Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact

Adamczyk Off the Ballot Again

Today, the 4th Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court tossed Larry Adamczyk off the ballot for the Deomcratic primary for the Fillmore District seat in Buffalo Commons Council. Which I suppose means this is the last we’ll hear from his campaign, unless he’s already paid for and mailed another flyer.

Adamczyk was removed from contention because, by his own admission, he had not lived long enough in the district to qualify as a candidate. He appealed his disqualification, however, and Judge Donna Siwek reinstated him, ruling that, because it was a reapportionment year in which district boundaries changed, the city charter’s residency requirement should not obtain.

The Appellate Court ruled that the charter’s requirements for candidates were constitutional and did not provide any relief regarding reapportionment years, that the Erie County Board of Election did not exceed its authority in disqualifying Adamczyk, and that in nay case Adamczyk’s prior place of residence rendered the argument moot: He lived in the Delaware District, at an address that would not have been located in either the Fillmore District, into which his new residence was reapportioned, or the Ellicott District, where it was located prior to reapportionment—where, as a sponsored candidate of Mayor Byron Brown, he certainly never would have been a candidate, since he then would have been challenging the mayor’s ally, Darius Pridgen.

The court did not rule that last part. That was me. Here’s the court’s decision.

So the two candidates left in the Fillmore District are the incumbent, Council President Dave Franczyk, and community activist Sam Herbert.

Council Says No to Rodriguez

Today’s Common Council session opened, as it always does, with a prayer. (Does anyone pray publicly so often and so audibly as the elected official?) The University District’s Bonnie Russell’s message in a nutshell: Please, God, save us from being political.

Fat chance. The Council voted five to four to deny David Rodriguez the post of corporation counsel, to which Mayor Byron Brown had nominated him two weeks earlier. (Lovejoy’s Rich Fontana jumped the majority coalition;s ship and joined Russell, the North’s Joe Golombek, and Masten’s Demone Smith in supporting Rodriguez.) The rationale: Rodriguez is running against Niagara District Councilman David Rivera for a Democratic Party committee seat. In today’s session, Delaware’s Mike LoCurto argued that in doing so Rodriguez showed poor judgment—he is the city’s lawyer, and is supposed to represent all branches of government, not just the mayor who appoints him. LoCurto said the race against Rivera, who Rodriguez theoretically represents, coupled with his failure to deliver any timely or helpful opinions during the Brian Davis meltdown last fall, had convinced him that Rodriguez was incapable of acting independently of the mayor’s office. And that, LoCurto said, made him incapable of representing the entire city.

One might have expected fireworks. There were none. Maybe the room will light up tomorrow, when the appointment of Dan Derenda to police commissioner may be the cause of a special session. Last week, Derenda’s nomination was tabled in the Legislation Committee, seemingly dooming Derenda to purgatory until after the Council’s August recess. Today Brown threatened to resubmit Derenda’s name, but then pulled that punch at the last minute. Now we hear that a special session will be called tomorrow, and the mayor will likely have the votes to discharge Derenda’s nomination from committee and confirm him. The only stalwarts against the appointment are LoCurto, Rivera, and the South’s Mickey Kearns. Ellicott’s Curtis Haynes is a cipher, though he voted to table the matter last week. Fontana will vote to confirm.

If Haynes sticks to his guns, then Council President Dave Franczyk is the swing vote here. Franczyk voted to table last week, but he is inclined to confirm Derenda unless given a powerful reason not to. Will he help to pull the appointment out of committee or will he allow the others to continue to scrutinize the clearly flawed and opaque process by which Derenda was nominated?

And when will mayoral spokesman Peter Cutler call me back to tell me if the mayor’s human resources ace, Karla “TMI” Thomas, lied to councilmembers yesterday about where and when she’d posted the opening for a police commissioner to online job sites?

Kevin Helfer was approved unanimously as the city’s new parking czar.

The Hatch Hitch

As anyone who’d bother to read this post knows, South District Councilmember Mickey Kearns and Delaware District Councilmember Mike LoCurto submitted a resolution asking the city’s law department to draft a statute banning some city employees from engaging in politicking. The resolution, they say, is a response to complaints that workers in City Hall are made to carry petitions, donate to campaigns, and canvass for candidates whom the mayor instructs them to support. (I’m having trouble downloading the text, so no link, sorry.) This mini Hatch Act—so called because it is a local version of the federal law—is intended, say Kearns and LoCurto, to protect city employees from being pressured by their superiors to do political work.

Niagara District Councilmember David Rivera and Council President Dave Franczyk signed onto the resolution, and the fifth man in the majority coalition, Lovejoy’s Rich Fontana, voted yea to send the resolution to the legislative committee.

That’s where it ran into attorney Peter Reese, who excoriated the measure for 10 or 15 excruciatingly funny minutes. (I don’t watch City Hall TV myself, or whatever it’s called, because I don’t have cable; if you do, and if such things interest you, try to catch Reese’s performance.)

Reese said the proposed legislation did not represent reform at all, that in fact it was “politics as usual.” He called the proposed legislation anti-union, because as written it could make union activity grounds for dismissal.

Edit: Mike LoCurto tells me I have misunderstood the section of the proposed legislation that led me to write what is now in brackets and italics below: “The exemption would only be for employees who are currently committeemembers,” LoCurto write. “They could remain committeemenmbers for their current two-year term. They would not be permitted to donate to campaigns during that time.”

