Moving to WNYMedia . . .

July 15, 2009

lgfp1454+anakin-skywalker-becomes-darth-vader-star-wars-episode-iii-revenge-of-the-sith-posterLike a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, or George Jefferson moving to a deluxe apartment in the sky, this blog is being left behind for bigger and better things.

As of today, I’m a columnist at wnymedia.net.  The good folks there apparently liked my Ahab-like obsession with Byron Brown and Brian Davis, so they’ve asked me to join their esteemed roster of writers.  With that kind of exposure, who knows what could happen?  Will I end up running for the county legislature or being harassed by toll takers?  In the words of Kent Brockman, only time will tell.

Eventually (once I figure out how to do it) this site should redirect you to the new site on wnymedia.  Until then, you can use this link for everything you’ve come to love about Will There Ever Be a Rainbow in a fancier package — plus a picture of my gigantic head!

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Brian Davis: Missing in Action

July 14, 2009
Let them eat cake . . . at a Mark Croce-owned restaurant

Let them eat cake . . . at a Mark Croce-owned restaurant

I was going to do a follow-up to this post focusing on Brian Davis’ absenteeism, but Channel 2 beat me to the punch.  According to their report, Davis has missed 16 of 26 committee meetings — where the actual work of the common council gets done — since March.  Constituents in the Ellicott district are receiving something like 40% representation from their common council member while paying 100% of their taxes, unlike Davis who lives in a tax-free home in an Enterprise Zone:

Last year, Davis faced criticism when it was disclosed that he was paying no property taxes on his house on Hickory Street because it is located inside an Empire Zone. Houses in the zone can apply for a seven-year waiver on property taxes, which in this case, save Davis and his wife $2,800 a year.

Davis in 2004 voted to extend the life of the zone. Six months later, his fiancee bought a lot on Hickory from the city, then sold the vacant lot to Savarino Construction Services, which in turn constructed the house and then sold the house and lot back to her in August 2006 for $181,000. The Davises now reside in that house.

Yesterday I spoke with someone in the Ellicott district who had been trying to get Davis’ help getting a stripped car removed from his street.  After repeatedly calling the office with no luck, he went in person and managed to to speak to a staffer who said the car would be removed . . . in 5 days!  Davis himself was not in the office.  He rarely is.

So in addition to the long list of personal scandals surrounding Brian Davis, it’s become clear that he also delivers poor constituent service while drawing his salary from the public and not paying taxes himself.  Give this guy a powdered wig and he’d look right at home hanging out with Marie Antoinette!

A Little Bird . . .

July 14, 2009

I’m starting a new feature where I pass along some of the bits of dirt that I hear “from a little bird” but can’t find enough information on to write a full post.  I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but I can vouch for the quality of the source.  Take them with a grain of salt (or not), and leave a comment if you have any additional info.  As always, this is an exhibition, not a competition — please, no wagering.

— I hear that a representative from a local environmental group met with a city official to discuss collaborating on a project of mutual interest.  The official’s response was that this person should donate $1,000 to the mayor’s re-election campaign as a first step.

— I hear a similar story involving an out-of-town developer meeting with city officials.  He was similarly told that a $1,000 donation was the first step in getting the ball rolling.

This sounds less like shady campaigning and more like an outright shakedown.

Sotomayor and Impartiality

July 13, 2009
Black man: 50% impartial.  Latina: 0% impartial.  White man (not pictured): 100% impartial.

Black man: 50% impartial. Latina: 0% impartial. White man (not pictured): 100% impartial.

Sonia Sotomayor begins her confirmation hearings today, and I’m particularly interested in the way that Republicans are framing their critique of her:

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the fairness issue was “the core of the American system” and was central to Republicans’ qualms.

“Every judge must be committed every day to not let their personal politics, their ethnic background, their biases, sympathies influence the nature of their decision-making process,” Mr. Sessions said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

This is bogus, of course.  To begin with, judges are people and personal or political biases are part of the deal.  Putting on a robe isn’t some magical process that removes someones humanity.  And this is acknowledged by everyone already, which is why each side is very careful to pick a judge whose politics and biases match their own.

What’s more interesting is the notion that Sotomayor has a unique inability to be fair or impartial as a woman of color.  Much has been made of her judicial support for affirmative action, which is supposedly evidence of her inability to set aside her personal identity politics when ruling from the bench.  But there were no similar concerns expressed (that I can remember) when Buffalo’s own John Roberts was nominated as Chief Justice back in 2005, despite the fact that Roberts had a long history of opposing affirmative action programs and had worked in the Reagan White House.

This post isn’t to argue the merits of affirmative action.  That’s not the point.  The point is that when a woman of color supports affirmative action, many people assume that she’s being partial, while a white man can oppose affirmative action without any such assumptions.  Why?

Because whiteness and maleness are considered the norm.  Someone who defends the prerogatives of white men — like Roberts — is operating within the recognized boundaries of normalcy, while someone who challenges those prerogatives is seen as partisan.  Yet both are partisan stances, even though only one is recognized as such.  The ability to make “impartial” decisions that just so happen to uphold the privileges of race and gender is one of the hallmarks of the history of racism and sexism in America.

