Niagara on Erie

Not for nothing, but why do I have to look to Niagara County for good, honest reporting & punditry on the current WNY crisis? If you're not a regular reader of the free weekly Niagara Falls Reporter, you should be.
If there's any good to come from the ongoing collapse of Erie County Executive Joel Giambra's fiscal house of cards, it's that harsh light will finally shine on the rodentia infesting the halls of government and quasi-public boardrooms of Western New York. And the latter are in even greater need of fumigating. The region's self-proclaimed "business advocacy" organization, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, is the common thread connecting Giambra, Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's fantasy of building a new downtown Buffalo on the taxpayer dime while continuing to neglect Niagara Falls International Airport, and the gum-and-string governmental merger plan. The Partnership backed Masiello in each of his first three mayoral campaigns, helping build a war chest that scared off any serious opposition in 1997 and 2001. It also gave the region Giambra, a Democrat-turned-Republican and an alleged reformer whose primary previous experience was in helping make sure business continued exactly as usual in Buffalo's City Hall for the better part of two decades. Word has it that the self-important organization led by Andrew Rudnick plans to back state Sen. Byron Brown in this year's mayoral race, but the Partnership's prior generosity to Masiello helped him build a war chest of more than a $1 million for an increasingly likely re-election bid. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt proved himself the most sensible mayoral hopeful last week when he pulled out of the race. In addition to the economic problems that have dogged the city for decades, the eventual survivor will have to operate under the emasculating eye of Buffalo's state-imposed control board. That body is headed by -- you guessed it -- another member of the Partnership board, Brian Lipke of Gibraltar Steel. Not that the Partnership much cares who holds what office, as long as they go along with the program. That, of course, entails making sure members of the Partnership get as much free stuff as possible. The breathlessly announced plans for the dormant stretch of waterfront the NFTA has squatted on for nearly half a century follow the Partnership playbook perfectly. Former Carborundum Corp. President Luiz Kahl heads the NFTA, while also serving as president of The Vector Group, a private investment group based in Williamsville. He also serves on the Partnership's board of directors. Other members include NOCO patriarch Reginald Newman, whom Kahl -- his longtime friend and sometime business partner -- guaranteed a monopoly on jet fuel and cargo handling at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport while making sure its poor cousin in Niagara Falls provided no competition, and Carl Montante, managing director of Uniland Development Corp. Last month, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Uniland's $750 million vision for housing, retail, office and hotel space and, you guessed it, a convention center was chosen by Kahl's NFTA. Uniland's sketches of its proposed mini-city look nice enough -- if you like the cookie-cutter red-brick office parks that the company has built throughout Amherst and other suburbs, sterilized cubicle farms that sucked thousands of jobs and much of the life out of Buffalo's existing downtown. The notion that a city government that needed the imposition of a control board nearly two years ago just to remain solvent, a county government whose leader claims it can't afford to keep plowing or patrolling its streets and a state government that can't pass a budget on time somehow are going to come up with $300 million to give to Uniland isn't just laughable. It's shameful. Then again, the Partnership's leaders had their capacity for shame surgically removed long ago. When Adelphia's financial scandal broke in 2002, the Partnership propped up one if its own, Mark Hamister, as the white knight riding in to save the Buffalo Sabres, then owned by the cable-television company. Problem was, Hamister didn't actually want to spend much of his own money. His purchase offer hinged entirely on his demand for about $40 million in public money, and collapsed quickly after the public found out. It's clear from the timing of both the Uniland fantasy and the cobbled-together merger plan that would combine the City of Buffalo and County of Erie, but leave the scores of surrounding towns and villages intact, that the Partnership plans to use the utter disgust its minions have already generated to its advantage. "People are so mad right now, they'll go for anything that even sounds like reform, or something new," said one Buffalo business owner. One of the Partnership's greatest allies, the Buffalo News, appears poised to help sell its latest schemes, just as the region's largest daily newspaper has played cheerleader to every other bill of goods sold by the exclusive group of country-clubbers and kitchen-cabineteers. Despite the push by proponents to get the merger plan on the ballot in November, the News has yet to offer any substantive look at its merits, or flaws. Instead, the paper has channeled its resources into a self-laudatory and self-indulgent bit of navel-gazing entitled "Why Not Buffalo?" Sporting a bizarre hood ornament of a logo and a rather desperate-sounding title, the promised year-long series blames the area's woes on the scapegoat favored by politicians and business-advocacy groups alike -- you. "Lose the attitude," reads an introductory story in the newspaper's First Sunday insert, a bit of preachiness that embodies the blame-the-victim mentality favored by the local elite and its media mouthpiece. "You know the one -- the we-can't-get-out-of-our-own-way, we-can't-get-anything-done, Buffalo-is-doomed attitude that feeds the beast of economic and cultural stagnation that could devour this city. If we let it. "Lose it. Now." Aha! So that's the problem. It's not the politicians who act as if public money and property are theirs to give -- or take -- or the backroom dealers who put them in power and keep them there. It's those of us who spend our waking hours trying to pay bills, keep a job or run a business and raise a family without the benefit of professional domestic help who brought this upon ourselves. What a relief. And here we thought it was the people who discuss how best to divvy up our money, while they enjoy leisurely lunches at the Buffalo Club. Thankfully, though, the News is going to save not just Buffalo, but the entire area. "Over the next 12 months, the newspaper will make this effort a top priority, by producing a series of stories that will define our region's central problems in new and innovative ways," read yet another introductory story. "Better yet: These stories will offer real solutions for change." Thank goodness. "Real solutions" from an institution that backed just about every development that it now pours gallons of ink into bitching about -- from building the new University at Buffalo campus in the suburbs in the 1960s to the NFTA's infamous train to nowhere to an imbecilic plan for expanding the Peace Bridge that created a seemingly endless stalemate. Oh, and let's not forget that the News has repeatedly endorsed both Giambra and Masiello.
There's more.

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