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Aronow’s Bad Behavior Costs NYS $90,000

New York State taxpayers will pony up to pay for the sexually-harassing behavior the former director of government relations for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP), Glenn Aronow, the Buffalo News reports.

Aronow drew the attention of Artvoice in April, 2009, when a shadowy group called Buffalo Students First became involved in sending out mailers supporting school board candidates in the city of Buffalo. The mailers were sent from the same address as the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. At the same time, he notarized signature challenges brought against candidates who happened to be running against the status quo.

At the time, he explained BNP’s relationship to Buffalo Students First this way:

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is a supporter of Buffalo Students First, which is a coalition of businesses, community organizations and stakeholders, and school choice advocates that support progressive reforms and policies in educating Buffalo school children.  Buffalo Students First advocates for and supports programs and policies that improve how education is provided in Buffalo’s Public Schools. Buffalo Students First is supporting candidates in this year’s school board election that share the coalition’s vision for education and putting Buffalo school children first.

Which translates to: Squash teacher unions, push for charter schools. And remember, folks, we’re doing it all for the children.

According to the Buffalo News story, here’s what Aronow was up to when he wasn’t “doing it for the kids”:

A 48-year-old Lancaster woman accused Glenn Aronow, a former Niagara County legislator, of making unwelcome and crude comments about her personal appearance beginning in October 2007 when she worked at the Senate office in downtown Buffalo.

She also accused him of “sexually oriented physical contact, gestures, threats and unwanted exposure to pornographic materials,” according to her 2009 lawsuit in State Supreme Court.

Under the settlement, the woman will receive $75,000, and her lawyer, Steven M. Cohen, will receive $15,000, according to court records.

Under the settlement, Aronow and the state admitted no wrongdoing but approved the settlement for the convenience of all parties.

Oh my, yes. Very convenient, indeed.


The Morning Grumpy – November 29th

I have a voracious appetite for internet memes, video, podcasts, news, and analysis. Each morning I’ll share several links that you can consume during your “morning grumpy”.

1. Andrew “$400K per year” Rudnick and his 1% accomplices at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership have released their 2012 Regional Agenda. As in previous years, the agenda sets the standard for cognitive dissonance in public policy.  While simultaneously clamoring for the gutting of public spending and reductions in pesky regulations and taxes, the agenda demands massive public outlays for projects benefiting our region. In short, “We’re opposed to taxes, fees and obscene spending. Well, except for the spending that directly benefits us, we’re good with that.”

Some highlights from the agenda which proposes nearly a quarter billion dollars of new spending:

  • Funding for expansion of the Peace Bridge and Port of Buffalo facilities
  • Increased funding for Roswell Park
  • Increased funding and expedited disbursement of said monies for UB 2020
  • $2MM for an agribusiness park
  • $25MM for various life sciences projects along with tax breaks and increased grant funding for research
  • $10MM for renovations at the former Bethlehem Steel site
  • $31MM in federal and state funding for tourism projects
  • $28MM for a small business center at Buffalo State College

And the list goes on…I won’t even delve into the policy and regulatory demands being made. Oi.

Most of these projects would be positive for the region. However, doesn’t it seem slightly bizarre that these are the same people who constantly demand the public sector get out of the way of the private sector? Who demand cuts in taxes, that worker rights be trampled and regulations repealed?  I guess it’s not as strange as the BNP bemoaning how awful it is to do business in New York State while their compatriots across the hall at the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise try to sell businesses on what a great place this is to live, work and do business. Odd group of people over there at 665 Main Street…Unshackle Upstate! But spend a huge amount of money here before you do!

2. Tim Tebow is a source of constant argument amongst sports fans. His personal devotion to God, his seeming lack of QB talent, and his ability to pull wins from the jaws of defeat like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat make him a very polarizing figure. As a devout godless pinko, I find Tebow’s public displays of faith to be a bit over the top. However, there is something I like about him and I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. Yesterday, a writer at The Atlantic summed up why I have a soft spot for a person I normally would loathe. He’s earnest.

