Seven Days: The More Calories, Less Filling News of the Week
by Geoff Kelly
Who is Susan Egan?
On Monday, Mayor Byron Brown appointed attorney Susan Eagan to the Buffalo City Court vacancy left by Hank Nowak, who has moved up to New York State Supreme Court. Eagan has 14 years in the law, five years as an Erie County assistant district attorney and the rest as an employee of the New York State court system, most recently as associate counsel to the Attorney Grievance Committee. The appointment is good for one year; if Eagan wants to serve a full, 10-year term, she’ll have to run for the seat this fall, along with a handful of other City Court judges.
By most accounts we’ve been able to gather, Eagan is a fine lawyer. But one detail in reports of her appointment gives us pause: Eagan told Buffalo News reporter Phil Fairbanks that she read about the vacancy in the newspaper and applied for it. That story leaves the pleasing impression that virtue and merit alone, not political connections, figured into the mayor’s choice. Given everything we’ve heard from other applicants to fill the vacancy, it seems unlikely that politics were not a major consideration in the mayor’s choice.
In fact, Susan Eagan is married to James E. Eagan, who is the son of James F. Eagan, a vice president at the real estate firm of Gurney, Becker & Bourne. James F. Eagan’s wife is Gayle Eagan, a partner at the law firm of Jaeckle, Fleischman & Mugel. They are close friends with State Supreme Court Judge John O’Donnell and his wife, former US Attorney Denise O’Donnell, who, along with their son Jack, are tight with Steve Pigeon and generally allied with the Byron Brown faction of the local Democratic Party. Between the two of them, Gayle and James F. Eagan have given many thousands of dollars to political candidates over the past 10 years. Susan Eagan’s husband, James E., has donated money to the campaigns of both O’Donnells and to the campaign of Joe Mesi, whom Pigeon sponsored in his 2008 bid for New York State Senate.
(Do not confuse James F. or James E. Eagan with businessman and NFTA commissioner James J. Eagan, a much bigger political wheel who recently dropped out of the partnership trying to buy the Statler.)
There is nothing wrong with any of that. But let’s not imagine that the appointment of Susan Eagan is free of politics. Or that her journey to City Court began with an article in the Buffalo News.
Mayor's Allies Lose Party Leadership Posts
Two faithful allies to Mayor Byron Brown lost their leadership positions in the local Democratic Party over the holidays.
Dana Bobinchek, a special assistant to the mayor and one of his chief political operatives, was voted out as a zone chair last week. Voted in was attorney Diane Wray. (Wray, coincidentally, was one of many who offered themselves to the mayor as candidates for the City Court vacancy left by Hank Nowak.) And David Granville, who left City Hall last summer to take a job with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, lost his position as zone chair on the city’s lower West Side just before Christmas. Granville, who was also chair of the city’s nine zone chairs, is replaced by Jennifer Simon. Simon and Wray friendly to the party faction led by Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Len Lenihan and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt.
Both sides of the seemingly endless feud between local Democrats dedicated time and money last fall to winning committee seats in the city. Those allied with Brown worked through Committee for Change, a fund headed by deputy corporation counsel Peter Savage III, and Democratic Action, a the committee for a group called Democratic Action for Western New York, whose members include Granville and Steve Pigeon ally Jack O’Donnell. Those allied with Lenihan and Hoyt worked through Hoyt’s campaign and party headquarters. The results were, as has been the case for the past four years, a mixed bag of gains and losses for each side that left the balance of power more or less intact.
But Granville and Bobinchek represent big losses for the mayor’s faction. Additionally, firefighter Bryon McIntyre lost his seat on the Democratic committee in September, and thus the chair of his East Side zone. McIntyre was no ally to the mayor, but neither is the Unity Coalition led by Arthur “Champ” Eve, Jr., which is likely to take control of McIntyre’s zone.
Judge Sedita Said What?
Speaking of the Pigeonistas, the Buffalo News’s Bob McCarthy had a column on Boxing Day that posed the question we’ve been asking here since November: Now that Steve Pigeon is out of his job as counsel to former State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, who lost in the September primary, where will all the local loyalists for whom Pigeon found jobs in Espada’s Upstate office find work? The local patronage market is becoming crowded, what with the dozen or so former employees of Antoine Thompson, who lost his job in November, also casting around for positions locally. New State Senator Tim Kennedy will be looking to place some of his people, too. So whither goest Dave Pfaff, for example, the Pigeon ally who has been head of Espada’s local office?
There’s a rumor afoot that Democrats in the State Senate would like to try to keep a minority office here in Buffalo. We’ll see if that pans out.
Meantime, the most interesting piece of McCarthy’s column was his dredging up of a long-ago boon to Pigeon’s ally Christopher Walsh, who also held a patronage job in Espada’s Upstate office. In 1999, New York State Supreme Court Judge Frank A. Sedita, Jr., another long-time Pigeon ally, named Walsh the receiver in a bankruptcy case related to 42 Delaware Avenue, the old City Court building. As receiver, Walsh earned $180,000 over the next six years for managing the building until a new owner, MRM Buffalo Properties. LLC, purchased the property in 2006.
Walsh, a former ironworker, was at the time of the assignment vice chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party and former chairman of the West Seneca Democratic Party. Unlike most people whom the courts designate as receivers in bankruptcy cases, Walsh is not a lawyer.
Around that time, a scandal was brewing in New York City regarding judges awarding lucrative receiverships and guardianships to those in Democratic Party leadership positions and their friends, regardless of qualifications. The scandal led to a directive to the state’s judges forbidding such appointments and establishing a list of qualified appointees. The directive did not come down until after Sedita handed Walsh this plum assignment, but the scandal was in the papers at the time. He must have been aware of the issue.
