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Buffalo Bills… The Most Misbehaved Fans Ever?

BillsgamedayFrom time to time, dramatic stories emerge of some horrific happening surrounding a sporting event. At Dodger Stadium, a fan wearing San Francisco Giants gear is attacked and maimed. In Europe, soccer hooliganism is legendary and infamous, and even today, stadiums are designed to cordon off “away” fans from the home team supporters.

Yet right here, in Buffalo, the community known as “The City of Good Neighbors” is getting yet another black eye, as awful video taken in the parking lot of Ralph Wilson Stadium this past Sunday, has hit several sport media blogs and has gone viral.

The video depicts a fan, dressed in Bills garb, literally setting himself on fire, while nearby people, almost all male, all wearing Bills gear, and almost all holding a cup in their hands, presumably containing alcohol, cheer the nitwit on.

Thing is, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Occurrences of fan misbehavior, with alcohol and even drug use fueling the bad acts, has become all too common on game day Sundays in Orchard Park. And it has even resulted in death.
In 2012, a drunken fan was ejected from Ralph Wilson Stadium at a night game in November. From the parking lot, he texted his brother and friends as to the post game meet up spot. Nobody heard from him again and his body was found the next day, face down in a shallow stream a half mile from the stadium.

Then in 2014, another fan decided to slide down the bannister along the upper deck of the sideline balcony. He slipped and fell more than 30 feet, severely injuring another fan who had the misfortune of being in exactly in the wrong spot when the individual hit the ground.

It gets worse. Throughout the season, the public has been deluged with stories in the sports media, most with accompanying videos, of the mayhem happening around Ralph Wilson Stadium; fans dropping off an RV and smashing a table. A couple having sex. Men binge drinking out of long funnels. A bat spin contest involving another drunk fan gone horribly wrong. And each time a video like this goes internet viral, it casts the entire community of Buffalo and Erie County in a horrible light on the national stage.

Are Buffalo fans the worst fans in the NFL when it comes to proper conduct? More on that in a bit.

But to understand the very DNA of the Bills stadium, one has to go all the way back to 1973, when a shiny new stadium then named Rich Stadium opened its doors for the very first time. From 1960 to 1972, the Bills played in a crumbling and decrepit stadium on the city’s east side. Back then, urban flight to the suburbs was in full gear, the neighborhood surrounding “The Old Rockpile” was not safe, especially with race riots going on during a very unstable societal era in our history. So when fans went out to Orchard Park for the very first time in 1973, it was a little slice of heaven.

There was a bright and new stadium in an upscale suburb, surrounded by hundreds of acres of asphalt, where people could come and bring their grills and coolers and safely tailgate and soak in the game day experience.

Tailgate they did, and then came the alcohol. Hard to believe in the era we live in today, that fans could actually carry coolers into the stadium back then. Beer, flasks, hard liquor. It all became an essential part of a day (or night) at a Bills game.

That first night game occurred in 1974, Buffalo’s debut on ABC’s Monday Night Football. The spectacle soon turned ugly, with one fan attempting to do a high wire act across the cable holding up an end zone net. There were multiple cases of fans running onto the field, and back then TV cameras lapped up such scenes, providing said hooligans their 30 seconds of fame. Dozens of fan fights broke in the stands, with green jacketed security people overwhelmed just trying to keep up. Buffalo’s national TV debut on ABC’s wildly popular Monday night show was an embarrassing one, with commentators “Dandy” Don Meredith and Howard Cosell rebuking the Buffalo fans for their poor conduct. The appalling scenes playing out that night even made it to a story in Sports Illustrated.

The in stadium violence went on an on. For decades. Bills management beefed up security, but did little to actually stem fan violence and stop miscreant fans from entering the stadium until just the past few years. Part of the charm of attending a Bills game was not only watching the action on the field, but the fights in the stands. You could set your watch to the inevitability that several melees would take place, especially in the end zone directly underneath the Bills scoreboard.

