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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

The remains of 85 & 91 Genesee St. (photo courtesy of David Torke at

BMHA Reforms

Somewhat lost in the skirmishes of the last two weeks between Mayor Byron Brown and the increasingly fragile majority coalition on the Common Council—the appointment of Dan Derenda as police commissioner, the nixing of David Rodriguez as corporation counsel, the tabling of the Canal Side payoff—was an interesting proposal for restructuring the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. BMHA has seven commissioners, five of them appointed by the city’s mayor. (During his time in office, Mayor Byron Brown has typically left one or two seats unfilled.) The other two commissioners are elected by residents of BMHA’s properties.

As a result, agency and its board of commissioners have served as a patronage dumping ground: long on political hacks and family members, short on qualifications and expertise.

Last week, the Common Council approved a resolution sponsored by Council President Dave Franczyk asking the New York State legislature to reconsider the housing authority’s governing structure, reducing the mayor’s appointees from five to three, ceding two appointments to the Common Council. That simple reform, the resolution claims, “would make the BMHA governing board more transparent, accountable and representative of the needs of the City of Buffalo.”

Perhaps. It’s not as if the members of the Common Council are completely allergic to patronage. But the rubberstamp commissioners appointed by Buffalo’s mayors, present and past, have not exactly covered BMHA in glory.

Last week the Common Council also asked City Comptroller Andy SanFilippo to conduct an audit of the current management of BMHA’s Marine Drive

Apartments, at the request of the complex’s resident council. Marine Drive is currently managed by Erie Regional Housing Development Corporation, which until recently employed mayoral crony Henry Littles for the job.

You will recall that Littles resigned when a tenant at Marine Drive, a young woman, claimed that the married Littles had engaged in a long affair with her, had given her preferential treatment during the affair, and had then broken it off. She later recanted the part about preferential treatment, as well as other sordid details of the dalliance, but not before casting an unflattering light on Erie Regional and Littles’ tenure as manager.

Prior to Erie Regional, which took up the reins in 2007, Marine Drive had been managed by a company called HKMDC LLC, a partnership between the Kissling Interests and Richard Hutchens, a Buffalo businessman to whom some politician somewhere clearly owed a payoff. A report released in March by the state’s Inspector General characterized Hutchens’ three years at the helm as a mix of incompetence, indifference, and theft.

The Empire State Strikes Back

On Monday, the State of New York filed a Notice of Motion for Reargument or Leave to Appeal with the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court in the matter of Lee Bordeleau, et al., v. State of New York, et al..

That’s the case that was successfully argued by local attorney James Ostrowski that points out a pesky section of the New York State Constitution that forbids giving public money to private businesses.

Added in the 19th century when it became apparent that railroad companies that were given public money sometimes went belly-up, and is now giving us all a new perspective on the Bass Pro deal.

But the consequences state-wide, which, according to court papers would be in the vicinity of $5 billion dollars, are the reason for this recent action.

According to an affidavit sworn by Michael Novakowski, Chief Budget Examiner for the New York State Division of the Budget and the Unit Chief for the unit of the Division of the Budget that administers the portion of the State’s budget relating to economic development activities, the state would face a sticky wicket if Ostrowski’s argument continues to prevail.

Of the ruling he writes, “(it) will have a substantial impact on the implementation of the budget enacted for the State’s fiscal year 2010-11. The portion of the budget that appropriates most of the funds for economic development programs and activities became law on June 22, 2010.”

“Over the months ahead,” he writes, “the Division of the Budget will be required to make numerous decisions about whether to allocate such funds and permit their expenditure by Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and other entities. Uncertainty as to the law governing the validity of such expenditures will make the efficient administration of that portion of the budget difficult, if not impossible.”

Ostrowski agrees it would jeopardize billions in state spending, and thinks it would be an excellent time for the judges to hand down a ruling on the matter. To that end, he intends to file papers of his own next week also seeking that day in court.

The Helper and His Help

We first met Ed Betz when he popped up as the campaign manager for School Board candidate Jason McCarthy, and then as “The Helper” for Joe Golombek’s campaign against Sam Hoyt. With McCarthy, we got to know him because of all the Education Reform Now Advocacy flyers sent out in support of pro-charter candidates from Suite 8 at 640 Ellicott Street, an office for Whitney Kemp, an associate of Jack O’Donnell. O’Donnell has since been named Erie County Water Commissioner.

Now O’Donnell and Betz have popped up as commentators for a new group called Democratic Action for Western New York, or DAWNY (

“Despite our strategic location and proud industrial history, jobs are being lost and opportunities are being squandered. Better local government is a large part of the answer. And better government requires concenrned community members like us joinging together to demand fundamnetal reforms,” O’Donnell writes.

Betz adds this: “As we know too well in Western New York, the job situation is far less than ideal. We have all seen young, qualified people move out of the region and the state to go elsewhere in search of a job. In fact, since 2000, over two million New Yorkers have moved out of state, many of them in the 20-35 year-old range. What are other states and regions doing that we aren’t in order to attract and maintain job growth?”

Question: Would it be possible for all the unemployed in our region to get political jobs like Betz and O’Donnell have?

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