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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Something smells fishy about Bass Pro

Karla Know-Nothing

On Monday, July 19, Buffalo Commissioner of Human Resources Karla Thomas answered questions from members of the Common Council regarding the search process for he city’s new police commissioner.

Among the resources she claimed to have used starting back in January is It’s the website for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. But here’s a curiosity AV discovered as Thomas was making this claim, thanks to the stupefying capabilities of the iPhine: The job posting for commissioner of police in Buffalo only went up online last Saturday, July 17.

So apparently, as of Saturday, the city was still actively soliciting applications for the job Mayor Byron Brown has already given to Daniel Derenda.

Thomas claims to have forwarded 33 resumes to the mayor, but played no role after that. Shes said her department performed no background checks, and she did not know if there was a selection committee, a vetting process, or even a short list of candidates.

Thomas, you may recall, was unwilling to participate in an audit of her department last year, asking the Comptroller’s office to cut her out of the email loop between her department and the auditors with the acronym that has become her middle name: “TMI”—too much information.

No danger of that when she’s answering questions.

Derenda Delighted

God knows the amount of horse-trading it took, but Dan Derenda was made Buffalo’s new police commissioner on Wednesday afternoon. The key votes came from Lovejoy’s Rich Fontana and Fillmore’s Dave Franczyk, who ordinarily vote with the majority coalition that is not aligned with the mayor.

A source at Grassroots, the Mayor Byron Brown’s political base, told AV last fall that he expected the club would mount challenges to both Franczyk and Fontana, white men representing districts that are majority African American. The source noted the overwhelming numbers the mayor posted in those districts in his re-election campaign last year, and pronounced Franczyk and Fontana doomed.

Rodriguez Rebuked

Tuesday’s Common Council session opened, as it always does, with a prayer. (Does anyone pray publicly so often and so audibly as the elected official?) The University District’s Bonnie Russell’s message in a nutshell: Please, God, save us from being political.

Fat chance. The Council voted five to four to deny David Rodriguez the post of corporation counsel, to which Mayor Byron Brown had nominated him two weeks earlier. (Lovejoy’s Rich Fontana jumped the majority coalition’s ship and joined Russell, the North’s Joe Golombek, and Masten’s Demone Smith in supporting Rodriguez.) The rationale: Rodriguez is running against Niagara District Councilman David Rivera for a Democratic Party committee seat. In Tuesday’s session, Delaware’s Mike LoCurto argued that in doing so Rodriguez showed poor judgment—he is the city’s lawyer, and is supposed to represent all branches of government, not just the mayor who appoints him. The corproation counsel is supposed to be above politics. LoCurto said the race against Rivera, who Rodriguez theoretically represents, coupled with his failure to deliver any timely or helpful opinions during the Brian Davis meltdown last fall, had convinced him that Rodriguez was incapable of acting independently of the mayor’s office. And that, LoCurto said, made him incapable of representing the entire city.

One might have expected fireworks. There were none. Smith sputtered a few words of protest—the Council was rejecting the city’s first Latino nominee for corporation counsel—but the words died on his lips.

Earlier in the session, Kevin Helfer was approved unanimously as the city’s new parking czar.

Canal Proposal Sent to Committee

On Monday, Mayor Byron Brown and directors of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation announced that they’d negotiated an alternative to the community benefit agreement, or CBA, that the Common Council has demanded as a condition for releasing city-owned land for the Canal Side development centered around Bass Pro. The plan: ECHDC would pay $7.5 million for the land, and Brown would kick in $2.5 million, to create a fund that would dole out $1 million to each of the nine councilmanic districts for infrastructure improvements. The remaining $1 million would be used to shore up commercial corridors, presumably at the mayor’s discretion.

Councilmembers did not receive copies of the proposed eal until an hour before Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, however, so they sent it to the Community Development Committee, which meets next week. (South District Councilman Mickey Kearns argued that, as a contract, it should be sent to the Finance Committee, which he chairs. No dice.)

The Canal Side Community Alliance, which successfully lobbied the Council on behalf of a CBA—which guarantees that beneficiaries of public investment will pay a living wage, and that development will meet green design standards and include incentives for local, independent businesses—immediately protested the proposed deal. The Council had originally asked that ECHDC negotiate a CBA with the alliance, which comprises more than 40 community groups, but ECHDC has refused to engage them. Instead, ECHDC turned to the mayor, compromising what the alliance calls the “inclusivity, transparency, and accountability” of the process.

There’s every chance that a special session will be called next week so the Council can address this proposal before it goes into recess for August.

Tick-Tock, Bass Pro

Speaking of which, what’s with Congressman Brian Higgins giving Bass Pro two weeks to sign on the the Canal Side project or get lost? Get the feeling he knows something we don’t know? Are we going to see a proposal for a new building for HSBC replace Bass Pro as the centerpiece of the Canal Side project?

The War for Independence

On Monday, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt sent out a press release with the somewhat surprising news that he’d received the endorsement of the Independence Party.

The state Independence Party, that is, chaired by Frank MacKay.

The local chapter of the Independence Party, chaired by Sandra Rosenswie, lined up behind Hoyt’s Democratic primary opponent, North District Common Councilman Joe Golombek. The local branch of the Conservative Party also endorsed Golombek. Political operative Steve Pigeon, that champion Hoyt hater, exercises considerable influence with the local leaders of both parties.

It used to be that Pigeon (and his chief benefactor, Independence Party founder Tom Golisano) swung a pretty heavy hammer at the state level, too. Just last spring, Frank MacKay acknowledged that he would follow the lead of Pigeon and Golisano when it came to Independence Party endorsements in upstate races. And recall that two years ago Pigeon deployed around a half million of Golisano’s dollars in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Hoyt. So what gives?

The state party must ratify the local party’s endorsements, and this is not the first time that the local chapter has run afoul of the state operation. It’s not even the first time this year: The local party endorsed Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy in his bid against State Senator Bill Stachowski, but the state party endorsed Stachowski.

What we’re seeing now, at least in the case of Hoyt’s endorsement, is the influence of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg—the billionaire has bonded with Hoyt over their mutual support for charter schools—winning out over that of Pigeon at the state level. Maybe Bloomberg is making a power play. Maybe Pigeon’s association with scandal-ridden State Senator Pedro Espada is creating some backlash.

Maybe Golisano doesn’t feel like dropping another $4 million on state legislature races this cycle.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this resolves itself.

“Sam Hoyt has long been a champion of reform in state government,” said MacKay, in the press release issued by Hoyt’s office this afternoon. “He represents the issues and priorities of the state Independence Party and we are proud to endorse him for his reelection. New York State needs strong, independent leaders like Sam Hoyt who are driven by reform in state government.”

The endorsement, while nice for Hoyt, probably won’t do much to help him beat back Golombek. The race is nail-bitingly tight, and the urge to hoist all incumbents on a pole runs especially strong this year. (Of course, an anti-incumbency message does not resonate as strongly coming from Golombek, who has been in elected office himself for 10 years.) Hoyt’s support for charter schools, though it wins him campaign donations from charter advocates and support from Bloomberg, may cost him in the voting booth, if the Buffalo Teachers Federation’s Phil Rumore is able to rouse his troops, a large contingent of which live in the district.

-geoff kelly

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