announced earlier this month he’s challenging Brown in a Democratic Primary. Tolbert seemed unfazed by the Brown endorsement.
“At the end of the day the decision as to who will be the democratic nominee will be made at the primary and we’re in this to the very end,” Tolbert said.
Brown won the endorsement by the 33-3 vote, but Tolbert is not without his Democratic supporters. Erie County Legislative Chair Betty Jean Grant nominated Tolbert for mayor in Thursday’s Democratic committee meeting.
“I think that Betty Jean recognizes what kind of candidate I will be and I think that’s something she supports. So having her support is something that means an awful lot to me and I’m looking forward to her continued support as we continue through the process this summer,” said Tolbert
Democratic Political Analyst Jack O’Donnell doesn’t expect the endorsement to have much of an impact on the race. O’Donnell believes the move appears to be designed to give Zellner and the party credibility.
“I think he’s under an enormous amount of pressure in his job. Last year after he was elected chairman, Democrats had a really bad year. Congresswoman Hochul lost. The county comptroller lost. Really, it was a bad year for the Erie County Democratic Committee,” O’Donnell said.
Tolbert, meantime, said he’s seeking other endorsements and hinted he may continue this campaign even if Brown wins the Democratic Primary.
“We’re in this until the very end and we plan to compete very strongly during the primary and then let the people decide who they want as their candidate,” Tolbert said.
Republican Sergio Rodriguez has been campaigning for months and welcomed Tolbert to race two weeks ago.
In the end, O’Donnell said the race won’t be decided by endorsements or money.
“First and foremost, everyone inBuffalowho’s a prime voter knows who Byron Brown is. They’re going to make their decision on the last 8 years. Has he done a good job?” O’Donnell asked.
May 22nd - 6:02 pm
A community activist who briefly gained the national spotlight after a very public battle with the Rochester Police Department is running for Monroe County Sheriff. Emily Good announced her candidacy by channeling former New York Gubernatorial Candidate Jimmy McMillan.
“I’m running because the rate of incarceration in the country is too damn high,” said Good.
Speaking in front of Rochester’s Public Safety Building, Good said she’ll challenge Republican Patrick O’Flynn as the Green Party candidate this November. Good has no experience in law enforcement but she’s no stranger to the criminal justice system.
“There’s a philosophy governing this system that we can change people’s behavior through punishment. It is false,” Good said.
During her time as an activist, Good has been arrested four times for various charges including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstruction of governmental administration. Each time the charges were eventually dropped.
“There are people in that building (the county jail) who need to be released. And they need us to fix the broken policies, change the laws and make sure we don’t keep wasting so much money, time and precious life locking people up unnecessarily,” said Good.
Good’s most notable arrest came in May of 2011. She was videotaping a Rochester Police traffic stop, and refused several police requests to go back into her home. The video became an internet sensation, and Rochester Police Union President Mike Mazzeo believes that was the point.
“I think it was a strategy to get attention,” said Mazzeo.
Mazzeo said Good went out of her way to interfere with an officer who was just doing his job. And Mazzeo said it’s not the only time. Just two months before making the video, Good was arrested while trying to stop police from enforcing a court ordered eviction.
“In my opinion she tries to entice a response. She then uses whatever action is taken by police to draw attention to herself,” said Mazzeo.
Good refused to answer specific questions from what she called the “corporate media,” but repeatedly criticized “mass incarceration” and policies and procedures in place in the Monroe County Jail.
“I love my community and I want to help in so many ways but I look around and I see so much of my community is missing because they’re trapped in there. We need to bring them back into the discussion,” Good said.
Mazzeo believes Good’s 15 minutes of fame have ended, and Tuesday’s announcement was nothing more than a publicity stunt.
“With such a ridiculous conclusions I doubt her sincerity in running for Sheriff. When you make light of such an important job you do a disservice to the law enforcement community. Be more respectful,” Mazzeo said.
Good said she wants to meet directly with community members before announcing any specific policies or goals should she be elected.
“I’m not coming to this campaign with the all the answers. There’s a lot of problems. But I can see this system’s devastating impact happening all around me,” Good added.
Monroe County Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle said the party will introduce its own candidate next week making it a three-person race.
May 20th - 1:09 pm
Erie County has seen a strong resistance to the NY SAFE Act. In addition to local gun rights advocates, several elected officials, including the county’s top cop, have been vocal critics of the law.
“I believe in my heart and my soul that it’s unconstitutional,” said Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard.
The Republican Sheriff has not only joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the SAFE Act, he announced last week he won’t enforce it. It’s a position that’s made him a target.
“We elect a sheriff. We don’t elect a king. Kings get to make their own laws. Sheriffs get to follow the laws as written,” State Assemblyman Sean Ryan said.