Brian Davis is Still Doomed

July 12, 2009
Dignified.

Dignified.

I was watching the news today and saw David Rivera talking about the recent shooting at Whitney and Virginia when my wife made a good point — that isn’t his district.  It’s Brian Davis’ district.  Why isn’t Brian Davis the one promising to help fight crime in the wake of a high-profile murder in his district?

From what I hear, it’s a pretty common thing for other councilmembers to have to do Davis’ job for him.  The Buffalo News reported that Davis had a poor attendence record at Common Council meetings, and staffers of other council members report receiving calls from Davis’ constituents asking for their help since “they don’t have a councilman.”  So besides making it rain at Grassroots fundraisers, what is Brian Davis doing with our time?

Well, he’s doing enough to warrant being investigated by Frank Sedita and the state police.  Stay tuned, this is gonna get interesting.

UPDATE: Check out my new site — http://wnymedia.net/wnymedia/colineager/

The One Sunset Scandal Claims its First Victim

July 9, 2009
Reilly?  Sounds suspicously like a Kearns supporter . . .

Reilly? Sounds suspiciously like a Kearns supporter . . .

Brian Reilly has been forced out at BERC:

Mayor Byron W. Brown has ousted the embattled president of Buffalo’s main development agency, saying the move is about “change and reform.”

Brown confirmed today that he asked for Brian Reilly’s resignation as president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.

“I felt Commissioner Reilly was wearing too many hats,” Brown told The Buffalo News today, adding that be believed these multiple roles contributed to a number of recent problems within the agency.

Reilly will continue to serve as Buffalo’s commissioner of economic development, permits and inspections services, a job that pays $91,162. Reilly was making an additional $36,071 for his role as BERC’s president.

I love it when incumbents cast themselves as the agents of “change” and “reform.”

I have to say that Brown is making the right kind of statements about reforming the way the city does its economic development.  Hopefully the reforms are real and lasting.  Still, there are a few problematic elements that remain.  For instance, why is Michelle Barron — who seems to have been much more deeply involved in the One Sunset shenanigans than Reilly — still on staff at BERC?  And why is Brian Davis — who helped steer anti-poverty money out of his district and into the wealthiest district in the city — still on the board?  And most importantly, who will hold Byron Brown — who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens at BERC — accountable?

Byron Brown and the Inevitable Thing

July 9, 2009
How'd that inevitable thing work out for you?

How'd that inevitable thing work out for you?

This blog is only about 10 weeks old, and in that short time we’ve seen a really impressive display of corruption by Byron Brown, his administration and political machine.  Take a look at the last two and a half months:

— Brown ally Brian Davis is exposed for lying about his educational background, in addition to writing bad checks in the stores he regulates as a councilman.

— the One Sunset scandal surfaces, wherein Brown’s economic development team ignores logic and rules to throw money at a connected businessman and help run his restaurant.  Davis covers the rent with a personal check.

— former Brown staffer and current supporter Steve Pigeon masterminds the coup in the NYS Senate.  Just what did Brown know about this, anyway?

— emails “suggesting” that city employees should work on the mayor’s reelection campaign surface, and Brown issues contradictory responses.

They do more corruption before 9AM than most people do all day!

Whether Mickey Kearns can capitalize on all this is yet to be seen.  But I think these developments suggest the weakness of the main argument that many have made for supporting or endorsing Brown — the idea that his victory is simply inevitable.  We only have to go back to the early days of the Democratic presidential primary to see how long inevitability holds up in the face of bad news.

The mayor is in worse shape now than he was two months ago.  Unfortunately, many people (and organizations) are already on board with his campaign after being caught up in his aura of inevitability.  Maybe next time they might wait a bit longer before committing, and recognize the difference that a few weeks can make.

Byron Brown’s Shifting Response to City Worker Scandal

July 8, 2009
Got any State Department workers I can borrow?

Got any State Department workers I can borrow?

There are several interesting points about Byron Brown’s reaction to the city worker campaign “volunteer” scandal.  First, let’s take a look at the initial reaction . . .

After a Buffalo News reporter read the June 2 e-mail to Cutler, the mayor’s spokesman said he didn’t see a problem because the e-mails were sent and received through private accounts.

“Is there a coercive nature to these? I would say no,” Cutler said. “There’s no threat; I didn’t hear ‘Be there or else’ or ‘Your job is dependent on it,’ ” he said.

. . . and then the reaction once it became clear that the story had legs:

“I did not know the e-mails went out when they did,” Brown said. “These employees should not have been instructed to do any campaign volunteering during work hours. That is not how we do business and I do not support that. Campaigning is not in their job description, it is strictly voluntary.”

The mayor can’t have it both ways, can he?  He can’t claim one day that the emails are not a problem, and then that he’s opposed to them the next.  So which is it?  Of course, it could be that Cutler spoke off the cuff in the first response, but that’s doubtful.  Spokespeople don’t just make things up — they speak from their employer’s perspective, or they don’t speak at all.