We live in world saturated with irony and post-irony, and this affects how we consume mass culture—including sports. Athletes today are not judged solely on their on-field abilities but by how willing they are to show the culture at large that they get it, that they have their own brand of ironic humor.

It’s refreshing, then, when someone serious comes along and refuses to partake in the ritual. This is one reason Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is fascinating to die-hard football fans and casual viewers alike, despite his questionable skills as a professional quarterback.

This is what makes Tebow so appealing. He’s unafraid to be vulnerable and serious in a world so full of jokes that it’s often hard to discern the punch line from the set-up. And his serious approach to football makes it easier for fans to listen when he talks about the other things he cares about, such as being a good role model or building hospitals in the Philippines.

Tebow is refreshing and I hope his stay on the national stage continues, maybe it will help us all become a bit more serious.

3. So, breaking my hope to be more serious with my very next bullet point….Yesterday, former GOP Presidential Flavor of the Week, Herman Cain, told CNN that a woman named Ginger C. White would reveal that she had a thirteen year long affair with Cain. Of course, he denied the allegation. The most interesting part of the story?

Ginger C. White is an anagram for NEWT GINGRICH! What this means, I have no idea, but I feel like I just pulled the ghost mask off Old Man Huggins at the end of a Scooby Doo episode.

Fact Of The Day: On November 29th in 2001, the soul of the Beatles, George Harrison died of cancer.

Song Of The Day: “Here Comes The Sun” by George Harrison

Quote Of The Day: “If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.” – Bill Vaughan


UB Pays $48K in Dues to Buffalo Niagara Partnership with State Money

The State University of New York at Buffalo paid $47,994 in membership dues to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP) in 2011. The university pays the funds from a state account. In addition, SUNY at Buffalo paid $5,000 in dues this year to the Business Council of New York State (BCNYS) from what’s termed a “State Institutional Membership” account.

Both groups have lobbied Albany officials on behalf of the state university. The BNP made passage of UB2020 legislation its #1 priority in this year’s State Budget/Legislative Session Action Agenda.

According to UB spokesperson John DellaContrada, the dues “do not go to the BNP’s political action committee.” He did not indicate where the money does go. The amount appears to be sufficient to make UB a “major investor” in BNP’s “president’s circle.” Click here to see.

Earlier this month, BCNYS spokesperson Rob Lillpop said his group had been “very much in support of the SUNY 2020 agenda. We lobbied for it, and we backed it, and we’re happy that it’s happening. Before that we were backing the previous versions of it. We’ve been very big on it.”

Meanwhile, United University Professions (UUP) President Phillip Smith protested SUNY’s drift away from academics toward economic development at a NYS Assembly Higher Education Committee hearing on Wednesday.

“It is becoming disturbingly evident that the University has lost sight of why it was created – to graduate productive students who can contribute to the state’s overall economy and culture. The University heralds the formation of partnerships with private sector companies.  We hear phrases such as joint ventures and economic engines.  We hear very little about a reaffirmation of the University’s original and, until lately, historical emphasis on teaching and learning,” Smith said.

In a response to the statement, SUNY spokesman Morgan Hook described Smith’s comments about a changing focus “absurd.”

Click here to read more.

Also this week, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher was named as chair-elect for Chicago-based private 501c3 “CEOs for Cities.” According to Morgan Hook, she’s been on the board of the organization since 2002.

In 2009, the president of the not-for-profit CEOs for Cities made $221,039. According to tax forms, their mission is TO CREATE AND SUSTAIN THE NEXT GENERATION OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES BY INFLUENCING URBAN LEADERS AND OTHER CHANGE AGENTS WITH RESEARCH-BASED INSIGHTS, DYNAMIC DISCUSSIONS, CROSS-SECTOR NETWORKING AND ADVOCACY.

Click here to see their 990.

According to Hook, Zimpher isn’t getting paid to serve as board chair at CEOs for Cities. But you know how it is when you’re serving as chancellor of the largest public university system in the world—what do you do with all your spare time?