The Buffalo Democrat said Howard’s refusal to enforce the SAFE Act could literally put people’s lives at risk. Those convicted of domestic violence, who have an order of protection against them, would have their firearms confiscated under the SAFE Act.
“Safety of victims of domestic violence isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s an issue for all society to be concerned with,” Ryan said.
Howard balked at the suggestions his opposition to the law would put anyone in the community in danger, and suggested the SAFE Act is the real public threat.
“That is endangering people inNew York. It’s endangering the public and it’s endangering police and we’re supposed to say oh thank you, we’ll accept this and say nothing about it?” Howard asked.
Howard said his office is committed to protecting victims of domestic violence with the laws already on the books. In the wake of the Vito Lopez scandal, Howard questioned whether or not an Assembly Democrat should be raising the issue.
“Let them go back and get their own house in order, particularly if he wants to talk about domestic violence,” said Howard.
Howard pointed out that the district attorney has the ability to file charges under the SAFE Act. For Ryan that’s not good enough.
“As a top law enforcement individual in the county, your job is to enforce the laws. You don’t have the authority to pick and choose,” Ryan said.
Ryan suggested the Governor could remove Howard from office for not enforcing the law. Howard had a simple message response.
“If he thinks he can, go ahead and try,” Howard added.
May 17th - 9:12 pm
During a Congressional Hearing in Washington Friday, New York Congressman Tom Reed not only grilled the outgoing head of the IRS; he coined a new term.
“I’ll give this whole situation a name: it’s the ‘IRS Targeting Gate.’ I’ll put it right out there,” Reed said.
During a heated exchange at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing, the Corning Republican chastised outgoing IRS Commissioner Steven Miller. Miller acknowledged his agency singled out conservative groups seeking or already receiving tax-exempt status for additional review, but objected to the term “targeting.”
“Foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient,” Miller claimed.
President Obama Announced Wednesday that Miller was being replaced. But Reed pointed out that Miller was allowed to resign instead of getting fired.
“I can tell you, in my private experience you would have been fired on the spot. And all you were allowed to do is resign and retire and now you come here and somehow try to say I did the honorable thing by falling on my sword. And nothing bad is going to happen to you. You are going to get your full benefits. You are going to get everything that is associated your retirement as an IRS employee,” Reed said.
When Miller suggested he was indeed being held accountable, Reed fired back.
“You’re allowed to retire. That’s the level of accountability in Washington, D.C. now,” Reed said.
Miller refused to take full responsibility for the practice and told the committee he did not know who was responsible for it. After the hearing, Reed vowed to find out.
“We will get to the bottom of this, we will get answers as to why this was allowed to happen,” said Reed.
Reed also called reports confidential taxpayer information taken from the applications was released to the media “disturbing.” Reed suggested IRS personal were incompetent or displayed a total disregard for personal, confidential information.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are gaping holes in the timeline of the report and substantive details that have been omitted,” Reed added.
May 16th - 11:31 pm
What impact, if any, will the deal the Oneidas made Thursday, have on the Seneca Nation in its ongoing dispute with the state over casino revenue payments? According to at least one observer, “none.”
John Kane is a Mohawk Indian, and the host of the “Let’s Talk Native” radio show in Buffalo. He sharply criticized the deal that would guarantee the Oneidas exclusive territory for their Central NY casino.
“The Oneidas pay and pay, and then call it a landmark decision. They pay for an exclusivity that doesn’t exist anyway,” Kane said.
Under the deal, the state agreed not to build any new competing casinos in a large section in the middle of the state. In exchange, the Oneidas will give 25 percent of its casino’s net revenue to the state, agree to a permanent cap of about 25,000 acres of land, and apply sales tax on cigarettes and gasoline.
“The Oneidas are the losers in this deal. This is a perfect example of what not to do,” Kane said.
The Senecas, like the Oneidas, have been locked in a long standing dispute with the state. The Western NY tribe claims the state violated a 14-year gaming compact by allowing gambling at racetracks in Hamburg, Batavia and Canandaigua.
In the meantime, the Senecas are holding $572 million in escrow from three casinos in Western NY. It’s Revenue that would have been shared with the state and the cities of Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca.
“These communities did get cheated. But they got cheated by the state not by the Senecas,” Kane said.
The deal with the Oneidas comes just two weeks after the Governor proposed a plan to allow state run casino to be built in three regions including Western NY. It’s a move some say showed the Governor’s skills as a negotiator.
“Governor Cuomo has found a way to break the logjam and find a solution that works for everyone,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.
Dyster’s city has lost $60 million dollars during the dispute with the Senecas. After Thursday’s announcement, he believes Cuomo could strike a deal with the Senecas as well.
