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Follow That Story: West Side NHS

Filed under: Housing, Local Politics

In last week’s paper, we published a story about West Side Neighborhood Housing Services delaying the acceptance of a host on new member applications they’d received this summer. The delay seemed like a reaction to criticism aimed at WSNHS (from this paper, among others) last year, when a couple dozen new members had been accepted into the organization just in time to qualify to vote in WSNHS’s annual meeting in November. Most of these were city employees who reported to Mayor Byron Brown and didn’t live in WSNHS’s service area: Peter Cutler, for example, who lives on Linwood Avenue; Jessica Maglietto, who lives on Crescent Avenue in North Buffalo; Brian Reilly, who lives in the Elmwood Village; Allentowner David Granville; and others.

To qualify for membership in WSNHS, which costs $2 a year, an applicant must live on or somehow be considered a “stakeholder” in the West Side. The influx of voting members aroused suspicion that the mayor’s office was trying to take control of the organization, and that the board and the executive director were allowing it to happen.

This year many new applications for membership were submitted, many from residents of the Cottage District, who are interested in WSNHS’s partnership with developer Sam Savarino to redevelop the White Bros. Livery on Jersey Street (a project that yesterday received a little jolt of Restore New York money). Apparently stung by last year’s criticism, the board and executive director voted to delay the acceptance of the members, and to send letters confirming their membership applications.

I use words like seemed and apparently because I don’t know: I called and emailed Linda Chiarenza, executive director of WSNHS, before publishing last week’s story, but nobody from WSNHS has gotten back to me.

That was early August. Two weeks later, none of the new applicants had yet received a letter, so we ran the story. Chiarenza was apparently (there’s that word again) hurt and furious. But here’s the important part: his week, the applicants began to receive the letters the board had voted to send three weeks ago. (Here’s a copy.) Our story was published August 26 online, August 27 in print. The letters are dated August 29.

The letters seem benign enough. Is this a permanent change in the way the board will review membership applications?

  • Change is Good

    Ms. Chiarenza is always “hurt and furious”. She consistently announces in response to anything perceived by her as criticism that she is offended or has taken the statement personally. Her words not mine. For someone who is supposed to be a professional, it’s just all about her apparently.

  • Joe

    Typical Buffalo politics.

  • Joe

    Is this Byron Brwon’s fututre?

    Judge rejects Hartford mayor’s bid to drop charges
    The Associated Press
    September 04, 2009, 11:35 AM / 0 comments
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    A Connecticut judge has rejected Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez’s request to drop corruption charges against him.

    But Hartford Superior Court Judge Julia DiCocco Dewey agreed Friday to delay the case until at least February because of pretrial publicity.

    Perez was arrested in January on charges he accepted a bribe from a city contractor. He also was charged on Wednesday with trying to extort money from a developer. He denies all the allegations.

    Perez’s lawyer, Hubert Santos, argued that by releasing the warrants for Wednesday’s arrest, prosecutors violated a state Supreme Court order that sealed the details of the grand jury investigation.

    Santos said Perez can’t get a fair trial on the charges filed in January. Jury selection in that case was scheduled to start next week.

  • Ex-Buffalo Resident

    More of the same form Buffalo organizations and the politics of turf wars and power struggles over nadda. Whatever Westside NHS is doing, it must make some think they can co-opt it for patronage purposes. Another one bites the dust in Buffalo.

    Can’t wait for the spin on the Buffalo ReUse story. The Buffalo News did a lame job on that story in today’s paper. Hmmm, expanding the board of ReUse to 10 people and then defining the fired one’s new job. Not too hard to figure out what is next. Too bad for Buffalo. ReUse is preserving the status quo in its internal business, and the status quo of false starts and big promises with no results that Buffalo is famous for. Lost another opportunity for positive change Buffalo. Pack your bags before it is too late to get out.

  • ConspiracyBunk

    Say it isn’t so Joe. It won’t be Brown’s future unless you are suggesting he is moving to CT. This is Buffalo – currupt, patronage, judges are political flunkies – City of Good Neighbors and political cronies. No chance a corruption investigation would be open in this town.

  • Joe

    The feds are looking at Brown. Therefore most likely it will happen( he will be indicted) in the next few weeks.

  • Joe

    The question is when, not if Brown will be indicted?

    Brown got Stokes free from cops, sources say
    Rookie restaurateur brought to City Hall
    By Brian Meyer

    September 05, 2009, 11:54 PM / 0 comments
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    Mayor Byron W. Brown has said that he would do nothing out of the ordinary to help Leonard Stokes with his restaurant, One Sunset. But at about the same time Stokes was trying to get city funds for the restaurant, Brown was intervening on Stokes’ behalf when police apprehended him for allegedly possessing a stolen handicapped parking permit, three sources familiar with the 2007 case told The Buffalo News.

