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Dancing With Paladino
by Bruce Jackson
Carl Paladino, one of the most powerful businessmen in the Buffalo area, strongly opposed the deal Mayor Byron Brown cut with the Seneca gambling interests for the sale of Fulton Street, but he couldn’t get Mayor Brown to listen to him, nor could he get one of the six members of the Common Council backing it to give the opposition the single vote it needed to block the deal.
In that, he wasn’t alone: Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano met with Brown several times and telephoned Council members and they brushed him off, too. Just about every businessman of substance in town is against this sale and the casino itself, as is most of the city’s population—even after a hugely expensive, month-long disinformation media campaign on all local channels and nearly all local radio stations by the Seneca gambling interests. The mayor and the Common Council ignored them too.
Why did Byron Brown enter that toothless agreement and why did six members of the Common Council help him do it? Paladino says he has a suspicion, but he won’t say what it is until he has more evidence. He was, however, happy to give his opinions of the agreement itself, of Mayor Brown, of me, and a great deal more, as you will see below.
I’d never met Paladino before he came into the Artvoice office about 6:10pm last Thursday. When we were introduced, I put forth my hand, as people in our culture do when being introduced. He turned away and wouldn’t look at me for the five or six minutes it took for the video and audio recorders to be set up. When the machines were rolling, I asked him about that curious behavior. He said it was because I wasn’t a gentleman. Twenty-nine minutes later, when we turned the recorders off, he turned away again and said not another word to me. By that time he and I were in perfect accord about one another in, I suspect, all essential regards.
When he asked Artvoice publisher Jamie Moses to set up this interview, Paladino set only one precondition: that neither the Artvoice editors nor I would edit anything he said. We haven’t. What you read after these introductory comments is as fair a transcript as we could manage of what he and I said to one another. Nothing has been deleted. Other than a few bracketed notes for clarification, we added nothing, not even the subheads we ordinarily insert in longer articles to make navigation easier for the reader.
Paladino is very angry about things I’d written about him and said several times that I should have called him up and talked to him about those things. I asked him, “Do you want to dance with me or do an interview?” He replied, “I think we’re going to dance.” And so we did, though it was more like dancing in a mosh pit than any dance floor I’ve ever been on.
Telling and performing the truth
Did Carl Paladino tell me the truth when we danced for the Artvoice audio and video recorders? Beats me. I can only tell you what he said.
The great journalist I.F. Stone never interviewed political figures, because, he said, they all lied to him or to themselves, which for his purposes came to the same thing. He preferred documents, paper trails and the things people did to the things they said. Stone was far more concerned with events than persons.
The great documentary filmmaker Emile De Antonio, who was very much interested in persons, said that the most important thing in understanding politicians and other public figures was letting them talk long enough to reveal themselves. It wasn’t questions and answers or newsbites that got at their essence, De Antonio said, but just them saying what they wanted to say for as long as they wanted to say it: When people expose themselves long enough, they’ll tell you what you really need to know. His favorite TV channel, he said, was C-SPAN, the only channel that lets you see and hear everything somebody said at a certain time and place rather than the three or four or seven seconds that fit a news slot.
I don’t think those are contradictory or mutually exclusive positions. Certainly you learn facts listening to public figures at length, and even lies and self-delusions are facts. Not the same kind of facts as how much money changed hands on what date, but facts.
And when statements by persons involved in an event conflict in significant ways with one another, you get another kind of fact. For example, Buffalo attorney Michael Powers (who brokered the Brown-Seneca Fulton Street deal) told me (through an email from his assistant) a week ago that Powers told her to tell me that all of his work on the Buffalo casino has been pro bono; Powers had told the Common Council that the lawsuit to prevent the Cheektowaga location was his idea. But Carl Paladino says he paid Powers “seventy or eighty thousand dollars” for his work keeping the casino out of Cheektowaga, and that he and former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello sought Powers out for the Cheektowaga work. All those statements cannot be true. What do we make of that? I don’t know. Yet.
Carl Paladino insists that his opposition to the Fulton Street sale represents no change in his position on the casino, that he has never changed his position on the casino.
What he objects to is what he says is a lousy deal Byron Brown cut in the sale of that street. If, Paladino says, Brown hadn’t ignored the good work Paladino and Masiello had done and the useful advice they might have provided, then the Senecas would have been forced to build a stripped-down casino (slots, tables, minimal food service, nothing more) that wouldn’t compete with local entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and hotels, and would draw back to Buffalo all the money Buffalonians now leave in Canadian gambling joints.