Andrew Rudnick: Leave it to Me

Below is an email sent to countless inboxes today by Buffalo-Niagara Partnership President & CEO Andrew Rudnick. In it, he whines about the makeup of the new Regional Economic Development Council he sits on—not enough Buffalo Club buddies. So, he just lets everybody know that Bob Brady, Robert Gioia, Tom Kucharski, Satish Tripathi and he have formed an informal caucus within the group.

He pouts about the amount of “cash” available from the state. He bemoans “reinventing the wheel” with new ideas that might differ from the the failed ones he has been pushing for a decade.

He also comes out against open meetings that would include the media and others—further proof that he, like most vampires, can’t work his voodoo in the light of day.

Rudnick is in rare form indeed. Also funny is how he sent out a corrected email later in the day. One correction adds Allegany county to the list of those represented. Whoops! And another sentence trying to better explain how he thinks the money works. I’ll add those two corrections in red. The sentence in green was how he originally thought the money was to be split in the first version of the letter.

I wonder if Governor Cuomo knows how Rudnick really feels about having been granted the privilege to sit on our Regional Development Council—I doubt the Governor was copied on the email. Maybe somebody should send him a copy.

And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen…an email from Andrew Rudnick.

__________________________

After months of postponements and with much fanfare, Governor Cuomo announced the launch and membership of his long awaited 10 Regional Economic Development Councils at the end of July.

Five Partnership board members – Bob Brady, Robert Gioia, Tom Kucharski, Satish Tripathi, and I – are members of the WNY council, for which Satish and Howard Zemsky are the council’s co-chairs (by the way, they’re doing a super job especially under difficult circumstances – see below).  Among the 28 members of the WNY Council, there are approximately 10 businesspeople, and we’ve formed an informal caucus among them, in order to try to make the business perspective as effective and focused as possible.

Each council’s initial job is to complete a strategic economic development plan for its region (our region is Allegany,  Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties) by November 14.  The format for that plan, as well as the process for completing it (and, believe me, there is lot’s of process……..), are precisely defined by the Governor’s office.

In my conversations with Partnership members, electeds and other government officials, and even council members, there is a lot of misinformation about what the councils can do.  I think that’s because of the extensive media coverage of sometimes unconsciously overhyped statements made during the council announcements. The implementation of the councils’ actual activities really is a “work in progress” due to the limited number of Cuomo administration central staffers who are directing this work only recently being able to turn their attention to it, and because there is a strong bias among them that any/all prior economic development planning efforts are “unworthy” of serious consideration in this process.

So, in the context of the above, let me try to provide you with a sense of what we’re trying to accomplish with the WNY council and of the council “culture” which doesn’t make it easy:

–       It’s absolutely critical that there be a common, explicit definition of economic development which drives all our our council’s work.  We believe that definition is “expanding sustained private sector investment and jobs”.  And, in turn, all of the council’s specific recommendations should be prioritized according to how directly and quickly they achieve that outcome.  This should be a no brainer; but for some reason, it’s not……….

–       The council’s plan is not (and should not be) “all about the money” and that’s for two primary reasons.  First, there’s really only very limited resources directly available in response to the councils’ proposals; it’s not the advertised $1 billion, but only $200 or so million across all 10 councils, w/ each council getting a minimum of $10 million and no council getting more than $40 million — amended to— with four councils getting $40 million each and the other six councils somehow splitting the remaining $40 million – $6.67 million each (ie. the expressed “competition” merely is for getting either of those amounts); and the sources of the $200 or so million – capital funds and tax credits – further limit the impact (eg. there’s no “cash” for something like a venture capital fund).  Second and far more significant (but less “sexy”), virtually every business person and economic development professional firmly believes (including ESDC President Kenneth Adams in his address at our Accelerate Upstate conference) the items which will have the greatest, most widespread, and sustaining positive impact on expanding private sector jobs and investment are removing government “barriers” and consciously organizing the agencies delivering government tools and services – including the revision of the criteria they used to allocate their resources – in response to specific economic development opportunities.  None of this costs $, most of it can be achieved by administrative order without legislative action, and if it is achieved, it’s a home run, probably a grand slam.