[He said it was racist, for several reasons, not least of which is this: Current employees would be grandfathered, so they could still politick. Only new employees would be excluded from political activity. If you sort city employees by councilmanic district and race, you’ll find a preponderance of white South Buffalonians. New Latino hires from the Lower West Side? You can’t campaign for a candidate from your community. New African-American hires from Cold Springs? You don’t get to pass petitions for you next door neighbor whose running for Common Council.

White guy from South Buffalo who has had a job since the Griffin administration and never fails to drop $50 into the hat at a Goin’ South beer bash? Keep writing those checks.]

(Later in the hearing, North District Councilmember Joe Golombek pointed out that a ban on City Hall employees politicking would deprive the mayor of some of his ground troops in his re-election bid next year; meantime, county and local state employees, who tend to align with the county chairman, would remain free to campaign for the mayor’s opponent.)

Reese said the legislation had been misnamed: Instead of the “City of Buffalo Employee Protection Act,” it ought to be called the “Minority Exclusion Act of 2008.”

Worst of all, he said, it created a “political superclass.” Only folks like plow drivers, clerks, cashiers, sanitation workers, etc. would be prohibited from politicking. Appointees who serve at the pleasure of the mayor, the comptroller, or the council—immediate staff of the three branches of city government, in other words, the people who are closest to politicians and most overtly political to begin with—would not be covered by this mini Hatch Act.

It compromises First Amendment rights, Reese said. And state courts have already ruled that passing designating petitions for a political candidate is an absolute right of every citizen.

“And these are the things I like about this bill,” Reese said.

(This post continues; click to read more…)

Common Council Action Plan

As promised here, we’re posting the Common Council of Buffalo’s 2008-2009 Action Plan. (God knows why.) Seriously though, it’s worth a quick scan. My favorite part is at the beginning, in which we learn what the Romans had in common with Buffalonians.

Have you guessed it yet?

Both sacked their own cities:

…The assumption may reasonably be made that the fall of Rome, with the corresponding loss of its great buildings, was caused by invading barbarian armies bent on loot and destruction. From the time of the “Sack of Rome” by the Vandal Alaric in 410, to invading German mercenaries in the 16th century, it is presumed that the awe-inspiring structures of antiquity were pulled down, burned, ravaged and pulverized by conquering outsiders. The startling reality is that the destruction of Rome was not mainly carried out by rampaging armies during time of war, but most of the monuments and structures were destroyed by the Romans themselves! Over centuries the Roman people pulled down the marble statues, temples, basilica and baths. They tore these great buildings down and fed the marble into furnaces to produce lime. Other buildings were knocked down piecemeal by wealthy aristocrats to adorn their Renaissance palaces, to be seen only by a few. Save for the ancient Roman fascisti symbol of the bound ax and sticks adorning Buffalo’s ornate Council Chambers, what parallel does the destruction of Rome in centuries past have to do with the Queen City of the Lakes in the 21st century?

The answer is, just like the Romans, Buffalonians at times have been responsible for demolishing, tearing down or destroying the City’s architectural heritage. And this destruction still continues, although with greater difficulty due to the resistance of preservationists who grasp the importance of the City’s rich built environment to future generations.

This must be the writing of Council President Dave Franczyk.

The Raucous Caucus: Politics Vs. Substance

Two weeks ago, during the April 29 Common Council meeting, Masten District Councilmember Demone Smith threw a bit of a fit. The previous Friday, the Common Council had released its annual action plan, and Smith complained he’d been given inadequate time to review that plan and had not received a personal invitation to take part in its public release.

Don’t worry about what this “action plan” is. It’s pretty close to meaningless. What’s important is that Smith, who is one of four councilmembers who comprise a minority bloc, felt slighted by the five-member majority bloc. He accused them of freezing out him and his three fellow bloc members, though none of the other three joined him in his complaint.

Council President Dave Franczyk and Lovejoy District Councilmember Rich Fontana tried to head off Smith’s indignation, arguing that every member of council had received drafts of the plan and invitations to the unveiling by email, to which Smith replied, “Everybody knows my email doesn’t work.” (“Get it fixed,” Franczyk said.) Franczyk said they’d discussed the plan in legislative caucus—the closed [note: I stand corrected, the caucus is open] meeting of councilmembers in which all the voting in the public session is predetermined—but Smith had not attended. (“All I ask is that councilmembers take some responsibility,” Franczyk said.)

But Smith was tapping into his own deep vein of resentment: Ever since last November’s Common Council elections, he’s been in the minority, whereas when he took over the empty Masten seat from the departing Antoine Thompson, he was part of a solid majority aligned with Mayor Byron Brown. It’s no fun to go from starter to second string.

By the end of the exchange, Franczyk and Smith were talking over each other heatedly, and Smith said that if the new majority was going to trample over the other councilmembers, then maybe the minority bloc would have to create it’s own legislative caucus.

What that would accomplish is not clear, apart from creating another set of meetings closed to public scrutiny for councilmembers to miss. But last Thursday Smith filed this letter with the City Clerk offering a rough outline of a proposal for a new legislative caucus, which he calls the “Progressive Caucus of the Common Council of Buffalo,” which “will make the Common Council of the City of Buffalo more democratic by creating an additional center of legislative power that promotes cooperation.”