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How'd That Work Out For You

In January, we told you about the politically connected family of Susan Eagan, who Mayor Byron Brown chose to fill the city court vacancy left when Hank Nowak was elected to New York State Supreme Court last November. Eagan was re-elected to the seat handily this year, in an election that featured three challengers and four incumbents—one of whom, David Manz, defied local political odds by losing the seat he’d held for 10 years. There’s another city court vacancy to be filled, as Sharon LoVallo has moved to Erie County Family Court. Mayoral aide Peter Savage III and acting corporation counsel David Rodriguez have begun interviews.

Story of the Year: Twice we put you on the cover; twice all our papers disappeared from the Rath Building. Who's smiling now, Chris?

• Also in January, Barbara Miller-Williams was returned as chair of the Erie County Legislature by a coalition of the Republican caucus and rogue Democrats similar to the one that elected her chair the previous year—a year that Lackawanna’s Dan Kozub described as “the worst ever.” (The only difference in the coalition was that Tim Whalen took the place of fellow South Buffalonian Tim Kennedy, who had moved on to the State Senate.) Today, of course, Miller-Williams has lost her seat on the downsized and redistricted legislature, as have Whalen and her other Democratic supporter, Tina Bove of West Seneca.

• We learned that the Buffalo Sewer Authority was accepting liquid waste produced by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of natural gas wells. At first they denied it, then they admitted it, then they promised never to accept the stuff again.

• In February, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that federal money for border infrastructure was not forthcoming in the near future, as a result of the current emphasis on deficit reduction. In short, there was no money for the long-debated and long-delayed Peace Bridge expansion project; this news precipitated a series of contractions in the scope of the project, including a smaller footprint for the proposed US plaza expansion. The latest news: The US and Canadian governments recently hinted that maybe something akin to shared border management, which would move the bulk of inspection services to Canadian soil, is possible after all, further obviating the need for an expanded US plaza.

Andy SanFilippo resigned his post as Buffalo’s comptroller to take a job with Thomas DiNapoli, the new state comptroller. The resultant vacancy became a key position in a local game of political musical chairs, which would eventually include seats vacated by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (who took a job with the Cuomo administration this summer) and Assemblyman Jim Hayes (who returned to the private sector to make money). Mark Schroeder’s Assembly seat became (and remains) open, too, as a result of his easy acquisition of SanFilippo’s job.

• And then there was Chris Lee’s seat in Congress. Remember that? The local Republican leadership, including failed gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino and Erie County Executive Chris Collins, along with Erie County GOP chair Nick Langworthy, put forth Assemblywoman Jane Corwin as a candidate. (There was another candidate in the mix for the Republican nomination: David Bellavia of Batavia, a popular and deeply conservative Iraq war veteran. At one point, Paladino and Collins were caught in the back room of an Elmwood Avenue coffee shop trying to talk Bellavia out of the race.) The hapless Corwin lost to Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, who became the first Democrat to represent the district since the Civil War, and whose victory created another vacancy that elected officials scrambled to fill.

• In April, we reported that the Brown administration was quietly seeking an out-of-court settlement to a lawsuit filed by the NRP Group, a Cleveland developer that says the mayor pulled the plug on an East Side housing project when the firm refused to create a contract for the Reverend Richard A. Stenhouse, an ally of the mayor. No agreement was reached, but the possibility of a settlement arose again recently, as Lovejoy Councilman Rich Fontana lined up his votes for council president. The current council president, Fillmore Councilman Dave Franczyk, expressed his fear that under the leadership of Fontana and his designated majority leader, Masten’s Demone Smith, who is a defendant in the NRP lawsuit, the Common Council might quietly approve such a settlement, so that the public would never learn whether NRP’s accusations of racketeering had merit.

• Speaking of racketeering, former Ellicott District Councilman Brian Davis was arrested again, charged with using the Community Action Organization of Erie County—an institution that has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Grassroots, the political organization to which Davis and the mayor belong—as a pass-through to direct public money to himself and his friends. There has been much talk about Davis cooperating with federal investigators to reduce his potential jail time; similar talk accompanied the recent guilty plea registered by Tim Wanamaker, the city’s former economic development czar, who was in a uniquely privileged position to observe the city’s often criticized management of federal anti-poverty funds.