I don’t buy a word of that, but I believe that Carl Paladino believes it all. I tried to get at how and why he believed it, but Paladino didn’t explain or analyze; he asserted and yelled. Perhaps with other people he explains and analyzes; with me he just asserted and yelled, which is why we talked for only 29 minutes rather than the much longer period this complex subject deserved.
If what he says about his direct money involvement is true—that all he’s made or tried to make out of this is the $47,000 he got for his share of the downtown site—then I was wrong if and when I said or implied he was in this just for the money and I most sincerely apologize for having said or implied that he was. I just couldn’t figure out how a guy I thought was as smart as I’d thought he was could have backed this stupid project if he wasn’t getting something out of it.
I still can’t. I listened to him for most of that 29-minute encounter, and his position makes no more sense to me than back when we’d never talked to one another at all.
Perhaps he really does believe that casino jobs come free, with no cost in jobs already in place (no one that I know of, other than Byron Brown and the Common Council, who has looked at this agrees with him), and that a downtown casino with no amenities other than a lunch counter would draw tourists into the city (no one I’ve met or read goes for that one either). Perhaps he really does believe that had it not been for Byron Brown’s incompetence the Senecas would never have gotten beyond the bare-bones casino he says he and Tony Masiello had in mind (even though all of the Senecas’ public presentations and filings have shown and said exactly the opposite). Perhaps he believes his and Masiello’s conversations with the Senecas to build a stripped-down casino amounted to something more than backroom talk (where’s the signed agreement that gives Buffalo any more protection than the one-sided disaster Michael Powers got Byron Brown to sign?).
At the beginning and near the end of our conversation, he has at me because I never contacted him to ask him any questions. He is not entirely right. Last August I wrote him, saying that what he was doing and saying didn’t make sense and I asked him to explain it so I could get it right in these Artvoice articles. That resulted in an email tirade (which you can read online: “Paladino Writes: Epistle to Bruce Jackson” http://artvoice.com/issues/v5n33/paladino_writes_epistle_to_bruce_jackson). That’s the exchange to which I’m referring when I ask him, “Were you drunk when you wrote me that email?”
I hadn’t met him when we had that email exchange, which is why I asked him that sobriety question in our meeting. Now that I have met him, I believe that he could indeed have been sober when he wrote it. The tone of it is very much like the tone of the comments at the end of our encounter transcribed below.
Interviewing and dancing
I’ve always tried to avoid front- or back-loading the interviews I’ve done for Artvoice with my opinions on what the interviewee had to say. My position has been, “In other articles in this journal I’ve written about what I think is going on; today it’s your turn.” I don’t do “gotcha” journalism.
But, as I noted above, Carl Paladino and I didn’t do an interview, we danced in a mosh pit. There was virtually no give and take, no think and consider. I’m glad we did it; I think it’s an important contribution to the conversation on this civic disaster, but I’m embarrassed about the character and tone of it. I think both of us could and should have done better. As a social analyst, I don’t think I should become the subject of any of these articles, and as a key participant, I think Carl Paladino has a great deal more to say than he says here. Because of our history and anger, we both missed an opportunity to explore in depth a political and economic blunder that disturbs us both, though for very different reasons.
The bottom line
Based on our brief encounter, and conversations with several friends we share, I think Carl Paladino is someone who really has at heart a concern for the city. I also think he is bullheaded and arrogant, and cares little for information that is not part of a project in which he is risking his own money. People who know him well said to me, “Carl won’t lie to you. He’ll say what he thinks. And he won’t care what you think.” I think they were right, in all regards. He says what he thinks. But not all of it: Sometimes he evades and minimizes. He doesn’t, however, make things up.
So what? Does it matter that he doesn’t make things up, that he just says what he thinks and knows, more or less?
If Carl Paladino were merely someone had strong opinions about the casino, the answer would be “No, it doesn’t matter.” But he has been a powerful influence. More than any other businessman I know, Carl Paladino has been responsible for the current situation of the city and the Seneca gambling operation. He was involved in key conversations, as he admits in this interview, before Pataki’s compact was forged and while it was being shaped. He was instrumental in forcing Buffalo Place to provide an early, unconsidered endorsement of that compact. He was instrumental in shaping Buffalo’s relations with the Seneca Nation of Indians right up to the day Byron Brown took office. He was instrumental in shaping the structure of Buffalo’s current Common Council, the one that has consistently rolled over for the gambling interests. He has appeared regularly at public forums, arguing his case. The opinions he had six years ago were right to him then, they are right to him now, and someone who disagrees with him, like me, is, in his words, an “asshole.”
