Posts Tagged ‘Byron Brown’

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.


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

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.

Answering the “Why?” in the One Sunset Scandal

June 24, 2009

Wny did this happen?

Why did this happen?

The News is reporting that 5 of the 9 members of the Common Council are calling for a “full and complete” audit of the Brown administration’s use of federal anti-poverty money.

Leading the charge is South District representative Michael P. Kearns, who is challenging Mayor Byron W. Brown in September’s Democratic primary.

Brown’s communications director insisted that today’s action is fueled by politics. Peter K. Cutler claimed city officials are already working closely with HUD representatives to address concern.

“This is yet another example of Council Member Kearns’ thinly veiled political agenda masquerading as good government,” said Peter K. Cutler. “With Mickey, it’s all politics, all the time.”

“This isn’t about politics … it’s about poverty,” Kearns said.

The Council’s call for an expanded federal review was made at a news conference outside a now-shuttered restaurant on Delaware Avenue near West Delavan Avenue.

HUD officials have raised concerns about the use of anti-poverty block grant funds for One Sunset. The restaurant received $160,000 in city and county loans and grants before it closed last December.

An investigation by The Buffalo News concluded that One Sunset was premised on a faulty business plan and that BERC employees circumvented the agency’s loan committee to snare money for the restaurant.

Well of course this is political.  It’s being spearheaded by Kearns and the anti-Brown faction on the Common Council, and it’s designed to make the mayor look bad.  But so what?  The mayor should be made to look bad because the situation is bad, and he shouldn’t get a free pass just because it happens to be election season.

For me, the real story is in how this is all being reported.  The News has done a great job of bringing the rotten One Sunset situation to light, and they should be commended for it.  But what’s been almost entirely missing from the discussion is one obvious question: why did the mayor, Michelle Barron, Brian Davis and others go so far out of their way to help Leonard Stokes?

I mean, sure, the city might regularly squander and misuse anti-poverty money, but that doesn’t explain what happened here.  The mayor, who has been nearly impossible to meet with for so many, has no problem having more than one meeting with an unqualified twenty-something businessman looking for a handout?  Barron gets money for Stokes by evading the internal BERC structures that were in place to avoid giving bad loans, and goes on to act as the de facto manager of the restaurant?  Davis covers the restaurant’s overdue rent with a personal check?  I don’t know the details of every business that the city grants aid, but I have to believe that this kind of hands-on help is unique.  So while the News has done a great job of answering the who/what/when/where questions, they’ve not yet answered the most important question: why?

I’ve suggested an answer to that question, namely that Stokes is related to one of the co-founders of the Grassroots political organization.  I’d love to see someone with a press credential start asking about those connections.  In fact, I’d love it if they had asked those questions right from the start.

Leonard Stokes’ Grassroots Connection: Part Deux

June 22, 2009
All in the family . . .

All in the family . . .

Ok, let’s try this again.  It appears that the substance of my original post on this subject is true: Leonard Stokes has a family connection to the Grassroots machine, which just might have something to do with why he received such unusually attentive service from the city when he was opening his doomed restaurant, One Sunset.

I’ve heard from two solid sources that Crystal Peoples got married this Saturday.  Congratulations and Mazel Tov!  The groom’s last name: Stokes.  He’s either the father or grandfather of Leonard Stokes, the ex-basketball player and would be restaurateur.

Now, it could be the case that the relationship between Stokes’ family member and Assemblywoman Peoples began after June 2007, when Stokes began receiving city money to help start his restaurant.  And it isn’t necessarily the case that the relationship led to the extraordinary help that Stokes received over the brief lifetime of his business.  But the pieces fit, and it appears that there are new questions that need to be asked of people like Stokes, Michelle Barron, and Byron Brown.

Economic Development — Buffalo Style

June 19, 2009
Not Buffalo -- Byron Brown's podium is nowhere to be found.

Not Buffalo -- Byron Brown's podium is nowhere to be found.

Exciting news — the local economic development bigwigs have decided to invest in the neighborhood.  Oh happy day!:

A long-vacant gas station on the Lower West Side of Buffalo will be replaced by a newly built Family Dollar discount merchandise store, in an area that supporters of the project say is sorely in need of retail development.

Ellicott Development, headed by developer Carl Paladino, plans to open the store by the end of the year at Niagara and Pennsylvania streets, five blocks from City Hall. The Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Monday approved nearly $300,000 in sales and property tax breaks to help offset costs of the project, which is valued at $1.25 million.

