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STRINGS ATTACHED: Why Brian Higgins should be elected to congress and Nancy Naples should not

On September  11th  2001, no one was thinking about money. Lives were shat- tered. Hearts all over the world were broken. Every- one   remembers   George Bush’s speech with the bullhorn at ground zero. With his arm around rescue workers and  firefighters,  the  President  promised we would find the people who perpetrated this terrible deed and bring them to justice. At the time, no one could or would think about who would pay the bill for the devastation of the large-scale international attack on our country’s greatest city.

But in the hottest local race this election between New York assemblyman Brian Higgins and Erie County comptroller Nan- cy Naples, who are fighting hard for retir- ing congressman Jack Quinn’s 27th district seat, Naples still seems to not ever have thought about who would pay the bill. In her television advertising campaign, debates and stump speeches, Naples has continually hammered Higgins for voting for a $3 billion dollar tax increase. What she neglects to point out is when and why that tax package arrived on the floor of the legislature.

In August of 2001 New York had a project- ed $2 billion dollar surplus in the budget. By mid-September, after the 9/11 attacks, that number had changed to a $7 billion dollar projected deficit. The attacks of September 11 not only had a devastating human toll, they also destroyed New York’s financial district, and that’s where most of this state’s wealth comes from. Besides the loss of revenue from the financial district, New York tourism immediately evaporated and so did any dollars from sales tax, hotel taxes, airports, transportation, etc. Further- more, while George Bush made a highly publicized announcement promising $20 billion in aid to New York immediately fol- lowing the disaster, the promised money was not being delivered and New York was hurting badly.

Realizing the Republicans in Washington were abandoning them, New York lawmak- ers went to work and decided they had two options. One option was to levy a temporary tax of $3 billion dollars on the top five percent of the wealthiest New Yorkers, which would make up $3 billion of the $7 billion deficit. The other option, which Governor Pataki wanted, was to initiate a sales tax and huge property tax increases, which would put stress on cities, towns and school districts. A bi-partisan plan from both the Assembly and the Senate won out and they voted for a temporary three-year tax on the rich. And guess what? George Pataki vetoed it. He was insisting on a 1.25 percent sales tax increase and an increase in property taxes. Fortunately, both the Republican senate and the Democratic assembly overwhelmingly overrode his veto. They raised a short-term tax on the rich and coupled it with increased federal aid from Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer to save our schools and parks and local police. If Naples now wants to be critical of Higgins’ vote for a temporary three-year tax on the state’s wealthiest five percent, then one can only conclude that she would have voted against the tax on the wealthy and instead let Pataki tax the middle class. Go Nancy!

But for anyone who really understands Nancy Naples, this is no surprise. She is one of the rich and she wants to be elected so that like the Republican majority now controlling Washington, she can fight for that top five percent of wealthy Americans and corporations. Higgins wants to be elected to fight for the other 95 percent of us. A look at the top contributors to their campaigns reveals a lot about who is paying for the candidates’ trip to Congress.

NAPLES’ TOP CONTIBUTORS:

  • Americans for a Republican Majority– $10,000
  • Keep Our Majority PAC – $10,000
  • Together for our Majority – $10,000
  • Rely on Your Beliefs – $10,000
  • Goldman Sachs – $5,000
  • Promoting Republicans You Can Elect– $5,000
  • Erie County – $5,000
    (Naples also contributed $200,000 of her own money.)
NY Assemblyman Brian Higgins is running for NY’s 27th congression district

HIGGINS’ TOP CONTRIBUTORS:

  • Ironworkers Union – $12,000
  • Amalgamated Transit Union – $7,500
  • Operating Engineers Union – $5,500
  • Teamsters Union – $5,000
  • United Transportation Union – $5,000
  • International   Longshoremen’s   Assn.– $5,000

Equally as revealing as these contributor lists is the candidates’ answer to a debate question: Do you support raising the minimum wage? Higgins, knowing that $5.15 an hour is simply too low for struggling unskilled workers, immediately said he supported increasing the minimum wage. Naples said she did not support increasing a minimum wage because it would make it too hard on business.

As of October 1, Naples had spent $623,799 on her campaign and still had $451,203 cash on hand. Higgins was down to only $122,191 cash on hand. Some people may recognize the first name on Naples’ list, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC) which gave Naples $10,000. It is the PAC created by House Leader Tom “the hammer” Delay that in September had three of its members—aides to Delay—indicted for money laundering, and accepting illegal corporate contributions to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit corporate money to Republican statehouse candidates in 2002. The Democratic congressional campaign demanded Naples return the $10,000 after the indictments. She refused.

