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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Seriously, anyday now.

Derivatives, watchdogs, and Bass Pro's fish stories

Last week a report authored by a Buffalo-based activist, Kevin Connor, detailed the outrageous amount of money that Wall Street’s biggest banks are spending to lobby Congress as the financial reform debate continues: about $1.4 million per day. These are the same banks that received $160 billion if federal bailouts from Congress and trillions in cheap loans from the Federal Reserve in the teeth of the financial meltdown that was created, in large part, by the their own risky investment schemes. Connor wrote the report under the aegis of Campaign for America’s Future (, with research assistance from Little Sis (, a Buffalo-based group that tracks relationships among politicians, corporate executives, lobbyists, et alia. The report has received national media attention, which may differentiate it from the next big effort by these local watchdogs: Sometime soon, the Public Accountability Initiative, which is affiliated with Little Sis, will release a report skewering the promises made by Bass Pro to justify the huge subsidies it is poised to receive for opening a store in Buffalo’s historic waterfront development. (Bass Pro will receive $35 million in direct subsidies, and a total of $155 million in subsidies if one considers the surrounding parking ramps, docks, and other amenities that are part of phase one of the Canal Side plan, all of which benefit Bass Pro.) The report looks at the massive subsidies Bass Pro has been handed by other municipal governments (Mesa, Arizona, for example, as well as Garland, Texas, and Oklahoma City), the promises Bass Pro made to secure those subsidies, and the company’s failure to live up to those promises. More on this report soon.

Burying the Kensington

And speaking of activists, Justin Booth, director of Green Options Buffalo, will speak at the May 27 meeting of the Frontier Democratic Club at JP Bullfeathers, at 7:30pm. His subject: “Can the NYS Department of Transportation undo the critical mistake of the 1960’s in building the Kensington Expressway through the Olmsted-designed park system, and can Humboldt Parkway be restored?” At that meeting, the Frontiers Democrats will also vote on a resolution calling for political apparatchik Steve Pigeon to be suspended from his position as legal counsel to the State Senate Democratic Caucus while his and State Senator Pedro Espada’s business activities are being investigated by the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office.

Farewell to David Jay

David Jay, a lawyer with an enviable record in the arenas of civil rights and criminal defense, died of thyroid cancer on Tuesday, May 18, at age 71. Last year he’s been named Lawyer of the Year by the Erie County Bar Association. Among Jay’s recent clients was Syaed Ali, the Breckenridge Street man who is suing the Buffalo Police Department and others in relation to his bizarre detention and interrogation in November 2008. Ali is accused of harassing the mayor by email and website, though he was never charged—or served with an arrest warrant, or read his Miranda rights, or allowed to contact a lawyer during his detainment. The last time I’d communicated with Jay about Ali’s case was last September, by which time the defendants had filed responses to Ali’s suit. I asked Jay if he thought the city would seek a settlement. His response: “Are you kidding. Vistas of litigation have opened. We have now responded to their paper discovery requests and they will do the same for us; then, we will schedule depositions of all the parties; then, assignment to a judge; then, possible settlement discussions or set a date for trial, probably in 2011. Away we go!” Jay’s office manager will refer all the late attorney’s cases to other lawyers.

Thompson vs. Ricchiazzi

On Tuesday evening, gubernatorial candidate (can we dispense with that phrase and just call all of them goobers?) Carl Paladino held a fundraiser in the lobby of the Ellicott Square Building, which his company owns. Turnout was light, but among the attendees was young Matthew Ricchiazzi, who ran for mayor of Buffalo last fall and for Buffalo school board this spring. Ricchiazzi buttonholed Nick Langworthy, who has just been made chairman of the Erie County Republican Party, to tell him that he planned to challenge State Senator Antoine Thompson, a Democrat, this fall. Langworthy responded by ushering over Rus Thompson, the Grand Island gadfly who has been helping the Paladino campaign. Thompson—that’s Rus, of course; Antoine plays only a supporting role in this story—told Ricchiazzi not to run, because he, Rus, was the only Republican who stood a chance of unseating Antoine in the fall. “A series of awkward moments” is how Ricchiazzi described the ensuing conversation over the phone the next morning. Ricchiazzi told Thompson that he doubted Thompson could beat him in the primary, much less the incumbent in the general election. He suggested that Langworthy and the Republican leadership were guilty of conspiring to keep the Democratic incumbent in office in a year when incumbents and Democrats are in trouble statewide. (Thompson has indicated that he might get support from the Conservative and Independent parties, as well as from the Republicans. The nominally Democratic operative Steve Pigeon exercises much influence in the local endorsements of both parties.) And Ricchiazzi insisted that no one could or would discourage him from mounting a campaign. There followed some back-and-forth between Thompson and Ricchiazzi, and Ricchiazzi insists that the conversation ended cordially. The following day, Ricchiazzi characterized local elections as “a grimy, corrupt cesspool,” and the local Republican leadership as feckless. He’s running, he said, no matter who asks him not to.

The rumor stops here

All kinds of farfetched stories fly in over the transom here at 810 Main Street. This morning, on deadline day, we were told that Leonard Stokes—the former basketball star at the center of the scandal surrounding One Sunset, the restaurant that defaulted on a series of ill-advised public loans—had been taken on as a partner in the nightclub formerly known as Desiderio’s on Pearl Street. We called Tony Valliant, the owner of Barcelona, which currently occupies that spot, and asked him if he had a new partner named Leonard Stokes. No partner, Valliant replied. (“Partners are trouble.”) And he’d never heard of Stokes. I reminded Valliant of the One Sunset fiasco, and he laughed. “Buffalo and its rumors,” he said. “This place is worse than LA.”

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