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Odds and Ends

• The governor has chosen March 20 as the date for special elections to fill vacant Assembly seats. (He’d originally indicated the special elections would take place in April, coinciding with the state’s presidential primary, but that would favor Republicans unduly, since Democrats have no primary to vote in.) Around here, that means filling the seat of Mark Schroeder, who has moved into the office of Buffalo City Comptroller. The leading candidates are South District Councilman Mickey Kearns and Chris Fahey, an aide to Congressman Brian Higgins.

• Apparently, the return to the private sector has given former Erie County executive Chris Collins the political equivalent of restless leg syndrome: He’s talking about running for Congress against Democrat Kathy Hochul. It’s a post he’s always coveted: After running against and losing to John LaFalce, county executive was something of a second-bes alternative for him. He was reported to be put out when Bob Reynolds stepped down and Chris Lee stepped up, having considered himself next in line for the job.

• There is much muttering, too, about the possibility of Republican developer Carl Paladino challenging Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins. Paladino is a frequent critic of Higgins, which is awkward: They’re related by marriage.

• Last week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz used his first meeting as an ex officio member of the board of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to vote against an additional tax subsidy for a high-end residential development downtown. The developers are Kent Frey and Anthony Baynes. (Both are Republicans, for what that’s worth.) The project is the former Corn Exchange building on South Elmwood, which has already received $135,000 in subsidies from ECIDA and was looking for $130,000 more because the project’s price has risen. Poloncarz argued that ECIDA should not subsidize real estate projects that don’t really create jobs and which are likely to move forward with or without subisidies.

It’s a principled, rational stance that resembles the position taken by Collins at his virst ECIDA meeting in Jnauary 2008: Collins questioned an $87,000 tax break that was to be extended to the owners of Martin’s Fantasy Island, the Grand Island amusement park, to help them establish two new rides. “I really think the taxpayers are giving in this case a subsidy to Martin’s Fantasy Island that isn’t necessary,” Collins told the Buffalo News at the time. “They’re going to buy that piece of equipment anyway regardless of whether they get the sales tax exemption.”

Fantasy Island got its subsidy anyway, as did Frey and Baynes. We’ll see if Poloncarz’s principles last longer than those of Collins, who a year later was using ECIDA to give a million dollars in subsidies to his close friend, Dr. Kent Chevli.

• You (possibly) read about it here first: Last week State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos acknowledged that his Republicans will propose the addition of a 63rd state senator as part of a redistricting plan. We first heard the proposal advanced by former Erie County Attorney Cheryl Green at a hearing hosted by the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (a.k.a. LATFOR) in Buffalo’s Common Council chambers this summer. We were told the Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy had been talking up this most un-Republican expansion of government, too. Republicans believe a 63rd seat increases the likelihood that they will retain a majority. In any case, Governor Andrew Cuomo has threatened to veto any redistricting plan that LATFOR proposes, preferring instead the intitution of an independent, nonpartisan commission.

• Smaller government advocate Kevin Gaughan has challenged Skelos to a debate on the proposal to add a 6rd State Senate district.

Susan Lerner, director of the New York chapter of Common Cause, comes to town on Thursday, Jauary 12, to discuss the statewide redistricting process. She’ll be joined by James Gardner, a national expert on election law and the director of the Jaeckle Center for Law and Democracy at the University at Buffalo Law School. The free forum, co-sponsored by the Partnership for the Public Good, Common Cause NY, and the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara, takes place at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. Doors open at 6:30pm; program starts at 7pm.

• Also on Thursday, January 12, Assemblyman Sean Ryan will hold a public meeting at the Crane Library on Elmwood Avenue to discuss the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s plan to cut up to 25 percent of its service routes by this spring. The NFTA is looking to close a projected $15 million budget gap, and Ryan has suggested starting with a thorough audit of the NFTA’s operations before service cuts are contemplated. The metting runs 6-7:30pm.

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