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2012: The Year in Review


A new majority asserts itself on Buffalo’s Common Council, led by Lovejoy’s Rich Fontana and Masten’s Demone Smith, who are elected president and majority leader, respectively. The outgoing council president, Fillmore’s Dave Franczyk, said that he hoped Fontana would exhibit “the right character to animate that seat,” to exercise its powers as a check and balance to the executive branch. He quoted James Madison’s assertion from the Federalist papers that every branch of government must exhibit a will of its own. Franczyk hoped that Fontana would reach “deep into a well of integrity that I only hope is there. I don’t see any evidence of it, but I hope it’s there.”

• The executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus begins showing some activists in the preservation community a plan for the future of the site currently occupied by the mammoth, abandoned Trico Plant #1, a structure listed on the national and state historic registers. According to the plan Matt Enstice shows them, all but the original structure that was part of the Christian Weyand Brewery—the building that John Oishei bought for his new factory and then built around—would be demolished. That building would be refurbished, perhaps as loft apartments modeled on the Artspace development a few blocks north on Main Street. Half the site, bordering Washington Street, would become temporary surface parking, pending a development plan and money to implement it. The entire site, he says, would eventually be built up, along with every other developable site on the campus.

• The public comment period on the state’s proposed scheme for permitting fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale expires. The New York chapter of Common Cause, a national lobbying organization, releases a report called “Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets,” which analyzes campaign contributions by fracking advocates to New York State political parties, PACs, and elected officials. The authors found that between January 2007 and October 2011, drilling advocates made 2,349 donations to politicians and parties, totaling $1,340,246.58.


Occupy Buffalo is evicted from Niagara Square by city police, after a four-month stay. Later in the month, a traveling delegation from Occupy Wall Street meets with members of Occupy Buffalo to share stories, discuss the movement’s future, and chart strategies. About 60 people attend the meeting at the Vault on Main Street.

• AV columnist Mike Niman accuses Ron Paul supporters of being “racist dopes,” prompting a flurry of online, snail mail, and telephone responses. A cook at a restaurant in Fredonia takes it upon himself to ban the newspaper on premises. He fails. Later, he’s fired.

• State Senator Mark Grisanti, a supporter of a bill that would legalize mixed martial arts fights in New York State, demonstrates some mixed martial arts of his own at the Seneca Niagara Casino.

• Buffalo loses a marvelous entertainer, a dedicated gay rights activist, and a powerful link to its gay history when Danny Winter, a.k.a. Vicky Vogue, passes away at age 77.

• The Democratic majority in the Erie County Legislature makes David Shenk, clerk for the Town of Boston, the Erie County comptroller, filling the vacancy left by Mark Poloncarz, the new county executive.

Jim Heaney, formerly of the Buffalo News, launches his nonprofit investigative reporting center, Investigative Post, with an AV cover story analyzing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s promise to pump $1 billion into reviving Western New York’s economy over 10 years.


• Buffalo-born artist Sarah Baker’s soap opera pastiche, Our Time—shot entrely in Western New York, using local talent—opens at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center to a massive, appreciative crowd.

• South District Common Councilman Mickey Kearns, running as a Republican with the support of developer Carl Paladino, trounces Democrat Chris Fahey, an aide to Congressman Brian Higgins, in a special election to fill the Assembly seat left vacant by Mark Schroeder, Buffalo’s new comptroller.

• Developer Rocco Termini says that Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus executive director Matt Enstice told him that BNMC would sell the Trico building for $1 to anyone who thought they could come up with a feasible plan to reuse it. “I’m here tonight to tell you that I’m going to call his bluff,” Termini says to the 50 people who attend a meeting about the future of the Trico building at Promised Land Baptist Church, a crowd that included Common Council members Darius Pridgen and Dave Franczyk. He reaches into his pocket and produces a bill. “I have a dollar in my pocket.


• “You know about the War of 1812,” Tim Tielman tells a preservation-minded crowd at D’Youville’s Kavinoky Theater. “Well, I’m here to announce the War of 2012,” he says, predicting augmented efforts in months to come in opposition to expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza, which would involve demolition of a number of homes and other buildings on Busti Avenue, including two locally landmarked structures. At the end of the year, the demolitions remain stayed by court order pending resolution of a lawsuit.

• AV contributing editor Buck Quigley detects a disturbance in the force: On April 5, he breaks the story of the creation of the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute, co-directed by drilling industry shills John Martin and Robert Jacobi. Intense and embarrassing scrutiny of the institute, its directors, and UB follow. By the end of the year, UP President Satish Tripathi has shut down the institute.

Buffalo’s Common Council debates the merits of a very early and extremely hypothetical proposal that will resurface later in the fall: building a new downtown stadium when the Bills’ Orchard Park lease expires. AV columnist Bruce Fisher’s prescription: Stop subsidizing the NFL and start embracing collegiate athletics at UB.

• CNN’s Anderson Cooper disses Dyngus Day. There is much handwringing.


• The Common Council once again punts on filling the vacant South District seat, when Common Council President Rich Fontana reopens the process, soliciting a second round of resumes for the position. This, although there is already in the offing a candidate with a solid resume and the endorsement of the South Buffalo Democratic committee: Matt Fisher, who worked as an aide to the departed councilman, Mickey Kearns. Why? Because the majority wants an ally, a sixth vote, and Fisher won’t be that. Our take at the time: “This has sunk far below quotidian pettiness and become hugely embarrassing. It continues to astonish that a legislative body comprised of basically decent and reasonably intelligent people can bring so much shame onto itself.”

In fact, it gets worse: Before the month is out, Fisher withdraws his candidacy and accepts a job with another candidate for the seat—bar manager Chris Scanlon, son of South Buffalo political apparatchik John “Scanoots” Scanlon—whom the majority then quickly votes into office.

