by Bruce Jackson
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown tells everybody that a tax-exempt gambling joint in downtown Buffalo is inevitable, so the only thing people around here can do is work really hard to make it as pretty as possible so it will make as much money as possible so Buffalo’s cut of the slot machine drop will be as large as possible.
That is to say, Byron Brown says we are going to get fucked so at least let’s try to get paid for it so we can claim we’re professionals rather than victims.
There are, however, other alternatives.
Where the Common Council stands,
or sits, or hides
In the Common Council, Brown’s position is endorsed without question or apparent thought by Bryan Davis (Ellicott). Dominic Bonifacio, Jr. (Niagara), seems to have doubts about the end result, but he also seems convinced of the casino’s inevitability. Council President David A. Franczyk (Fillmore, where the casino would go up) says he has an open mind, but he is generally regarded as businessman Carl Paladino’s man on this issue, hence a casino supporter. Richard Fontana (Lovejoy) seems to be solidly pro-casino too, either because he buys the done deal line or because of his close ties with Franczyk.
Michael Kearns (South) and Michael LoCurto (Delaware) are both strongly opposed to the casino plan. They see it as poison for Buffalo’s economy, even if the city’s share of the slot drop is sweetened, as was recently proposed by Congressman Brian Higgins. Neither do they think it inevitable: They point to the lawsuits against various city, state and federal agencies and officials pending in state and federal court, and the city’s own very real power.
The other councilmembers might finally go either way. Antoine Thompson (Masten), for example, is heavily indebted to Byron Brown, for whom he used to work and whose former seat on the council he now occupies, but Thompson is running in the Democratic primary for a state senate seat in a district that is largely anti-casino. Will he pay his debts to Brown and perhaps ensure a loss in November or will he strike out on his own? He has missed the last two council meetings at which important casino issues came up, perhaps deliberately. He can’t keep that up much longer. When the vote comes in September on the proposed sale of Fulton Street, we’ll learn where Joseph Golombek Jr. (North), Bonnie Russell (University), and all of them really stand.
Buffalo developer Carl Paladino remains a busy player in all of this. Paladino sold the Seneca Gaming Corporation most of the property it hopes to use for the Buffalo Creek Casino. Presumably he’s been paid, but he continues to attack people who oppose the casino. Why? What dog does he still have in that fight? Is he hoping to sell them more land once construction begins? Does he have to give the money back if the project falls through? I haven’t found anyone who thinks his continued advocacy rests in mere belief that a casino would do wonders for the city.
He has been involved in this project since before it officially began and he remains the only Buffalo businessman of any substance to advocate it. He largely underwrote the campaign that drove former Council President James Pitts from office and also abolished two at-large council seats. Pitts was independent in a way Franczyk will never be, which was the reason for the campaign. If Pitts were still council president, the council would now be asking questions rather than mostly rolling over or ducking for cover.
How the City of Buffalo can block the casino
The City of Buffalo doesn’t have to wait for the lawsuits to be resolved to stop this idiocy. It can just say no. Here’s how:
1. Don’t sell the Seneca Gaming Corporation the two blocks of Fulton Street it is trying to buy. (SGC owns two square blocks between the Perry Street projects and the Cobblestone district. The two blocks of Fulton Street bisects their property. SGC says ownership of that city property will let them build a bigger and better casino/bar/restaurant/shopping/hotel facility; opponents say a bigger facility would merely let them do greater damage to the city. The City of Buffalo is under no obligation to sell Fulton Street and it shouldn’t do it.)
2. Don’t let any city streets or other property be converted to access roads making it easier to get to and away from the casino.
3. Don’t put up any traffic lights helping the casino manage traffic.
4. Don’t permit the casino operators to put any bridges over any city streets.
5. Don’t relocate anyone living in public housing for the convenience of the casino operators.
6. Don’t expand any city-controlled utilities for the convenience of the casino operators.
7. Don’t permit any cuts in any city curbstones or sidewalks bordering the casino property.
8. Put parking meters on all streets bordering the casino property and tell the police to enforce parking regulations on those streets with the same vigor and enthusiasm they’ve been enforcing parking regulations on the rest of Buffalo’s streets.
9. Let SGC know that Buffalo police will set up and run 24/7 Breathalyzers on the casino’s access points, should a casino ever be built.
I’m sure there are many more places the City of Buffalo can say no to the casino developers. The members of the Common Council and the mayor will know about them because for any change in anything the developers will have to come to the city for easements. The city is under no obligation to give those easements.
We’ve done it before
The very bad twin span plan for Peace Bridge expansion was stopped cold when Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello refused to issue the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority the easements it needed to begin construction. The authority sued to force Mayor Masiello to sign the easements, but the court sided with him, saying he didn’t have to sign anything he didn’t think it was right for him to sign. So he didn’t sign, and they couldn’t begin construction of a project that would have been ugly and unhealthy. Then Judge Eugene Fahey told them they couldn’t do anything until they did a full environmental impact study and that was when sanity and responsibility reentered the conversation and that potential public works disaster was avoided.
The mayor and Common Council could do exactly the same thing, with exactly the same effect, this time. They can make everything hugely difficult and uncomfortable for the Seneca Gaming Corporation. Nothing in the compact signed by Governor Pataki and the Seneca Nation forces the City of Buffalo to commit suicide.
What would the Seneca Gaming
An SGC spokesman said a while back that if the city were uncooperative, they’d just build something ugly and would put a few slot machines in it and run them. It would be, basically, a continuing “Screw you, Buffalo,” for all to see.
So what? Let them. Who’s going to look like a sulky sore loser if they do that? Who would be laughed at by everybody in the casino industry? Who would be calling attention to a debacle they’d rather forget? Whose customers would be getting Breathalyzer tests from Buffalo’s finest?
No, that’s not going to happen. If the City of Buffalo stands up and protects itself, the SGC will leave Buffalo alone and count the profits from the two casinos it did get to build. They’ll be better off and so will we.
Bruce Jackson is vice president of Citizens for a Better Buffalo (http://betterbuffalo.com) and editor of the Web journal BuffaloReport.com. He is also SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at UB.
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Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v5n30: In the Center Ring (7/27/06) > The News, Briefly > Casino Chronicles
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