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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Thursday, October 1

Remember, Mark Sacha: Not all whistleblowers meet happy endings.

Today, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita suspended (with pay) Assistant DA Mark Sacha, who took to the media his allegations that Sedita and his predecessor, Frank Clark, had passed on prosecuting political operative Steve Pigeon for election law violations because both were beholden to Pigeon politically. (Buffalo News reporters Mike Beebe and Bob McCarthy unleashed the Sacha story last Sunday.) Even a cursory examination of Pigeon’s support for Sedita in last year’s DA race is revealing: Tom Golisano, whose political activities Pigeon coordinates, gave $5,000 to Sedita’s campaign; Hormoz Mansouri, one of the rich men Pigeon uses as an ATM for politicians he supports, gave $7,750; Citizens for Fiscal Integrity, a political committee Pigeon controls, added another $500. On the other end of the ledger, look at some of the Sedita campaign’s expenditures: $4,000 in cosulting fees to Maurice Garner, co-founder of Grassroots and a Pigeon ally; $1,500 to e-pamphleteer Joe Illuzzi, a reliable mouthpiece for Pigeon and his causes; $2,000 in consulting fees to Larry Adamczyk, another Pigeon associate. And $500 in consulting fees to Abigail Rivera, who didn’t know she was treasurer of the faux “citizens” group Mothers and Fathers Demanding Answers, which attacked Assemblyman Sam Hoyt during his 2008 primary against Barbra Kavanaugh for an affair he’d had in Albany, until Buffalo News reporter Jim Heaney called her to ask who the hell the group represented. The campaign against Hoyt was coordinated by Pigeon and funded with Golisano’s money.

Friday, October 2

New York State’s Public Integrity Commission spent today picking apples at an orchard in Rensselaer County. The commission’s spokesman, Walter Ayres, said the outing was a morale-building exercise that substituted for the annual summer picnic, which didn’t fit into members’ schedules. “You know, even Nero hung around Rome when it burned,” David Grandeau, the former head of the state Lobbying Commission, told Fred Dicker of the New York Post.

Saturday, October 3

All of Buffalo held its breath…

Sunday, October 4

…and released it. Sweet relief: The Buffalo Bills season is over, and Sabres season has begun.

Monday, October 5

At a Monday afternoon work session, Niagara Falls Civil Engineer Robert Buzzelli informed city council members that repaving work on Lewiston Road had been halted. Why? Because the chosen contractor, Man O’ Trees, Inc., lacked the necessary permit and license to handle the radioactive waste in the roads. The Route 104-Lewiston Road project is oft-described as oft-delayed, and the reason for the delay has been clear evidence provided in radiation surveys and sampling that hazardous radioactive waste materials were used decades ago in the construction of Lewiston Road and other local roadways, and as fill. It’s not exactly a secret. Nonetheless, the city saw fit to give the $7.7 million contract, 80 percent funded by the federal government, to a contractor that lacked the necessary experience and certification to handle the problem.

Upstream, Frank Sedita canned Mark Sacha when Sacha returned from his suspension this morning. In explaining his reasons for doing so, Sedita coined a new phrase sure to be popular among the criminal defense attorneys his prosecutors will face in the future: “functional immunity.”

Tuesday, October 6

In his closing statement at a debate sponsored by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Phil Kadet of East Aurora, the Republican challenging the incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz for Erie County Comptroller, said, “Appearances are important.” Kadet was attempting a dig at Poloncarz for being a member of the Erie County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee (ex officio, Poloncarz countered, with no vote on endorsements and policies), a position Kadet suggested might compromise Poloncarz’s political objectivity in playing the role of the county’s chief fiscal watchdog. Kadet’s dig was a preemptive strike, anticipating Poloncarz’s characterization of Kadet, in his summary statement, as the handpicked yes-man of Erie County Executive Chris Collins, who does not appear to appreciate checks and balances in government. (“Phil Kadet has never taken orders from anyone,” Kadet said.) Ah, politics. In any case, both candidates ought to mind appearances: When Poloncarz answered questions, Kadet blinked furiously; when Kadet answered questions, Poloncarz often rolled his eyes up to the ceiling or down to his shoes. Perhaps both were merely trying to stay awake: In his summary, Poloncarz wryly thanked the 40 or 50 folks in the audience at Shea’s Smith Theater for spending their lunch hour on a scintillating discussion of municipal finance, in which there was little disagreement between the two men on issues of substance.

Wednesday, October 7

Leonard Stokes was excused from his Wednesday morning court appearance—out of town on business—and his attorney, Herbert Greenman, told the court that he expected the non-criminal trespass charge against his client would be resolved that afternoon. Stokes, former owner of One Sunset—the restaurant whose failure has spawned at least three ongoing investigations—allegedly attacked a woman with whom has has a child in a beauty shop on Herman Street in January. According to Buffalo police report, in March 2008 Stokes was arrested for allegedly levelling a .45 Glock at a man, telling him, “Get the fuck out of my car, you are stupid motherfuckers.” And, of course, Stokes was famously not arrested in January 2007 for possession of a stolen handicapped parking tag, but instead was delivered at his insistence to the office of Mayor Byron Brown, according to the officers who intended to arrest him. Stokes later emerged from the mayor’s office free and unfettered. That incident became a political quagmire for Brown in the two weeks before last month’s Democratic primary, prompting the mayor to lose his customary somnolence on one occasion. Brown said then that he thought of Stokes as “a young man with promise” when he encouraged his former economic development chief, Tim Wanamaker, to try to help Stokes in his effort to turn the former Locker Room on Gates Circle into an upscale restaurant.Between 2007 and 2008, Stokes received $110,000 in loans and grants from the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation, despite an initial determination by a panel of BERC bankers that neither Stokes nor the project were credit-worthy. In 2008, with help from BERC staff and Deputy Mayor Donna Brown, Stokes received a $50,000 loan from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. The restaurant closed last December, the loans are in default, and the restaurant’s equipment and inventory are in limbo.

This afternoon, at the public library downtown, Erie County Executive Chris Collins announced the formation of a Rare Books Commission—appropriate, given that the budget he unveiled last week includes drastic cuts in funding to the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System.

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