“I have said from the beginning that I thought a negotiated settlement was the preferred way to resolve the outstanding issues. If there is a way to settle that dispute at the bargaining table, Governor Cuomo will find it,” Dyster said.
Seneca Leadership is honoring a gag order imposed by an arbitration panel. President Barry Snyder refused to take questions on the issue as the Senecas hosted a four-day conference for the United South and Eastern Tribes at the Seneca Niagara Casino this week.
“They’re not worried,” said Kane.
Kane said the Senecas didn’t “flinch” after Cuomo announced his plan to permit up to seven new non-Indian casinos in the state.
“Western NY is saturated with gaming. Why would someone want to compete with the Senecas? They don’t have to pay a dime in taxes. The Senecas have a huge advantage,” Kane said.
The 14-year gaming compact with the Senecas expires in 2016. Governor Cuomo suggested Thursday that the dispute would make it unlikely the compact would be renewed.
“Governor Cuomo has put himself in a no win situation,” Kane said.
Kane doesn’t believe the Governor’s comments, or the deal with the Oneidas weaken the Senecas position.
“If anything, this would make it more difficult to negotiate around arbitration. And I think both sides know arbitration is going well for the Senecas right now,” Kane said.
Kane even offered a suggestion for Mayor Dyster who appears to be banking on the Governor’s ability at the bargaining table.
“Eventually these communities would be better off negotiating directly with the Senecas to get part of the $600 Million.”
May 13th - 11:15 pm
In November of 2010 Tom Reed was forced to look at things a little differently. On the day he was supposed to be sworn in as a U.S. Congressman, he was confined to a hospital bed, recovering after four clots in his leg broke free and traveled to his lungs.
“It just shows you that life is so tenuous,” Reed told me in 2010.
After three days on blood thinners, Reed took the oath of office on his 39th birthday. With his children and his wife by his side, he gained a new perspective.
“I dodged a bullet. I have to make my health a priority,” Reed said.
With a new outlook, the Corning Republican worked to balance the busy schedule of being a U.S. Congressman with a new concern for his health. Part of that meant losing weight, but tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds, Reed knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“Like millions of Americans I have wrestled with this,” said Reed.
Leading up to the 2012 election Reed started to make some progress, and drop some weight. But like many who struggle with this issue, Reed had a setback and gained back all the weight he lost.
“After wrestling with this issue, my family and I decided to go to the next step,” Reed said.
For Reed and his family the next step was gastric bypass surgery. It’s an invasive procedure designed to make the stomach smaller.
“When my doctor said Tom you have a choice, you can either go and leave this earth at 61 years of age or 81 years of age. Man, I got a wife, I got a daughter, I have a son. They’re 12 and 14,” Reed said.
Reed had the surgery on February 28th. Monday he appeared at a press event in Owego looking noticeably thinner.
“I’m about two months plus from gastric bypass surgery and my health has tremendously improved. And we’re already down 70 pounds and my family and I are very happy with the decision we made,” said Reed.
Reed’s admission he had the surgery comes just one week after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie revealed he had a similar gastric banding procedure.
“And we’ve communicated with Governor Christie in regards to his decision and he and I have had conversations before,” Reed said.
Christie is rumored to have presidential aspirations and Reed was seen as a rising star among House GOP leaders even before he had the surgery. Reed said for both men the decision to have the surgery was driven by something more important than politics.
“It’s our families. It has nothing to do with politics; it has nothing to do with that. And when you talk about 20 years being added to your life, it really opens up your eyes and we came to the conclusion that it was the right thing for me, for us, for my family,” Reed said.
One week after surgery, Reed said he was back voting on the House floor. Today he believes he’s fully recovered.
“Now we’re 100 percent and going strong. But we’re glad we did it and we feel so much better,” Reed added.
May 11th - 12:27 am
Posted by Casey Bortnick in [...]
A day before many expect a second Democrat to enter the race for Buffalo Mayor, Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner made an attempt to bring his party together. Zellner urged Buffalo Democrats to get behind Mayor Byron Brown, something his committee did not do four years ago.
“We had a great meeting this week with the Mayor and his Deputy Mayor and I really liked the answers I heard,” Zellner said.
Brown had a strained relationship with former Chairman Len Lenihan. Zellner hopes by endorsing Brown it will put those hard feelings in the past.
“We had a great conversation and I thought it was important that I show leadership and move forward with this recommendation,” said Zellner.
Former FBI agent Bernard Tolbert has been considering a run for mayor for months, and is expected to announce Saturday he’s challenging Brown in a Democratic Primary. Although Zellner is recommending Brown, he said Tolbert will still have a chance to sway the committee in an interview session on May 18th.
Zellner expects the Committee to make a formal endorsement on May 25th. Republican Sergio Rodriguez has already announced his candidacy.