And what is Carl Paladino? Read what he said and decide for yourself.
BJ: Jamie Moses told me you wanted this interview. Why?
CP: I don’t think I necessarily needed it for any personal satisfaction, other than to look you in the eye and ask you why you’ve been making assumptions about me all these years without ever asking me.
BJ: Well, I’m asking you now.
CP: That doesn’t repair the last few years and all the bad things you’ve said about me, does it?
BJ: Do you want to dance with me tonight or do you want to do an interview about the casino?
CP: Well, I think you and I are gonna probably dance.
BJ: Okay. What have I said about you that you consider unfair or untrue?
CP: Did you ever give me an opportunity to respond to any of the nonsense that you’ve printed?
BJ: You knew where to find me.
CP: Why do I have to come looking for you?
BJ: Why do I have to come looking for you when I’m describing your behavior?
CP: You are insignificant to me.
BJ: I’m insignificant to you?
CP: That’s what I don’t come chasing you, yes.
BJ: Is that why you refused to shake my hand?
CP: Yeah. Because I don’t think you’re a gentleman. A gentleman would come and ask somebody what their opinion was on certain things and ask for the truth or falsity about statements that are made about me.
BJ: Well, I’m asking you know.
CP: All right, go ahead and ask me.
BJ: You’ve changed your opinion on the casino, it appears.
CP: Never. No. Same opinion I’ve always had.
BJ: Well, what was that big show in Common Council the other night?
CP: That show was meant to get through the clutter of whether or not we should have a casino and get to the real issue of whether we were protecting our downtown tax base. It isn’t a black-and-white issue.
The casino I am in favor of, but it’s how we go about allowing the casino to come onto our turf. If we allow the casino to come onto our turf similar to what it did in Niagara Falls, it will be destructive to our tax base. All I heard out of all those people all night there was that there’s no economic spinoff for the rest of the community, it’s all downside. Well, that’s all there’s going to be now that they’ve passed it, now that the people who should have been supporting a better effort to define and water down what their future activities might be—those people were driven to go for the ultimate of not having a casino, and that was wrong. It was wrong to lead them in that direction because it was a fait accompli. It was going to happen. The politicians wanted it to happen. We could have had a much—
BJ: We’re victims to the politicians? We don’t do anything, you just roll over on your back and say “Do it to me”?
CP: No, we’re sort of stuck now. They sort of gave up the last bargaining chip that they had. The bargaining chip was Fulton Street and they should never have given it up.
BJ: That’s not true. You’re a construction guy; you know they need easements, they need connections. There’s all sorts of ways the city could make their life extremely difficult.
CP: That agreement tells them the city is going to give them water service…
BJ: That’s right.
CP:…going to give them sewer service. They gave up all their bargaining chips when they gave up Fulton Street.
BJ: Okay, it wasn’t just one bargaining chip, as they said, it was a whole lot of bargaining chips.
CP: They just gave them up.
BY: They just did give them up, that’s right.
CP: And it was poorly negotiated by people who didn’t know how to negotiate. Even this Corporation Counsel, she didn’t know how to negotiate it. Because they never consulted with anybody who had entered into the prior negotiations. Masiello, myself and Mike Risman [Corporation Counsel in the Masiello administration] had negotiated with the Indians, okay, way back. We had firm, solid commitments from them that a casino would be a stand-alone, without any competition to our hospitality industry. Those were solid commitments.
BJ: Solid got pretty soft pretty fast.
CP: Well, it did because this idiot administration never went and asked us what was the present status of the negotiations.
BJ: What was the deal you cut with the Indians? Tell me what your involvement in this has been.
CP: My involvement in it is very open and honest.
BJ: Where did it start?
CP: My involvement is—
BJ: Where’d it start?
CP: Where’d it start? It started with Masiello calling me up and saying, “Can you help me figure out this casino thing?”
BJ: When was that?
CP: Back when the casino was first proposed.
BJ: Is that before the governor announced it in Niagara Falls or after?
CP: It was before.
BJ: How long before?
CP: I don’t remember exactly.
BJ: Did you guys have anything to do in conversations with the governor before the compact was finished?
