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365 Days: Looking Back on the Year That Was

The Year in Review

The local story of the year: Carl Paladino.

JANUARY >> The City of Buffalo officially informs the Olmsted Conservancy that the agreement by which the Conservancy maintains the city’s system of Olmsted-designed parks will be extended.

A host of folks leave their jobs: Celeste Lawson is fired from her post as executive director of the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County, amid accusations that she misused agency funds. Brian Reilly, the Brown administration’s estranged economic development chief, is also gone, along with Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson and Fire Commissioner Michael Lombardo. Gipson said he was in a hospital bed when he learned he was being let go.

The Democratic committee members of Buffalo’s Ellicott District convene for a chaotic and contentious session to vote on who they will endorse to fill the district’s seat on the Common Council, vacated by Brian Davis, who pleaded guilty to misuse of campaign funds. After several votes, the endorsement goes to the Reverend Darius Pridgen—but the Common Council’s majority coalition, looking to add to their advantage over the mayor’s allies, instead seat Dr. Curtis Haynes, Jr., a professor of economics at Buffalo State College. Pridgen vows to run for the seat in the fall’s special election—which he does, winning handily.

Upon taking office, Curtis Haynes discovers that Davis has spent almost all the district’s discretionary and staff money.

Attorneys Sean Cooney and Mike Kuzma announce they’ll primary State Senator Bill Stachowski. Cooney eventually drops out, having failed to raise enough money to present a credible challenge to Stachowski and the other Democrat in the race, Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy. Kuzma perseveres despite his lack of campaign funds.

At Governor David Paterson’s State of the State speech, Erie County Executive Chris Collins says to a woman looking for a seat in the crowded hall, “I’m sure if you offer someone a lap dance, you can find a place to sit.” Or words to that effect. The woman is Laura Zaepfel, daughter of Carl Montante, Sr., founder of Uniland Development and a neighbor to Collins in the Spaulding Lake subdivision in Clarence. Chris Collins: Running his mouth like a business. Two weeks later, Collins announces that he was abandoning his bid for the Republican nomination for governor.

Remember former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford? Remember how for about five minutes he was contemplating a primary challenge to Senator Kristen Gillibrand? Remember how he shook hands with patrons at Gigi’s and had lunch with Byron Brown at the Chop House?

The EPA announces that Tonawanda Coke is guilty of “polluting the air with uncontrolled releases of ammonia and benzene, failing to conduct required annual maintenance inspections of emission controls and proper maintenance and operations, and failing to complete multiple required reports.” The feds add that the company has mishandled coal tar sludge—Tonawanda Coke’s environmental manager was arrested on related federal charges on December 23—and illegally discharged wastewater into the Niagara River. The year will only get worse for the company and its recalcitrant owner, J. D. Crane.

Buffalo-born Gabrielle Bouliane, a poet beloved of many, passes away in Austin, Texas.

FEBRUARY >> Tea Party activist Rus Thompson announces his intention to launch a movement to draft developer Carl Paladino as a candidate for governor. And away we go.

Folks march on the Rath Building to protest Chris Collins’ plan to end daycare subsidies for single working mothers. Daniel Nye, a 26-year-old Cheektowaga man, hangs himself in the Erie County Holding Center, the ninth suicide there since 2003. North District Councilman Joe Golombek holds a fundraiser at Ulrich’s Tavern that draws many diehard opponents of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, including Deputy Mayor Steve Casey and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore. Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy is there, too, politicking for his run at Bill Stachowski’s State Senate seat.

Buffalo’s Common Council passes a resolution sponsored by Council President Dave Franczyk that seeks to prevent the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo from selling St. Gerard’s Catholic Church on East Delevan to a parish in Georgia, whose leaders say they want to move the entire structure block by block.

At his State of the City speech, Mayor Byron Brown says he will dismantle the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation, after a year of being embarrassed by the One Sunset scandal.

Governor David Paterson travels to West Seneca to announce he will run to retain his job in the fall. Shortly thereafter, he announces he will not run after all. State Senator Antoine Thompson and his chief of staff take a vacation in Jamaica, first instructing their staff not to divulge their location to colleagues or the press. Hilarity ensues.

Congressman Brian Higgins assembles members of the press at Front Park to announce that he’s brokered a deal that would allow the Olmsted Conservancy to support the Public Bridge Authority’s Peace Bridge plaza expansion plan. The PBA, Higgins says, has agreed to study the possibility of removing the ramp that connects the I-190 to the Peace Bridge—a ramp which also obscures the view from Front Park of the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Erie, which was Frederick Law Olmsted’s rationale for locating the frontispiece of his park system there to begin with. The ramp would be replaced by a tunnel. PBA general manager Ron Rienas tells AV after the press conference that he doubts the tunnel is feasible. Ten months later, the PBA officially announces that it is not feasible.

MARCH >> Disgraced former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, removed from office in February after being convicted of slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken wine glass, declares that he will seek to reclaim his seat in the special election slated to fill the vacancy this month. He loses.

