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Decade brought WNY more economic decline

With a fresh decade in view, Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, are poised to wage a lethal game of musical chairs to see who survives the next redistricting.

The reason: New York lost two of its 29 seats in the House in the new census. One district in the Buffalo-Rochester corridor will dissolve. Higgins or Slaughter likely will be history by 2012.

And the state's Republican House delegation, including Chris Lee of Clarence and Tom Reed of Corning, will have to deflect gathering pressure to join in a Democratic drive for financial bailouts of public employee unions in bankrupted states like New York, California and Illinois.

More about these developments in future stories. First, it helps to understand how we got here, and what Congress did or didn't achieve for Western New York in the last 10 years. A year is a maze. A decade is a swamp.

So we'll run a string through the brush, starting with the good stuff, so we can find our way back.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Niagara Falls International Airport and the new federal courthouse in Niagara Square are all expressions of the power of the region's congressional delegation.

So are the improvements to Buffalo's outer harbor, including arrangements for public use of land controlled by the Coast Guard. Former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, led the way on the earmarks for the medical campus, Slaughter plugged for the airport and Higgins overcame Republican opposition to the courthouse project.

It was Higgins, operating utterly alone, who forced the State Power Authority in 2005 to commit hundreds of millions toward rededicating former industrial waterfront wastelands in Niagara Falls and Buffalo.

The rumor mill credits Slaughter for beating back the plan by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission to shut down the Falls Air Reserve Station. Slaughter's earmarks are now refurbishing the place. Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer and former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton helped on all these successes.

For those who hate earmarks, consider what downtown Buffalo would look like without these enterprises. But this year's tea party election put a brake on earmarks, as has Higgins' move from a committee that produces earmarks to one that writes tax laws.

Other than the earmarks -- which is the government's way of taking your money and putting it where it wants to -- the decade brought more economic decline traceable to federal failures on foreign trade, banking and security.

The most direct blow came with the inflicting of overkill federal security procedures and machines that smothered business and tourism at the four Niagara River bridges, despite a great deal of profitless posturing, particularly by Schumer, who seemed to schedule a protest at the Peace Bridge every month.

Now starting his third term, Schumer's leadership role in the Democratic majority has been expanded. Even before this, he openly influenced the party's 2010 choices for governor and senator. Because of his limitless energy, media presence and attention to detail, the "oughts" saw Schumer become easily the most powerful U.S. senator in the state's history.

So Schumer is ineluctably linked to what happens to Western New Yorkers because of federal polices on health care, poverty, business regulation, taxation, banking, investment and international trade.

Issues aside, we still have enough clout to draw big presidential visits: George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama this year.

And we had our own major league media infamy guy. The Center for Reform and Ethics in Washington picked the story of former Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning, as one of the top 10 scandals of the year. He resigned after disclosure that he sexually harassed male staff members and propositioned a bartender. A House ethics committee probe is ongoing.


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