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Small Talk

McCarthyisms: I have been told that once there was a world in which journalists refrained from criticizing each other’s work publicly. I’m not sure I believe such a place ever existed; if it did, I’m glad it’s gone. In any case, I’d like to make it clear that I tease Bob McCarthy, the political reporter for the Buffalo News, because I love him. There is no higher compliment I can give a journalist than this: I read every word he writes.

This week, that practice yielded a bumper crop of incredulous consternation, which is, for me, what other people call joy.

First there was McCarthy’s front-page Sunday feature on the feud between developer Carl Paladino, a Republican, and Congressman Brian Higgins, a Democrat. The two are related by marriage, are popular figures in South Buffalo, and used to be friends. Having fallen out, they now express disapproval of one another. It’s a hard-feelings-on-the-playground story: One gets the sense that a few awkwardly thrown punches, a clinch-and-roll on the asphalt, some hot tears, and all will be well again. Who cares? Neither Higgins nor Paladino seriously suggest that their animosity has caused one to undermine the other’s livelihood. Higgins has not prevented Paladino from buying, constructing, and managing buildings and parking lots; Paladino has not interfered with Higgins’s job in Washington, DC. (In the article, McCarthy quotes Paladino floating an accusation that Higgins threatened to interfere with the renewal of a lease, but Paladino’s own friend, Larry Quinn, carefully dismisses the accusation, and the interference never actually occurred.) If McCarthy had revealed that their personal or political warfare had led to skullduggery that robbed the public of the good both men can do, that would be a real story. Instead, it’s soap-operatic fluff; a good read, to be sure, with characters folks like to read about, but insignificant. Not news. And not worth writing about here, except for this: McCarthy quotes Rus Thompson, an aide to Paladino during the developer’s campaign for governor, suggesting that Paladino blamed Higgins for leaking emails containing lurid pornography and racist jokes to Alan Bedenko and Chris Smith, bloggers then for and now writing for Artvoice. Bedenko, Smith, and made hay while the sun was shining. The campaign’s director, Michael Caputo, has said that the publication of the emails did Paladino’s campaign immense, possibly fatal damage.

McCarthy quotes Thompson saying that the campaign investigated the source of the leak. This leak, McCarthy types, “may have forever broken a friendship and transformed the pair into archenemies.”

Here’s the problem: McCarthy never bothered to ask Bedenko or Smith or anyone at who gave them the emails. Bedenko says he won’t give up his source but is happy to confirm that it was not Higgins or anyone in Higgins’s office. And why would it need to have been? Lots of people got those offensive emails; Paladino forwarded this garbage to a long list of people every week. I received some of those emails. (I was not Bedenko’s source, either.) When Bedenko and others challenged Thompson, online and via Twitter, about the claim that an investigation had found Higgins to be the culprit, Thompson backed off the claim.

Why, if this incident is supposed to be central to the feud he is describing, did McCarthy fail to call those who created the incident? That failure nagged at me on Tuesday, when I read McCarthy’s piece about that Hamlet in Buffalo’s mayoral politics, Bernie Tolbert, who used to run the FBI’s office here. Tolbert, a Democrat, has been behaving like a candidate for well over a year now, and there has been a steady whisper about his intentions, but he has never confirmed that he will challenage incumbent Byron Brown, nor has he formed a campaign committee to raise money for such a race. But on Tuesday, McCarthy wrote a piece that seemed to announce Tolbert’s candidacy—sort of. In fact, Tolbert remains noncommittal; he would not comment for McCarthy’s article. McCarthy’s entire piece hinges on one source, businessman Hormoz Mansouri, a big political donor, who tells McCarthy that Tolbert told him he was running, and allows that he might support Tolbert financially.

Mansouri often has good information, but I have never hung an entire story on the information he chooses to share. Nor would he expect me to do so; Mansouri has ever been straightforward with me when the information he gives promotes his interests. I don’t know his interest in Tolbert’s candidacy: Mansouri’s political activity often aligns with that of Steve Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic Committee chairman who is an ally to Brown. (Says one observer of local politics: “Hormoz has one political victory in his life: He funded Pigeon’s destruction of [then Erie County Legislator] Greg Olma with the smear campaign that was proved baseless.”) Maybe he’s just stirring the pot.

But back to McCarthy: Did the News’s political reporter really announce Tolbert’s candidacy based on a conversation with Mansouri, even as Tolbert demurred? Based on hearsay?

