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That's the last time they let the businessman talk.

Politician after politician -- from the mayor to the governor to a couple of members of Congress -- stepped up to the podium Monday morning at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Inner Harbor, the waterfront development project near Memorial Auditorium.

Then came John Rigas, Sabres' owner and chief executive officer of Adelphia Communications. Rigas said he had been uncertain of what to say and had asked Mayor Masiello for some pointers. The mayor replied that the key thing was to keep his remarks brief.

"Gee," said Rigas, "I wish he'd remembered that when he was talking."

"John is on the board at St. Bonaventure," the mayor said. "He's always trying to get even with us Canisius guys."

Gore's gaffes leave Bradley standing Pat

Friends of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan have said the New York Democrat's endorsement of former Sen. Bill Bradley for president was based on Moynihan's "closer" relationship with Bradley than with Vice President Gore.

It seems they understated the situation a bit.

"The reality is that Pat hardly ever heard from Gore, either by phone or in the mail," a friend of the senator's said.

And then there was the letter he got from Gore on his 70th birthday.

The letter began: "Dear Daniel: I was very pleased to learn about the recent birth of your twins. . . . As the parents of four children, we understand the joy you are feeling."

Gore, informed he had committed a major gaffe and also a minor one -- Moynihan prefers to be called Pat rather than Daniel -- wrote again.

Gore began with "Dear Pat," and went on to wish the senator a happy 70th birthday.

And then Gore added, sheeplishly:

"I always knew you had been productive member of Congress (sic), although not exactly in the capacity you may have seen me write to you about earlier in the week."

No problem with Y2K beards

Coming soon to the Town of Tonawanda: a police force bursting with altruism, esprit de corps and . . . facial hair?

The answer seems to be yes, thanks to the start of the department's Millennium Beard Contest.

For a $25 entry fee -- which goes to the town's Explorer Post for youth interested in police work -- the officers will have 100 days to grow the best beard they can.

On Jan. 7, the contest judges will give awards for longest, most distinguished, best groomed, and most colorful beards. No dyeing allowed.

Police Chief Samuel Palmiere called the contest "more about esprit de corps than anything else."

Supervisor Carl Calabrese remembers the department's last contest, held on its 75th anniversary in 1995. One officer grew an unexpectedly dark and somewhat sinister-looking beard.

"We gave him the Fidel Castro Look-alike Award," Calabrese recalled.

Traffic award might give some mileage

Mendota, Ill., population 7,100, shared the spotlight with New York City last week when the American Automobile Association gave the two cities its distinguished achievement award for traffic safety.

How New York City won such an award is a matter properly left to auditors and comedians.

As for Mendota, the New York Times described it as a town with one stoplight and no taxis, "a place where people ponder what kind of reflectors to put on farm equipment, consider it impolite to honk and take safety seriously."

They appear to be good-humored, too.

Mayor Steve Bowne, basking in new-found publicity, told the Times, "I'm wondering if I can use this award to launch a campaign for the Senate from New York."

Recycling catches on in politics

If the slogan in the latest Joel Giambra ad seems familiar, you are an astute politico or have been watching way too much television.

The slogan is becoming the war-horse of Republican mantra.

Here's the current version: "I'm Joel Giambra. Dennis Gorski says he can't cut property taxes 30 percent. He's right. He can't. I can. He won't. I will."

No doubt you've heard a version before.

Remember the words of Michael Brady, a Republican spokesman, four years ago?

"Dennis Gorski says he can't cut taxes. He's right. He can't. But Lucian Greco can."

Gov. Pataki used the same line when he ran for governor against Mario M. Cuomo.

While Off Main won't take a stance on which candidate should win, we wonder if it might not be a good time for Gorski to recycle a famous Democratic line.

He could say: "I want you to know that we are going to build a bridge to the 21st century -- maybe even a SuperSpan! -- that all of you can walk across."

Hey, why not? It counts to be pithy -- not original.

Off Main Street is written by Patrick Lakamp with contributions from Donn Esmonde, Charity Vogel and Douglas Turner.

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