Odds and Ends
by Geoff Kelly & Alan Bedenko
• Another favored cause for the region’s newest state legislator is IDA reform. This Friday, January 20, Assemblyman Sean Ryan will hold a press conference to outline how competition between regional industrial development agencies most often results in a zero-sum shuffling of jobs across municipal boundaries rather than net economic growth. The object of competition in this iteration of the familiar narrative is VWR Education LLC in the Town of Tonawanda, where 41 people are being put out of work because operations are being shifted to Henrietta, following approval of tax breaks by the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency. For the past 15 years, VFW has enjoyed a tax abatement package from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, which expired at the end of 2011. The move to Henrietta is essentially a consolidation of the company’s operations: Just seven new jobs will be created in Henrietta, a net loss.
“Every time people read in the paper or see on the news that taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize job shifting and in some cases job losses, they lose faith in the system,” Ryan said in a press release Wednesday. “Industrial Development Agencies have a purpose to fulfill and that purpose is expanding economic opportunities and job creation. Providing tax breaks for the purpose of consolidating a business is absolutely the wrong thing to do and shows our current IDA system is completely off track.”
• On Tuesday evening, the executive committee of the Erie County Democratic party chose Chris Fahey, and aide to Congressman Brian Higgins, as the party’s candidate for the vacant 145th District Assembly seat. A lawsuit brought by attorney and party activist Peter Reese, arguing that the authority to choose a nominees rested with the district committee rather than the party’s countywide leadership, was dismissed that same morning. Former Erie County Legislator Tina Bove made some effort to obtain the nomination but dropped out Tuesday afternoon.
Republicans had not named a candidate at press time. Fahey also has the support of the local Conservative Party. South District Common Councilman Mickey Kearns remains interested and on Wednesday secured the Independence Party line.
The seat was previously held by Mark Schroeder, who left it to become Buffalo’s comptroller. Schroeder, who is politically aligned with Higgin, delayed his resignation from the seat because the party’s executive committee seemed ready to fill the vacancy with former Lackawanna Mayor Norm Polanski, who was looking for a new gig, instead of Fahey. Polanksi has since taken another job.
The special election takes place March 20.
> Geoff Kelly
• The corruption lawsuit brought by NRP, a Cleveland developer, against some city bigshots just got itself an empty chair to which the other defendants can point.
It’s alleged that the Reverend Richard Stenhouse and his Jeremiah Partnership conspired with Mayor Byron Brown, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and others to shut NRP out of a proposed East Side housing development project unless it would retain Stenhouse’s services. Stenhouse’s insurance company reportedly paid $200,000 to settle nad get Stenhouse removed as a defendant. That leaves city officials still litigating while Stenhouse is free and clear—though he could still be subpoenaed to testify at trial. That Stenhouse’s insurer chose to dump the case at this stage for a hefty six-figure sum is indicative of a thought that the facts and law weren’t shaping up all that favorably. And instead of paying Stenhouse $80,000 for unwanted services, NRP itself got paid for enduring the insult.
• Also, a Buffalo News headline claimed that Brown, in a Friday court filing, “took the offensive” and “countersues.” The case docket with the federal District Court reveals that the defendants have filed no counterclaim. In fact, what was filed on Friday is a Federal Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss; in this instance, it was filed in lieu of a formal Answer to the Complaint, because the defendants argue that the plaintiff has no case. In the old days, it was called a “demurrer.” But no counterclaim or countersuit has been filed.
In its papers, the defendants say that the “pay to play” allegations are untrue because Stenhouse never made a contribution to the mayor. That’s true, as far as we know. However, the Jeremiah Partnership is a faith-based organization, and as such may be exempt or legally barred from making political contributions. However, NRP does not allege that Stenhouse or Jeremiah paid to play, but that they conspired with city officials to make NRP pay Jeremiah Partnership to secure a lucrative development contract.
Another defendant, Masten District Councilman Demone Smith, filed a similar motion on Friday. Much of what’s written in both motions comprises an assault on NRP’s reputation as a developer.
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