• Here’s one reason among many that Tolbert may be hesitant to run against Brown: If Tolbert, who is black, announces, then a white candidate—let’s say Buffalo’s new comptroller, Mark Schroeder of South Buffalo—might jump into the race, too, hoping that Tolbert and Brown will split the city’s powerful African-American vote. If that happens, Brown’s political machine might find another white candidate to try to peel away some of Schroeder’s support. In such choppy seas, Tolbert might rightly feel that he has little control of the campaign’s direction.

• On Tuesday, Buffalo’s Common Council adoted a resolution calling for a moratorium on demolitions of structures within the Michigan Avenue African-American Heritage Corridor; the moratorium will expire once the commission charged with developing and managing the corridor come up with a plan acceptable to state officials. (Or, if they fail to do so, after one year.) The moratorium seems like good planning—you can’t capitalize on historuc assets that you’ve bulldozed—but must be cold comfort to residents of McCarley Gardens, the moderate-income housing complex that is slated to be razed and used for expansion of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, pending approval from HUD. McCarley Gardens sits right on Michigan Avenue but outside the Michigan Avenue African-American Heritage Corridor. Across Michigan, to the south and north—all protected. McCarley Gardens—expendable.

Another fracking moratorium: On Wednesday, Assembly Speak Sheldon Silver threw his weight behind a proposal to place a moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing until May 2015. State Senator David Carlucci, a member of the influential Independent Democratic Conference, has proposed a similar moratorium, though Republicans may keep that bill from reaching the floor for a vote. Silver’s support for a moratorium is further evidence that fracking isn’t happening soon in New York State, even as the state health and conservation departments move toward concluding their studies of the practice.

• We get mail: Attorney Art Giacalone, who has fought his whole career to preserve the state’s endangered environmental regulations, copied us on a letter he sent another reporter about Ellicott Development’s proposal to develop a parcel in the Erie Basin Marina. We thought it worth sharing, in part, as it underlines Giacalone’s contention that politicians have long conspired with developers to ignore and undermine the review processes demanded by New York State Environmental Quality Review Act:

…Mayor Brown’s administration has out done itself so far with its handling of Mr. Paladino’s proposal to build “The Carlo” (the grandfather) at BURA’s waterfront site. Usually the Mayor waits for the developer to come to him with a proposal, and then the City’s comprehensive plan and SEQRA obligations are immediately tossed out the window. This time it sounds as if “The Carl” (the grandson) got chauffeured around town and shown possible locations for an oversized version of what had been proposed for the Webster Block site. One thing is consistent: As is par for the course, the adverse impacts on nearby residents (this time, the individuals living in the 600+ units at the Marine Drive apartments directly across the street from “Phase 1” of the Paladino proposal), as well as the resulting traffic nightmare that would result on and around Erie Street from a 574,298-sq.-ft. project, have been given no consideration.

Second, Paladino’s plans for “The Carlo” echo the proposal in 1988 by the Baltimore, MD developer, Paul Cordish, to construct “The Pavilion” mixed-use project on virtually the same piece of land…The late Millie Harrington was a Marine Drive resident and octogenarian who organized her fellow tenants in opposition to the “concrete curtain” that threatened to block the public’s view of and access to the water and small boat harbor. Thanks to Millie’s efforts and financial realities, The Pavilion was [obviously] never built. [Note: In 1988, the BURA had the decency to issue a Request for Proposals for the waterfront parcel. In sharp contrast, Mayor Brown and his allies/appointees at BURA don’t even feel the obligation to appear fair and open when offering prime real estate site to favored developers.]

Third, when the Mayor or any other government official says he/she is “fast-tracking economic development,” the following is sacrificed: open, transparent government; meaningful and objective environmental review; and, concern for the quality of life of nearby residents…

Thanks for the ink: Wednesday’s Buffalo News contained a pleasant, rare, and probably completely inadvertent nod to Artvoice: The paper’s featured editorial praises a proposal to extend the Metro Rail to connect to a proposed new parking garage, partly in service to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which is hard-pressed to find space for parking for all the employees it hopes to attract in the years to come. The photograph that accompanies the editorial shows a Metro Rail train heading south toward the Inner Harbor; in the background is an ancient Artvoice billboard, featuring former Buffalo Bills placekicker Steve Christie, on the ise of the former AM&A’s building. It’s so rare that the News acknowledges our existence in print, for good or for bad, that even such a fleeting reference warms our hearts.

Of course, in this Thursday’s Buffalo News, there is a more oblique yet more substantial reference to Artvoice. Starting this week, the News’s weekly arts and entertainment supplement, Gusto, will appear with Thursday’s edition rather than Friday’s. We can’t help that’s an affirmation, grudging and slow to arrive, that we’ve been doing the smart thing for the past 23 years.

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