So back to the main question – are the Bills fans the worst in the NFL when it comes to fan conduct?

This is a very much subjective analysis, culled from our multiple visits to all 31 stadiums in the league, and additionally, games attended at almost 50 separate FBS division 1 college football venues. But based on those experiences, the answer has to be a definitive “Yes”.

Simply put, this sort of despicable behavior does not occur with regularity at any other NFL venue. Not in Philadelphia or Oakland, two cities most noted for their rabid fans and hostility to fans of visiting teams. At the Linc in Philly, tailgating involving open beverage containers and grills is limited to one section of the parking lots. Patrolling and controlling any bad behavior becomes much easier with a smaller footprint. Over in Oakland, several losing seasons has turned “The Black Hole” into a pretty docile place.

Looking at teams noted for their robust tailgate scene – in Green Bay, it seems like the entire state of Wisconsin descends on the small town on football Sundays. There is spirit and camaraderie in the air, fans and even kids are having fun, visitors are warmly welcomed. The entire streetscape feels more like an American Legion summer picnic. Same in Kansas City, where their newly refurbished stadium sits amidst a sea of parking, and the local folks are having fun in a well behaved manor.

Over at Houston’s NRG Stadium, the team actually has a kids area with bounce houses, other rides and a play area to make the tailgate scene family friendly. Guest relations associates with the Texans front office ride around the lots in golf carts, delivering prizes to the best decorated vehicles. Radio stations broadcast from outside the stadium gates. The entire set up is geared towards family fun.

In urban settings, the tailgating is more muted and subdued, just due to lack of large surface parking infrastructure. In places such as New Orleans, Seattle, Indianapolis and Detroit, people tailgate. But fans can also enjoy pre and post game at one of the many bars and bistros offering game day pub fare and drinks specials, or gather in a public area for live music and entertainment. At the Eastern Market near Detroit’s Ford Field, thousands of tailgaters gather amidst old historic buildings and warehouses. It’s an ocean of fun. Nobody is belly flopping off of roofs, nobody is engaging in a sexual act, nobody is imbibing from a funnel, and certainly, nobody is lighting himself on fire.
Well, it looks like Buffalo citizens have had enough, and are demanding that something be done. Social media threads, and responses to news articles about the situation, have been jam packed with people’s own stories of their experiences with violent and boorish behavior. The refrain is very similar – fans who gave up going to games years ago because a few miscreants ruined the experience for everybody, tales of drunkenness and vomit, many saying they would never expose children to such a spectacle.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has taken notice. Poloncarz was handily re-elected to his job this past November, and the county he runs is the owner of the stadium and landlord to the Bills. An avid writer on social media, Poloncarz yesterday commented, “Everyone has a role in making the ‪#‎Bills‬ game day experience a great one for all. We are better than what we’ve seen recently.” Speaking to the media, Poloncarz promised action, even if to bring the New York State Police in and to possibly step up patrolling of private lots. He minced no words, calling this sort of behavior “the laughing stock of idiocy”.

But will that be enough? Many of those in Buffalo who attend the games and enjoy tailgating in a respectful manor are now expressing fear that the team might take the extreme step of shutting down tailgating altogether. Many private lots surrounding the stadium do offer tailgating venues, however, and closing down tailgates on those private lands would require ordinance changes by the Orchard Park Town Board.

And there is some pushback. One obscure blogger penned “an open letter to Mark Poloncarz” defending the behavior and spectacle Buffalo Bills patrons all been witness to, and suggesting that Poloncarz come join his tailgate and have a beer. Incredibly, this knucklehead said that he doesn’t take his young children to the games, but if he did, and he happened across two people having sex right in front of him and his kids, he would simply turn the other way. Wow. Just wow.

In the end, there are no easy answers or solutions to this problem. Except that law enforcement and team management has to take more stringent matters to crack down on the small number of people who make things miserable for everybody. If it means expelling fans from stadium property, from doing random breathalyzers at the gates to anyone even carrying a container of alcohol, to doubling and even tripling the number of ushers and security at every section, then so be it.