CP: We told the governor that we found the three percent that was being offered by the state to the local government was totally unacceptable, and we carved out with him an agreement that said a minimum of 25 percent—minimum of 25 percent—would be the agreed amount. We forced that to happen. We also told the governor that we were supporting the compact only with the understanding that it was a stand-alone casino—no competition to the hospitality industry.
BJ: Why isn’t that in the compact?
CP: You tell me.
BJ: I’m asking you. You were involved, I wasn’t. I’ve—
CP: I had nothing to do with the compact.
BJ: [You said] I’ve been on “the public tit” all these years, remember?
CP: You have been.
CP: How many hours a week do you teach?
BJ: Forty-five. How many hours do you work?
CP: Do you teach for 45? How many hours in the classroom?
BJ: In the classroom? Six.
CP: You teach six credits, six hours a week.
BJ: So what?
CP: Not so bad.
BJ: No, but that’s only one part of my job. How many hours a week do I spend reading Ph.D. theses, meeting with students, going to meetings, dealing with public issues with people like you?
CP: You have too much time on your hands to go slandering people.
CP: You’ve slandered me for years. Yes, Mr. Jackson.
BJ: No, I’ve said things about you for years.
CP: You’ve slandered me.
BJ: What slander? You’ve got lawyers. You’ve got Michael Powers—Michael Powers, who made such a grand opening statement the other night. Is that true, everything he said?
CP: I wasn’t there for it, I don’t know.
BJ: You were there for it, I saw you standing in the back of the room.
CP: I did not…I was not there for Michael Powers’ statement.
BJ: Did you come in late?
CP: I came in late.
BJ: I’m sorry. You missed an interesting public statement. We’ll play it for you or you can read it.
How could you possibly have thought that this was going to be a stand-alone casino when every single depiction of it that they have presented since they’ve gone public with it has shown a tall hotel, has shown restaurants, has talked about bars, when their 10K—let me finish the question then you can tell me why I’m wrong—their 10K filings—you know, you’re a businessman, I assume you look at documents like that—all of their 10K filings say hotel, shops, entertainment venues. Why could you possibly think that this was going to be just slot machines, crap tables and a lunch counter?
CP: I expected that the city was going to protect its tax base in the negotiation. I sent letters to the city, to Mr. Tobe, advising him of the history of the negotiations when I found out they were negotiating again. And I advised him and warned him not to let them go too far, and that he had to protect our tax base. They abrogated that; they didn’t do it.
BJ: You can’t blame Rich Tobe for this. Your buddy Tony Masiello was mayor when all of this was done.
CP: I’m talking about back three months ago when they started negotiating for the actual location agreement.
BJ: Three months ago was when they were driving away on the honeymoon. We’re talking about the engagement, when Masiello—
CP: We negotiated. It was negotiated then. Masiello had Mike Risman and Jimerson had Cy Schindler [former chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corporation] put together an agreement. The agreement was almost in final form when Masiello left office. Excuse me, when Schindler left office. Schindler’s successors came in. Anderson came in first and then Snyder, and they abrogated and denied the representations and promises that had been made by Schindler. We said, “You’re just gonna have to do it, fellas, or we’re gonna put a toll booth up, we’re not going to hook you up to our sewer, we’re not going to hook you up to our water,” right? And Schindler will stand behind the promises that he made; he’ll say it publicly. And Masiello will say it.
The Indians abrogated it. Then they tried to go to Cheektowaga. We sued to bring them back to Buffalo where they belonged, where the promises were made. And we expected then that this administration was going to negotiate a compact along the lines of what we had agreed to. And they didn’t do it. Not a compact, but an operating agreement or whatever you want to call this agreement. And it wasn’t done. It wasn’t done properly, and that’s why I stood up in the Council, and I said it.
I had previously warned them, three months ago. I warned them. I warned them again when I saw the first draft of that agreement. It was terrible. The agreement was devoid of any reference to protecting our tax base. And that was wrong. I watched what they did in Niagara Falls. We had studied the New Orleans experience. We knew from the New Orleans experience that they were smart people: They didn’t allow Harrah’s to do anything more than a stand-alone casino, and that was one of the first cases nationally of an urban-based casino other than Las Vegas and Atlantic City. They had learned the lessons of Atlantic City, and they had said, “You’re not going to do that to us here.” And in the same respect, we pointed that out. And our weak leadership over here let it go.