Flying Bison Brewery announces that its shareholders have approved a deal with Matt Brewing of Utica that will keep the Ontario Street brewery open. The board of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority officially accepts a report from New York’s Office of the Inspector General concluding that the previous manager of BMHA’s Marine Drive Apartments, HKMDA, LLC, “engaged in a pattern of self-dealing” during the three years it managed the properties, beginning in January 2004. The Town of Niagara Board approves a special use permit allowing Gene’s Wholesale, at 2924 Military Road, to expand. All well and good—except that 2924 Military Road was identified way back in the late 1970s as a radioactive hotspot in a study performed for the Oak Ridge National Laboratories. A flyover survey identified the future site of Gene’s Wholesale as contaminated with radioactive material, and subsequent soil samples found high concentration of the radioactive metal thorium.

APRIL >> Hundreds gather to witness the much-ballyhooed signing of some papers representing an agreement wherein the Oak-Michigan Housing Development Corporation will sell the HUD-subsidized McCarley Gardens to the UB Foundation for $15 million.

Carl Paladino kicks off his campaign on Dyngus Day. Spotted in the crowd at the Ellicott Square Building, where the announcement takes place: political scoundrel Roger Stone, whose colleague Michael Caputo will manage Paladino’s campaign. Not long after, publishes racist, sexist, and pornographic emails—one involving a horse—that Paladino forwarded to friends and business associates.

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority hires a new “crime prevention specialist”: George E. Stokes—husband of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, vice-chair of the Erie County Democratic Party, and uncle to basketball hero Leonard Stokes, one of the lead characters in the One Sunset boondoggle.

A federal investigation into possible tax fraud and money-laundering involves a company tied to State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada through his son (also named Pedro), and a Niagara Falls company tied to Espada’s chief counsel, Steve Pigeon, the political operative who wooed Espada to caucus with Republicans in 2009, resulting in the leadership coup that paralyzed Albany for weeks, and to Pigeon’s political partner and business associate Gary Parenti.

MAY >> Common Councilmen Joe Golombek and Mickey Kearns call for school board elections to be moved to coincide with general elections held in November. The move would require a change in the New York State Education Law, which contains an archaic section that calls for unique rules that apply to Buffalo—hence, our odd first-Tuesday-in-May practice that routinely brings out less than five percent of city voters to decide the board that will help oversee the $1 billion+ BPS budget.

Masten District Councilman Demone Smith pushes the New York State Department of Transportation to consider a third option in its $2 million study of ways to undo the mistake made in 1968, when Frederick Law Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway was sacrificed in favor of a high-speed expressway that completed the schism between Buffalo’s East and West sides.

David Jay, a lawyer with an enviable record in the arenas of civil rights and criminal defense, dies of thyroid cancer on Tuesday, May 18, at age 71.

JUNE >> Buffalo’s Common Council approves a 10-year agreement between the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Water Board, and Veolia Water America-Northeast which pays Veolia $5.07 million annually to manage the city’s water system.

JULY >> The editors of the Buffalo News spike the popular news blog written by investigative reporter Jim Heaney. Heaney was the only news reporter at the paper who blogged regularly and his blog was surely, along with the sports blogs, one of the online product’s prime draws.

After many delays and much grumbling, Dan Derenda is made Buffalo’s new police commissioner. 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.

Congressman Brian Higgins says he’s giving Bass Pro two weeks to sign with the Canal Side project or get lost. Subsequently, Bass Pro gets lost.

AUGUST >> Bass Pro, Bass Pro, Bass Pro. Larry Quinn. HSBC leaving its eponymous tower? Webster Block. Bass Pro.

Political operative Steve Pigeon celebrates his 50th birthday with a party at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society.

Residents of Bridgeman Street in Black Rock were treated to a scene they hadn’t encountered since the old Buffalo Belting and Weaving plant was torched in April 2003: a team of EPA site investigators sealed up in protective suits and equipped with a Geiger counter and other contaminant-sniffing gear.

AV bids farewell to Dan, a dog who helped to deliver more than four million copies of this newspaper in his 12-year career, covering more than 125,000 miles in the passenger seat.

SEPTEMBER >> National Fuel, bristling at a campaign by People United for Sustainable Housing aimed at reforming its Conservation Incentive Program, seeks a restraining order against PUSH’s membership.

Carl Paladino slays Rick Lazio in the Republican primary for governor.

The Canal Side Community Alliance and the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to redirect the development of Buffalo’s waterfront announce a series of public meetings on the project.

Business owners along Allen Street watch as men in camouflage military fatigues exit a van with government license plates and fan out across the street, pulling down posters from lampposts and telephone poles advertising a peace march.

UB President John Simpson announces he will step down effective January 15, 2011.

OCTOBER >> An attorney from Harris Beach informs the remaining employees of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation that their last day of employment would be October 22.

Carl Paladino spends the better part of two weeks dealing with remarks he made about homosexuality at an Orthodox synagogue in New York City.

State Democrats begin to recognize that State Senator Antoine Thompson is in danger of losing his seat to Republican Mark Grisanti, and start sending Thompson money. Steve Banko retires as HUD’s field office director. Chris Collins unveils a budget that eviscerates cultural and library spending, as well as Comptroller Mark Poloncarz’s staff.

NOVEMBER >> Paladino loses. Grisanti and Kennedy win. About 600 people show up at City Honors to tell Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to change its thinking about waterfront development. About 500 people gather at County Hall to tell Chris Collins he should change the way he thinks about funding cultural institutions.

DECEMBER >> The directors of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation offer some concessions to those who have been loudly pressuring them to reconsider their plans for waterfront development in the absence of a Bass Pro megastore. Then, about a week later, they submit to ESDC, their parent organization, a plan that makes practically none of those concessions. The plan is approved.

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