The Buffalo Bills will be entering year four of a ten year lease with Erie County to play at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and there has already been significant discussion and community debate on the long term home of the Bills – whether it be a new stadium downtown or a complete overhaul of the current home, to another option elsewhere. As a community Buffalo has one generational opportunity to get this right. Poloncarz has taken a wise approach about moving slowly, mindful of the community’s financial situation and lack of political will to publicly fund an expensive new stadium. Bills owner Terry Pegula has indicated that at the appropriate time the organization will make plans for its future home, but there is no immediate rush to do so.

Whatever the outcome of this debate, implementing a place of safety, positive fan spirit, a collegial atmosphere, and a center of community pride, rather than community shame and embarrassment, now becomes part of this discussion. The people of Buffalo deserve better. They are a proud community and Buffalo and Erie County is a great place to call home, and it’s getting better by the day. And the overwhelming sentiment in Buffalo today amongst fans is that enough is enough. Bills Nation and Bills Mafia are ready to take back their game day. Stay tuned.

Artvoice sportswriters Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell have traveled to all 31 NFL stadiums as part of their Ultimate Sports Road Trip project which has taken them to hundreds of different sporting events at venues throughout North America and Europe. Find their web site at

Bee Stings

In the Buffalo News’ Tuesday article regarding Mark Poloncarz’s hard work and competence, it was revealed that Conservative County Legislator Joe Lorigo didn’t like a letter that Poloncarz sent to him in response to an op/ed piece Lorigo had published in the Bee.

“Some people don’t like it that I’m willing to stand up for what I believe and sit there and say, ‘I think you’re wrong and here’s why,’ ” Poloncarz said. “They’re used to the back-slapper elected official who will say anything to anyone to get a vote and keep them happy.”

He knows that can rub people the wrong way, but he sees it as standing up for what he sees as right. He’ll put it in writing, too.

Last April, after Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo, a West Seneca Conservative, criticized Poloncarz’s four-year plan in a column that appeared in the West Seneca Bee, Poloncarz sent out a four-page letter picking apart the piece and accusing Lorigo of leveling “factually inaccurate partisan attacks towards my administration in a cheap attempt to score political points.”

The letter was copied to the entire County Legislature, the county control board and the county comptroller.

“It was completely over the top,” said Lorigo, a frequent critic of the Poloncarz administration. “He doesn’t know how to respond rationally. I think the best leaders, whether it be county executive, mayor or president, are people that can effectively communicate their point of view without being so partisan.”

Note that Poloncarz didn’t publish his rebuttal in the Bee, or in any other paper – he just sent Lorigo a letter explaining to him – in detail – how he was wrong. Telling someone who is wrong that they are wrong is neither irrational nor partisan

Joseph Lorigo’s 4/19/12 West Seneca Bee column by Alan Bedenko

Mark Poloncarz’s Letter to Legislator Joe Lorigo


More like this, please. 

The Morning Grumpy 2/20/2012

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

Seems legit

1. I haven’t written much about State Senator Mark Grisanti’s Rumble At the Falls.  Now that the full police report has been published, it seems appropriate to comment. From the time that initial reports of the fracas surfaced, the idea that a sober Sen. Grisanti simply attempted to break up a fight and was then attacked by two drunken native americans due to his lack of native friendly legislative accomplishments seemed (to this writer, at least) a bit contrived.

To make matters worse, Grisanti and his staff simply lost control of the narrative as the story developed last week. Allegations surfaced that Grisanti and his wife were drunk, that Grisanti used racial epithets, and that it was Grisanti who instigated the fight.

Oh, this also happened. Weird.

While the other parties involved in the donnybrook took control of the public relations battle, Grisanti and his young staff were being pummeled with conflicting advice from all of Grisanti’s political bosses, mentors and unofficial advisers like Henry Wojtaszek, Joel Giambra, Michael Caputo, and many others. To make matters worse, Grisanti didn’t seem to know that it’s o.k. to simply say “no” to an interview.