• Buffalo cop Robert Quintana, the former Niagara District councilman, once hounded by former AV columnist Dick Kern for hiring friends and family members, is arraigned in federal court for abusing sick leave.

• The City of Lackawanna obtains a court order that forces the owner of the historic administrative headquarters of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation to tear it down as part of an emergency demolition. Demolition is delayed because the $500,000 in Restore NY funds the city and the building’s owner planned to use is not available until they first conduct a building reuse study. At the end of the year, the building is still standing and the fight to preserve it continues.


• More than 700 people turn out for “A People’s Hearing on Fracking” at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, to listen to academics, artists, activists, and business people discuss the impact of permitting hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York’s Marcellus Shale.

Betty Jean Grant, chair of the Erie County Legislature, announces her intention to run a primary challenge to State Senator Tim Kennedy, a fellow Democrat. Come September, she very nearly beats him.

Brian Mysliwy takes home the Artie Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his astonishing, carrot-spewing, improvisational performance in the Irish Classical Theatre production of La Bête. Kristen Tripp Kelley wins Outstanding Actress for her performance in the Kavinoky’s Time Stands Still.

• Buffalo businessman and former ambassador to Malta Anthony Gioia hosts a $10,000-per-head fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The event follows a commuter-class ($2,500 per person) cocktail reception at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.


• The second annual echo: Art Fair takes place at Larkin Center of Commerce.

• The Erie County District Attorney’s office, so shy of resources that it routinely refuses to pursue election law violations, returns to court to prosecute Nate Buckley, the antiwar protester who was pepper-sprayed by NFTA police after they’d restrained him during a demonstration on Main Street in April 2011. Buckley’s trial began in June, then ended abruptly when a juror passed a note to Judge Joseph Fiorella, asking for the judge’s help on an unrelated DWI case. Fiorella declared a mistrial. You can read about the resolution of Buckley’s second trial on page 4.

• Up is down, black is white, the lions lay with the lambs: Two oft-warring Democratic factions—the one led by Mayor Byron Brown and chief political officer, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and the one formerly led by Sam Hoyt and now led by Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Hoyt’s successor—reach a truce. In recent years the two camps have hammered away at each other at the committee level, fighting for control of the party apparatus in the City of Buffalo, usually resulting in little net change. Not this year.


• As the Lewiston Road repaving/environmental remediation project continues to disintegrate into a quagmire of lawsuits and public squabbling, AV indulges in a smug we-told-you-so moment, having predicted four years earlier that radioactive waste in the roadbed would complicate the matter.

• “Byron Brown, do the right thing. One time, do the right thing,” says Timothy Johnson, a so-called “seasonal” sanitation worker for the City of Buffalo who works the same schedule as “permanent” worker but for less pay and no benefits. “There are people who have dedicated their blood, sweat, and tears to keep this city clean and yet you deny them an opportunity to provide for their families.”

• Favorite AV headline of the year, for an interview with Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles, apropos his moonlighting as a drummer in not one but two rock bands: “For Whom the Cowbell, Toles?


• The Burchfield Penney Art Center opens the first retrospective exhibit of the work of Buffalo native Spain Rodriguez, the underground comix legend and former Road Vulture. Just in time, too: In December, Rodriguez dies, after a long fight with cancer. He is still working on new projects, right up to his death.

• The Buffalo International Film Festival marks its sixth year.


• In an interview with AV columnist Bruce Fisher, Buffalo State College history professor Albie Michaels, a conservative from an old and prosperous and distinguished Buffalo family, issues this warning: “The middle class is under attack right across the board. The plutocracy wants to create a situation where they keep their wealth and keep everybody unprotected and terrified of losing their job at their whim. To do that they have to smash both the public and the private-sector unions. People had better wake up to that. What they have been successful in doing is undermining the unions to such an extent that many people feel they have no stake in the survival of the unions. If you can turn a person against a school teacher or against a General Motors worker or a government bureaucrat, instead of where their anger should be directed, the crooked banker, the real-estate developer, the lobbyist, you’ve won a big victory. As long as the new elites can turn the justified anger of the angst-ridden American middle class against the public sector and divert them from those who are really causing the trouble, they can maintain the system indefinitely.”

Mike Watt plays his bass at Mohawk Place, the venerable live music venue that, by year’s end, announces that it is closing its doors.


• Brother Augustine Towey, C. M., a titan of Western New York theater and an inspiration to generations of Niagara University students, dies on Thanksgiving Day, after a long illness. In the same week, the theater community loses Carl Kowalkowski, an uncommonly talented character, to a heart attack.

HSBC confirms that it will vacate the downtown tower that (currently) bears its name; the bank’s departure follows those of the law firm Phillips Lytle and the Canadian consulate, leaving the city’s tallest building without its three biggest tenants.


• Governor Andrew Cuomo comes to town to announce his intention to spend $50 million on a biomedical facility and equipment to accommodate an expansion of Albany Molecular Research, Inc. to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. This prompts Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney to return to the subject of Cuomo’s billion-dollar promise to Buffalo. His take: “There’s a lot to like about the blueprint for spending $1 billion in state aid to revitalize the Western New York economy that was released Tuesday. I’d feel better about the plan’s prospects, however, if Governor Andrew Cuomo hadn’t used its release to announce a heavily subsidized deal to bring 250 jobs here that smacks of the business-as-usual, smokestack-chasing approach that has failed us in the past.”

Louis Grachos, the departing director of the Albright-Knox, offers this observation about the place of the gallery, and arts generally, in the region’s identity: “In the end, we don’t want to define ourselves as a blue-collar, Rust Belt city that likes hockey and football. It’s got to be about a bigger aspiration of who we are as a city.”

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