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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

This photo, dated September 2008, remarkably demonstrates how the Buffalo Creek Casino looks today!

Casino Suit Moves Forward

Last March, local anti-casino activists filed their third lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior trying to put a stop to gambling at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo. In the two earlier suits filed by casino opponents, US District Court Judge William Skretny ruled that the downtown property on which the casino sits, though it qualifies as Indian land, is not eligible to host casino gambling according to the Department of the Interior’s criteria. Twice the federal government has ignored the judge’s rulings and eventually appealed. The latest lawsuit was provoked by a “midnight” ruling—enacted by the outgoing Bush administration on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration—that reversed the Department of the Interior’s previous interpretation of the laws governing Native American gaming. The new interpretation is clearly designed to counteract Skretny’s previous rulings and permit gambling in downtown Buffalo.

The latest lawsuit has languished since it was filed last spring. Skretny seemed to be waiting for the appeals to be resolved; the appellate judges seemed to be waiting for Skretny to rule on the new lawsuit, which essentially reiterates the arguments of the first two. But on Friday, March 12, the impasse was broken: The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit officially put a hold on the three appeals to Skretny’s previous decisions, pending Skretny’s decision in the latest lawsuit.

In other words, the latest suit must now go forward in Skretny’s court. The arguments remain the same, and Skretny has no appellate decisions affirming or criticizing his earlier decisions to consider. So the questions are: Will Skretny determine that the Bush administration’s last-minute reinterpretation of the laws—laws with which Bush’s Department of the Interior seemed happy until Skretny ruled that they forbade gambling in downtown Buffalo—as valid or invalid? Will the Obama administration’s Justice and Interior Departments prove as accommodating to Native American gambling interests as Bush’s? And how many times does a federal judge have to say something is illegal before the federal government acts to enforce the law? Skretny’s office says the case is “on the front burner,” so we should know soon.

Meantime, the Seneca casino unveiled a $9 million expansion of its two-year-old “temporary” steel structure on Tuesday, March 16, accommodating 124 additional slot machines.

Pot, Kettle, Black

On Tuesday, March 15, North District Councilman Joe Golombek spent five minutes lambasting Assemblyman Sam Hoyt for “grandstanding” on the issue of the mold-infested D District police building on Hertel. (Read more about that on page six.) Hoyt wrote a critically worded letter to Mayor Byron Brown urging the mayor to act quickly and transparently on the threat of environmental and health problems in the building. Hoyt may be guilty, but Golombek could be accused of indulging in a little self-serving grandstanding himself: He is expected to announce his second primary challenge to Hoyt soon. (The mayor took a few shots at Hoyt as well at a press conference on Friday regarding the problems at D District.) The strange part, one observer in Council chambers noted, was that Golombek did not use Hoyt’s name even once as he excoriated the assemblyman. “It would have cleared up a lot of confusion if he had,” the observer said. “Then we’d know who he’s running against.”

Apparently, many people have been suggesting that Golombek leave Hoyt alone and make a run against someone else instead—for example, State Senator Antoine Thompson. Don’t bet on that happening: Golombek has support to run against Hoyt this year, and he’ll use it.

A St. Patrick's Day Miracle

On Wednesday, March 17, Flying Bison Brewery announced that its shareholders had approved a deal with Matt Brewing of Utica that will keep the Ontario Street brewery open. Flying Bison president Tim Herzog said in a statement that staff will not be affected by Matt’s purchase of Buffalo’s last independent brewery, and that the deal will allow Flying Bison to ramp up production and lower packaging costs.

We Got it Wrong

A couple weeks ago, we were sure that Republican Assemblyman Jack Quinn III would forgo a rumored challenge to Democratic State Senator Bill Stachowski in favor of a judgeship. Turns out he’s announcing his run against Stachowski on Thursday at W. J. Morrissey’s in the Cobblestone District. So Stachowski or one of his Democratic primary challengers—Mike Kuzma, Sean Cooney, Tim Kennedy—will face a general election opponent. The 59th District State Senate race will be decided in November, too: Rumor has it that Republican incumbent Dale Volker or his challenger, Erie County Republican Party Chairman Jim Domagalski, will face a Democrat in the general election. You read it here first.

In The Week Ahead

On Monday, March 22, the suit filed by Sabres owner Tom Golisano and his Responsible New York political fund against the Erie County Board of Elections and its two commissioners, Dennis Ward and Ralph Mohr, returns to court. The suit accuses Ward and Mohr of conducting an “inappropriate, improper and illegal, fraudulent and baseless investigation” into the financial transactions of Responsible New York and the two other committees controlled by Steve Pigeon. The Erie County attorney is using the occasion of the lawsuit to demand further disclosure from those committees, including answers to several accusations: For example, Mohr accuses Citizens for Fiscal Integrity of failure to report $25,250 in donations and $35,249.54 in expenditures, and of 22 failures to comply with the state’s reporting requirements.

Also, we’re told State Senator Eric Schneiderman, who’s most likely running for state attorney general, will visit Buffalo this weekend.

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