BJ: Carl, come on: Byron’s only been in office a short time. It was Tony who—
CP: It wasn’t Tony Masiello.
BJ: I mean, Tony’s been totally silent on all this.
CP: It’s a fact that Tony Masiello, Mike Risman and I negotiated what I just described to you.
BJ: Where is it? Where is this contract? Where is this deal? Where is the signed document committing them to any of this?
CP: There was no signed document because the Indians tried to get away from it. All we had to do was use our bargaining chips at the table. Byron Brown didn’t use them. He sent Steve Casey, and the girl—I can’t think of her name—from the Corporation Counsel’s office…
BJ: Alisa [Lukasiewicz].
CP: …and they never bothered calling Risman, Masiello or myself to ask about the history of the negotiations. Not one phone call, despite letters from me. A letter just as Byron entered office, to Byron, warning him about this issue. And subsequent letters I wrote to Tobe because I thought he was part of the committee. And he was part of the committee for a long time, and then when they recognized that he was anti-casino, they threw him off of the committee.
BJ: Tobe’s anti-casino?
CP: He’s anti-casino.
BJ: How do you know?
CP: I know. I asked him.
BJ: You say you asked him?
BJ: I didn’t know that. I’ve never talked to him about it. They threw him off the committee. They threw the city’s planning director off the planning committee?
CP: Yeah, off the negotiating team.
BJ: And that’s why they got such a great negotiating contract?
CP: Then they had Steve Casey—Mr. Process himself—and the girl, and they had no history, no knowledge, okay? God knows who they had in the room with them.
BJ: The only thing you and I agree about, other than some opinions of each other, is that that contract is a piece of shit. It’s a disaster in every regard. I agree with you about that.
What I just can’t believe is that for all these years, since 2001 when you first started hyping this publicly, since 2001 it has never occurred to you that we have no control of the Indians. That they can do whatever they damn please once they get in there.
CP: Well, you’ve got me all wrong, Mr. Jackson. You got me all wrong in the first instance, okay, of being in favor of Indian casinos, because I never was. I accepted the reality that this governor had worked out a deal with the Senecas, and I accepted that as the reality and then tried to do something about it and make sure that the casino, from the perspective of this community, was a proper casino.
I didn’t make that deal. Yes, I believed that we should have some of the upside instead of having all of the downside of casinos. But I wanted a state-owned casino just like they have in Ontario. I wanted a state-owned casino where the profits would go to the social welfare programs and support our local social welfare programs. I saw no reason for hundreds of millions of dollars of luxury money from this side of the river going across the river to Canada, never to be returned in our society. I saw no reason for anybody to believe sincerely—and it’s just beyond me how you guys can just throw this out on the table and say, “So many people are going to get into gambling.” We already have them! We already have gaming! And if you don’t understand that right now, you’re very naïve about what is actually taking place.
What is actually taking place today is $75 million is going across the bridge to Fort Erie, every year, not one dollar to return to the American side. That is all Buffalo money, and I’ll take you through that parking lot and you’ll see that 95 percent of the vehicles parked in the parking lot are Buffalo cars. And the buses are picking them up right at Fillmore and Delavan; they’re picking them up all through the city and they’re bringing them over to these Canadian casinos and they’re dumping their money over there.
You cannot stop people from gambling, not when the State of New York starts them out at a young age, okay, and starts offering them candy, okay, in lottery commercials. You’re fighting the wrong battle. At this point we have all the downside, we have absolutely no upside to casinos, and that is very unfair to the taxpayers and the people in this community, to have to carry all the burdens and not get any benefits. A thousand jobs is a lot of jobs in this town, okay. And yes, just like Mike Powers says, they’re good-paying jobs. And yes, you might not like them because you’ve got an elitist attitude from UB—
BJ: Oh, horseshit, Carl! Don’t go into name-calling.
CP: Those are real jobs…you go talk to a casino worker. You come with me right now. We’ll go up to the Seneca casino, you talk to those workers, okay, about how important those jobs are. They would have never had any other opportunity here.
Number two, the service: How much money is spent by a casino with the service businesses in our area? Who’s selling them toilet paper? Who’s selling them water? Who’s selling them beverages? Who’s selling all these things? The money goes over to Canada—they don’t buy from Americans. They don’t buy American goods.