• In May, a proposal for the redistricting and downsizing of the Erie County Legislature yielded a delightful new term to the local political lexicon: Perrymandering. Hodgson Russ attorney Adam Perry, named by Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams to chair the advisory panel charged with drafting a redistricting plan, managed to solicit a minimum of public input, to alienate most of the panel’s Democratic appointees, to schedule a slate of meetings at which virtually no details relevant to the task were revealed or discussed, then to magically produce a plan, purportedly of his own devising, which favored Miller-Williams and her coalition of Republicans and two rogue Democrats, and finally to wrangle a vote accepting that plan by a scant quorum of panel members at the tail end of what was supposed to be a public hearing. Bravo!

• Meantime, we indulged in something of a cheap shot in regard to the redistricting of Buffalo’s councilmanic districts, labeling Dave Franczyk’s new Fillmore District—which now stretches into Allentown and the Lower West Side—“The Screaming Eagle.” The new look of the Fillmore District drew a potential challenger to Franczyk: Democrat Larry Adamczyk, backed by the mayor, rose from the political graveyard and mounted a short-lived campaign, which was stymied by his failure to meet residency requirements.

• The summer brought the not-so-great Democratic peace deal, brokered by New York State Democratic Party executive director Charlie King, who hoped to unite the region’s cutthroat factions behind Mark Poloncarz’s challenge to Erie County Executive Chris Collins. Hoyt/Lenihan partisan Maria Whyte would drop her bid for city comptroller, clearing the way for South Buffalo Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, of the Brian Higgins camp; Whyte would be given a clear shot at county clerk. Sam Hoyt took a job with the Cuomo administration, removing himself as a political rival to Mayor Byron Brown; the county chairman, Len Lenihan, announced he would retire, and a new chairman—one acceptable to the Brown, Higgins, and Hoyt camps alike—would take his place. There would be no primaries among Democrats. There would be peace. Needless to say, it didn’t last.

• If you were reading this column in June, you got an early look at the debate underway right now about whether the city can and ought to reclaim a swath of waterfront land that the NFTA has stewarded for decades and is now trying to sell to a developer. Sometimes we’re first to the story. Just saying.

• At a local hearing on state redistricting, a local contingent of Republicans, including former Erie County attorney Cheryl Green and Erie County GOP chairman Nick Langworthy, advocate for the creation of a 63rd seat in the State Senate. Smaller government indeed.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus sought and received permission to add a ninth floor to its planned eight-story parking ramp at the corner of Michigan Avenue and High Street. Last year, BNMC sought and received a zoning variance for the ramp, because its proposed 82-foot height exceeded the maximum allowable 66 feet. From Virginia Street all the way to Goodrich Street, the ramp presents pedestrians and other passersby with nearly 1,700 linear feet of blank walls, punctuated by crossings at Carlton and High and by a single metal service entry door.

• Hey, marriage equality passed in New York State! Western New York’s Mark Grisanti joined three other Republicans in crossing the aisle to vote yes. His reward: the gratitude of Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hosted a big fundraiser for Grisanti and his likeminded colleagues in October.

• In July, we reported the rough outlines of Cuomo’s forthcoming proposal to permit fracking in New York State: no to drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds; yes to drilling pretty much everywhere else.

• Once again, an old industrial building on Chandler Street caught fire. Remember the arsons that destroyed the former Buffalo Belting and Weaving, Inc., in 2003? In the aftermath, the Environmental Protection Agency spent more than $2.6 million cleaning up the site, due to “various chemicals and other substances that were in the building” when the former defense contractor burned. The EPA returned to the areas last August, when a team surveyed the former Universal Precision Machine at the corner of Bridgeman and Chandler Streets, directly across the street from the high grass and rubble where Buffalo Belting and Weaving once stood. This August, a fire at Niagara Lubricants choked neighborhoods with thick, black smoke.

• Also in August, libertarian Congressman Ron Paul came to East Aurora, where he spoke at the VFW Post on Olean Street.

• On a balmy Saturday in October, the Occupation of Niagara Square began. Last week it spread to Lafayette Square, which the city has proposed as an alternative site when the snow flies and plows use Niagara Square as a snow overflow site.

• It happens every time we put the guy’s mug on the cover: The week before election day, AV featured a story about Erie County Executive Chris Collins, and subsequently all of the papers we delivered to the Rath Building downtown disappeared. A week later, he lost.

We’re not saying it’s karma. Just that it wasn’t very business-friendly.

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