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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Gary Earl Ross, left, and Todd Warfield take part in Monday’s wake for the region’s cultural institutions on the steps of the Rath Building in downtown Buffalo, organized by Culture Counts WNY. Photo by Jill Greenberg. More photos from the rally at

Culture Counts Rally

The devil and two grim reapers stood on the steps of the Rath Building on Monday, gazing over the dead bodies of dozens of local artists. The artists, mostly people from the theater community, lay motionless on the steps of the building in protest of Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ proposed 2011 budget, which would cut around $1 million in funding from all but 10 cultural institutions in the city.

Of course the devil was just a man with a pitchfork, and the artists, brandishing signs reading “Culture Counts WNY,” were only metaphorically dead, but their message was clear: Kill the arts, kill the people of Buffalo. The man with the power to resurrect them never emerged from his office, though. Instead, Gary Earl Ross, a faculty member of the University at Buffalo’s Educational Opportunities Center and a playwright whose Murder Squared recently played at the Ujima Theater Company, called the artists backs to life, shouting, “We want the people of Western New York to realize that Buffalo is a city of arts!”

With signs reading “the arts feed my family,” and “culture cuts = brain drain” in hand, the protesters sprung to their feet and chanted, “City of the arts!” until news cameras stopped rolling. As the protest dispersed one protester, holding a sign reading, “the arts feed my soul,” shouted, “Art is small business!

That’s a sentiment that Collins, a businessman and former member of the Small Business Advisory Board to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, would be expected to appreciate.

It’s expected that protesters will return to the Rath Building today (Thursday, October 28), when the Erie County Legislature considers Collins’ budget proposal.

Antoine Thompson's Campaign Funds

The potential impact of Inspector General Joseph Fisch’s report on the AEG/Aqueduct scandal will only really be plumbed after next week’s elections are over. Released, as it was, less than two before voters go to the polls, however, the 300-page report provoked some quick and dramatic reactions.

The story it tells, in brief, is this: Aqueduct Entertainment Group, or AEG, and its competitors engaged in a frenetic and expensive lobbying campaign to win a 30-year contract worth billions of dollars to install and operate slot machines at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens. All told, AEG and the other bidders spent $1.2 million on lobbyists and doled out $100,000 in campaign donations to Democratic legislators and Governor David Paterson. The biggest spender was AEG, which did not meet minimum qualifications for the job but won the contract last year anyway, with the help of inside information leaked by friendly state senators.

One local politician who received AEG money ($8,600 in total) was State Senator Antoine Thompson, co-chair of the Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee, which, Fisch reports, helped to arrange and direct AEG’s contributions.

Thompson has protested that he had no say in AEG’s winning the Aqueduct contract. But other candidates for offcie, both local and statewide, are running as far from the scandal as they can. New York State Attorney General candidate Eric Schneiderman immediately said he’d return $7,500 he’d reported in donations from Thompson. Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy, running for the 58th District State Senate seat, said he would donate $5,000 he’d received from three Democrats named in Fisch’s report—includeing $500 from Thompson—to charity. Cynthia Appleton, a Democrat running for the 59th District State Senate seat, also returned money she received from the State Senate’s Democratic leadership.

Curious thing about the $7,500 Schneiderman got from Thompson. While $2,500 of that sum came from Supporters of Antoine Thompson, which is Thompson’s State Senate campaign committee, and other $5,000 came from Friends of Antoine Thompson, which is Thompson’s Buffalo Common Council campaign committee.

This isn’t just a slip-up in reporting, either: The addresses for the two committees are different. Thompson used his old Common Council campaign fund to donate to Schneiderman.

That would be fine, except that Friends of Antoine Thompson has not filed a campaign finance disclosure form—not even a “no activity” statement—since July 2006. Not even the twice yearly periodic reports required of any active committee.

In July 2006, the committee reported that the committee had $16,842.18 on hand. According to the New York State Board of Elections campaign finance disclosure database, Friends of Antoine Thompson has raised $20,100 since July 2006—with no filings to account for the funds. The records of the donations exist in the filings of other candidate committees and PACs that duly registered their contributions. There is no record of individual donors who may have given to Friends of Antoine Thompson since the committee’s last filing, more than four years ago, because those donations are only tracked and reported by the committee itself.

Nor, of course, has there been any record of money spent for Friends of Antoine Thompson—until Eric Schneiderman’s decision to return money that might be tainted by the AEG/Aqueduct scandal revealed that Thompson’s extra committee has been active.

Howie Hawkins Comes to Town:

If last week’s gubernatorial debate taught New York voters anything (apart from an appreciation of New York City rents), it’s that third party candidates are not all strange agents. Some of them—the Freedom Party’s Charles Barron, the Libertarian Party’s Warren Redlich, the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins—have legitimate perspectives that don’t deserve to be marginalized by our two-party system.

Hawkins will be in town today (Thursday, October 28) at Buffalo State College’s Upton Hall, at 12:15pm, to talk about his candidacy and the Green party, which he helped to found in 1984.

AV’s Stephanie Berberick recently had an opportunity to talk with Hawkins about his platform. Here’s a sample of what he had to say:

On stimulating economic recovery: “There is not enough demand because consumers are over indebted, they lost wealth with housing and stock markets and business is not investing because they don’t see the consumer that will invest. The only entity [businesses] can get demand of is the government…if the government doesn’t spend. we end up in economic stagnation.”

On returning to a progressive income tax system: “During Mario Cuomo’s terms they flattened it out around when you reach the 40th percentile. If they make a million a year, they pay the same amount as someone who makes $32,000 a year. If we just flip that over and make it progressive [again], we will have the money we need to fund jobs, healthcare, and clean energy.”

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