    Brown has said in earlier interviews that Stokes was a “young man with promise” and that while he met with him to discuss his business plans for One Sunset, he did nothing more for Stokes than what he would do for any aspiring business owner … that is, ask his development staff to see if they could be “helpful.”

    Yet during the summer of 2007 incident, sources said, police officers, handcuffed and placed Stokes in a patrol car after they received calls that his vehicle parked outside the Ellicott Square Building allegedly displayed a stolen handicapped parking permit. Stokes insisted to police on calling the mayor, the sources said.

    After repeated requests, police called the mayor’s office. An officer was told to take Stokes directly to the mayor’s second- floor office in City Hall. Sources said it was unclear who gave the directive to deliver Stokes to Brown, but the order was followed.

    A short time later, sources confirmed, Stokes was allowed to leave City Hall a free man. He wasn’t arrested or booked. As a result, they said, there are no official police records.

    “The mayor definitely made it go away,” said one law enforcement source who has detailed knowledge of the case. “Does everybody have this kind of “get out of jail free’ card?”

    The incident occurred in the summer of 2007, when Stokes was applying for … and receiving … city funds for his One Sunset restaurant, which eventually failed.

    When The Buffalo News asked Brown about the allegation, he responded: “I will say to you I have no comment on your story.”

    Brown then insisted on meeting privately with three of his advisers: First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey, chief spokesman Peter K. Cutler and mayoral aide Peter J. Savage III.

    Cutler emerged from the meeting, reiterating that the mayor would have “no comment” until the administration could “look into the details” of the allegations.

    One day after The News confronted Brown with the claims, he called to add to his earlier statement.

    Brown said the claims are “politically motivated.”

    Brown faces a challenge in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary from South Council Member Michael P. Kearns.

    Even after being asked several times, the mayor would not directly deny that he intervened on behalf of Stokes during the 2007 police investigation of the stolen handicapped parking permit.

    “I am fact-checking this,” Brown said.

    Why won’t he confirm or deny that he had direct involvement in meeting with Stokes shortly after police took him into custody?

    “That was two years ago,” Brown said. “This is clearly politically motivated. The timing is very questionable.”

    Was Stokes brought to the mayor’s office by a police officer?

    “This was two years ago,” Brown repeated. “What we’re trying to do is get all the facts.”

    Brown added that, when his review is finished, “this will be completely cleared up.” He wouldn’t be specific about his refusal to answer basic questions about the alleged incident. Stokes could not be reached to comment.

    Stokes and One Sunset vaulted into the spotlight earlier this year following a Buffalo News investigation into his failed restaurant at 1389 Delaware Ave., north of Gates Circle. One Sunset received $160,000 in public money, then went belly up last December.

    Separate investigations by The News and by Buffalo Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo concluded that a city development agency controlled by Mayor Brown circumvented processes to give loans.

    SanFilippo said the restaurant was clearly a business that was “doomed to failure right from the start.” Stokes had neither the expertise, capital or business plan to make One Sunset succeed, the city audit concluded.

    Since then, Michelle Barron, who played a key role in getting One Sunset city and county funding, and also had a questionable hands-on role in helping to operate the restaurant, was fired from as a vice president of Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.

    Also, the FBI recently subpoenaed city records related to One Sunset.

    Brown, the BERC chairman, has repeatedly said he did not give BERC the green light to skirt rules and give money to a business that did not qualify.

    A panel of BERC bankers turned down Stokes’ initial request for funds in April 2007, but agency staffers approved a revised One Sunset plan in June 2007, authorizing a $40,000 loan. A few months later, in September 2007, BERC gave Stokes a $30,000 grant. BERC approved another $40,000 loan in January 2008. In August 2008, Stokes received a $50,000 loan from the Erie County IDA.

    The News previously asked Brown about rumors that he had met numerous times with Stokes, a former basketball star at Turner-Carroll High School as well as the University of Cincinnati, as One Sunset was being launched.

    “Have I met with him? Absolutely. But I meet with literally hundreds of people every week,” Brown replied. One week after sources contacted The Buffalo News about the parking permit incident, a law enforcer also called Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera to discuss the 2007 case. Rivera, a retired detective sergeant in the Buffalo Police Department, said he was stunned by the chain of the events.

    “In my 25 years of being a police officer, I cannot ever remember an incident where a person who was apprehended by police was taken to the mayor’s office,” Rivera said.

    “If this is true, it amounts to interference with a police investigation,” Rivera said.

