May 16, 2023
Mayor Byron Brown is a political survivor
Yet again, a civil lawsuit alleged corruption at Buffalo City Hall.
Yet again, federal agents put the administration of Byron W. Brown under intense scrutiny.
And yet again, Buffalo's mayor appears to have emerged unscathed from allegations and investigations.
Say what you want about Brown, but the mayor is a political survivor.
Since Brown took office in 2005, his administration has weathered scandals, from the One Sunset saga in 2009 to Tim Wanamaker, the Brown aide who admitted he put $27,000 in personal charges on his city credit card.
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In 2019, the FBI raided a City Hall office and removed dozens of boxes from the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency. Agents were reportedly questioning people about Maurice Garner, the mayor's political ally, and others told The News they were questioned about different topics, including garbage contracts.
Still, not a single person has been charged with a crime in the most recent federal investigations. The plaintiff in the recent civil suit alleging corruption – Nona Watson, the former executive director of BURA – decided to withdraw her False Claims Act lawsuit after the feds declined to intervene.
Brown isn't saying much publicly, but those around him – as well as one of the developers who was accused of getting preferential treatment from Brown – see it as vindication and confirmation that they are doing nothing wrong.
Last week, Watson told me her withdrawal was for personal reasons and she said Brown should not be taking a victory lap. Former AG Dennis Vacco said the withdrawal could also mean the criminal investigation focused on City Hall is in jeopardy.
Wherever the truth lies, one thing is certain: Brown has managed to ward off scandal after scandal and has avoided being personally implicated or held liable for the alleged misdeeds of those who work for him.
Perhaps this quote from a longtime political opponent sums it up best: "The guy is made of Teflon!"
– Charlie Specht
Liquor battles in Albany
Following a May 1 report recommending sweeping changes to state liquor laws, Albany lawmakers have introduced bills seeking significant overhauls of the alcohol industry, setting up legislative battles before the session’s scheduled end in June.
One bill, introduced by Democratic State Sen. James Skoufis, contains measures similar to findings issued by the Commission to Study Reform of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, a panel of industry stakeholders that passed 18 recommendations, while voting down 10 others. The panel was charged with examining New York’s strict alcohol laws, many dating back to the 1930s.
Among other provisions, Skoufis’ bill would allow wine and liquor stores to open at 10 a.m. on Sundays; allow bars and restaurant to buy limited amounts of wine and liquor directly from retail stores; allow items such as mixers and sodas to be sold at liquor stores; allow a person to hold two wine or liquor store licenses, not just one; and clarify the standard by which the State Liquor Authority can issue a liquor license denial.
Skoufis' bill is likely to have support: The state Business Council, state Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association, New York City Hospitality Alliance and state Restaurant Association issued a statement last week urging the Legislature to pass a bill implementing the 18 commission recommendations.
Another bill, introduced by Democratic State Sen. Liz Krueger and Democratic Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, seeks to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores, despite the commission voting down that recommendation by a 9-6 vote.
But proponents of the Krueger/Hunter bill note the commission had significant wine and liquor store representation, which staunchly opposes changing state law to allow grocery stores to compete with them for wine sales. The 16-member panel, meanwhile, had no grocer representative.
The Krueger/Hunter proposal is significantly modified from a 2010 bill, which would have created up to 9,000 new outlets to buy wine. The new bill would only allow larger, traditional grocery stores to sell wine, excluding big box stores, mini-marts, convenience stores, gas stations and bodegas. The maximum number of new outlets that could sell wine under the bill would be about 1,900, according to its sponsors.
– Chris Bragg
News & Notes
• Clover Group developer Michael Joseph, a major donor to County Executive Mark Poloncarz and other Democrats, is under criticism after a whistleblower came forward alleging racist housing policies. Jerry Zremski of The News reported the story and Investigative Post posted audio of company executives speaking about Black people using coded terms. Erie County legislators, though, disagree on what consequences Joseph or Clover should face, Sandra Tan reports.
• Masten District Common Council candidate Murray Holman will not appear on the Democratic line for the June primary, but will appear in November's general election on the Conservative line, according to the Buffalo Challenger.
• Masten candidate India Walton is having a fundraiser Saturday at Community Beer Works on the West Side, she announced. Tickets are $50 while "sponsorships" can be purchased for $250, $500 and $1,000.
• Former Assembly candidate Sandra Magnano, who is running for the West Seneca School Board, has a social media account that includes posts comparing President Joe Biden to Hitler, criticizing Pride Month as "disgusting" and calling for the abolition of the FBI, Barbara O'Brien reports.
What we're reading
• “Supreme Court unanimously overturns Buffalo Billion convictions of Ciminelli, Percoco and Kaloyeros," by Jerry Zremski and Chris Bragg of The News.
• “5/14: One Year Later," by the staff of The Buffalo News.
• “A Year After Buffalo: ‘There’s No Forgiveness for That. Ever.’" by Jazmine Hughes of The New York Times.
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