Although not indicted, a Texas prosecutor is still gathering evidence against DeLay for a Texas grand jury and DeLay was rebuked three times in two weeks by the congressional ethics committee, composed of five Republicans and five Democrats. The ethics committee cited DeLay for using 13 Federal Aviation Administration employees to track down the whereabouts of Texas democrats during a Texas redistricting dispute, unduly pressuring a colleague to change his vote on the Medicaid bill, and facilitating a golfing event with an energy company to raise funds for one of his political action committees just as the House was considering energy legislation from which the company would directly benefit.

Last week, Higgins and Naples were welcomed with warm applause at their debate at Medaille College. Higgins gave a polite opening statement citing his working-class heritage, his legislative experience, his vision and his determination to do the hard work necessary to represent this community. Things went quickly downhill from there.

Naples briefly cited her 34-year career in corporations, and as chief fiscal officer of Erie County, and then immediately launched into an attack on Higgins. “Eleven thousand jobs were lost in Western New York on his watch,” said Naples, and she went on to say that he has “promoted taxes of every description and discouraged businesses from being created and retained.”

When Higgins reminded her that he was one of the few members of the state assembly who had made a stand to try to change things in Albany and oust Speaker Sheldon Silver, Naples was just

short of vicious.

“Mr. Higgins said that he stood up to change things in Albany,” said Naples, “yet he voted 95 percent of the time with the dysfunctional leader of the state assembly Sheldon Silver. He’s done nothing for Western New York but cause this area to become nothing but economically handicapped.”

Her attacks raised questions from the audience, though perhaps not the ones she was hoping for.

“Wasn’t her ‘watch’ the same as his?” someone asked.

A reasonable question since she proudly boasts she has been the county’s chief fiscal officer for the past 11 years. And isn’t the county now facing a $130 million deficit? There was a $100 million surplus when Naples took over from the popular Alfreda W. Slominski in 1994, who was comptroller during the previous Gorski’s administration. And to say Higgins has “done nothing for Western New York” flies in the face of what people know. For the past six years Higgins single-handedly fought the NFTA, the state and the federal government to bring dollars here to develop areas of the waterfront. He’s the only person in five decades who has accomplished something more than initiating a new study for the outer harbor. Higgins has made it possible for the public to enjoy the outer harbor around Gallagher Beach and Tift Nature Preserve with revitalized beaches and parklands where families and bicyclists and joggers now enjoy Lake Erie. And while Higgins was working to return the waterfront to the public, Nancy Naples and her husband, oil tycoon Thomas O’Neil, bought their neighbor’s house for $380,000, only to demolish the 3,580-square-foot house to expand the privacy of their Lake Erie property.

The phrase most often heard about Albany is that it is a government run by “three men in a room.” Two of those men are Republicans, Governor George Pataki and Senator Leader Joe Bruno. The third is Sheldon Silver, who is no friend of Brian Higgins,

Then there are the hundreds of lobbyists and pressure from the federal level to make New York do its bidding. To put all the blame of decisions coming out of Albany on Brian Higgins’ shoulders is laughable.

But Naples’ worst offense to anyone who knows the story of the May 2000 “revolt in Albany” was her complete unwillingness to recognize that as a freshman assemblyman, Brian Higgins made an admirable effort to force change. Higgins recalls the events:

“There was growing frustration in Albany with the gridlock on budget and legislation. That growing frustration led to an effort by an upstate member of the assembly [Michael Bragman of Syracuse] to take out Sheldon Silver. There were very substantial issues: an on-time budget, spending constraints, debt relief and essentially changing the autocratic control in Albany.

I joined 64 members, of which only 51 votes were required to change the leadership in Albany. We wanted to send a message not only to the Assembly Speaker, but also to the Senate Majority leader and to the governor that we were fed up and this was not going to be tolerated.

Unfortunately, within three days, of the 64 members committed to change, that number had dwindled down to 12. [This was after three days of relentless intimidation from Silver and his allies.] The question was, who was going to stand up for change? Who was going to follow up on their commitment?

Despite knowing that the effort to change Albany was not going to succeed, I stood by my commitment and followed through on

it, knowing that there would be consequences. And there were. I was reapportioned into another district to run against an incumbent and my reception in Albany became very chilly.

[Bragman and the others received retribution, as well.] But people sent me to Albany to try to effect change and I made an effort, and would do it again. I wish we would have

succeeded because I think it would have changed the way Albany does business.”