–       The combination of a very tight schedule, a commitment to a prescribed process which includes meetings scheduled around the calendars of the state officials, the “reinventing the wheel” approach which comes from the bias against utilizing similar work done in even the recent past, and having all meetings open to the media and others definitely is not conducive to generating thoughtful work products achieved in an effective/efficient way.  It’s also likely to frustrate/turn off the business members of the council who represent the ultimate “customer” of what the councils are all about – private sector employers and investors.  We cannot let that happen.

So there you have it – my briefing of what actually is taking place in and around our regional economic development council.  We will work hard at making it “right” and as positively impactful as possible.  Indeed, we have lot’s of staff and volunteers directly engaged to do so.  We also will be holding a session in late September for our members to have direct input to the council’s work.  Stay tuned for the announcement of its precise date, time, and location.  In the meantime, please feel free to contact me directly regarding this or any other aspect of our work.

Andrew J. Rudnick
President & CEO
P: (716) 852-7100
F: (716) 852-1756

Jody Vohwinkel, Executive Assistant to the President & CEO
jvohwinkel@thepartnership.org


Regarding Rudnick’s Holiday Regards

The last time I criticized Andrew Rudnick and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, a couple of folks writing from the Partnership’s offices spent much of the afternoon giving me guff about it.

I guess we’ll see if they’re paying attention today.

On Tuesday evening, Rudnick dispatched a note to his organization’s membership titled “It’s a Wonderful Life,” positing the horror that would have gripped Western New York in 2010 if, George Bailey style, the Partnership had never been born. It’s a lengthy fantasy, but endeavor to persevere:

You know how the story goes.guardian angel Clarence Odbody shows businessman George Bailey what life in his community would be like without him:  not so wonderful.

What if Buffalo Niagara didn’t have businesspeople supporting each other and the region through their commitment to the Partnership’s mission? In 2010 alone, things might have been quite different..

Without the Partnership’s navigation through a tricky process, dozens of local businesspeople might still be stuck, unable to find their way through the alphabet soup of economic development agencies, grant programs, loan options and workforce training applications — instead of buying new equipment, hiring additional people, and landing new contracts.

You might still be reading front page news articles about the mess in the City of Buffalo’s economic development agency “BERC,” or instead of seeing pictures of the light display in Delaware Park, you might still be reading about the city and county’s dispute over how the Olmstead Parks will be maintained.

The 4,200+ people who exchanged business cards at Partnership functions this year might never have connected — consider the business lost, the partnerships not formed, the information not gleaned, the relationships not developed.

More than a thousand young professionals – who are committed to working and living in Buffalo Niagara – would still have social outlets and a lot of volunteer opportunities, but who would be looking out for their professional development? Who would be guiding their path toward becoming the region’s next private sector power brokers?

Would anyone have pushed for the local IDAs to include “buying local” as criteria for projects to receive a grant incentive? Without a Regional Agenda, would local municipalities be competing with each other for scarce federal and state attention and support? With all that noise, would any one of them be heard? Would proceeds from the sale of local hydropower stay in this region for economic development, or get swept into NYPA’s coffers?  Would the rail station in Niagara Falls or the federal courthouse in downtown Buffalo have local construction workers reaping paychecks?

A development-friendly Buffalo Common Council majority may not have been elected in November.which would mean more obstructionist votes on critical projects. And there’d be no Unshackle Upstate, and as a result, no broader political coalition that, with the direct financial help of Partnership members, helped changed the state senate majority from NYC-centric Democrat to upstate friendly Republican.

Who’d play defense against SO many government proposals that would kill jobs and hurt your business? Would a half-dozen proposals that would have made it easier for unions to organize at all types of companies and farms, and others that would open the door for frivolous lawsuits by disgruntled employees have sailed through the legislature? Would the government set wage rates (beyond the minimum) for all types of jobs at your company, and negate every dollar of economic development grants received by a business by increasing the rates it must pay vendors?  Would utility rates be going up because of more government-imposed mandates?

Thank goodness reality is much different – and that you’re a Partnership member who enables us to carry out critical work like what’s mentioned above..and so much more.