The media had a field day playing with Grisanti’s tenuous memory of the melee, what with his Nixonian claims that he “didn’t recall” using a racial epithet and the incremental changes in his story throughout the week. During this entire process, all I could wonder were two things.

  • Why isn’t Senator Grisanti pressing charges against the person who severely concussed and injured his wife?
  • Why aren’t any of the parties involved demanding that the casino surveillance tape be released?

Until one of those two things happened, it seemed that everyone had something to hide and we were simply dealing with bullshit “spin”. Now, news has emerged that Grisanti intends to press charges, the police report has surfaced, and the full surveillance video is rumored to be on its way to the media; it sure seems as if the Senator has retaken control of the narrative and has the facts on his side. This story has shifted frequently and I suspect that it will continue to do so throughout the week. Stay tuned.

2. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz most likely kicked back with a beer last night and celebrated a pretty excellent week.  The man is currently THE Bruce Dickinson of Erie County politics.

His pick to fill the now vacant Erie County Comptroller’s office was confirmed by the Legislature and he was rewarded with a nice column in the Sunday edition of The Buffalo News supporting his claim that the county IDA system needs significant reform. Poloncarz even took the opportunity to call Kevin Hardwick and other legislature Republicans ignorant. However, his biggest win of the week was the restoration of funding to the child care subsidy program cut by the previous administration. As reported in The Buffalo News:

Starting March 5, a family of three will be able to make up to $37,060 this year and still qualify for subsidized child care, as opposed to the current rules setting the limit at $32,427. The projections allowing that increase run through 2013, bringing some stability to a program that has had its ups and downs in recent years.

This program is a critical tool for working families as parents struggle to stay off public assistance, progress through job training programs or return to school. The availability of subsidized day care is absolutely crucial to thousands of families in WNY and the funding was restored without adding to the budget. Anyone missing Collins yet? Didn’t think so.

3. When digesting the news last week that The Buffalo News posted its lowest profit in decades last year, please consider this speech given by a former newspaper executive.

Crappy newspaper executives are a bigger threat to journalism’s future than any changes wrought by the Internet.

As you read through his speech, I think you’re going to see The Buffalo News making many of the same mistakes that every other newspaper in the country is making.  Think about it the next time you consider how much better the daily product would be if Brian Meyer, Jim Heaney, and dozens of other talented writers and editors were still on the job. Think about it the next time Margaret Sullivan proudly boasts of the latest results from reader surveys and the popularity of coupons.

The greatest irony of the devolution of newspapers is that journalism itself is more vital and relevant than ever. The cost of production has radically scaled down for startups, talent is plentiful, distribution of content has never been easier, and audiences never more receptive to new and engaging voices. Meanwhile, executives in the newspaper industry struggle to maintain the legacy distribution model rather than embrace new, cooperative and engaged models of production and distribution. Due to a lack of competition in daily news production, The Buffalo News still has a few years to figure this out. Will they? Or will someone dedicate the capital necessary to take them on and beat them on the web?

4. Speaking of Jim Heaney, have you heard about his new project? The ol’ man is getting back into the journalism game with a very exciting new organization called the Investigative Post.

Investigative Post is collaborating with major media outlets and university journalism programs to produce and distribute investigations and analyses on the major issues confronting Buffalo and Western New York.

Jim Heaney, a veteran investigative reporter formerly with The Buffalo News, is spearheading the venture as editor and executive director.

“We’re going to produce hard-nosed investigations and in-depth analyses intended to help shape the debate over how to get this community back on its feet,” said Heaney, a former Pulitzer Prize finalist who departed The News in August to launch Investigative Post.

“We’ll be a watchdog with both bite and brains,” he added.

Members of the board of directors include Tom Toles, who won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning with The News before joining the Washington Post, and Lee Coppola, an award-winning newspaper and television investigative reporter and former dean of the School of Journalism at St. Bonaventure University.

