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7 Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Water: plentiful in our region and yet not cheap.

Thursday, December 31

Good news arrived to the Olmsted Conservancy at 4:50pm today in the form of a letter from the City of Buffalo, in which the 2004 contract between Erie County and the Olmsted Conservancy to maintain the city’s Olmsted Parks was officially assigned to the city. Further, the letter informed the Conservancy that the Brown administration did not intend to file a one-year notice of termination.

That, coupled with an agreement forged two weeks ago between the city and the unions whose workers will be assigned to city parks, means that the Olmsted Conservancy will continue to care for the city’s Olmsted system through the end of 2010—and possibly longer. Mayor Byron Brown has said that a long-term agreement with Olmsted will have to address living wage, residency, and diversity hiring issues, as dictated by the city charter. Olmsted board chair David Colligan says that those issues are being addressed “slowly and painfully” but progress is being made. Must the Conservancy pay a living wage to employees doing historical research rather than parks work? What if their positions are paid for by grants rather than city funds? How much will the city pay Olmsted to maintain the parks? Will city officials have a hand in Olmsted’s hiring decisions? Will the county executive kick in $450,000 per year to help out with the Olmsted system, as he offered to do this year if the city continued the contract with Olmsted—just so long as the city’s deal did not include a living wage provision?

By accepting assignment of the contract, the city is also accepting the ability to opt in to two five-year renewals. Presumably, by activating those renewals, the city could retain the Olmsted Conservancy for nine more years without putting the contract out to bid. But that question, too, remains to be answered.

Meantime, Buffalo’s water board approved rate hikes in each of the next three years. Rate hikes are not usually announced midyear—the water boards fiscal year ends July 1—prompting South District Councilman Mickey Kearns to accuse Mayor Byron Brown’s appointees of delaying the bad news until after the mayor’s re-election last fall.

Friday, January 1

Though a holiday, today was the last day of work for three City of Buffalo commissioners. None of the departures were surprising. Economic development chief Brian Reilly, who was edged out as president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation this summer as that agency came under a cloud, had been largely exiled from Mayor Byron Brown’s inner circle. Fire commissioner Michael Lombardo was too friendly to the mayor’s primary challenger last fall, Mickey Kearns. And Police commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson has suffered ill health and has been frequently absent from the office. Gipson’s deputies have been angling to replace him for many months. The number one candidate is Deputy Commissioner Dan Derenda, who reportedly has the support of Deputy Mayor Steve Casey. Derenda has been named acting commissioner, perhaps in part because the Brown administration worried that the Common Council majority might hesitate to confirm the selection. In addition to kneejerk reaction to Casey’s support, the Council might balk because Derenda’s primary residence is apparently in Clarence. A delay in appointing him would give him time to sort that out. Other candidates include Deputy Commissioner Dennis Richards, who does live in the city, and Deputy Commissioner Byron Lockwood.

Saturday, January 2 & Sunday, January 3

No news to report. A lost weekend.

Monday, January 4

Today Celeste Lawson was fired as executive director to the Arts Council in Buffalo & Erie County. Lawson ran the arts advocacy organization for 13 years. In June, the New York State Council on the Arts cut the Arts Council’s funding by 75 percent in response to an audit that revealed poor bookkeeping and possible misuse of funds. The Arts Council will be managed temporarily by its board of directors, who initiated Lawson’s firing. Lawson called her dismissal “surprising” and “a sad day for me.”

Pastor Pridgen, the LGBT community wants to know: What do you think of gay residents of the Ellicott District?

Tuesday, January 5

For a brief moment at the start of today’s session, the Common Council appeared to consider voting in a candidate to fill the vacant Ellicott District seat this week—before the Democratic Party committee members of the Ellicott District vote this Saturday to recommend one of the 10 candidates who remain in the race. Traditionally, the Common Council has heeded the recommendation of district committee members when filling a vacancy, but politics, a profusion of candidates, and a lack of cohesion on the Ellicott committee has led to a lot of tough talk among the Common Council majority, who badly want a sixth ally to make their coalition veto-proof. The South’s Mickey Kearns especially has been forthright in dismissing the influence of the committee members, and his sentiments have been echoed to varying degrees by Rich Fontana, Dave Franczyk, and David Rivera, as well as North’s Joe Golombek.

There’s no way the Council will vote before the committee makes its recommendation: They were simply responding to criticism that the process has taken too long, leaving the Ellicott District without representation. (It’s been more than five weeks since Brian Davis resigned.) The Council majority will wait, hoping the committee endorses someone they like, then vote in whomever they want. Champ Eve, whose Unity coalition is an East Side rival to the mayor’s Grassroots political club, controls a significant portion of the committee seats in Ellicott, and he’s backing Buffalo State economist Curtis Haynes. Firefighter Bryon McIntyre is a zone leader in the district, so he’ll have a bloc behind him. City Hall veteran Don Allen has some committee votes, too, though he’s spent most of his energy lobbying councilmembers. Attorney Bill Trezevant believes he has lots of committee support, and Darius Pridgen will get some votes, too—though not from Ellicott’s substantial gay community, members of which fired off a letter today asking Pridgen to explain his opposition to same-sex marriage and this comment on HIV/AIDS: “You have to call sin sin, but HIV/AIDS is not the sin, it’s the disease. Until you separate the sin from the disease, people are not going to get tested.”

Wednesday, January 6

The Feast of the Epiphany.

The Days To Come

We’re just nine short months from the 2010 primary elections, and aspiring public servants are testing their profiles. Thursday night, attorney Mike Kuzma, a senior legislative aide for Common Council President Dave Franczyk, will kick off his race for State Senator Bill Stachowski’s seat with a fundraiser at the First Amendment Club. Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy—who leapfrogged his colleague, Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, to join the challengers to Stachowski—will announce his candidacy officially at a fundraiser on Friday night. Attorney Sean Cooney, a veteran of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt’s office and campaigns, will also take a run at Stachowski’s seat. Cooney has a fundraiser at Betty’s Restaurant on Monday.

Speaking of Hoyt, he has helped to lure Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to a fundraiser for Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan on January 28. Silver’s show of support for Lenihan is meant to stave off those who would like to see him replaced: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown; Brown’s chief political officer, Steve Casey; Congressman Brian Higgins; and former chairman Steve Pigeon, among others.

On one thing the Hoyt/Lenihan and the Brown/Casey/Pigeon factions of the local party can agree: Andrew Cuomo should be the Democratic candidate for governor. Rumor has it that Casey will leave City Hall soon to work on Cuomo’s campaign.

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