Thank you for all you made possible through your investment with us.

Happy holidays and my very best for a healthy and prosperous 2011,

Sincerely,

Andrew J. Rudnick

p.s. Despite the fact that it’s almost the holidays and the state legislature has gone home, there’s one more bill that needs your attention ASAP – please click here to join the fight against another downstate-driven piece of legislation that will raise energy costs for everyone living and doing business in Upstate New York.

Andrew J. Rudnick
President & CEO
P:  (716) 852-7100
F:  (716) 852-1756

Jody Vohwinkel, Executive Assistant to the President & CEO
jvohwinkel@thepartnership.org

The Partnership extends its thanks to the member businesses in its Leadership Circle.
These companies represent the Partnership’s most significant financial supporters.

Let’s take this one paragraph at a time. First, credit where it is due: I don’t doubt that the Partnership helps local business owners find their way to whatever public money is available to help them. I do wonder why the organization and Rudnick consistently stake out such stridently anti-government positions at the same time that they are leading their membership to publicly funded tax break, grants, and job training programs.

Next paragraph. Unless Rudnick personally lobbied for approval of the loans to One Sunset, there is no world, not in this or in some alternate universe, in which Rudnick and the Partnership can claim credit for the implosion and subsequent, slow-going dissolution of BERC. BERC has long been an organization through which the Partnership exercised influence in city government. BERC’s heads have generally been Partnership-approved. So, if the Partnership wants to take credit for BERC’s demise, then it must also take credit for the policies and practices that led it there.

Consulting on how best to dissolve BERC and transfer its functions elsewhere is not the same as precipitating its dissolution. And if the Partnership’s advice on dissolution had been truly helpful, I imagine the city would not be paying at least two private consultants to work it out.

On the other hand, former Olmsted Conservancy board chair David Colligan affirms that Rudnick deserves full credit for helping to broker an agreement between the city and the Olmsted Conservancy. When the mayor’s office was no longer speaking to the Conservancy and Colligan, Rudnick acted as an intermediary and eventually brought all parties to the table.

On to the next two paragraphs. I imagine that the card-sharing and elbow-rubbing to which he refers is good for local business people. I’m not convinced that it wouldn’t happen without the Partnership. Some folks have told me approving things about the Partnership as a resource for professional development, some have rolled their eyes.

In the next paragraph, the answers are as follows: Yes, Buffalo First would have pushed and continues to push a “buy local” agenda to business owners and development agencies. Yes, local IDAs do compete with one another for scarce public funds, despite the Partnership’s annual Regional Agenda. Yes, NYPA money would have stayed in this region for economic development. The Partnership may have approved of and even advocated for the agreements that protected the settlement money from being swept, but I don’t think it can take credit for those agreements. And I believe that the new railroad station in Niagara Falls and the new courthouse would be under construction even in a world in which neither Rudnick nor the Partnership had ever been born: Listing projects on the annual Regional Agenda does not entitle Rudnick to credit for their realization. Five years ago, Rudnick argued against investments in the Niagara Falls International Airport. In a blog post three and a half months ago, the Partnership claimed credit for improvements at the NFIA because it had eventually made it on its annual wish list.

The first claim in the next paragraph is predicated on the belief that the current Common Council majority is unfriendly to development, which is absurd. Everyone in city government, regardless of political affiliation, is in favor of economic development. And ice cream. And fireworks on the Fourth of July. (As a rule, those who label their political opponents as “anti-development” and “obstructionist” are liars, nine times out of 10: They’re trying to win an argument rather than use the argument to get to the truth or the best course of action.) In any case, the only change in the Council this year is the replacement of a professional economist, Dr. Curtis Haynes, with an entrepreneurial pastor, Rev. Darius Pridgen. True, the Partnership endorsed Pridgen and gave his campaign $1,000, but Pridgen did not need the endorsement or the money to win that seat. In a mayor’s or a county executive’s race, the Partnership can be influential. But it can play little useful role in the election of the Ellicott District councilman. That seat is won with votes, not money and endorsements, and few, if any, of the Partnership’s members vote in the district.