Rather than competing with established news outlets, investigative centers collaborate with them. Investigative Post will share selected content with News 4, WIVB-TV; WBFO-FM, 88.7 FM and AM 970, the region’s National Public Radio stations; The Buffalo News; and Artvoice.

Heaney has been a wonderful mentor for hundreds of young students, bloggers, and reporters in the region for years. I’m excited to see him leading this new project and look forward to reading and contributing whenever and however I am able.

5. Red states hate being taxed, but they sure as hell love to bathe in that sweet, sweet federal spending! Tea Party!

Republican states, on average, received $1.46 in federal spending for every tax dollar paid; Democratic states, on average, received $1.16.

Fact Of The Day:On Feb. 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth as he flew aboard the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule.

Quote Of The Day: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” – Frederick Douglass

Cartoon Of The Day: “Magic Highway USA” – Disney

Song Of The Day: “Ramblin’ Rose” – MC5

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

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The Morning Grumpy – 1/10/2012

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. What goes around, comes around. Anthony Baynes, former Chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority has moved on to real estate development since his term ended on the authority in 2008. His most current project is the adaptive re-use of a former industrial building at 100 S. Elmwood in Buffalo into a high end residential and office space. As his budget for the development project spiraled out of control, Baynes sought tax breaks from the ECIDA to help bring the project to a close.

Newly elected County Executive Mark Poloncarz was the sole opposing vote on incentives for the project. His opposition might have something to do with a principled objection to incentives that fail to generate a wide-ranging community benefit or it might have something to do with payback for the brinksmanship between Baynes and Poloncarz over county borrowing back in 2007 and 2008. In a town where everything is political, I’ll let you decide on Poloncarz’s motivation. Regardless as to the outcome of this particular issue, this vote from Poloncarz signals that the ECIDA will soon begin conducting its business in a very different manner.

2. Carl Paladino, Buffalo’s ambassador to the rest of the country.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Dolina,

While on the stump for Newt Gingrich, Carl Paladino had some choice words for national republicans and just about everyone other than your Mother.

Ron Paul’s about to “get on the mother-ship and go back to the mother planet,” Rick Perry’s going nowhere unless it’s to “hang around the shooting range,” and Jon Huntsman clearly loves the Chinese so much he “should move to China.”

Huntsman in particular rubbed him the wrong way by speaking Chinese on stage in the previous debate.

“‘Oh, the Chinese are so strong,’ what the fuck is wrong with these people?” he said. “He should move to China.”

Always the diplomat. He also had some strong words for New York media and their coverage of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first year in office.

“He didn’t do anything. What did he do? He contrived a $10 billion deficit, you guys never inquired as to why. … He never gave you a line item of where it existed. He never showed you how it all added up to a $10 billion deficit,” Mr. Paladino said of Governor Cuomo and the media. “And then, he solved it and said, ‘Hey, I solved it.’ You never asked him, ‘Well, show us the solution, show us the formula, show us the numbers.’ You never asked him for it because it never existed, it’s an illusion.”

An absolute embarrassment to Buffalo and WNY.

3. Last night, I felt like watching something mildly informative, so I flipped over to The History Channel, Instead, I was confronted with back to back episodes of something called “Pawn Stars“. After three minutes of watching this contrived bullshit reality show, I could actually feel myself getting dumber. How this is “history”, I’m not sure.

So, here’s a quick history lesson for The History Channel.


4. The Wall Street Journal examined 77 businesses Mitt Romney invested in while running Bain Capital from its 1984 start until early 1999, to see how they fared during Bain’s involvement and shortly afterward.

Among the findings: 22% either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses. An additional 8% ran into so much trouble that all of the money Bain invested was lost. Another finding was that Bain produced stellar returns for its investors — yet the bulk of these came from just a small number of its investments. Ten deals produced more than 70% of the dollar gains.

See, Carl? You don’t need to act like a petulant tween when criticizing the other Republican candidates, just reference their actual records.