Sedita denies that he appointed Walsh to the lucrative receivership at Pigeon’s behest. He denies even knowing Walsh was a Democratic Party official. He told McCarthy, “I didn’t know he was vice chairman of anything. If he had said that, I wouldn’t have appointed him.”
This beggars belief: How is it possible the Judge Frank A. Sedita, Jr., born and bred into local Democratic politics, did not know the name of a vice chairman of his own party? And if we allow that Sedita did not know that Walsh was the vice chairman of his own party, then what did he know about him when he offered him this $30,000-per-year plum? How did he know who he was at all? Did he pick Walsh’s name out of a hat filled with the names of former ironworkers?
St. Carl's Letters to the Buffalonians
For most of the last year, as he navigated the gubernatorial campaign trail, developer Carl Paladino shared his mind with reporters holding TV cameras and radio microphones and digital voice recorders. Missing was the reliable flow of incendiary open letters to local lights such as Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan, Buffalo Niagara Partnership CEO Andrew Rudnick, and Buffalo Schools Superintendent James Williams. (Missing, too, of course, were the lurid joke emails forwarded to a long list of friends and acquaintances. But that’s another story.) Gone were the supporting radio ads. And how we missed them.
Not to worry. Carl’s back. His first post-election epistle, on November 24, was directed to YNN political reporter Liz Benjamin, who, Paladino says, has been too easy on Governor Andrew Cuomo, especially in regard to his investigation of and subsequent deal with financier Steve Rattner, a big Democratic donor who was caught up in the pay-to-play scandal around the state employees pension fund. Paladino followed up with another letter to Benjamin on January 3, chiding her again for giving Cuomo a pass on Rattner, and on the deal by which lobbyist Patricia Lynch avoided prosecution in the same pay-to-play investigation. (He sent a similar letter to Artvoice the same day: You can read the longer, Liz Benjamin version at AV Daily on Artvoice.com.)
In between those letters, Paladino dashed off a three-pager to News publisher Stan Lipsey. (Like many of his letters to Buffalo folks, it was marked “Cc: Everybody” at the bottom.) Paladino attacked Lipsey for, among other failures, propping up Rudnick; allowing his paper to respect and even endorse deficient politicians who perpetuate the status quo; and giving a pass to both Williams and his antagonist, Buffalo Teachers Federation president Phil Rumore. He finishes:
Stan, you are 82 years old and it was many years ago that your paper in Nebraska won a Pulitzer. Resign as publisher, have Rudnick throw a going away party for you with your other 3 friends and go home…
Walk off into the sunset Stan.
Can new radio spots be far behind? “Hello, Stan!…”
Radioactive Cleanup Firm is Fined
Engineering giant URS was slapped with a $1.8 million fine by the US Department of Energy this week, as a penalty for mishandling radioactive waste at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory site near Schenectady. More precisely, the DOE will withhold some of the potential $7.6 million bonus worked into URS’s $69 million contract to demolish radiologically contaminated buildings on the site, where weapons-grade plutonium and uranium was extracted from spent nuclear reactor fuel.
URS’s sloppy handling of the cleanup led to contamination being spread across 2.3 acres and into the Mohawk River.
Know where you can find waste from the Knolls site closer to home? Spread around the Niagara Falls Storage Site in Lewiston-Porter, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Four Democratic Senators Walk Away From Sampson
On the same day that Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his inaugural State of the State speech and Republican State Senator Dean Skelos took over as majority leader in his chamber, four Democratic state senators—Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, David Carlucci, and David Valesky—jumped ship to create their own, independent Democratic caucus. The four expressed disgust with the Democratic leadership of the past two years, as personified in State Senator John Sampson, who Democrats elected minority leader.
Amherst Street Fire Hall Finds Buyer
The decommissioned fire hall near the corner of Grant and Amherst Streets, adjacent to the Polish Cadets Hall, has found a buyer. Greg Nikiel, owner of Look-At-That Contracting, intends to renovate the second floor of the fire hall as his residence and use the first floor as a shop. He says he’ll keep the exterior intact. The price tag was $100,000.
One More Blow to a Dead Horse
We’ve spent way too much time talking about Antoine Thompson in this column, and we thought we were finished with him, until a member of his successor’s staff called from Thompson’s former office in the Mahoney State Office building on Court Street.
“Guess where I’m sitting?” the part-timer said happily.
We didn’t know.
“I’ve got my feet on Antoine’s desk. I’m calling from his phone.”
Ah, moving-in day. That’s why his voice was echoing, as if in an empty corridor. Things going smoothly?
“Are you kidding? This place is huge. There’s a couple dozen desks in here. Nothing like your dinky little operation. But that’s not why I called. Guess what we found what we got in here.”
We looked around at each other here in the office but couldn’t guess. Donuts? Flowers? A good-luck note?
“Nothing! Almost all the filing cabinets are empty. All the information on not-for-profits in the district, all the constituent service records—all gone. I found a security guard, and he took me down to the basement, and there it all was in garbage cans. A lot of it was shredded.”
Well, that’s going to complicate things when folks in the district call for help, isn’t it? There will be no records of their previous requests for help.
“Yeah, you think? It’s like starting from scratch. Which would be okay, except that Antoine’s staff keeps hanging around.”
“Seriously, I saw three of them in the hallway just now. I tried to introduce them around but they just looked at me like they’d seen a ghost.”
Well, that seems rude.
“Yeah. You’d think someone was still paying them to come into the office. Let me call you back, okay, I want to make sure they gave us all the keys…”
—geoff kellyblog comments powered by Disqus
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