You know, it’s another venue. It’s another venue that gets shared with the existing venues, and yes, it will bring outsiders in for more than a one-night stay. They will, when we have a casino, come down from Canada—
BJ: They wouldn’t if we had the kind of casino you want. They wouldn’t come for just slots and tables and a lunch counter. The only way they’re going to get outsiders here is if they have a resort city. You know that.
CP: No, I don’t. That’s not true.
BJ: Oh, come on.
CP: That’s not true.
BJ: You really believe people from out of town are going to come to Buffalo, play our slots, when they have Niagara Falls down the road?
CP: Whether they’re coming here for our Theater District, whether they’re coming here for our sports entertainment, for any reason that they’re coming here from Canada, from Toronto, from Hamilton. There’s five and half million people we have access to. This is not like Detroit where all they have is little 70,000-person Windsor across the river. This is five and half million people within an hour-and-a-half drive of Buffalo.
BJ: They’re an hour-and-a-half drive to Niagara Falls.
BJ: Why come to Buffalo?
CP: Because we’ve got hockey.
BJ: They’ve got slot machines.
CP: We’ve got baseball.
BJ: And they’re coming for hockey and baseball?
CP: And it’ll be all the more reason for when they do come down to a hockey game—because almost 40 percent of the people attending hockey in Buffalo are Canadians. And those Canadians who come down from Hamilton, from St. Catharines—Hamilton is 500,000 people; St. Catharines is almost 300,000 people. St. Catharines is bigger than Buffalo. And Toronto, Mississaugua—almost six million people up there that come down to Buffalo for various forms of entertainment, whether it be to go to Galleria shopping or whatever it might be. And yes, the casino will be another venue for them to attend.
BJ: It would be. Would be, not will be. It would be if it wasn’t sucking all the local businesses dry. You talk about people selling them shit paper and water; what about all the local restaurants and theaters and bars that it’s going to put out of business?
CP: I’m on your side on that one, Mr. Jackson. Totally. We could have protected ourselves, but they didn’t do it. And your buddy Byron Brown—
BJ: My buddy?
CP: Yeah, your buddy. He’s a liberal. He’s a liberal like you are. They’re your buddies.
BJ: Aren’t you a liberal? What are you?
CP: You tell me: How was that deal made?
BJ: What are you?
CP: I don’t know what I am. I’m a whatever. I don’t care. Any way you want to define me.
BJ: Byron Brown is my buddy?
CP: Well, you just got done telling me that it isn’t Byron Brown’s fault, it’s Masiello’s fault.
BJ: I did not say that!
CP: What was Masiello supposed to do? Masiello sued them—
BJ: Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s what you accuse me of doing to you!
CP: Masiello joined us and sued them to bring them back to Buffalo to ensure that promises were kept.
BJ: That’s right, and Michael Powers says he was the driving force behind that.
CP: Behind what?
BJ: He said he got you and Masiello to come in and it was his idea to sue them in Cheektowaga. Is that true?
CP: We asked him what his thoughts were on it. He had come and told Masiello that he felt that we had good lawsuit. He read the documents, okay, that, well, he read the memorandum of understanding and then he read the compact and he said, “Wow, they don’t look alike. There’s something wrong here. They changed the wording.” People in the governor’s office, and with Akin Gump on behalf of the Senecas, changed the wording—not only in respect to the location—
BJ: This is in the MOU?
CP: Yeah, the MOU. Also, everybody is sitting there thinking this is only a 14-year term. It’s not. The term goes on forever. It was rewritten. Why was it rewritten? Well, we only covered one issue—the location issue—in our lawsuit, and we won. We found that the MOU was changed when it was reduced to a compact. They had no right to do that. The lawyers for the governor’s office had no right to do it. Those lawyers disappeared. They’ll get indicted some day; we’ll find them and we’ll get them indicted. But the people they were negotiating with are the smartest lawyers in America, Akin Gump, this big law firm out of Washington, DC.
BJ: And the do casinos all around the country. That’s what Akin Gump does, Akin Gump does casinos.
CP: Yeah, and they’re very good at it. So you’ve got to respect them because they’re smart, and because they were smarter than the people they were negotiating with, just like whoever negotiated with Brown’s representatives on this local agreement, all right, they were smarter. The agreement is devoid of any reference to protecting our tax base.
Not only that, there’s a question whether it’s enforceable at all. You tell me: Is it a foundation in the law, one of the foundations of Indian law is that the Indians are not capable of making decisions, and they all have to be—if you guys were really smart you’d go and chase the Department of the Interior and say, “Don’t you have to approve any agreements that the Indians make?” Don’t they have to approve it? That agreement that’s being made right now, okay, that Brown and the Common Council have agreed to, I would say has to be approved by the Department of the Interior.