5. High school graduation rates by state (Click the image to Embiggen).

Irrational conclusion time…notice higher graduation rates correlate with Democratic voting blocs? Clearly, republican voters are just dumber. You can’t argue with it, it’s just science.

6. Mitt Romney protesting in favor of the Vietnam War.


Fact Of The Day: Covering just 0.3% of the Sahara Desert’s land area with solar panels would generate enough electricity to power the entirety of Europe. Or, ya know, we could keep destroying the earth underneath our feet at a rapidly increasing cost to generate electricity and fuel. Either or.

Quote Of the Day: “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” – Christopher Hitchens

I feel like we need to get in the mindset of our Republican Presidential candidates and start sharing their testimony from the good book.

NEW FEATURE! Bible Verse Of The Day: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;she must be quiet” 1 Timothy 2:12

Song Of The Day: “Start A War” – The National

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chrissmithbuffalo[@]

Erie County Rats Support Chris Collins

While NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and US Senator Chuck Schumer are arriving in town tomorrow to endorse Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz in his bid for County Executive, the Erie County Rodent League is swarming to support incumbent Republican Chris Collins.

“Under previous administrations we were shunned from society, considered undesirable pests,” according to League president Rattoria Ratherford. “Chris Collins understands us, and because of his anti-rodent-control policies, our membership has skyrocketed in the past several years with several new town chapters organizing across Erie County—including newly chartered members in Amherst and Tonawanda.”

The rats are grateful to Collins for slashing nearly $1 million from the Erie County Department of Health’s Public Health Lab in 2011. The lab was responsible for administering the County’s vector and rodent control program.

Click here to read the full press release.

Erie County Ballot Tampering: Most Unprosecutable Case Ever?

Yesterday, Erie County Executive Chris Collins appeared on FOX News to accuse his Democratic opponent, Mark Poloncarz, and the New York State Democratic Party of commissioning a veteran Democratic Party operative at Erie County Board of Elections to create the appearance that Republican operatives at the Erie County Board of Elections where conspiring to commit election fraud on behalf of Collins, in order to embarrass Collins in the last two weeks of a race that, according to an independent poll, is closer than the Collins campaign has been pretending it to be for the past several months.

(Try reading that sentence aloud without pausing to take a breath.)

At first Poloncarz reacted to the revelation that absentee ballots had been sent to some Lackawanna voters with Collins’s name already filled out by accusing the Collins campaign of resorting to dirty tricks. Soon, word leaked that the person of interest (in the parlance of the times) is in fact a Democrat who works at the BOE, Mark Galvin, who has been around since the Gorski administration and who worked very hard for Democrat Jim Keane in 2007 but is not close to Poloncarz. Poloncarz then backed off his accusation, calling for a thorough investigation of the incident and prosecution of the parties responsible.

The Erie County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the case, which involves at least 10 ballots; last week the sheriff indicated that an arrest was imminent but that nothing his investigators had learned indicated that neither campaign had been involved. Which is to say, the conspiracy Collins tried to peddle on FOX News is nonsense—and that Collins is guilty of the “irrational zeal to blame others” with which his spokesman, Stefan Mychajliw, characterized Poloncarz’s initial reaction.

Whether Galvin is guilty or not, the case is close to unprosecutable. First, if Galvin’s fingerprints are on a ballot pre-marked for Collins that was returned to the BOE because of an address, that proves nothing: It’s his job to handle the ballots and the envelopes.

Second, anyone who wanted to try Galvin or anybody else for tampering with ballots would have to overcome a difficult chain of custody issue: Within the offices of the BOE, the handling of ballots always occurs in the presence of at least one Democratic and one Republican employee. That’s how it works when the absentee ballots are stuffed into addressed envelopes.

But before the ballots are stuffed into the envelopes, they are sent outside the BOE to a private firm—in this case, Elma Printing on Clinton Street—to be folded by a machine. It’s a tricky five-fold process, and the machines that can do that are expensive, so the BOE outsources the work. There is no team of Republicans and Democrats present to supervise that process, according to the BOE: The ballots are sent out to be folded and then returned to the BOE, where employees proceed to stuff them in envelopes.

