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Crib Notes

Steve Pigeon speaks with a reporter

• State Senator Pedro Espada, whose fickle commitment to the Democratic Party derailed the State Senate for six weeks earlier this summer, has just opened two new campaign accounts: the Majority Leader Victory Fund and the Upstate Leadership Committee. (The latter’s name might seem odd, given that Espada is from the Bronx.)

The treasurer for both is John Gangemi, who lives in the same apartment complex, on the same floor, as Jack O’Donnell. O’Donnell is the son of Denise O’Donnell, currently serving on Governor David Paterson’s cabinet, and State Supreme Court Justice John O’Donnell. He is also an operative for the notorious Steve Pigeon, whose role in the coup landed him an $80,000 per year gig as Espada’s counsel.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that Gangemi and O’Donnell live across the hall from one another. Or maybe that apartment complex on Edward Street Delaware Avenue is a lightning rod for political cash.

Espada, you may recall, is in a heap of trouble over allegations of past campaign finance fraud. The New York City Campaign Finance Board has fined him $60,000, and the New York State Attorney General continues to investigate his use of money from a not-for-profit for political purposes.

• So you think the mayoral race is a walkover? Buffalo School Board President Ralph Hernandez is hitting a bump in his campaign to challenge Maria Whyte for her District 6 seat in the Erie County Legislature. That bump comes in the form of specific objections to his designating petitions from Mike Rosario and Whyte.

The objections, filed July 27, are scheduled to be judged by Hon. Patrick H. NeMoyer in Erie County Supreme Court at 1:30pm Thursday, August 6. Whyte’s case will be argued by Sean Cooney; David Jay is representing Hernandez.

According to court documents, several signatures on Hernandez’s petitions are being called fraudulent, due to various discrepancies. Some signers claim, for example, that it was a woman who witnessed their signatures, but that Hernandez signed the sheet as witness. Several such witnesses are expected to be called at the proceeding.

As of Wednesday the Board of Elections ruled that Hernandez has 623 valid signatures, giving him a 123 signature cushion.

Should Hernandez be knocked off the ballot, Whyte will retain her seat, unchallenged.

• Speaking of Steve Pigeon, Responsible New York, the unauthorized campaign committee funded by Tom Golisano and operated by Pigeon, has cleaned out its accounts. Golisano started the committee with $5 million, of which just over $4 million was spent on various political activities. In June, Responsible New York returned $950,000 to Golisano. Pigeon told the Buffalo News that Golisano “has better use for money than sitting in a campaign account. When he’s needed to put money into a cause, he’s done it.” That left Responsible New York with a balance of $49,233.56 as of July 13.

Responsible New York also received a refund of $120,000 from GSDP, LLC, a consulting entity whose partners are Pigeon and Niagara County politico Gary Parenti. The odd thing about that: According to campaign finance records, Responsible New York never paid GSDP for anything. So what’s that $120,000?

Dennis Penman, executive vice president of MJ Peterson Realty, has been named interim president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation. He replaces Brian Reilly, whom Mayor Byron Brown asked to resign the day that the Buffalo News revealed that BERC was paying for his domestic partner’s life insurance. (And if that’s why Reilly was fired from the job, it says here that was a ham-handed response.)

Penman apparently was cleared by HUD for conflicts of interest, but several episodes in his career as a developer of city housing bear remembering. He took the first shot at building houses at Sycamore Village, back in 2002. Problem: The land turned out to be contaminated with lead, mercury, and chromium. The city ordered Penman to stop construction on the three houses it had contracted to build.

Penman’s solution: MJ Peterson and its partner, James Management Co., kept building, ignoring two stop-work orders from Tim Wanamaker, then the city’s commissioner of strategic planning. In the end, the city got stuck with the cost of the houses, the cost of demolishing them, and the cost of environmental remediation. That’s part of the reason that the real cost per house at the new Sycamore Village approaches $400,000, even though their assessed values range from $135,000 to $164,000.

Penman helped secure nearly $13 million in federal money for the Tony Masiello-era Home Ownership Zone program, and MJ Peterson benefited as a result. The Sycamore Village houses were part of that program, which was run so poorly that HUD shut it down. That’s not Penman’s fault, of course, and MJ Peterson hasn’t done significant business with the city under Brown. But it’s worth remembering that Penman is hardly an outsider.

Slate senior editor Josh Levin has a piece this week about how climate change might precipitate the dissolution of This Great Nation. In the piece, he describes the Midwestern prairies turned to deserts, New Orleans and Miama abandoned as sea levels rise, lood walls built to save New York and Boston.

To where will Americans flock as many regions of the country become too expensive or too unbearable? Levin asked the University at Buffalo’s own Bob Shibley for an answer, and Shibley gave Buffalo its latest plug in the national press. They’ll come, Sibley told Levin, to the shores of Lake Erie:

A century ago, Buffalo was America’s eighth-largest city. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, the city was perfectly positioned to become a transshipment hub and manufacturing center. Shibley, the co-author of Buffalo’s comprehensive plan, drives me around in his Toyota Prius, pointing out the landmarks of this bygone age. “Here’s where you see us in our heyday,” he says as we turn onto Lincoln Parkway, a tree-lined thoroughfare abutting a park laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Levin describes Buffalo and its Rust Belt sisters as toady’s “old West ghost towns…empty husks that have been strip-mined and abandoned, relics of America’s manufacturing age.” But, Shibley says, we have water, power, railroads, and lots of prime waterfront property.

“Come home,” Shibley shouts, “we’re ready to go!”

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