Huh.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a dollar store, but does anyone else find it odd that the Erie County IDA would subsidize the construction of a retail outlet, and a low-grade one at that?  An IDA is supposed to be focused on luring new employers to the area and creating jobs, not playing the the zero-sum game of subsidized retail.

Of course, even when they focus on their mission, they manage to muck it up.  Buffalo Geek points out that the much-discussed deal to lure a Yahoo data center to the area would deliver only 75 jobs — not the 125 that the politicians trumpeted — while its location in Lockport would stifle chances for spinoff development that may have happened in another setting.  Geek did the math and found that Yahoo would receive $90,000 in subsidies per year for each job created over the life of the 15 year deal.

That’s a pretty incredible deal, considering that these jobs pay less than $90,000 and that there’s nothing stopping them (that I know of) from simply packing up and leaving when the subsidies expire.

So why do our economic development agencies spend their time — and our money — either throwing money at projects that don’t create new jobs like chain retail and doomed restaurants or giving away the store to big corporations?  Geek has it right here:

While Lockport is a much better choice than Pembroke or Cambria, I wonder why New York State did not encourage Yahoo! to locate its facility in the urban core of Buffalo or Niagara Falls or even Amherst.  Oh, wait…I know!  It’s because we don’t have a plan.  Practicing ad hoc economic development is no way to go through life, guys.  Here’s a lesson for local leaders, if you’re going to give away over $1MM in incentives per job created, you have the responsibility and right to dictate some of the criteria for site selection.

Until we start to plan beyond the next dollar store ribbon cutting, we’re doomed.

Byron Brown and Steve Pigeon

June 17, 2009
Ugh.  Again.

Ugh. Again.

From the Buffalo News:

G. Steven Pigeon’s central role in last week’s Republican coup in the State Senate is coming back to haunt the Democratic operative on the home front.

Mayor Byron W. Brown on Tuesday abruptly canceled a major fundraiser for his re-election campaign after The Buffalo News raised questions about Pigeon’s connection to the event.

“We officially contacted Steve and canceled it,” Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey said. “We are very concerned about the events in Albany.”

Pigeon, chief architect of B. Thomas Golisano’s attempt to remove the Senate’s Democratic leaders, was to hold the event June 25 in his Admiral’s Walk home on the Buffalo waterfront. The fundraiser, with tickets at $500 and $1,000 each, was to have included former Buffalo Comptroller Anthony R. Nanula and businessman Jon Williams as co-hosts.

One more reason not to support Brown just because “he’s gonna win.”  When you support Brown, you’re not just supporting the nice man in the well-fitting suit — you’re also supporting Steve Casey, Steve Pigeon, Tom Golisano, Brian Davis, Michelle Barron . . .

Byron Brown: Rhetoric and Reality

June 10, 2009


I recently had the chance to sit down and meet with Byron Brown, and even ask a question or two.  That’s a pretty rare opportunity, seeing as how the second floor at City Hall is the political version of Fort Knox.  I was struck by how the mayor is able to take credit for things that seem great on the surface, but which would appear totally different if everyone in the room had a key piece of information.

For instance, Brown takes credit for implementing the city’s living wage law.  That’s true, I guess.  What he doesn’t say is that he fought tooth and nail for two years to avoid doing so, and didn’t until a concerted campaign forced his hand.

He claimed to have made the city more responsive and transparent.  Yet it took living wage advocates — mainly church and labor groups, so people representing real constituencies — two years to get a meeting with the man, and that required erecting a tent city in Niagara Square and threatening a sit-in outside his office.

On transparency, the mayor claims that the release of salary information for employees of agencies like BERC and BURA is an example of his commitment to open government.  But again, he fought the release of that information, and only did so under threat of a subpoena from the Common Council.

On planning, the mayor pointed to his work with Cheektowaga in creating what amounted to a de facto land bank program.  What went unsaid was his opposition to an actual land bank program that had been proposed in the state Assembly by Sam Hoyt, his political nemesis (for reasons unknown to everyone but Brown and Steve Casey).

The evidence suggests that Brown can do good things, but only when his hand is forced.  Otherwise, he’s quite effective in creating the image of a progressive politician, though that image can be destroyed with a tiny amount of digging.  That’s why it’s extremely foolish to hop on board his campaign “because he’s gonna win” and expect to get anything in return.  If people roll over for the rhetoric, why should he ever bother to deliver in reality?