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By Mike Hudson

Often forgotten during discussion of how the casino cash should be spent is the $1 million handed over this year to the Niagara Falls Housing Authority. In her bill on the distribution of next year's estimated $12 million local payout, state Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte doubles the money earmarked for the Housing Authority.

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It might be instructive, then, to take a look at what the authority did with its 2004 windfall. In a city where a decent house in a decent neighborhood can be had for $30,000, one might think $1 million would go a long way toward bettering the lives of the disadvantaged clients the authority serves.

Sadly, one would be wrong.

For the past 12 months, the money the authority received has been gathering dust in a musty old bank vault. Rather than tackling the city's housing problems one house at a time, the authority has proposed a grandiose $54 million scheme to revitalize the crumbling Center Court project.

Currently, they are only $53 million short. With the subsidy Del Monte suggests, the project should be getting underway sometime in 2031.

A city so poor that it can't afford to keep its libraries open definitely can't afford to squirrel away a million or two a year for a project that may or may not come to fruition sometime in the distant future.

The casino cash money was designated for capital improvements here, and there are plenty of them that could be undertaken today. Just look around.

Housing projects like Center Court were obsolete by the time they were built, in the 1960s and 1970s. The authority's proposal calls for the construction of 282 new units and a community center. Divide $54 million by 282 and you'll find the per-unit cost of this low-income housing to be a whopping $191,489 per unit.

The authority could buy its clients houses on the riverfront in Lewiston for far less.

The federal government has already turned down a request by the authority to participate financially in the project. There's no reason to believe a second request will achieve a different outcome.

I've been kind of out of the loop lately and so heard just this week of the death of our friend, John Catanzaro. A year ago last summer he was experiencing chest pains and finally went to the doctor, thinking it might be his heart. Turned out it was cancer, which had spread throughout his body, and there was nothing that could be done about it.

In the newspapers, and in his FBI file, he was referred to as "Johnny Cats." They say he was a top man in his profession. Back in his prime, he'd be in Los Angeles one week, Las Vegas the next and Miami the week after that. In my experience, he was a gentle, soft-spoken man.

Probably the best story they tell about John is the time some fool tried to carjack him. John was stopped at a red light in Buffalo and the guy jumped into his Cadillac with a pistol. Cool as a cucumber, John drove on. The second the guy looked away, John pulled his own gun and shot the hell out of him. Then he drove him to the hospital.

John never really asked me for a favor. There was one time, at the old Dante's at 29th and Pine, when we were in the midst of doing a bunch of stories in which the name of Buffalo pizza baron Joe Todaro came up. Again, the feds and the newspapers had hung the moniker of "Lead Pipe" on Joe, and we used it as though it were his middle name.

"Could you lay off that 'Lead Pipe' thing?" Johnny asked offhandedly, saying nothing about the stories themselves.

We did, not out of any fear, but out of respect.

There's a picture of John in the book "Mob Nemesis" by retired FBI Agent Joe Griffin. It's in the same spread as pictures of Don Stefano Magaddino, Benjamin Nicoletti Sr. and Frank "Butchie Bifocals" Bifulco.

John was what he was. In my presence, he was always a gentleman. To his wife, Joette, and his two boys, all of us here at the Reporter extend our deepest sympathies.

Finally, anyone who went out to St. John de LaSalle last week thinking that a reasonable discussion might take place concerning the future of the city's library system left disappointed.

In fact, they started leaving almost as soon as the meeting began, when two of the city's most boorish demagogues, Mayor Vince Anello and Library Board member Ken Hamilton, started yelling at each other in what appeared to be a protracted battle to determine who was the biggest horse's ass.

Witnesses called it a draw. Is it any wonder that our "apathetic" citizenry has largely opted out of participating in what passes for public discourse here?

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Dec. 14 2004