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Political carping may kill capital projects ; Nevilly Court funds at center of dispute

Bad blood between Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Common Council over the proposed Nevilly Court athletic complex in South Buffalo is threatening to scuttle the city's $22.4 million capital plan.

The acrimony stems from a dispute over $450,000 in the capital budget that would help fund the new athletic fields near South Park Avenue.

Brown tried to strike the project from the budget, vetoing it on the grounds that the city already has difficulty maintaining existing facilities. He offered to earmark the money for repairs at existing facilities in South Buffalo.

And after the Council overrode the veto, Brown announced that he will not authorize bonds that would be needed to pay for the project.

But South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, the project's sponsor, said Thursday that unless lawmakers have the opportunity to vote on bonds for all projects in the city's capital plan, it's possible that the entire roster of initiatives could be delayed.

The projects range from new streetlights in the Niagara and North districts, to streetscape improvements in Lovejoy and Masten, and infrastructure upgrades near the Genesee Gateway project downtown. There also is money to finance the city's ongoing demolition blitz, improvements at various parks and upgrades to a number of city-owned buildings.

While Kearns said he supports the initiatives, he insisted that it would be wrong to allow one important project to be killed for "political" reasons. Kearns and Brown have been political enemies since before the lawmaker launched an unsuccessful mayoral challenge in 2009.

"This is a question of fairness, and we're prepared to take this to the end," Kearns said.

Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana wasn't as adamant, but he did state that it's the Council's practice to consider all bond resolutions as a single package. Fontana said he hopes to continue dialogue with the Brown administration officials in hopes of reaching a resolution.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said Kearns' threat to hold up other projects is typical of how the Council's ruling majority has operated.

"It's the worst majority I've ever seen on this Council," Golombek said. "They're cocky. They're arrogant. They ostracize the rest of the Council."

Golombek said if Kearns tries to delay capital projects, "that's fine," adding that it will ultimately save taxpayers money.

Meanwhile, University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, who voted to sustain the mayor's veto, accused Kearns of "threatening" her husband's judicial career. City Judge Robert Russell Jr. faces re-election this year, as does his wife and all other city lawmakers.

Bonnie Russell said Kearns told her that many South Buffalo residents are "upset with the Russells." She said Kearns went out of his way to remind her that her husband faces re-election.

"I said, 'Mickey, what does my husband have to do with this?' I thought it was very unethical," she said.

Kearns denied that he issued a threat, saying he was only telling her "as a favor" that many South Buffalo residents were upset with her and know that her husband is running for re-election.

Kearns said he was "offended" by Bonnie Russell's claim, branding her a "part-time" lawmaker who "takes her orders from the mayor."