As for the State Senate, I suppose Rudnick is talking about the Grisanti campaign. Like most everyone else, the Partnership jumped on Grisanti’s bandwagon at the late last minute, donating $3,500 one week before election day. I know Grisanti and those running his campaign welcomed the cash, but the groundwork had already been done. And in the final push, the money and volunteers from the trade unions—Rudnick’s bugbears—were much more valuable to Grisanti than the Partnership’s support.

Also, UPAC, Unshackle Upstate’s political action committee, gave $9,500 to the campaign of Tim Kennedy, a Democrat (and gave that money two weeks before the Partnership’s PAC, Committee for Economic Growth, lined up with the Republican Grisanti). I think it’s fine that Unshackle Upstate supported Kennedy instead of his Republican opponent, Jack Quinn III. But let’s not undercut one viable Republican candidate, Quinn, come late to the successful longshot’s party, and then claim credit for helping Republicans take control of the State Senate.

(I was wrong about that. See comments below.)

I’ll give Rudnick the benefit of the doubt on the rest of his claims, though it sounds to me like a combination of self-inflation and fear-mongering on the part of the overpaid chief of an organization that is losing members: Pay your dues, or the government’s going to come and steal your money! Pay your dues, we’re your last best hope!

Don’t listen to that goddamned Carl Paladino: Pay your dues!


Yes, Mr. Rudnick, There Is a Santa Claus

Click here to read the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s 2011 Regional Agenda wish list. And click here for links to all the past BNP Regional Agendas dating back to 2002.

Pretty much the same as last year. UB2020, downtown medical corridor, Peace Bridge, etc. A new wrinkle this year is advocacy for drilling in the Marcellus shale, because what’s progress after all if it doesn’t risk ecological catastrophe?

Check out the 2002 agenda, where it reads:

“Thanks to much hard work by many groups of people,
including members of the Partnership, Buffalo received a
designation as a Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics by
New York State at the end of 2001. This center represents
our community’s best opportunity to find a niche in the ‘new
economy’ creating thousands of good-paying jobs in life
sciences and related businesses.”

Where are those thousands of jobs? We’re nine years down the road now.

And let’s cherish their bold vision for the waterfront in 2002:

Action Items
• Federal funding – $5 million for Intermodal/Aud
improvements.
• State funding – $25 million (grants and loans) plus
dedication of state share of sales tax — for the Bass Pro
retail development project.

They’re so cute when they’re at this age. Don’t you just wish they didn’t have to grow up?



Rudnick’s Stupid Endorsement

Yesterday, Andrew Rudnick dispatched his charming annual pre-election email listing the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s endorsements. Make what you will of the Partnership’s favorites—Rory Allen over Antoine Thompson, Joe Golombek over Sam Hoyt, Darius Pridgen over Curtis Haynes—but consider Rudnick’s reasoning for dismissing Haynes’s candidacy:

The current Councilman, Curtis Haynes, was appointed by the Council and has been a constant deterrent to economic development progress in the city, especially in regards to Canalside.

Haynes is an economist, for Christ’s sake, a Ph.D. You’d think a chamber of commerce would welcome someone with his expertise into government. But not Rudnick.

What has Haynes done to block progress at Canalside? What has Haynes done to block economic development anywhere in the city?

For that matter, what has Rudnick ever done to promote economic development in this region? He and his organization have protected the status quo in this region for decades, promoting sprawl and corporate welfare on behalf of entrenched interests at the expense of the region’s economic health. Here’s how one recipient of Rudnick’s email summed it up: “If he’d have gotten his way, we’d still be pumping tax dollars into Mark Hamister’s Buffalo Sabres. Moron.”

I think Rudnick doesn’t like Haynes because he’s an economist and a progressive who can debunk the nonsense that the Partnership churns out. Nothing against Darius Pridgen or Bryon McIntrye, but that seems to me a good reason to keep him around, if he’s still interested in the job.


Partnership vs. Antoine Thompson

Another bus shelter sign targeting State Senator Antoine Thompson, paid for by the Committee for Economic Growth, the political giving arm of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership:




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