Michael Kearns Could Be Next Assembly Speaker

by Matthew Ricchiazzi

Assemblyman Kearns (D, R, I)

In the face of Sheldon Silver’s arrest on public corruption charges, the Albany establishment — long entrenched in the culture of corruption that Silver typified — has been shaken to its core.

As we speak there are rumblings in Albany that South Buffalo’s Assemblyman Michael Kearns could become the next Speaker of the New York State Assembly.

Kearns has said that he hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

The rumors come shortly after Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas Langworthy, an influential figure in the NYGOP, endorsed the Kearns’ candidacy. Kearns ran for election with the backing of the Democratic, Republican, and Independence parties.
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Letter to the Editor: Not So Quicksilver

letter to the editor

This was a bad week for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a worse week for NYS Democrats, and horrible for the citizens of the State of New York.  Corruption involving money in politics maybe endemic, and historical, but will never be eliminated unless or until we can either publicly fund these political campaigns, or set finite campaign finance limits, or both.  Repealing or legislating away the Supreme Court decision that money is somehow free speech would be a big help too.  From the looks of things, there may be more criminal charges against other state politicians as well, which we should welcome if warranted, if not eagerly await.

While it is true, like any one else charged with a crime, Speaker Silver and the others have a presumption of innocence, and the prosecution must be willing and able to prove the government’s case beyond a reasonable doubt.  However given the sensitivity and prominence of the position involved, I would hope Mr. Silver, and others, would at least step aside from any leadership post and take a leave of absence during this prosecution, if not resign.  If he does not want to resign his Assembly seat, that becomes a district issue between him and his constituents, which at the worst can be decided in 2 years at the polls, if not in court.  However to the degree he is a statewide leader, it is an issue for all the rest of us, and I for one among many, am sure, I want him to step down, if not out.  The Assembly belongs to all New Yorkers and should not be held hostage to the personal desires of a leader who does not see the impropriety of attempting to continue to lead under this prosecutorial cloud.

More importantly this provides us all with a reform moment.  It’s time to end the infamous “3 Men in a Room” style of governance. It is not good government now, if it ever was.  Open up the Legislative halls in Albany with new rules changes to make governing a more democratic process.  Close behind that should be an end to the seniority system, another painful structure of a latter day no longer necessary.  Make again all the members equal and that can go to eliminate special financial favors as lulus as well.  Finally, a time to take up term limits for members and for committee chairs as well.  The current system only breeds corruption, and all the lack of energy and new ideas any such system of long term incumbencies inevitably produces.

We in WNY have traditionally been dominated by NYC and downstate political interests and this could provide the spark for meaningful legislative reform and allow us to realign state government more along our interests and policy needs.  Let’s not lose the opportunity. We can do better.
Dan Ward

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Bharara: After Silver Arrest, ‘stay tuned’ For More

“The greedy art of secret self-reward was practiced with particular cleverness and cynicism by the Speaker,” said Bharara, making yet another appearance to talk about a new case involving an elected state official.

In a press conference, Bharara laid out the case against Silver and said it emerged in part from materials collected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission panel on public corruption. That panel was shuttered in April 2014 midway through its planned lifespan after a budget negotiation between Cuomo and the legislative leaders included a modest package of ethics fixes.

“For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, ‘How could Speaker Silver — one of the most powerful men in all of New York — earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents?’ Today we provide the answer: He didn’t,” Bharara said.

” … For many years, New Yorkers have also asked the question, ‘What exactly does Speaker Silver do to earns his substantial outside income?’ Well, the head-scratching can come to an end on that score too, because the answer to that question today as well (is) he does nothing.”

Instead, Bharara said, Silver “simply sat back and collected millions of dollars by cashing in on his public office and his political influence.”

Silver’s attorneys released a brief statement: “We’re disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges. That said, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them — in court — and ultimately his full exoneration,” said the release from Joel Cohen and Steven Molo.

In the news conference, Bharara said his office wasn’t the only investigative entity to have probed Silver’s outside work, and noted the Moreland panel’s work on the subject.

“But a deal was cut that cut off the commission’s work,” Bharara said. “To the great relief of Sheldon Silver, who furiously fought its subpoenas and urged the commission’s early shutdown, Moreland was made to close its doors after only nine months, its work barely begun, and while litigation over those subpoenas about Sheldon Silver’s outside income was still pending before a state judge.”

“The show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain,” Bharara said.

A spokesman for Cuomo had no immediate comment.

“Today, in order to prevent Silver from accessing his alleged ill-gotten gains, we also announce that the court has issued warrants allowing us to seize approximately $3.8 million in alleged fraud proceeds that Silver had dispersed among eight different bank accounts at six different banks,” Bharara said.

In a line that might send a chill through certain corners of the Capitol, Bharara noted that his corruption work was ongoing.

“We will keep at it, because the men and woman of the FBI and of my office still subscribe to the quaint view that no one is above the law, no matter who you are, or who know, or how much money you have,” he said. “And so our unfinished fight against public corruption continues. You should stay tuned.”

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FBI Now Recruiting For its Cyber Squad

FBI Logo

Do you have what it takes?  Cyber crime is an enormous problem for all of us.  Could you be part of the solution?

