|The King and His Courtiers: James Glynn watches as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (to whom Glynn made substantial contributions) signs a deal that will shortchange New York State residents out of $100 million and put it in Glynn’s pocket. Happily watching behind (left to right) are Mayor Paul Dyster (to whom Glynn has made substantial contributions), Gil C. Quiniones,
president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, (who will oversee the gifting of land and fast tracking of approvals for Glynn to build docks) Christopher Glynn, son of James, Senator George Maziarz, (to whom Glynn has made substantial contributions) and Rose Harvey, commissioner, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (whose
department will have $100 million less for state park maintenance and
improvements, while the state struggles to keep parks from closing).
How cute, the way government works today.
Three letters, dated in early December of last year after Cuomo rode into town to save the Maid of the Mist, clearly promote the Schoellkopf site for historical designation. The Niagara Falls Reporter has obtained copies of the three letters which were obtained through a Freedom of Information request by attorneys involved in the current lawsuit.
In a letter dated Dec. 7, 2012, three days after the Cuomo announcement, the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Commission advised state Historic Preservation officials that after a review it found "the Schoellkopf site…a significant historic site because it is where the production of electricity as a commodity began in 1881; the development of cheap and abundant electricity fueled New York State's growth as an industrial titan. In the ruins of the power plant, there are significant contributing components of the original structure which gives a clear understanding of hydroelectric power at the site." The letter from Commission Chairperson Andrea Galyn "applauds the efforts" to advance the site for designation to the State and National Register.
A thousand dollars here, $25,000 there, and pretty soon we're talking big bucks.
It is said $50,000 will get you a private audience with the governor. But, don't worry about the unseemliness of it all, because politicians in Albany are working on the next round of campaign finance reform to fix it.
It's like those high-denomination lottery tickets you see at the convenience store – you can't believe anyone would pay that much, but then again someone has to win, right? The trick is in figuring out just who gave what to whom and then stepping back to look at the big picture.
One local winner that has improved their odds by diversifying their "investments" is the Glynn family.
On January 19, 2012, just weeks before Glynn's Maid of the Mist Corporation lost their Canadian boat-tour license to Hornblower Yachts, LLC, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to the Ontario Niagara Parks Commission stating that "The Maid of the Mist is one of the premier attractions on the United States side of Niagara Falls and is a top economic driver, with overwhelming tourist enjoyment of the Maid's safe, pleasant and affordable experience…I want to stress that you make every effort to maintain U.S. jobs and uphold the quality of service currently provided."
Campaign finance disclosures show that Chris Glynn, President of Maid of the Mist, donated $1,000 to the Gillibrand for Senate committee on January 23, 2012.
Sen. Charles Schumer would also write a letter on the Glynn's behalf as well, but it was too little, too late. In February 2012, the Ontario government awarded the license by open competitive bid to Hornblower, severely jeopardizing the Glynn family business' very existence.
Between that fateful February decision and December's announcement by Gov. Cuomo that Maid of the Mist, NY State Parks, and the New York Power Authority entered into an agreement saving the Glynn's family business, a series of curious campaign contributions were made that, if read correctly, show just a hint of how the game works.
In addition to Chris Glynn's donation, Gillibrand also received $1,000 from developer L.P. Ciminelli. Ciminelli, a former chairman of NYPA himself, had been working behind the scenes with the Glynns in preparing and negotiating the deal to save Maid of the Mist.
In May, Ciminelli donated $25,000 to Gov. Cuomo and $5,000 to State Sen. George Maziarz.
Ciminelli was responsible for putting together the $32 million budget for the new Maid of the Mist winter storage facilities on the site of the old Schoellkopf Power Plant. This budget, made part of the Memorandum of Understanding between Maid of the Mist, State Parks and NYPA, was completed in September of 2012.
The construction work on a project that size for Ciminelli would certainly justify playing the government game by making sure you had a seat at the table.
This is why, if you only looked at the Glynn's campaign contributions, you could very well miss out on the whole sordid picture.
In fact, according to New York campaign disclosures, the Glynn's have only given $1,000 directly to Cuomo during his 2010 election campaign through Maid of the Mist.
The bulk of the reported Maid of the Mist Corp. donations since 2005 have gone to Sen. Maziarz - more than $12,000. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster also received $1,000 in each of his mayoral runs from the company.
One of the problems with New York's campaign disclosure requirements was exposed during the first two years of Gov. Cuomo's first term, when a private business lobbying group called the "Committee to Save New York" raised and spent vast sums of money donated by millionaire donors promoting his agenda without having to disclose their identities. It avoids the outright unseemliness of giving a large contribution on record and then receiving a no-bid contract.
It was also reported last year that several local attorneys made uncharacteristically large $50,000 plus donations to Gov. Cuomo – on whose behalf they were working for is impossible to know. These are but a couple of examples of why you need to dig deeper and follow donor clues to understand just how cute this little game is.
James V. Glynn and Ciminelli did, however, make donations in September 2012 in their own names. Federal disclosures show that the pair gave Schumer $7,500, indicating perhaps that the deal in New York was all but a fait accompli by that point and they were now shifting their focus to gaining the necessary approvals from Washington.
In October 2012, Maid of the Mist made a whopping $25,000 donation to the Democratic controlled "House Majority PAC."
As you may recall, NYPA requires approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before it can transfer the property to Maid of the Mist for its new facilities and have submitted their "prior notice" of their intent to do so. Could such a large donation help promote their cause for fast-track approval? It certainly can't hurt – especially when you are seeking expedited service.
As of right now, Glynn's efforts have paid off.
And this is in no way an indictment of campaign donors. In fact, it is the perfectly rational way to behave in a system in which the government controls an increasingly large sphere of the economy. The problem is politicians whose principles are only influenced by those who pay tribute.
Influence is not easily proven, but if you pay attention, it will often reveal itself. Take for instance the Niagara County IDA hearing last week in which a pair of hoteliers submitted proposals to receive PILOT agreement tax breaks.
Mayor Dyster strongly opposed a particular PILOT agreement for a company owned by B. F. Patel to construct a new 84-room hotel in downtown Niagara Falls.
Dyster submitted a written statement dissecting Patel's request, saying that the city cannot support such an enhanced agreement without clear economic justification. Wouldn't the addition of a new hotel in Niagara Falls and an estimated 28 full-time jobs constitute economic benefit deserving of the city's support?
The second PILOT agreement request discussed at the hearing, however, was heartily supported by Dyster. Maid of the Mist Hospitality, LLC, is seeking a 10-year PILOT worth nearly $750,000 to renovate a property they already own and operate to maintain their flagship status.
The Glynn family, owners of the Comfort Inn hotel, is in essence asking taxpayers to pay for the upkeep of a property they themselves have a vested interest in maintaining at its current flagship status. Can you prove their campaign contributions influence Dyster? No, but such a weak justification certainly lends itself to such conclusions.