Buffalo News political reporter Bob McCarthy recently wrote that comptroller Nancy Naples had set a record for the “most times the word ‘independent’ is used in a congressional campaign.” She certainly added to that record in last week’s debate with Higgins at Medaille College. An apparent master at repetition, Naples also changed Jack Quinn’s name to “my good

friend Jack Quinn.”

Let’s get something straight. Ralph Nader is an independent. Nancy Naples is a Republican, and she has a long history of working with the most aggressive Republicans in modern politics. Names

like Al D’Amato, Bill Paxon, Tom Delay, Tom Reynolds, George Pataki, and Dennis Hastert have all helped steer Naples career to further their own Republican agenda. The difference between Higgins and Naples is simple; Higgins is a champion for working middle class people and Naples is working for big business and the George Bush agenda.

Besides being a George Bush delegate to the 2000 Republican National Convention, only a few weeks ago Naples told the Buffalo News “I absolutely support the president of the United States. He’s a strong leader.”

At the Medaille College debate the question was asked “knowing what we know now, would you have voted to authorize president Bush to go to war with Iraq?”

Higgins was quick and unequivocal: “Absolutely not. But if we knew then what we now know, there would have been no vote.” Naples, on the other hand, said, “knowing what I know now, that question would have to be looked at very carefully. It’s a tough one.”

Okay, let’s look at what we now know and see how “tough” the question is. That 15 of the 19 terrorist hi-jackers of 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia—none were from Iraq; Iran is openly pursuing nuclear weapons; North Korea is flaunting their nuclear weapons program; Pakistan has for years been selling plans and materials for nuclear weapons to governments supporting terrorism and and finally, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, nuclear or chemical, and no ties to al Qaeda, as we were falsely told.

We know that Bush went to war with Iraq needlessly and recklessly without any plan for what happens after the invasion and now there’s over 1,000 young Americans in coffins, and almost 8,000 wounded, crippled and amputees, plus over 30,000 dead Iraqi and over 100,000 Iraqi wounded, mostly civilians. Iraqi cities are destroyed, treasures looted, U.S. hatred intensified, attacks on our troops have escalated every month for the past six months, we’re treated to weekly kidnappings and videotaped beheadings, and America is far less safe today then we were when Bush commenced that war. In his memoirs, Bush’s father wrote that invading Iraq “would have incurred incalculable human and political costs… We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq… there was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see.” But George W. invaded Iraq anyway, and for reasons different than those he told the American people.

If that makes sense to Naples, we need to worry that Bush’s other reasoning makes sense to her, too. Like if you keep condoms out of schools, adolescents will stop having sex. That’s okay to praise our troops while simultaneously cutting combat pay and veteran’s benefits. O this gem from Bush’s last debate—that his No Child Left Behind education policy addresses our growing job loss. Apparently he believes jobless adults should go back to grade school. He also said that importing drugs from Canada was dangerous, but two minutes later said he’s looking to Canada for more flu vaccine.

For Naples “absolutely” supporting the president she’s getting a lot of support in return from “the boys.” Her campaign strategies are taken right from the Karl Rove playbook: distortions, half-truths and misleading statements. Here is good example. Naples’ closing statement at the Medaille debate was “I want everyone to know that I have never voted for a tax increase.” That’s true, but misleading to voters who don’t realize she can only say that because she’s never voted at all on any legislation. She went directly from corporate work to comptroller.

Brian Higgins has a record of achievement and public service. Nancy Naples has a record as an opportunist. Midway through her first term as Erie County comptroller Naples announced she was abandoning that job to run for Congress against John LaFalce. Bill Paxon had personally recruited Naples and it looked like she might be on her way to the Republican cocktail parties of her dreams. She had to drop out of that race only three weeks later because of a family illness.

In 1996, Naples was part of the effort to elect Bob Dole, who was an aggressive proponent of balanced budgets, could not stomach any deficits, worked closely with Democrats to rescue social security and fought bitterly with Ronald Reagan over his deficit spending economic policies. Naples was a firm supporter of Dole’s views. In 2004, she’s a firm believer of Bush’s economic policy, the man who has created the largest deficit in American history and the only president in over seven decades to lose jobs during his administration.

In April of 1997, after Pataki announced he was dumping Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross from his ticket, Naples began vying to be named as a replacement. Her success was contingent on her winning her own upcoming election for a second term as Erie County comptroller, which means she was again running a race for job she was completely willing to abandon. Naples did win her race, but Pataki picked Mary Donohue of Troy to be his running mate so Naples went back into her old job of making Democratic County Executive Dennis Gorski’s life miserable.

