Seven Days: The News Written as a Condition of Our Parole
by George Sax & Geoff Kelly
Miller-Williams Votes Back Into Chair
Minutes before the Erie County Legislature convened Thursday afternoon, with an agenda dominated by the election of a chairperson, Cheektowaga Democratic member Thomas Mazur was asked if anything interesting had been happening behind the scenes. “No, just some Democrats playing footsie with the Republicans again,” he replied. It wasn’t immediately apparent, but he was really forecasting his own rejection in the contest for the chair’s position, which occurred less than an hour later.
Mazur was the only candidate besides Buffalo Democrat Barbara Miller-Williams, who had been the chairwoman for the last year. She was voted in because of the three Democrats who bolted from their party’s nine-vote majority to join the six Republicans in electing someone who is almost universally believed to be Republican County Executive Chris Collins’ choice.
Through the previous week or so, reports had circulated that Christina Bové (Democrat, West Seneca), one of those three political apostates, had been angling to replace Miller-Williams, and that she might be close to securing the necessary eight votes. But when the nominations for the position were opened up by Clerk of the Legislature Robert Graber, it was Bové who rose to nominate Miller-Williams, and it was immediately obvious that there were enough votes for the latter’s reelection.
After the contentious session wound down, several Democratic legislators said they hadn’t thought Bové’s interest in the position was serious. Lynn Marinelli (Tonawanda) called Bové’s activity “dancing around the position.” Majority Leader Maria R. Whyte (Buffalo)—also reelected Thursday—noted that, to the best of her knowledge, Bové had never actually asked for the votes of any of the six Democrats who didn’t support Miller-Williams. Was Bové only a stalking horse for her colleague, then? “Who knows around here?” Whyte said with a shrug. (Efforts to reach Bové and Miller-Williams on Friday were unsuccessful.)
What was amply evident during Thursday’s meeting was that despite the near-inevitability of the outcome, a high level of resentment lingered after the voting, an emotion which sometimes resembled personal animosity. Speaking in support of Mazur’s candidacy to the legislators just before the vote, Marinelli said he wasn’t only well qualified but that he “returns calls and dialogues,” an allusion to Miller-Williams’ unavailability.
Daniel Kozub (Democrat, Lackawanna) called the last year under Miller-Williams’ leadership “the worst ever,” and accused her of pleading ignorance about important business before the body. Whyte highlighted what she said was the legislature’s deteriorated public image in the last year as it kowtowed to Collins’ agendas, as she read several Buffalo News headlines that referred to legislative arguments.
In her acceptance remarks after the 9-6 vote, Miller-Williams called for members to “truly…come together,” but bygones remained operative among the six Democrats who didn’t vote for her. Marinelli and Kozub interrupted a procedural matter on committees to inform the chair they would not serve as committee heads, and Betty Jean Grant told her she wanted to be removed from the environmental committee. (Marinelli told Miller-Williams that she could find committee chairs from among her eight supporters.)
Grant was particularly, and dramatically, blunt. After Minority Leader John Mills rose to deplore the attacks on Miller-Williams’ leadership performance, Grant dismissed the objections. The nine-vote coalition wasn’t really bipartisanship, she said, but rather an effort to “give Collins control of the legislature” so that he could fiscally savage the county’s library system, community cultural groups, and Comptroller Mark Poloncarz’s office. She told the Republicans that “you don’t control yourselves and”—staring now at the chair—“neither do you.”
Later, Grant told Artvoice that she had believed she had a commitment to vote for Mazur from newbie South Buffalo member Timothy Whelan, who is replacing Timothy Kennedy, a newly elected state senator. “I told Lenny [Lenihan, the Erie County Democratic Party chair] about this,” Grant said, “but then Tim stopped taking calls.” Whelan took Kennedy’s place in the three-vote Democratic split-off.
One element of the disciplinary and spoils fallout after the vote became evident Thursday night when Democratic majority counsel Jennifer Persico was told to resign by John Davis, the legislature’s chief of staff. Like all staff save Graber, she served at the discretion of the chairwoman. Two people with extensive knowledge of and experience in the legislature told Artvoice that, in effect, Persico was doing her job too well. She’d won more cases for the majority than previous lawyers, one said, and Collins was especially unhappy about the latest one in December, a New York State Supreme Court ruling that he couldn’t legally ignore the legislature’s cuts to his budget. Collins and Miller-Williams barely waited a couple of hours to lower this axe. (gs)
Bollman Says He'll Challenge Whelan in September
There are many snowfalls and the splendid expanse of summer between now and the September primaries, but Lovejoy District legislative aide Bryan Bollman says that still plans to challenge newly named Erie County Legislator Tim Whelan, a fellow Democrat. Whelan was recommended by the district’s Democratic committee members to replace Tim Kennedy after Kennedy won a seat in the New York State Senate in November. Bollman sought the committee’s recommendation, too, but Whelan’s support from Kennedy and Congressman Brian Higgins trumped Bollman’s campaign.
When Whelan abandoned the Legislature’s Democrats last week to join Republicans in re-electing Barbara Miller-Williams as chair—essentially reprising the role Kennedy played last January—he evoked the ire of Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan. Lenihan and his allies are encouraging Bollman’s challenge to Whelan, especially as support for Bollman will please his boss, Lovejoy District Councilman Rich Fontana. Fontana is part of the five-member majority coalition on the Council that is often at odds with Mayor Byron Brown, who is allied with Barbara Miller-Williams (a fellow member of Grassroots), with Higgins, and, to some degree, with Republican Erie County Executive Chris Collins. Lenihan wants to keep Fontana happy in order to maintain the Council majority, which would slip to Brown’s allies if Fontana were to defect. (gk)
Buffalo Common Council Seeks Nominations for Redistricting Committee
At every level of government, from municipal to federal, reapportionment in line with last year’s Census data will underlie every political discussion this year. New York State will lose two Congrssional districts this year, and Western New York’s districts are likely to take a hit. Will Brian Higgins’ or Louise Slaughter’s dsitrict be dramaitically reconfigured? How will Albany Republicans make life difficult for new Democratic State Senator Tim Kennedy? How will they try to help new Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti?
In Buffalo, there may be significant changes in the Ellicott and Niagara districts, and possibly in Fillmore. Want to take part in deciding what those changes will look like? Buffalo’s City Clerk is soliciting nominations for a Citizens Advisory Commission on Reapportionment. Candidates must be registered to vote and reside in the city. Elected officials and their relatives need not apply, nor should employees of the city or the public schools. Nominations must be filed with the city Clerk’s office on the 13th floor of City Hall by February 4. (gk)
Protest of the Week
Residents of the publicly owned Marine Drive Apartments intend to stage a demonstration at noon on Saturday, January 15. The target: the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, which manages the complex. The subject: future management plans for Marine Drive. The complex has gone through two mangement regimes in the past three years. One, a private firm called HKMDA LLC, was dropped amid charges of self-dealing and neglect. HKMDA’s successor, Erie Regional Housing, is withdrawing from the contract to manage Marine Drive. BMHA’s board of commissioners seems to want to take over management of the complex, but some residents hope to revert to a self-managment model that was phased out when HKMDA took over. The protest takes place in front of the Marine Drive complex, across from the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. (gk)
—george sax, geoff kellyblog comments powered by Disqus
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