Ups and Downs, Week of April 11
The development of new parkland along a former elevated DL&W rail line just south of downtown, the so-called “Del,” has perked us up in recent days. It’s not just the prospect of having parkland that joins Canalside to Red Jacket Park in the context of grain silos and the expansive Tifft Nature Preserve to the south: The design process itself has been exciting. The Western New York Land Conservancy released 92 designs it received after a call for proposals, and the community gets to vote on their favorites; an empaneled jury of local and national experts will pick the top three to get awards. Best yet: The final design of the park, funded by a mix of private and public dollars, will be free to borrow elements from “winning” and “losing” proposals alike. It’s a sweet thing to set our minds on this spring: the development of public space that is both creative and collaborative—and, for now, absent any local politician claiming credit or, worse, asserting ownership of the project.
These are difficult and strange times for journalism, and while there’s a lot we could (and do) nitpick about the Buffalo News—like Bob McCarthy’s flagrant omission of Vanessa Glushefski as a candidate for city comptroller—we’d like to hand it to reporters Matthew Spina and Mary Pasciak for their recent, dogged work on the hairy mess surrounding the Community Action Organization of Western New York. A nonprofit that largely serves a pass-through for public money aimed at anti-poverty programming, mostly its preschool Head Start programs throughout the region, CAO’s executive director is Nathan Hare, who enjoys a six-figure salary and a cozy relationship with the Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. The four-term mayor has allies in all over town, of course, including Hodgson Russ attorney Adam Perry, the beneficiary of sustained contracts for outside legal services to carry the mayor’s water and insulate him from dirtier business. Perry successfully sharp-elbowed the CAO board that was trying to dispose of Hare last fall, interrupting a forensic audit that News reporting seems to show had already begun, though Hare now denies it. The former board members smelled a rat in the Head Start funding specifically, and Hare, and by extension City Hall, is trying to throw cold water on everything CAO, because it’s all fire. The FBI is currently investigating the situation, and it’s in no small part due to the work done by the Spina and Pasciak. Keep digging.
Erie County Legislature Chairman Peter Savage announced this week that he would not seek re-election to his current seat but rather would seek an appointment to Buffalo City Court. A hat tip to politics blogger Ken Kruly (politicsandstuff.com), whose work we sometimes republish here: Kruly predicted the Savage withdrawal several days before Savage made it public. Kruly observes that the race for Savage’s seat has just become much more interesting and unpredictable as a result: Two candidates filed petitions to challenge Savage, and Savage’s committee on vacancies can put up a candidate to replace him on the ballot. The process of replacing Savage as Legislature chairman may be even more chaotic. The Democratic majority will name an interim legislator to take Savage’s seat once he officially resigns; that new legislator will then join the entire Legislature in voting for a new chair from among the members of the Democratic caucus. “Here’s where the complication comes in,” writes Kruly:
The Democratic members of that Caucus are or would be:
Savage’s replacement – a rookie
April Baskin, current Majority Leader who is a freshman in only her 16th month as a legislator. Baskin has a primary coming up in June.
John Bruso, who is also a freshman in only his 16th month as a legislator.
Tim Meyers, a recent appointee who took Pat Burke’s place in December.
Barbara Miller-Williams, who is leaving the Legislature as she runs for Buffalo Comptroller.
Tom Loughran, who is retiring from the Legislature at the end of this term.
Kevin Hardwick, who is still technically a Republican.
What a mess.
But not as messy as this: We’ve heard that there is a serious defect shared by several nominating petitions filed by candidates for Buffalo Common Council supported by Women Elect, a group that helps women seeking elected office in Western New York. Apparently, rather than use the petition forms provided online (and in the office) by the Erie County Board of Elections, the candidates and their supporters used petition forms of the sort used for nonpartisan Buffalo school board elections, which differ slightly from those used for party primary elections. There is language in the latter which the former lacks—for example, a statement averring that the witness to the signatures is a member of (in these cases) the Democratic Party. The defect is tricky to resolve: Election officials and judges can use discretion when evaluating the validity of individual signatures on a page. But use the wrong form for a nominating petition, and those pages are invalid. It’s an embarrassment for the candidates, and it’s an awkward position for their opponents, all male, who risk looking like jerks who want to throw first-time women candidates off the ballot. It’s even more awkward for Jeremy Zellner, who is both Erie County Democratic Party chair and the Democratic commissioner for the Erie County Board of Elections. Zellner and his Republican counterpart, Ralph Mohr, could examine and invalidate the defective petitions themselves, sparing the incumbents and other candidates—again, all male—from being the heavies who file challenges to those bad forms. But Zellner’s role as Democratic Party chair brings to the surface a conflict that’s been lamented since he took the job as elections commissioner: None of the women who filed the forms in question were supported by Democratic Party headquarters. They’re all running against headquarters-endorsed candidates. If Zellner tosses those petitions, he’s wiping the ballot of challengers (all women) to candidates he supports (all men). Of course, the most awkward position of all is occupied by the person who gave all these candidates bad paper to pass…