Who will be running for mayor of Buffalo? What is Carl Paladino’s political future? Where will federal corruption probes lead?
Those are just three of the questions that will be answered in the new year. But it is not just questions that will catch our attention in 2017.
We should see some long-awaited projects coming to fruition. SolarCity should start producing solar panels – and jobs. The University at Buffalo Medical School is scheduled to move downtown. The new Women’s and Children Hospital will open on the Medical Campus.
Here in more detail are some of the big stories we can expect to unfold.
Race for mayor of Buffalo
The election of the mayor of Buffalo will be the big political story of 2017.
Mayor Byron W. Brown, who also serves as state Democratic chairman, is expected to announce that he is running for a fourth term early in the new year. Only the late James D. Griffin served 16 years as leader of New York State’s second largest city.
Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder has been discussing with friends and allies a challenge to Brown in the September Democratic primary, but has not publicly disclosed any plans.
So far, no Republican has emerged as a possible candidate in the overwhelmingly Democratic Buffalo.
What happens to Paladino?
Speaking of Carl Paladino, will he remain on the Buffalo School Board?
His New Year’s wish list of mad cow disease for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to live with a gorilla have made him persona non grata with large group of people in Buffalo and throughout the state.
The School Board is asking the state education commissioner to remove him from the board. Will she do it? And if she does, will she have the necessary legal grounds to make it stick?
Paladino is certain to mount a court challenge if the commissioner does act.
Potential shift in standards
Education stakeholders will take their battle over state learning standards and testing into the new year.
State officials are in the midst of reviewing the Common Core Learning Standards, but that hasn’t kept parents from gearing up to continue their battle against standardized tests.
How the state moves forward, however, could also depend on a new federal administration. President-elect Donald Trump has said he would do away with the Common Core, and his nominee for secretary of education is an advocate for charter schools and vouchers.
The only leverage the federal government could have pushing for such changes is funding, which largely goes to poor districts with high numbers of low-income students. But that leverage has worked for past administrations, including when President Barack Obama used billions of dollars in federal funding to entice states to adopt the Common Core and teacher evaluations.
Consistency in the city
The new year brings a close to a busy and eventful period for the Buffalo Public Schools, with 2016 upsetting control of the School Board and bringing a resolution to the long-standing teacher contract stalemate.
Superintendent Kriner Cash will move into the year continuing his focus on his New Education Bargain, including the development of new high schools, community schools and early literacy programs.
SolarCity starts production
SolarCity is scheduled to begin making solar panels and modules at its factory on a 90-acre former brownfield in South Buffalo this summer.
Tesla Motors Inc., which bought SolarCity last year, has started the process of hiring its first entry-level workers for the plant. The factory is expected to eventually employ at least 500 manufacturing employees as it ramps up production.
The company overall has pledged to create 1,460 jobs at the factory and at other company operations in the Buffalo Niagara region.
The $900 million factory constructed by the state will be the biggest solar panel factory in the Western hemisphere.
Medical Campus openings
Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo will make its move to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in the fall of 2017.
Workers broke ground on the $270 million John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital in 2014 and construction was about 80 percent complete as of last month.
The 12-story facility has 185 beds and is smaller than the existing Children’s Hospital on Bryant Street, but it is designed to give patients, their families and staff a better experience.
The adjoining Oishei Children’s Outpatient Center in the Conventus Building opens in three phases, starting Tuesday, and continuing in April and October.
Finally, in November, the Children’s Hospital inpatient and emergency departments will make the highly choreographed shift to 818 Ellicott St. Hospital officials said this will mark the opening of the first new, free-standing hospital in the region since Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital opened in Amherst in 1974.
Kaleida Health has chosen Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation to redevelop the Bryant Street site, once Children’s Hospital moves out.
UB Medical School moves
A second major construction project on the Medical Campus should wrap up in 2017.
The University at Buffalo this fall is expected to complete its Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, a $375 million undertaking that began in October 2013.
The eight-story building is the largest construction project in the university’s 170-year history.
Work is complicated by the fact that it is taking place over the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s Allen-Medical Campus Metro Rail station.
The new school will bring 2,000 students, faculty and staff to the Medical Campus from their current home on UB’s South Campus once it is completed.
University officials also say the new facility will allow the school to hire more faculty and enroll more students.
What happens to corruption charges?
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara last year brought corruption charges against eight people with various ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including his longtime confidante and close friend Joseph Percoco.
Also indicted were former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros and three executives of Buffalo’s LPCiminelli, including Louis Ciminelli.
A trial date for sometime in 2017 could be set in March.
Local Trump ties
One of the most fascinating local angles of the Donald J. Trump presidency will be watching which New Yorkers emerge as members of his inner circle members in 2017.
Trump almost certainly will rely on his cadre of New York City and Albany stalwarts. But will Western New Yorkers be in the mix, too?
Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) already has become a national spokesman for Trump, after appearing on dozens of political talk shows on his behalf throughout 2016.
