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United front on power money While politicians here bicker, Power Authority keeps cash

Politicians often form the gang that couldn't shoot straight, but Erie County and Buffalo seem to specialize in a subgroup that shoots itself in the foot, too. How else to explain why several groups of politicians -- supposed "leaders" -- chase conflicting means to a benefit the region must unite on to gain?

Let's put aside whether the New York Power Authority, in seeking permission to run the Niagara Power Project for another 50 years, should pay this area $2 million, $7 million, $10 million, or more, each year. And let's put aside too whether this money should go to a two-county greenway commission or a Buffalo waterfront agency; we favor the latter.

Why must this city and county be afflicted with so-called leaders who can't agree on where the sun rises and sets? Does anyone realize the ineffective regional image this paints in Albany and Washington? As of today, a dozen politicians and three state entities wrangle over something requiring unity.

For months, Rep. Brian M. Higgins argued the Power Authority short-changed Buffalo and Erie County by offering only $2 million a year for a native asset. We and many others agreed. Higgins might as well stand on the outer harbor crying into the wind for all the political support he drew.

Finally, the region's congressional delegation, led by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, got together to force a meeting with the reluctant Power Authority to get it to up the ante. Days after being embarrassed into this meeting, which has yet to take place, the authority in the form of new Chief Operating Officer Timothy S. Carey opened talks Tuesday with Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and others seem to have differing versions of what to do. Another member of Congress is in talks. And Higgins still tries to force the authority to pay more.

It's instructive that more than five years ago, most of the affected parties in Niagara County came together and offered a united front on how much that county's interests would receive for the next 50 years of Power Authority operations there. Niagara parties will get $2 billion. Coincidence?

What Buffalo gets depends on leadership and political clout. What it has now is disorganization, personality politics and lone-wolf negotiating. These "leaders" need to find common ground, a sensible negotiating stance and face the Power Authority with one mind. They need to put a little fear into the authority. To date, the Power Authority hasn't taken Buffalo and Erie County seriously. Is there any wonder why?

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