So the ballots are  in private hands, unmonitored, for a period of time.

This is not intended to cast suspicion on Elma Press, only to suggest that a prosecutor faces a difficult obstacle here. The threshold is reasonable doubt, and a good defense attorney could argue that no one knows what happened to the ballots while in the possession of the private contractor. A prosecutor can’t build a strong argument on the political interest of the parties involved, either: Galvin is a Democratic operative who donated to Democratic campaigns but never directly to Poloncarz; the owners of Elma Press are Republicans who have donated to Republican campaigns but never directly to Collins.

Again, I’m not suggesting that Elma Press is in any way responsible and I’m not trying to exonerate Galvin or anyone else. I’m just saying that, barring something like video evidence or an admissible confession, the case seems to me unprosecutable. And that all of those who dutifully reported last week that an arrest was “imminent” have not asked enough questions.

The sheriff’s investigators know this; the outsourcing for folding was discussed with the BOE. They also know that, the way the ballots were folded this year, the races for county executive and county family court judge were on the top-facing fold. So the ballot tamperer, if there was one, need not unfold them to mark them for Collins and then refold them.

Still, it seems to me that the chain of custody issue poses a problem for a potential prosecution. Any lawyers out there want to weigh in?


Polo Poloncarz Vs. Lexus Chris

It’s the last day of August and I find myself outbound on Route 33 expressway in rush hour traffic that’s as anxious to rush out of city as I am to get out my car and stop driving. I’ve been driving all day but here I am anyway surrounded by cars under a clear summer sky on my way to Mark Poloncarz for Erie County Executive campaign headquarters.

The weather here has been perfect for weeks and tonight is no exception, but that doesn’t seem to factor in the turnout for a volunteer meeting at campaign headquarters at Harlem and Genesee in Cheektowaga. The building is situated right next to a Rite-Aid, and it’s pretty much kitty corner to 1,000 acres of cemeteries divided by the 33.

It’s 5:30pm and volunteers are slowly amassing in what seems to be a former furniture showroom that proudly displays the three most dominant interior design elements in the free world: drop ceiling, fluorescent lights, reddish industrial carpet. If there’s a heaven and a hell, they both have waiting rooms exactly like this for people to ponder their lives. The Big Three.

Inside, there are a few desks reserved for campaign employees, a random assortment of tables and chairs that look like they were donated by an insolvent church. The bathrooms have to be opened by keys which are left in the handles, and the doors don’t lock from the inside. The ghosts of former wealth and vitality hang in the room and converse with old campaign lawn signs in the corner of the room for Poloncarz’s father, Charles.

But this is politics and politics is money and money for Poloncarz, compared with his well-heeled Republican opponent, Chris Collins, is tight. While Collins’ thus far has well over a million in his campaign coffers, Poloncarz is lucky to have a quarter as much.

What Poloncarz HQ lacks in interior charm, it makes up for in exterior frontage. The windows are covered in huge translucent Poloncarz banners, announcing itself to the four lanes of traffic outside on a stretch of Harlem Road that connects several well-populated first-ring suburbs to each other and connects everybody to the 33. It’s also directly under a major flight path for the airport, for whatever’s that worth these days.

The median demographic for the event is white, female, and 50 years old. At 30, I’m pretty sure I’m the youngest person in the room aside from two Poloncarz staffers. A quick survey of the crowd yields that most people are motivated to help the cause not out of passion for the democratic candidate, but because they loathe Chris Collins. Somewhere along the way, Collins has committed a transgression that is unforgiveable in Western New York: He’s put on airs, he thinks he’s better than everyone else.

The Poloncarz event, perhaps in effort to rebuff Collins’ various self-aggrandized refineries, serves pizza and Labatt Blue Light in cans. (Missed was a golden opportunity to serve wings and round-out another Big Three.) In true volunteer fashion, the three sheet pizzas were served at 5:45pm and gone by 5:55pm. The beer gift was a bit more giving.

