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7 Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Thursday, October 22

It's really a shame Jerry Falwell didn't live long enough to see Sheldon Silver bring on the End of Days.

Around 400 people attended a forum at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church Thursday night, to discuss strategies to revitalize Western New York that would improve public transportation, create “green” jobs and training for those who need them most, and promote environmentally sustainable housing and development policies. Sponsored by VOICE Buffalo, Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, and PUSH Buffalo, the forum focused on the opportunities presented by federal stimulus money.

Meantime, half an hour before that meeting began, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was spotted in Wegmans on Amherst Street, accompanied by a man who behaved like a bodyguard. The mayor was talking into his Blackberry, considering what type of milk to buy pick from the dairy cooler.

Friday, October 23

Congressman Brian Higgins and Senator Chuck Schumer squired HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan through Buffalo’s West Side and the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, with folks from PUSH Buffalo and LISC acting as docents. Higgins and Schumer are pushing a bill that would provide $400 million over three years for rehab and demolition of problem buildings in cities like Buffalo. A day earlier, New York Governor David Paterson announced a similar, state-funded program for which he intends Buffalo to be a pilot. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown did not join the HUD secretary on his tour, sending Second Deputy Mayor Donna Brown in his stead. According to the Buffalo News, the deputy mayor arrived late.

Meanwhile, back in City Hall, Carla Kosmerl, director of Administration and Finance for BURA, was fired Friday. Kosmerl, hired in 2003, wore several hats: She oversaw the HUD-funded community development block grant program and monitored the city’s housing and economic development programs. (Salary: $85,400 per year.) Kosmerl was the principal liaison between the city and HUD on the city’s use of federal anti-poverty funds, which was the subject of a harshly critical HUD audit back in April, and which spurred an ongoing investigation by HUD’s Inspector General.

Saturday, October 24

If only this story were astonishing: At a Republican Party dinner at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, in front of a crowd of pols and donors from around the state, Erie County Executive Chris Collins compared Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Hitler and the anti-Christ. Impolitic choices in any circumstance, Collins’s points of reference were made doubly offensive by the fact that Silver is an orthodox Jew. Collins said Nostradamus predicted three anti-Christs: The first was Napoleon, the second was Hitler, and Collins is “pretty sure” that Silver was the third.

Here’s another prediction: Collins’s ambitions for statewide office are finished.

It should be noted that local media missed this: It took Elizabeth Benjamin of the New York Daily News to report the slur. (So who called Benjamin and blew in Collins for the hate speech that no local media bothered to report? Was it Rick Lazio, the downstate Republican who is running for governor? Stay tuned.) By Monday Collins understood the need to apologize. Silver has made no comment and has not returned Collins’s phone call. The Simon Wiesenthal Center called Collins’s apology “small solace”: “This was not an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of political debate or battle, but during remarks made and prepared for a public audience at a fund-raising event,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier.

Hier is apparently correct: Collins recently made the same joke, comparing Silver to the anti-Christ, to a group of Buffalo State students, in the presence of their instructors.

Sunday, October 25

The Albany Times-Union reported today that federal investigators with the US Department of Health and Human Services are looking into allegations of fraud, health care fraud, falsification of records, and conspiracy at the Research Foundation of SUNY. The inquiry is related to audits of New York State’s Medicaid program, and essentially the Research Foundation is charged with under-reporting the rate of error in the state’s Medicaid claims to the federal government, in order to avoid having to refund federal Medicaid matching funds. (New York’s error rate exceeds 20 percent; three percent is the acceptable threshold.) The investigation extends to Buffalo State College’s Center for Development of Human Services, though most of the employees suspected of falsifying records work in Albany.

Monday, October 26

As the City of Buffalo’s largest-ever foreclosure auction opened today, about 3,400 properties remained on the auction block. The first to be auctioned were the real misfits, buildings and lots that have rolled over from previous auctions—like, for example, 283 Strauss, a boarded-up, single-family house that has been on the foreclosure list since 2001. (Its owner, Elijah D. Scott, has three properties on the list this year.) Among the 237 properties (out of 1,420 offered) that at least tentatively were sold on Monday: 62 Jefferson Avenue, a single-family owned by Buffalo Police Detective Sergeant Anna Mydlarz, who led the raid on the home of Syaed Ali and detained Ali without arresting him, reading him his rights, or allowing him to contact an attorney or his family. Ali, suspected by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s office of anonymously circulating rumors about Brown’s private life, is suing.

Tuesday, October 27

The New York State Ethics Commission has decided it will not investigate whether aides to Governor David Paterson leaked personal information about Caroline Kennedy—tax problems, a possible nanny issue—as a means of explaining why Paterson did not choose her to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.

Wednesday, October 28

New York State Police tell Governor David Paterson that attempts to collect tax on Indian cigarettes could provoke a “military problem” and could cost as much as $2 million per day to handle.

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