Others such as Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy have been named to transition posts, and Assemblyman David J. DiPietro of East Aurora is also viewed as a trusted Trump loyalist.
But is Carl P. Paladino – who previously had access to the inner sanctum in Trump Tower – damaged goods after his outrageous statement about the outgoing president and first lady?
Jobs and housing in the city
Development will remain at the forefront in City Hall during 2017, with jobs and affordable housing related to that development getting a lot of attention from city officials.
There is likely to be increasing emphasis on trying to ensure all segments of the Buffalo workforce – including minorities and those at the lower-economic strata – benefit from the city’s development surge. They want jobs.
With housing, the focus is likely to include analyzing the city’s housing market, with an eye toward ensuring that communities seeing upticks in high-end housing development also provide affordable housing for low and moderate-income people.
What happens to health care?
The fate of Obamacare is likely to dominate news in 2017, and what happens to it will influence care and costs for millions of people.
Whether or not you like the Affordable Care Act, it has increased health insurance coverage – including 2.8 million people in New York.
Consider Erie County, where the uninsured rate dropped from 12 percent in 2013 to 5 percent last year, according to Enroll America, a non-profit organization that promotes enrollment in Obamacare.
Republicans led by President-elect Donald J. Trump say they will repeal the law. But it’s unclear when or how they will replace it, especially if repeal eliminates important sources of funding.
Under an anticipated GOP plan, the number of uninsured people would rise from 28.9 million to 58.7 million in 2019, according to a study by the Urban Institute.
The reality is that health reform is hard.
Everyone wants the popular parts of Obamacare, such as the requirements for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, allow young adults to stay on their parents’ policies until they turn 26 and not charge sicker subscribers more. But it’s the parts people don’t like – the individual and employer mandates – that insurers say they need to offer those benefits.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators will be jockeying over the usual budget and policy matters very early in January.
But the work will come against the backdrop of relations between the governor and lawmakers. And that relationship has become increasingly strained in the past year.
Lawmakers are expected to give Cuomo a far tougher time than in his first six years in office, which will face its first major test in March when a state budget is due.
Add to that mix Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman competing to see who has the loudest voice among New York Democrats to oppose policies of the new Trump administration in Washington. Both are facing re-election bids in 2018.
And some Democrats think Schneiderman might want to take on Cuomo in a gubernatorial primary.
After failing in December to get a legislative pay raise, a frustrated group of lawmakers once again will find themselves negotiating with Cuomo over how to strengthen ethics, contracting procurement and campaign finance laws.
Legislators last had a pay raise in 1999, and now they are prevented – because of state law – from getting a pay hike until at least 2019.
Winds of change
The fate of a proposal to place 70 industrial-sized wind turbines along the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Niagara and Orleans counties could be decided.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) is siding with the two affected municipalities – the towns of Somerset and Yates – along with county legislatures and other opponents of the project. He proposed legislation earlier this year banning tax subsidies for windmills located within 40 miles of a U.S. military base.
Incoming President-elect Donald J. Trump, and a Republican-controlled Congress, could help Collins get the legislation passed and signed into law.
Apex Clean Energy is proposing the Lighthouse Wind project.
Restoration of Niagara Gorge
A nearly $1 million ecological restoration of the Niagara Gorge between the Whirlpool and Rainbow bridges will begin in earnest.
The project, spearheaded by the Western New York Land Conservancy, will include removing invasive species and returning native plants along the gorge and its trails. The project is designed to enhance habitat for aquatic, land and avian species and protect critical, and rare, vegetation found in the gorge. It will also include design work by internationally renowned eco-landscape designer, Darrel Morrison.
Bethlehem fire test results
Results of follow-up sampling and laboratory analysis of outdoor surfaces in Lackawanna’s Bethlehem Park neighborhood in the wake of the massive November industrial fire at the former Bethlehem Steel plant are expected from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
State officials assured residents additional tests would be performed and a second community meeting would be scheduled to detail the findings and answer residents’ questions. Meanwhile, further demolition and site remediation is expected to continue at the charred remains of the complex during 2017.
Williamsville Central Schools
The teachers’ union has been on a collision course with Superintendent Scott Martzloff for several years, and 2017 may be the year it comes to a head.
After accusing him of lacking leadership and integrity, union members have called on the School Board to correct what they call a “leadership vacuum.” A majority of the members of the board have been elected or re-elected in the past two years with the strong endorsement of the union, and would have a strong voice in determining how the district decides this leadership struggle.
Hamburg skating and politics
Hamburg has been looking for a multi-ice rink facility for years, and now two have been proposed for the town.
One is the public-private venture with the town and a Canadian firm and the other is from a group led by former Sabres forward Parick Kaleta. Whether the town could support two sports facilities with field houses and a total of four rinks is unknown, but this may be the year that one from the plan stage to a shovel in the ground.
Also in this new year, the Town Board expands from three to five members. There should be a robust political dialogue, as Republicans and Democrats vie for control.
A supervisor and three councilmen will be elected. There also will be an election for highway superintendent and town justice.