Unfortunately what you’ll find is the Department of the Interior is all Indian, all right. Same thing. They’re all a bunch of Indians too. That’s how they did this whole—
BJ: Is that true?
CP: Of course it is, we’ve talked to them. They’ve tried to bully us around and push us around. Why do you think Gail Norton refused to endorse the Niagara Falls casino? Later on, afterwards, she comes out with a letter to cover her ass, and the letter says, “I’m sorry, I did not do anything,” okay? “I let this thing get approval by omission by not doing anything. However, I have great reservations that the intent of the Indians in doing all these collateral activities makes this a wrong deal.” She says it in a letter. We have a letter from Gail Norton. But nevertheless she did it. Why? Because of the political pressure, because of the politics that bear.
The Indians know how to grease everybody. The Indians greased Albany real well, okay? They greased them all. Who’d they hire as their lobbyist? Patty Lynch. Who’s Patty Lynch? The ex-chief of staff of Sheldon Silver [Speaker of New York State Assembly]. Why did Sheldon Silver hold up the compact in the Assembly before it was passed? You know why? He held it up. He waited for Patty to get hired. Patty quit his office just before that, she resigned her position as chief of staff, went out and became a private lobbyist, and only after she was hired by the Senecas as their lobbyist did Sheldon Silver let it get approved in the Assembly. You don’t remember all that, do you?
BJ: No, I don’t.
CP: I know too much, okay?
Unfortunately you have misdefined me. You think I’m one of those dirty inside people, okay, that have something to gain by this. My entire profit in the sale of that property to the Indians—by the way, I never even imagined the Indians might want our property—we had a 50/50 partnership with David Sweet. David Sweet owned half of the, half of the…three quarters of the property they bought, we owned. David Sweet and my partners and I. I owned a one-sixth interest in the whole. David Sweet had just suffered a tremendous loss of 165,000 square feet of HSBC tenancy. When the Indians approached us to buy the property, they approached through David Sweet. David called me up one day and he says, “Guess who called me today.” I said, “Who?” He says, “The Indians. They want to buy our property.” I said, “Are you crazy?”
I had no idea. Yes. My entire profit on the thing was $47,000. It cost us $150,000 to sue them to get them back into Buffalo, by the way.
BJ: Where’d that money go? Michael Powers said he did it all pro bono.
CP: [Laughs.] He didn’t do it all pro bono.
BJ: I’m telling you, that’s what he said. He said it in the Common Council.
CP: Part of it was pro bono.
BJ: How much did you pay him?
CP: I paid him almost…I believe seventy or eighty thousand dollars.
BJ: Michael Powers said he’s the guy who brokered this contract that Byron Brown and the Indians just sold…
CP: That I don’t know about. I don’t know what position Michael Powers had in the drafting of that agreement. Michael Powers was not a part of any of the negotiations that we had. Michael Powers was hired solely to bring the action against the Indians to bring them back from Cheektowaga. All those negotiations that took place before that he wasn’t privy to.
The lawyer that was involved in those negotiations was Mike Risman. Risman, Tony Masiello and I, the three of us were involved in all that discussion with Cy Schindler. After that, Armstrong, he shut down—he didn’t want to talk to us. Okay? And we waited through his tenure and then Snyder came in and he was totally arrogant about the whole thing. He was looking for any excuse to take it out to the suburbs, and he got the excuse when Joel [Giambra] refused to sell him the convention center.
So then all of a sudden they’re out there sneaking around, buying the land out in Cheektowaga, and Carl Montante is making the deal with them. Between Montante and Ciminelli’s property, they were buying 135 acres, and they weren’t going to grow corn out there, okay? And the idiots in Cheektowaga felt, “Oh, look at this! What a great thing to have in Cheektowaga!”
How blind were they? The Indians didn’t need 135 acres for any good reason except to build Seneca City, and these people—stungatz [idiot, moron]–they wanted to hand them the keys to the Town of Cheektowaga.
Well, we wanted them back in Buffalo; we wanted them back under the terms that had been agreed to. I did everything I could to make sure that those terms were met.
