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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

The lawsuit so solid...

It’s the lawsuit so solid that no court can ever hear it. On Monday, Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei, representing Tom Golisano and his Responsible New York political fund, among others, in a suit against the Erie County Board of Elections and its two commissioners, Dennis Ward and Ralph Mohr, asked for yet another adjournment. (The suit was filed in October.) 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 next court date is April 7. The judge told Bartolomei that he would be granted no more adjournments.

We were wrong

State Senator Eric Schneiderman, who plans to run for state attorney general this fall, did not make an appearance in Buffalo last weekend, as we reported he would. Senate leadership demanded that senators stay in Albany over the weekend to continue budget talks, so Schneiderman canceled. State Senator Antoine Thompson, however, managed to pry himself loose to host his annual St. Joseph’s Day table at the Donovan building on Friday.

St. Joseph's Day faux pas

Speaking of which, can it be true that Thompson’s St. Joseph’s Day table included chicken wings? (Yes, it’s true.) As most Buffalonians know, even those who are not of Italian or Sicilian descent, the only flesh served at a traditional St. Joseph’s Day meal is fish.

Hoyt at the Polish Cadets Hall on Saturday: lots of friends, short on cash.

Hoyt announces, Golombek waits

Upon entering the second-floor auditorium at the Polish Cadets Hall on Saturday morning, a bit of stagecraft presented an ominous sign: The planners of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt’s re-election campaign kickoff had used lines of tables holding donuts and coffee to define a sort of paddock in the middle the big room, clearly designed to push a people into a small space to make the crowd look larger. Good news for Hoyt then: Well before the series of introductions began, Hoyt’s staffers were compelled by the growing crowd to pull the tables back almost to the walls. By the time Hoyt took to the podium—after some words from Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte, LGBT rights activist Kitty Lambert, Niagara District Councilman David Rivera, and developer Clinton Brown—the room was packed.

Afterward, a veteran of the Hoyt camp said the crowd was a good sign that he’d have no trouble recruiting campaign volunteers this summer. That’s good news for Hoyt, too: He’ll need volunteers, because he’s likely to face a very well financed opponent. North District Councilman Joe Golombek is expected to announce a challenge to Hoyt shortly. Rumors of Golombek’s impending announcement have been roiling since January, along with assurances that he’ll be funded by, among others, Mayor Byron Brown and the team of billionaire Tom Golisano and political operative Steve Pigeon, who spent about $500,000 in an attempt to unseat Hoyt in 2008. Pigeon intends to up the ante this year.

(There are also rumors afoot that Golombek might take on another incumbent instead, like State Senator Antoine Thompson. I understand that Golombek will share a float in the Dyngus Day parade with Mike Kuzma, who is challenging State Senator Bill Stachowski. The float will read “Kuzma for Senate” and “Golombek for ?”)

Hoyt, by contrast, is light on cash. A week ago he had somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000, and his team expects to raise and spend another $200,000 or so between now and the September primary.

Drafting Hochul

In Tuesday afternoon’s dismal rain, a couple of TV news cameras and one shivering print journalist covered the announcement of an initiative to draft Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul as a candidate for lieutenant governor. The initiative belongs to the County Democratic Club (“an organization of progressive Democrats with a focus on community development and political action”), and two of its officers—East Side political activist Terry Robinson and BMHA resident commissioner Joe Mascia—offered the rationale for sending Hochul to Albany, who is up for re-election his fall. Hochul, they said, has been an excellent administrator in the clerk’s office, made statewide connections in opposing a state mandate that all car owners buy new license plates, and her experience and commitment as a public servant offer some assurance that, should New York State again lose a sitting governor, the next in line will do a good job.

Whether downstate Democrats will show any inclination to accept a Western New Yorker for the best supporting role is an open question.

Hochul has also been mentioned as a Democratic candidate for county executive in 2011, a seat that County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, also a Democrat, might like to occupy. She has also been mentioned as a primary opponent to Congressman Brian Higgins.

Marine Drive backstory

On Thursday (March 25), the board of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority will officially accept a report from New York’s Office of the Inspector General concluding that the previous manager of BMHA’s Marine Drive Apartments, HKMDA, LLC, “engaged in a pattern of self-dealing” during the three years it managed the properties, beginning in January 2004.

Specifically, Richard Hutchens (the H in HKMDA) leased Marine Drive to a deli that he himself owned using a friend of his nephew as a front, and then never paid on rent for the property. Another HKMDA employee, Julie Neumann, arranged a property lease for her daughter’s spa business. That business, too, never paid rent.

HKMDA contracted management of the complex’s self-service laundry to another company Hutchens owned, which then failed to pay BMHA its contractual share of the proceeds from the laundry operation. A contracting company owned by Hutchens and the son of Thomas Bystryk, whom Hutchens had appointed as supervisor of the complex, received no-bid contracts for work at Marine Drive Apartments. Finally, HKMDA allowed tenants (“even encouraged” them, according to the report) to pay rent in cash, a violation of the rules of the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which oversees BMHA.

Who is Hutchens? He’s the Buffalo businessman to whom in 2001 the notoriously corrupt New York State Canal Corporation awarded a sweetheart deal for exclusive development rights to land along the Erie Canal. (With the blessing of Governor George Pataki, to whom he donated $8,000, Hutchens paid $30,000 for the right to build houses along 524 miles of canalside property.) State Comptroller Alan Hevesi caused that deal to be rescinded in 2003, offering it as a textbook case of inside dealing and influence peddling. As a consolation for loss of the Canal Corporation contract, Hutchens—who, after all, was only guilty of playing the game as Albany had defined the rules—was awarded the Marine Drive contract, with the understanding that the company managing the property would have the inside track on buying the valuable real estate should the complex be privatized in the near future, as many expected it would be. Because Hutchens had no experience managing a property like Marine Drive, he was teamed with the Kissling Interests (the K in HKMDA), an experienced developer and manager of apartment complexes.

The Inspector General faulted BMHA management for lax oversight that permitted HKMDA to run wild at Marine Drive. Indeed, DHCR began alerting BMHA to HKMDA’s misdeeds in July 2005, but BMHA did not give HKMDA the boot until December 2006.

The days ahead

We’re told to expect Carl Paladino to announce formally that he’s running for governor on April 5, Dyngus Day. Will voters tickle the Tea Party’s favorite developer with pussy willows? Throw a bucket of cold water on his head?

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