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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

St Mary's on the Hill: left roofless and abandoned by absentee owners. (photo by David Torke)

St. Mary's on the Hill

Three weeks ago, Jim Comerford, the City of Buffalo’s acting commissioner for permits and inspections, threatened an emergency demolition of what remain of St. Mary’s on the Hill, the landmark sandstone church at the corner of Vermont and Niagara Streets. Last spring, city contractors removed the church’s roof in an act of “therapeutic demolition,” necessitated by years of neglect by a series of private owners. At the time, developer Sam Savarino came forward with a redevelopment plan for the structure and entered negotiations with the owners of the property in New York City. Those negotiations failed, and the owners instead pursued a bogus shift in ownership to a newly formed limited liability corporation, and St. Mary’s on the Hill continued to deteriorate.

Under pressure from preservationists, Comerford relented on his decision to bring down the rest of the church, as well as the brick guild hall and clapboard rectory attached to the church, pending the owner’s next date in housing court. That court date was Tuesday, and Housing Court Judge Hank Nowak sentenced the owner of the property, Julia Myrie-Oyewo, to 30 days on jail and a $3,000 fine. She was also ordered to erect a security fence around the dilapidated structures to protect neighbors in the next seven days. If she fails to do so, Nowak said, the city can do so in her stead.

Myrie-Oyewo was represented at the hearing by her lawyer, Desmond Hughes. She’ll only serve the jail time in the unlikely case that she should visit Western New York and turn herself in.

Nowak delayed hearing Comerford’s request for a demolition until May 27, giving St. Mary’s on the Hill another month’s respite. Three weeks ago Comerford suggested that the preservationists needed to come up with a plan to save the structures, but Tim Tielman of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture says that the city itself must take a more active role in their preservation: After all, the city allowed the current owner to buy the property at its annual tax auction after they’d defaulted on bank loans; due diligence might have argued against allowing that sale. The city failed to police another former owner, the notorious property vulture Jeffrey Weisberg, who allowed the church to rot for nine years and stripped it of its interior appointments. Tielman believes the city should take ownership of the property and secure it while preservationists search for a developer who will restore its most noteworthy structures, the church itself and the attached guild hall. “The city has to control it,” Tielman says, “if only as a bridge to a workable solution.”

Losing Donna Berry

Word has been circulating for many months that this would be C District Police Chief Donna Berry’s final year on the force. Sure enough, on Tuesday Mayor Byron Brown replaced Berry as C District chief with his long-time chauffeur and security guard, Brian K. Patterson, who made lieutenant while serving in that capacity in September 2008.

Steve Pigeon's tax problems

“Steve says he doesn’t have tax problems.” That’s what former Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark told his deputy DA, Mark Sacha, in late 2008, according to a wrongful dismissal suit Sacha filed in US District Court earlier this year against Clark’s successor, Frank A. Sedita III, and the Erie County DA’s office. Sedita fired Sacha last spring, after Sacha complained publicly that Clark and Sedita both had refused to pursue possible election law violations by their political ally, Steve Pigeon, in relation to Paul Clark’s 2007 campaign for Erie County executive.

Pigeon arranged and attended a meeting at his mother’s house in West Seneca between Paul Clark’s brother, Tim, and Dino Turchiarelli in August 2007, in which Turchiarelli was hired to do polling for Clark’s campaign. Turchiarelli was paid $20,000 in cash for his services by Michael Mullins, an under-the-table transaction that violated election law. In October 2007, Mullins, unhappy with Paul Clark, told his “bags of cash” story to the Buffalo News, and the resulting article prompted DA Frank Clark to instruct Sacha to investigate Paul Clark’s campaign finances.

In the investigation’s early days, one of the attorneys who represented Paul Clark in talks with the DA’s office was Steve Pigeon. Pigeon argued that Paul Clark could not be held responsible for Mullins’ cash payments to Turchiarelli, claiming that there had been no coordination between the Clark campaign, Turchiarelli, and Mullins—a claim belied by that late-night meeting Pigeon himself had arranged and attended at his mother’s house. Sacha complained to his boss that “Pigeon was intentionally misleading” in his statements, to which Frank Clark replied, “Sometimes Steve takes things to far.” In the complaint, Sacha says that he became disturbed over the course of the next year to learn that Frank Clark continued to meet his political ally, Steve Pigeon, for lunch and dinner, despite that fact that Pigeon might be implicated in Sacha’s ongoing investigation. Both Frank Clark and Sedita attended a holiday party at Pigeon’s waterfront condominium in December 2008. By that time, Sacha had told Frank Clark that his investigation had uncovered tax issues with Pigeon, in addition to violations of election and penal law, prompting the above response from Frank Clark.

Last week, the IRS and federal prosecutors confirmed that they’re pursuing a tax and money-laundering investigation in regard to transactions between a Niagara Falls consulting firm tied to Pigeon called GDP and A-1 Multi-Sevices LLC, a Bronx firm tied to Pigeon’s boss, State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada.

In his suit, Sacha seeks reinstatement to his job as deputy district attorney, lost wages, lost pension contributions and other benefits, compensatory damages in the amount of $300,000, and attorney’s fees.

Golombek Takes on Hoyt

Speaking of Steve Pigeon, North District Councilman Joe Golombek made it official Wednesday evening at the American Legion Post on Amherst Street: He’ll run a primary challenge against Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. Golombek has been promised and hopes to receive financial support from Tom Golisano, via Pigeon, who directs the Florida billionaire’s Responsible New York campaign fund. Golisano spent hundreds of thousands two years ago on the campaign of Barbra Kavanaugh, whom Hoyt trounced despite revelations that he’d an affair in Albany four years earlier. Golombek will have support from other quarters as well, including Mayor Byron Brown, who has lots of campaign money left over from last year’s mayoral race.

The Cost of Inaction

As both houses of the state legislature continue to fumble budget negotiations, taxpayers can take solace in this: By law, if they fail to pass a budget on time, legislators go without pay until they come to an agreement. It’s going on a month now.

Is it all Tea Party now?

Possibly Carl Paladino’s gubernatorial campaign will prove whether the Tea Party has legs in New York State. Possibly it’ll destroy the Tea Party, pull it to pieces. Possibly Paladino doesn’t mind if his campaign causes utter chaos among state Republicans, ensuring Andrew Cuomo’s anointment as governor in November. Who knows?

But one thing becomes clear: The Tea Party is the only group persistently protesting the boneheadedness of Albany politicians. The local chapter of the Tea Party will picket the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Buffalo on Friday, April 30, 6-8pm, during a Cuomo fundraiser, hosted by swanky committee of local politicians, attorneys, and developers. Where’s the Left on occasions like this?

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