Unfortunately, Mr. Brown doesn’t have any respect for me. He didn’t pay any attention to my letters, his surrogates didn’t pay any attention to my letters, and they went ahead and did they what they did. Tony Masiello, he’s upset. I’m upset. Nobody called us. Nobody asked us. I tried to impact them, I tried to say something. Michael isn’t happy that I showed up over there.
BJ: Mike Powers?
CP: Nope, he wasn’t happy at all. But that’s the reality of it.
BJ: So you feel that you’ve been betrayed?
CP: No, I don’t see any betrayal in any of this. This is all part of the Albany two-step and the Buffalo three-step, whatever you want to call it.
BJ: About a week and a half after Pataki’s Niagara Falls dog-and-pony show in 2001, you and Tony and someone else got the Buffalo Place board to come out with their resolution endorsing the casino. At that point you had no expectation of any financial interest in a casino?
BJ: Yeah. I’m asking you.
CP: No. I had no…not even a thought of any financial interest in the casino, if you’re referring to the sale of the property. I had no idea about the sale of the property until David Sweet called me up, and that was after we had won our lawsuit in Cheektowaga. Way after.
BJ: So your whole interest in this is as a public-spirited citizen?
CP: Absolutely. A downtown stakeholder, too, yes. I am a stakeholder downtown. And downtown is important to me, and I represent the interests of a lot of investors in our properties, okay, and to them the overall aura of downtown, the overall economic development of downtown, is good. So if you want to call it an interest, yeah, that’s as far as my interest goes. No personal interest whatsoever.
BJ: The one thing I still—and I suppose for me it’s the heart of our disagreement—
CP: But you’ve taken it upon yourself to make assumptions about me, about that issue, okay? And that was wrong. It’s very wrong. Now I’m not one…I’ll sit back, I’ll just let that run off my back, all right? And I’ll let it run off again and again and again. And after a while, all right, I form an opinion in my mind. No, I can’t shake your hand. I don’t think you’re an honorable man. I think you’re a guy out there looking to shoot wildly and sell newspapers, rather than to get the facts straight. If you wanted the facts straight, if you were a true journalist, you would have called up and you would have said, “Carl, tell me the facts.”
BJ: Why should I trust you?
CP: I responded to you—
BJ: Why should I trust you? You responded to me with that crazy email. Were you sober when you wrote that?
CP: I think, Mr. Jackson, had you been in my place, you might have written something crazier than I wrote.
BJ: I would never call you an asshole.
CP: I was stone sober. You are an asshole. You are an asshole. I mean, you—you are an asshole. Trust me.
BJ: Trust you?
CP: In the street definition of the word, you are. Why? Because you don’t have any credibility, you don’t have any character, you don’t have any integrity. Look what you did. Look what you said about me.
BJ: What have I said?
CP: You’ve said…and you know…
BJ: Look what harm you’ve done to the city!
BJ: You’ve made…
BJ: You have helped this casino come to the city that’s going to screw the city.
CP: No, I…
BJ: You’re proud of it.
CP: …I supported a casino under terms which would have been a benefit to the city.
BJ: You supported a casino under terms that you as a businessman never would have done yourself. You would never let a contract get this far with nothing in writing, with just people talking and promising. Come on. There was nothing. You had nothing.
CP: Never let a contract get that far?
CP: I trusted in our negotiators, okay, in our city fathers, that they would continue to do the smart thing that we were doing, okay, when Masiello was in office. They let politics rise above it. I have my own suspicions as to why that pact was approved.
CP: That’s my own suspicions.
BJ: Well, what are they?
CP: Until I verify them, I’m not going to speak them.
BJ: Do you think people were paid off?
CP: I’m not suggesting any of that, no.
BJ: Do you think people…well, what else could be worth hiding?
CP: Well, you tell me.
BJ: I don’t know. I’m asking you.
CP: Well, you make your own assumptions. I’m not one to make assumptions or say things like that until I’m certain. And when I’m certain, I’ll let you know.
BJ: You will?
CP: Well, not you particularly. I’ll let him and Larry [Quinn] and Jamie [Moses] know.
BJ: They’ll tell me.
CP: Fine, good. That’s their prerogative.
BJ: Okay. What else?
CP: You’re the questioner.
BJ: I think I’m done.
Carl Paladino is chief executive office of Ellicott Development Company. During the Masiello administration, he was Buffalo’s “preferred developer.”
Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at UB. He is vice president of Citizens for a Better Buffalo and publisher of the website BuffaloReport.Com.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v5n45: Dancing With Paladino (11/9/06) > Dancing With Paladino
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