Kudos go out this week to Alan Bedenko and Christopher Smith, the most prolific writers at wnymedia.net, a group of mostly political blogs dealing with issues facing the Niagara Frontier. Last week, they published some interesting revelations about where the funding behind the anti-casino movement is coming from and how that money is being used by allegedly pure-as-the-driven-snow activists to stymie the casino in Buffalo, while at the same time feathering their own nests.
Most of the money has come from something called the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, a group I had never heard of prior to last week but that has apparently handed out millions of dollars in grants to groups that feed, house and otherwise care for the poor and the disadvantaged here over the years.
The Wendt Foundation has donated $2 million to a number of smaller groups to press the fights, money that was apparently earned when the foundation sold off its shares in Harrah's, a company best known for operating casinos. After Bedenko and Smith brought this little fact to light, the foundation's trustees said they never knew they owned the stock, despite the fact that each of them is paid $144,000 a year for no other reason than to look after the foundation's finances!
The most eloquent of the casino foes is Bruce Jackson, distinguished professor at SUNY Buffalo and known for, among other things, putting the kibosh on the Peace Bridge project back around the turn of the century and, more recently, vehemently chastising in print those who opposed the fire sale at Buffalo's Albright-Knox Museum, a move that left the institution with little that anyone would want to see in the way of art.
Bedenko and Smith let us know that Jackson's two children, Michael and Rachel, are partners in Jackson & Jackson, a law firm that has done considerable work on behalf of the anti-casino crowd. Additionally, Jackson himself was a founding member of Citizens for a Better Buffalo, a group that received some of the Wendt Foundation's $2 million. In an e-mail, Jackson said he severed his ties with the group in 2007.
These connections are not, of course, illegal. But from a journalistic standpoint they represent a definite ethical line, one that Jackson chose to cross. I worked in a newsroom once where a sportswriter wasn't permitted to cover the high school football team because his son was a second-string nose tackle.
Joel Rose has been the loudest anti-gaming advocate. As the leader of Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County (CACGEC), he sends out e-mail updates, does frequent interviews, endorses political candidates and grants countless interviews, all with money people thought they were donating to the Wendt Foundation for charitable purposes.
Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I hardly think it's charitable to go around funding lawsuits that would deny enrolled members of the Seneca Nation of Indians the $8,000 stipend they receive each year from the casinos, as well as the schools and health clinics that have been built with casino revenue. Senecas on the reservations have historically been at the bottom of the poverty barrel in New York and, if anything, they should be receiving grants from the Wendt Foundation rather than the phalanx of lawyers the anti-casino groups have hired.
Rose has apparently laundered his Wendt money through another tax-exempt charitable foundation, the Network of Religious Communities, which is apparently striking back in retaliation for the erosion of their bingo take.
The biggest problem now facing Jackson, Rose and their allies is that, while Citizens for a Better Buffalo and CACGEC have registered as non-profit corporations with the New York State Attorney General's office, they have neglected to provide the documentation needed to show they are tax-exempt non-profits. People are now calling for investigations by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the Internal Revenue Service.
And all that was uncovered last week by Alan Bedenko and Christopher Smith, two guys who put the "journalism" back into citizen journalism.
Great job, guys.
Didja hear the one about the Hopeless VI housing project they're building up in the city's North End?
Turns out it's being built on a wetland that was filled in with, um, arsenic and mercury and who knows what else! Actually, the developer, the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, should know, and maybe they do. The spaces for the results of mercury and arsenic testing in the paperwork the Authority sent to the health department were left blank!
The county health department issued a cease-and-desist order on the project Friday until proper testing is done.
I hate to say I told you so, but the $80 million Hope VI project is undoubtedly the most spectacular waste of taxpayers' money to occur in Niagara Falls since the boneheads at City Hall decided to tear down the entire downtown and replace it with nothing back in the 1970s. How it got this far, I'll never know.
In a city with a housing vacancy rate of 30-plus percent, the last thing we need are 282 new housing units that will cost $191,489 apiece to build. Don't forget, these are being built for low-income residents, yet the per-unit cost is as high or higher than any of the luxurious mini-mansions the swells live in up in DeVeaux.
It was just four months ago that the City Council handed $1 million of our casino money over to the Authority for the project. They might just as well have flushed it down the toilet.
Our old friend Johnny Cheff's annual Democratic picnic was a big success as usual last week, as pols from throughout Niagara and Erie counties descended on Hyde Park to rub elbows with their constituents and partake of copious servings of grilled sausage sandwiches and beer.
One thing that made this year's event a little unusual was the guest of honor, Niagara Falls Chief of Detectives Ernie Palmer, who happens to be a Republican.
The Niagara Falls Democratic Committee is one of several across the county that is in open revolt against party Chairman Dan Rivera, whose own fund-raiser here a couple weeks ago drew fewer than 20 people.
That, combined with Palmer's fine reputation as both a lawman and a politician, makes him a shoo-in for victory in the sheriff's race this November.
Johnny's a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, but he's not one to use his considerable clout backing losers, either.
Speaking of the sheriff's race, we heard some disturbing reports this week concerning veiled threats of on-the-job retribution against deputies and other department employees who might think of supporting Palmer rather than former sheriff Tom Beilein's hand-picked successor, James Voutour.
This sort of thing has been going on for far too long in the sheriff's department, and we're going to take any further reports very seriously over the next few months.
Not for nothing, Sam.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Aug. 5 2008|