By contrast, Brian Higgins was probed about running for mayor of Buffalo. He declined and said he wanted to stay in the assembly but that someday when Jack Quinn retired he would like to run for his congressional seat.

When Joel Giambra appeared as the new darling of the Republicans and was tapped to challenge Gorski, Naples enthusiastically embraced him. She turned up the heat on Gorski and, oddly for a chief fiscal officer, kept publicly attacking him for having a budget surplus and championing Giambra’s drastic 30 percent property tax cut proposals. I think the following Buffalo News editorial from November 21, 1999, shortly after Giambra’s win, sums up where we were and were we are now perfectly.

MIXING POLITICS WITH POLICY (Buffalo News editorial page)

If anyone has a bigger stake in the success of County Executive-elect Joel Giambra than Giambra himself, it’s County Comptroller Nancy Naples. Her enthusiastic backing of Giambra and his 30 percent tax-cut plan has placed her credibility and, more importantly, the credibility of her office on the line. We don’t question her right as the county’s fiscal watchdog to pass judgment on budgets and budget proposals. If not her, then who?

Four years from now, if it turns out she was right about the county having enough money to significantly cut taxes without harming its fiscal stability, she’ll be entitled to shout “I told you so” from the top of the Rath Building.

In the meantime, though, her considerable visibility in supporting Giambra raises questions about where one should draw the line between partisan political activity and the objective oversight functions of the comptroller’s office. The danger is that intense partisanship could erode public confidence in the comptroller’s ability to act as a fair fiscal overseer of the next administration.

We know she isn’t shouting from the rooftops since the property tax cut was an abysmal failure (It’s worth mentioning that Naples and her multi-millionaire husband have been failed to pay their property tax on time in five the last seven years and had to pay thousands in penalty fees). As an example of her partisan politics the editorial went on to point out that when Democrat County Executive Dennis Gorski wanted to to take a lump sum payment on the tobacco settlement she was adamantly against it. When Republican Giambra wanted to do it she was all for it.

In the past year, Joel Giambra’s star has fallen. He is being investigated because of scandals at the Highway Dept. and questions about his excessive furniture purchases from his close friend Jimmy Spano. The county budget is going down the tubes and Joel Giambra is heading for the biggest political meltdown ever seen here. He’s driven the economy so far into the ground with lavish spending and tax cuts there have been massive layoffs and closings in parks, police, motor vehicles, social services, cultural organizations, health care and every other corner of county government. To compensate for his irresponsible property tax cut he had to saddle  Erie County with the second highest sales tax in the country.

Nancy Naples is trying to turn Giambra’s demise into an opportunity before the ship sinks. After she was informed by various news stories and law enforcement agencies that there were ongoing investigations of Giambra’s administration, Naples made sure she got in on the feeding frenzy. Although she had been the chief fiscal officer throughout Giambra’s entire time in office, and signed all the checks, and had privy to and acquiesced everything Giambra did, she now made a big show of auditing the areas she knew were already being investigated.

Naples already had her escape plan in place, as well. On the morning of April 26, 2004 Jack Quinn announced he was not going to run again for Congress. Reportedly, it was a shocking surprise to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. It wasn’t a surprise to Nancy Naples. Erie County Republican chair Bob Davis said Naples had contacted him late that same morning before the announcement to “indicate her interest” in running for Quinn’s seat.

If Brian Higgins can get to Washington and work with Louise Slaughter, Schumer, Clinton and moderate Republicans we might have a chance at improving our waterfront, getting federal transportation dollars and creating jobs. The people that Nancy Naples works with don’t create jobs. George Pataki, Tom DeLay and George Bush only have a record of losing jobs, fighting for corporations over workers.

Republican Jack Quinn tried hard to work on both sides of the political aisle. Brian Higgins is the same kind of politician, and he has a very clear vision of what Western New York should look like and has proven he can get things done. He has good working relationship with both senator Schumer and senator Clinton and a good working relationship with congresswoman Louise Slaughter. You won’t find anyone in Congress with a better record for working in the interest of the people than Louise Slaughter. When thinking about this coming congressional election we need to see the larger picture. Western New York is represented by four districts, 26th (Tom Reynolds), 27th (Jack Quinn-retiring), 28th, (Louise Slaughter) and 29th (Amo Houghton-retiring). It will be far better for this area to send someone to congress who will fight for New York alongside Slaughter, Schumer, Clinton and Republican moderates than to send someone who’s primary interest is to hobnob with Washington socialites.

Brian Higgins has always stood up and fought for the people of Western New York. We think the people should fight for Brian Higgins on election day.


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