And just at the moment when the pizza disappears, the talking begins in the middle of the room. In a baby blue Poloncarz polo shirt and khakis, Mr. Comptroller says his piece. Perhaps his campaign’s greatest hope lies in his ability to highlight his own track record of fiscal responsibility in office, and his plans for economic development, and then compare those to Collins’s legacy of reckless, costly lawsuits against everyone who disagrees, use of juked stats, and financial and political patronage for his inner circle. Poloncarz needs to be picking these ripe grapes right off the vine and swallowing the seed.

The other ace in the hole for Poloncarz is his focus on first-ring suburbs. As a Lackawanna boy, he must feel he can relate to and attract voters from the hard-hit, working-class towns that surround Buffalo. It certainly can’t hurt as a Polish-American that he’s set up such visible shop along the historical Polish corridor that extends east from Buffalo to Cheektowaga and out to Depew and Lancaster.

The youngest man in the room, Poloncarz staffer Ben Swanekamp, predicts that the winning candidate will require 145,210 votes from the 915,000 people who live in the county. Poloncarz declared with the muted enthusiasm of a gentle coach, “If the election were today, I win.”

aaron lowinger

Collins Inflates Debt Numbers

The headline above is no less partisan than this one, which the editors of the Buffalo News have given to Janice Habuda’s article about Erie County Executive’s election-year debt reduction plan:

Collins plans to cut $196 million from debt by 2015

Buried in that story is the response to the Collins plan from Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, the Democrat who is challenging Collins in November. Yesterday afternoon, Poloncarz released this parsing of the numbers Collins offers to justify his claims that he has already substantially reduced county debt:

Today, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz issued the following statement in response to the Collins administration’s claims that he will have reduced Erie County’s (the “County”) long-term debt by nearly $200 million by 2015, including $143 million by the start of 2012.

“This is yet another example of the Collins administration’s reliance on ‘smoke and mirrors’ to artificially inflate numbers in an attempt to mislead the public.  The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of his supposed $200 million in debt reduction by 2015 is completely made up.”

“First, Collins overstates his numbers by including more than $37 million in debt retired in 2007, the year before he even took office.  He didn’t retire a single dollar of that debt.   Its inclusion is wholly inappropriate and is lumped in to help inflate his numbers.  The reality is that in January 2008, when Collins took office, the County’s debt stood at $525 million, not $562 million.

“Second, although he would like to pretend that more than $100 million in debt related to the Erie County Medical Center Corporation (“ECMC”) is ‘off the County books,’ the County is still legally obligated to guarantee that debt, must identify it under New York State law as a long-term outstanding indebtedness obligation of the County, and we would be forced to pay it if ECMC were to ever default.  Furthermore, while Collins continually boasts about taking ‘Erie County out of the hospital business,’ County taxpayers are still on the hook for more than $16 million a year as part of the settlement.

“When looking at the real debt numbers, starting with the actual County debt when Collins took office ($525 million) and the actual debt as of the end of 2010 ($546 million), the reality is Chris Collins didn’t reduce debt by a single dollar in his first three years in office, but actually increased it by more than $20 million.

“Only this year has the County’s debt been reduced.  And, while Collins claims that by the start of 2012 he will have reduced the County’s debt by $143 million, when you dig a little deeper, that $143 million is really only about $10 million.”

Poloncarz’s numbers are correct; to claim that $100 million for ECMC as debt reduction is pure nonsense. The Collins campaign released a rebuttal to Poloncarz’s statement, but all that rebuttal amounted to was an insistence that the $100 million counts as debt reduction, without offering an argument why, and then a couple diversionary attacks on Poloncarz.

UPDATE: I realize that I shouldn’t single out the News on this; at least they included Poloncarz’s response. On radio and TV yesterday I heard reports that repeated Collins’ claims unquestioningly

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