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OFF MAIN STREET
THE OFFBEAT SIDE OF THE NEWS

And in this corner . . .

The open warfare between County Executive Joel Giambra and Comptroller Nancy Naples rages on.

Naples threw the latest punch -- and aimed right for the stomach.

Naples refused to process a $250 payment to Casa-di-Pizza on Elmwood Avenue for providing the food for a January luncheon celebrating Bruce Fisher's appointment as deputy county executive.

Commissioners and representatives from all the departments attended.

Among the food choices:

The 18-inch Party Sub Ring -- with assorted cold cuts, lettuce, tomato and 20 pieces of cheese, all displayed on a domed platter -- for $45.

The antipasto salad for 20 people for $65.

Four dozen cookies for $38.

The fruit pie cost $1.95.

Fisher approved the reimbursement form on behalf of the county executive's office before sending it along to the comptroller's office.

Naples wasn't amused.

"As I am sure you are aware, this is an unacceptable expenditure of taxpayer dollars," Naples said in a terse memo to Giambra. "To be quite frank, processing of this request by your office is quite offensive to the clerical staff reviewing this that are losing their jobs."

I found my thrill

Joel Giambra may be taking a beating in Erie County.

But, in the words of one legislator, he's become persona non grata among members of both political parties at the state Capitol.

For months Giambra has worked with other county executives to persuade the state to control rising Medicaid costs. But state lawmakers complain that, unlike his counterparts, Giambra has taken his campaign to a personal level. And that has cost him what few friends he had remaining in Albany.

In a recent meeting with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Giambra bucked other county executives who were playing nice-nice with Silver. The Assembly speaker was pitching an idea that would save the counties more in future Medicaid costs than a plan promoted by Giambra's usual political ally, Gov. George E. Pataki.

Silver was not amused, sources said.

At another meeting, Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, was lamenting the fact that county executives won't see as much in the way of Medicaid savings under a compromise deal as what the Assembly had proposed.

"If I were a county executive, I'd be thrilled," said Sen. Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican.

"I'd invite you up to Erie County to try to thrill our county executive," Tokasz said.

Front of the bandwagon

It's only April, but the mayor's race is heating up.

Anybody who doubts that should drive by Margaret Szczepaniec's house on St. Florian Street, just off Hertel Avenue.

She's already put up the first political lawn sign of the mayoral campaign.

She's supporting Democrat Byron Brown.

Szczepaniec said she grabbed some material while attending Brown's announcement rally in February to make her homemade sign.

"I guess it's to make a statement we do want change in Buffalo," she said.

She's put up other candidates' lawn signs over the years -- but never this early. She said her family and neighbors laughed when they first saw the sign, which has been up more than a month.

Doing it this early has one drawback, said the St. Florian-Pavonia Block Club president.

"The ground was frozen," she said.

Too little, too late

Plenty of political progressives wish that John Nordquist, who as mayor revived a stagnant Milwaukee, had instead been in charge of our City Hall. Judging by a comment he made on a recent visit, maybe he should have instead been county executive.

Asked how Milwaukee avoided the sort of budget crisis that's crushing the county, Nordquist revealed his remedy.

"You just steadily cut the budget, a little every year, no matter what," Nordquist said. "That way, you never hit the wall. You stop cutting, you get a crisis."

Thanks, now you tell us.

Written by Patrick Lakamp, with a contribution from Tom Precious.

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