    Rivera said Brown’s initial “no comment,” followed by his refusal to deny the claims, fuels even greater concern.

    “He could have said “It’s absolutely false. There’s no merit to this.’ But they know there’s a trail,” Rivera said.

    The Council member denied that his comments are politically motivated, although Rivera is supporting Kearns in the primary. Rivera said that when a law enforcement source contacted him a week after The News was contacted, he felt it was important to publicly acknowledge that he was aware of the serious allegations.

    The three sources asked that their names not be used, fearing retribution from the administration. Rivera claimed the “fear factor” has spurred many city employees to keep quiet about numerous concerns involving city operations.

    In January 2007, more than 600 handicapped parking permits were stolen from a locked basement area in City Hall. Alfonzo Harvin Jr., a former city laborer, was charged with the crime. In the months that followed the arrest, police were on the lookout for the stolen permits. They believe they found one inside Stokes’ vehicle, a source said.

    If it’s true that the mayor personally intervened to help Stokes with police shortly before he opened his restaurant, why should people believe that he didn’t help steer public money to Stokes’ business?

    Brown replied that city auditors went through “reams of documents” and found absolutely no evidence that the mayor “did anything wrong.”

    Does Brown consider Stokes a personal friend?

    “I’m not going to get into all that,” Brown replied. “As I’ve said, I think he’s a young man who has promise … this is totally politically motivated.”

    Three times Friday, a reporter pressed the mayor to either confirm or deny that he personally became involved in a police investigation involving Stokes.

    “I’m going to continue to focus on what I need to focus on … that is, continuing to move this city forward,” Brown replied.


  • Joe
  • ConspiracyBunk

    Buffalo = insignificant. Federal investigation = waste of money and time. Bigger fish to fry in places that matter people. You are stuck with Brown until he runs for a bigger office (or is appointed to one). The people in Buffalo are to content with the status quo. Once Brown moves on to bigger and better things, another version of marginal mayor will take his place. Look at the city’s track record. More of the same.

  • Joe

    I am not stuck with him. I am getting the hell out of this town!!!!!!!

  • Attn: Editorial Department


    Monday, -8/31/09

    Hey! I’m Holding on to My $2 Bill,,, until some one can tell me where I live and how I am represented in my interest in making this city the jewel it once was!.
    When I moved in at 33 Linwood having returned from the West Coast (yes, I am a “Native Buffalonian”.) I called City Hall and asked what my district was and who represented me at this address (you see, I thought I now lived on the “West Side” of Buffalo, being that I didn’t live in North Buffalo, the East Side, South Buffalo or in the Fruit Belt!) 1st they told me 33 Linwood was not on the books! (tell Trinity Tower that!) Then they told me they weren’t sure but I could call a) the Election Office, b) the library, c.) Crystal Peoples, d.) the non-Mayor Griffin….
    Having worked for a City of Buffalo Neighborhood House Services organization, I have great respect for their board of directors, their Executive Directors, and staff members (as I once was one.) And, I know (but who else does?) sections of the city are broken down into “Service Areas”…
    Should we all traipse over to WSNHS’s office to look at their map to see if we are in it? Should I ask for my membership money back I just sent to Kensington-Bailey Neighborhood Housing Services? If I am interested in housing issues in the East Side (or is Kensington-Bailey not the East Side but the Ken-Bailey District?) AND on the West Side, due to my involvement in the WEDI Ferguson Ave. Project, am I not a “stakeholder?” I find it hard to believe that a new applicant for membership is required to “state their intentions in joining (in fact, I am not sure that, if not in their by-laws, this inquiry is even legal.)
    Come on, Buffalonians….Overcome the pettiness that has governed this city for decades (?Centuries?), embarrass progress, get with the 21st Century and lets make progress in returning this great city of Buffalo to it’s former glory! STOP THE INFIGHTING!
    Sylvia Volk

  • Ex-Buffalo Resident

    This is such a joke. Everyone knows that Buffalo nonprofits just change the rules when they don’t get their way, even if laws are broken. By-laws, if the outcome is not supporting the status quo, then the by-laws are changed and a special meeting is called to overthrow people doing the right thing. Look at Buffalo ReUse. That’s what they just did to keep a fired CEO on the payroll. Sweep the facts under the rug, bully the good guys and keep the wheels of the political machine spinning. WSNHS, it is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. If WSNHS doesn’t like the way the rules work, just ignore them. Ditto for city hall. Who is to stop them.

    Buffalo is a shakedown town. This is just more of the same. IT DOESN’T HAPPEN IN OTHER CITIES!!!!! YOU DON’T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS STUFF!!!!