Think you’ve got “cyber skills?”  You could put them to use at the FBI.

In an effort to prevent and investigate the most sophisticated computer threats around the globe, the FBI is seeking out the best of the best to wear the badge.

“The urgency is such that we really can’t keep pace with the demand,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Jeff Tricoli.

The FBI is now recruiting Special Agents and support staff for their Cyber Squad. They’ll work to combat fraud, global terror threats, and protect the nation’s cyber infrastructure.

Actors working on behalf of nation states, the people who are involved in so-called hacktivist “Anonymous” type groups and criminal networks that are working to steal from banks are all targets of this unit.

Special Agent in Charge, Jeff Tricoli, says given that almost every crime they investigate has a “cyber” element, there is no limit to how many people they’ll hire.
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Letter: Our State Legislators Sure Don’t Need a Raise


by Edward F. McKee
East Amherst

If people believe our economically challenged state legislators need a pay raise for what has essentially morphed into what in many instances has become a rubber-stamping public relations job, they should take the time to acquaint themselves with some information concerning their part-time salaries and extra pay for committee assignments (lulus), not to mention health care and pension benefits not addressed here.

All state legislators receive the same annual salary of $79,500 plus $172 per day for lodging and food while the Legislature is in session. Also, there is reimbursement for transportation expenses between home and Albany. From here, just to keep the data manageable, I will focus on our own local state legislators.
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The $1.4 Billion Dollar Question

Is Something Smelly in Schools Deal with Ciminelli?
by Jamie Moses/ArtVoice

On January 5, the Buffalo News reported that the Buffalo School Board was questioning LP Ciminelli’s profits during the billion-dollar schools construction project. That’s not surprising, considering in the last phase of the “billion dollar” project $28 million was vaguely listed as “incidental costs” and $41 million was simply unaccounted for. Since LP Ciminelli refused to provide details of their costs, school board members Larry Quinn and Carl Paladino, who are also developers and knowledgeable in construction costs, demanded an audit to discover how much Ciminelli was paid and how much was actually spent on construction.

“That information is proprietary,” company spokesman Kevin C. Schuler told the Buffalo News. That’s been the company line from the beginning. In 2006, a state comptrollers audit couldn’t verify $24 million in expenses and Ciminelli called those expenses “Proprietary Information” also and refused to explain.
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Historic Preservation Forum – Jan. 29

Historic Preservation Forum - Jan. 29 

The village will host a forum on historic preservation from 7-9 p.m. on Jan. 29 at South High School about the benefits of historic preservation. Learn what the rebirth of places like Larkinville can teach us about economic development through historic preservation. Featured speakers include:

– Howard Zemsky, Larkin Development Group

– Kathy Howe, New York State Historic Preservation Office

– Mayor Brian Kulpa, Village of Williamsville 

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DiNapoli: Audits Find More Than $1 Million of Waste in New York’s Medicaid Program

NY state comptroller seal

The state Department of Health (DOH) inappropriately paid more than 29,000 pharmacy claims worth nearly $1 million over a 27-month period for thousands of Medicaid recipients whose benefits were already covered by managed care plans, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. A second audit released today found another $61,711 in overpayments to providers because of incorrect Medicare coinsurance, copayment or deductible amounts.

In one audit, DiNapoli’s auditors found the inappropriate payments, totaling $978,251, occurred primarily because Medicaid eligibility files were not updated with MCO enrollment information in a timely manner, in some cases taking more than 180 days to do so. As a result, eMedNY, the computer system DOH uses to process Medicaid claims and make payments, did not deny improper fee-for-service pharmacy claims.
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Village Committed to Growing Business

Village of Williamsville

Bustling retail districts like those in Niagara-on-the-Lake or East Aurora don’t just organically spring up in today’s retail climate.

It takes a coordinated effort for villages to compete and win against the shopping malls and other retail districts that surround us.

The Village of Williamsville is committed to bringing the kind of retailers that will draw shoppers from outside the region and give our mom-and-pop businesses — the local places that make our village unique — more customers than they are currently drawing. The idea is to plug existing gaps in village retail while making the village attractive to Canadians and others with money to spend.

This needs to be carefully managed in cooperation with the existing businesses in the Williamsville Business Association, whose charm and local flavor we must maintain in order to retain our history and build our future.
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Williamsville Seeking National Retailers While Making it Safer For Pedestrians

Village of Williamsville 1

The boom in Buffalo is not going unnoticed in Williamsville. The village, under the guidance of Mayor Brian Kulpa, is looking for ways to expand Main Street’s popularity while maintaining and improving its focus on pedestrians. It’s the right strategy.

One of the most intriguing ideas – and if handled poorly, the most risky – is for the village to market itself to more national retailers. The idea, at least in part, is to put the village’s locally grown businesses in the faces of more shoppers by drawing people for whom the Main Street strip is not now an obvious choice. That could help to fill some of the vacancies that are also part of the Main Street tradition, adding vibrancy and bolstering the village, town and school district tax bases.

It’s a clever idea, as long as the ratio of national-to-local retailers continues to favor the small shops and restaurants that now populate the strip. That local flavor is what makes the village interesting; shoppers who want the big stores can drive a few miles in just about any direction and find those retailers in one of the area’s malls or shopping centers.
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