Posts Tagged ‘Leonard Stokes’

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.

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.

Scapegoating Michelle Barron

June 3, 2009
She's not the issue . . .

She's not the issue . . .

The News is reporting that the mayor’s internal probe (ha!) of the One Sunset scandal lays most of the blame on BERC staffer Michelle Barron.  How convenient for Byron Brown, who is, you know, actually in charge of BERC.

While Mayor Byron W. Brown wouldn’t comment on any aspect of the probe, he stressed Tuesday that he did not orchestrate efforts to steer public funds to One Sunset owner Leonard Stokes. The News asked Brown about rumblings that he had meetings with Stokes as the businessman was trying to build his restaurant.

“Have I met with him? Absolutely. But I meet with literally hundreds of people every week,” Brown said.

The “rumblings” that Brown met with Stokes matches what I heard last week — that a recently-departed insider had a copy of the mayor’s schedule for the last few years, that it was being shared with media sources, and that it showed that Brown met with Stokes more than once.

It’s also funny to hear Brown claim that he has such an open door policy.  During the two years that he was refusing to enforce the city’s living wage law, he steadfastly refused to meet with the Coalition for Economic Justice, the folks behind the living wage campaign.  It finally required erecting a tent city in Niagara Square and holding a sit-in outside his office to get a meeting.

The mayor wouldn’t meet with representatives from labor and religious groups with thousands of members  for two years, but he was perfectly happy to meet with an unqualified businessman looking for city handouts?  This suggests two things.  First, as I’ve suggested before, there must be some sort of personal relationship at play to grant Stokes this sort of unusual access.  And second, the One Sunset scandal starts at the top, and we should be wary about the attempt to pin it on Michelle Barron.

Leonard Stokes’ Grassroots Connection

May 26, 2009
All in the family . . .

All in the family . . .

Apparently, Leonard Stokes is Crystal Peoples’ son-in-law. Perhaps marrying into the family of one of the most prominent members of the Grassroots political machine might explain the unusual level of service he received from Byron Brown’s  Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation despite being turned down for bank loans and having no real experience in the industry.

Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that Brian Davis was writing checks to cover his rent, and Michelle Barron was decorating his bathroom.

UPDATE

My source — whom I consider trustworthy — gave me the tip that Stokes was Peoples’ son-in-law.  I later heard from a second, equally reliable source, that he isn’t.  Dick Kern (in the comments) says he heard that Stokes is not her son-in-law.  I did a Nexis search of the Buffalo News over the last 9 years, and didn’t find any marriage notice for Stokes.  So I’m retracting this until I hear something conclusive.

Brian Davis, Leonard Stokes and the Failure of One Sunset

May 24, 2009
Still missing . . .

Still missing . . .

There’s a pretty incredible story in the Buffalo News today about One Sunset, the restaurant opened by former Turner-Carroll basketball star Leonard Stokes that failed in a year despite $160,000 in city money and an unusually “hand on” approach from city officials:

Bankers on a city board told local basketball star Leonard Stokes “no” when he asked to borrow $120,000 from City Hall to start an upscale restaurant.

Too much risk. Too little private money. Not enough experience on the resume.

But City Hall bureaucrats replied “yes” to the then 26-year-old Stokes. They cobbled together $160,000 in loans and grants to help him launch One Sunset, his Gates Circle restaurant.

And they didn’t stop there.

One of the city’s top economic development officials did everything from handling cash receipts to negotiating with vendors to decorating restaurant bathrooms.

“She was there more than Leonard was,” said Jeff Wright, a former bartender, of Michelle M. Barron. Barron is vice president of neighborhood economic development for the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., City Hall’s development agency.

• After bankers and others on BERC’s large loan committee rejected Stokes’ loan request, BERC employees approved smaller loans and a grant whose amounts exempted the proposal from further banker scrutiny. The money totaled $110,000, almost as much as the $120,000 rejected by the bankers.

• Although One Sunset was located in the Delaware District, the restaurant’s $30,000 grant came from federal anti-poverty money allocated to Davis for his Ellicott Council District.

• City officials, including Barron, urged the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to loan the restaurant $50,000 without disclosing the restaurant was on the brink of closing. The IDA made the loan without checking financial statements or public documents showing One Sunset was in trouble.

Wow, where to begin?  I’m most interested in figuring out why Stokes received this kind of service when so many regular people find City Hall nearly impossible to work with.  It could be that his history as a star ball player opened up some doors that would have been otherwise closed.  Still, even in a  town so starry-eyed that it would give Terrell Owens the key to the city just for showing up, it’s hard to believe that city officials would bend over backwards for what amounts to a minor-league basketball player.

I’ve always thought Brian Davis was the key to this story.  It seems odd — and hopefully illegal — for him to have used anti-poverty money designated for the Ellicott district to support an upscale restaurant in the Delaware district.  It seems odder still that one of the many personal checks he’s accused of bouncing was for $3,500 to Stokes’ landlord on behalf of the restaurant.  It’s one thing to misuse public money — that happens all the time, unfortunately.  But it’s something else entirely for a public official to start spending his own money.  What is the relationship between Brian Davis and Leonard Stokes?