The wording of Brown’s response is also interesting.  For one, he claims not to have known that the emails “suggesting” that city workers volunteer for his campaign “went out when they did.”  He isn’t denying knowledge of the emails, only knowledge of their timing.

He also says that employees shouldn’t have been “instructed” to do volunteer work during work hours.   Two issues here.  First, the use of the word instructed seems like an admission that these emails were more than a way of letting folks know about a volunteer opportunity.  And second, his stated objection seems to be to these emails being sent during work time, not to their being sent at all.

Given the contradiction between the two responses and the non-denial denial language of the second, I think it’s safe to assume that Cutler’s original response is the one that best matches the Brown administration’s stance on coercing city workers into working on his campaign.  They don’t see a problem with it.

Getting Drafted Into Byron Brown’s Volunteer Army

July 6, 2009
perrin-johnson

What, me coerce?

Everyone knows that city workers are “encouraged” to work on the mayor’s political campaigns.  The problem has always been in documenting that encouragement, but Jim Heaney at the News got his hands on some emails from Community Services Commissioner Tanya Perrin-Johnson that do the trick:

Tanya Perrin-Johnson, commissioner of community services, has sent her staff a series of e-mails over the last month, informing them of opportunities to volunteer for the Brown campaign in language that appears to leave little doubt about what she expects.

“Your services are needed minimally 8 hours per week,” Perrin-Johnson wrote in a June 2 e-mail sent to 20 employees.

And not just at a time of their choosing. Perrin-Johnson specified a four-hour shift during the week—preferably Tuesdays, which is the department’s night at campaign headquarters — and another four hours on the weekend.

Perrin-Johnson said in her e-mail that “everyone is expected to be at the Headquarters after work” the following Tuesday because it was the first day that nominating petitions could be circulated for signatures.

If employees cannot work on the campaign on Tuesday or on a weekend, Perrin-Johnson wrote, “please notify myself and Dana Bobinchek at the email above and accommodations will be made for you to make up the time during the week.”

There are a few issues here, obviously.  First, the idea that people can “make up the time” if they can’t volunteer on a particular day seems to make it pretty clear that these city workers are being informed of an expectation rather than being presented with a volunteer opportunity.  If someone is telling you that you can “make up the time,” the clear implication is that they control your time.  That isn’t volunteering.  It’s work.

Second, no matter how the emails were worded, it’s hard to see how a request from a boss can be anything but coercive, despite Perrin-Johnson’s claims to the contrary.  These aren’t emails being sent between friends or even peers — they’re being sent from a boss to a group of workers.  Just as a boss can’t casually solicit “volunteers” to service him sexually and claim that there’s no coercion involved, neither can a boss’s “suggestion” that her workers help out on a campaign be taken as anything other than coercive.  And that’s particularly true when workers know that the boss’s job depends on the reelection of the mayor.

Finally, the story notes that at least one of the emails was sent just before 1 PM.  That’s the workday, even in City Hall.  It might be that Perrin-Johnson was on her lunch hour at that point, and it may be that she’s free to do anything she likes during her lunch hour.  But the idea that she stops being a city employee (and a boss) just because she has her lunch in front of her seems like a pretty flimsy defense to me.

I’ve been thinking about city workers campaigning on taxpayer time for a while now, so I did a little experiment back on June 22.  Jessica Maglietto, the coordinator for CitiStat Buffalo, was listed as the contact person on a flyer for a Byron Brown fundraiser.  I emailed her at 9:10 AM that day to ask a question about the event, and got a reply at 10:34AM that same day.  Maybe she’s taken a leave of absence to work on the mayor’s campaign, or maybe she was out sick that day.  Who knows?  But it’s telling that a city employee will give such a quick answer when the question is about helping the mayor to raise money, yet City Hall is notorious for being unresponsive to actual constituent demands.

And the best part of it all is that I’m giving $10 a month to an organization that happily endorsed all this shit!

Ugh.  Again.

Ralph Hernandez Needs a Vocabulary Lesson

July 2, 2009
Dumb as a box of hammers

Dumb as a box of hammers

Ralph Hernandez, who was part of the school board faction critical of Superintendent Williams, was elected president of the board yesterday with the votes of the pro-Williams faction.

Hernandez defeated Lou Petrucci, 5-4, dashing the hopes of Petrucci’s camp — which is far more critical and questioning of Williams — that they would gain control of the deeply divided board.

“Is this a victory for James Williams?” Petrucci said moments after the vote. “Of course it is.”

Catherine Nugent Panepinto, the board’s North District representative, said Hernandez switched allegiances to put together five votes.

“I think he’s an opportunist and did what he had to do to be president,” Panepinto said. “I think Ralph philosophically agrees with the people who voted for Lou.”

Hernandez brushed off the opportunist charge.

“She can call me anything she wants,” he said. “I felt I had earned the right to be president. I was campaigning to be president. Where do you go? You go where the votes are. That’s common sense. It has nothing to do with being an opportunist.”

Doesn’t switching sides to “go where the votes are” have everything to do with being an opportunist?

UPDATE: Check out my new site — http://wnymedia.net/wnymedia/colineager/