For those of us living in Western New York, and Niagara County in particular, the Nov. 2 election on the Seneca Nation's Allegany and Cattaraugus reservations will have far more of an impact than any of the more publicized congressional races.
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Will casino gambling come to Buffalo? Will the Senecas continue to expand their Niagara Falls operation? Or will the Falls and Salamanca casinos be shut down altogether?
Barry Snyder, Maurice John and Joyce "Beanie" Jamieson, Seneca Party candidates for president, treasurer and clerk, support gaming, but question the way it's been run. In an exclusive Reporter interview, they voiced their concerns.
"We've been in this process for two years now, and the casino's the best thing that's happened to us," Snyder said. "But it's time to open the books up for the people, and I'm not afraid to open the books."
The Seneca Party candidates believe that too much power has been invested in top casino management. In a recent filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, the tribe surrendered its sovereign immunity rights and handed power of attorney over to casino kingpin Mickey Brown.
After Brown associate Cyrus Schindler lost badly to Snyder in last month's Seneca Party caucus, he formed his own party to launch a campaign bent on maintaining the status quo. Schindler's renegade group, known as the Seneca Alliance Party, is well-financed, having the backing of Brown and other casino executives worried about their job status should Snyder be elected. A third candidate, Bobby Jones, is running on a ticket opposed to all gaming.
Snyder has challenged Schindler to debates on the Allegany and Cattaraugus, a challenge that has thus far gone unanswered. Likewise, attempts by the Reporter to reach Schindler for this story were unsuccessful.
"It's critical for our people to be offered the opportunity to hear the truth," Snyder said. Snyder is particularly concerned about anonymous mailings sent out by the Schindler camp stating that casino workers would be in danger of losing their jobs should Snyder be elected.
Currently, fewer than 300 Senecas are employed at the Niagara Falls and Salamanca casinos.
"We believe that more Senecas should be working," Snyder said. "We're not talking about closing the casino and we're not talking about laying people off. But the process has to be transparent."
Snyder, John and Jamieson all believe that the hundreds of millions of dollars generated annually by the casinos should be going to benefit the Seneca people.
"We've got problems on the Seneca reservations that aren't getting any better," Jamieson said. "Education, health, drug and alcohol abuse, and they're all up at the casino doing who knows what with our money."
While those in power enjoy luxury boxes at Buffalo Bills, Sabres and Bisons games, orphaned children at the two tribal Rainbow Houses go wanting, she added.
"Why aren't these kids being given the opportunity?" Jamieson asked.
John -- who, along with Snyder, pioneered the Seneca cigarette industry two decades ago -- agreed that the tribe has been left behind since the casinos opened.
"My policy is that we're going to hire all the Senecas we can," he said. "We'll bend over backwards to do everything we possibly can to help our young people."
John said his tenure as a judge on the Seneca Court of Appeals served as a wakeup call on the problems surrounding the current casino management.
"This is our money. Other people are moving up the ladder and the Senecas are just sitting there," he said. "The bottom line is that I have to learn the truth about our casino operation, and I have to find out how much these people have put us into debt."
All three of the candidates cited the case of a young Seneca who attended Niagara County Community College's casino training program and was then refused employment at the casino.
"The Seneca people paid for his education," Jamieson said. "The whites he went to school with, and some of them didn't even graduate, all got jobs."
The young man has since found employment and moved to Las Vegas, she added.
The candidates are also united in their belief that improving health care on the reservations should be a top priority. Last Saturday, the Seneca Party sponsored a diabetes event in Buffalo, noting that the affliction is a particular scourge on the reservations.
For John, who recently lost an uncle to the disease, the matter is personal.
"It's frightening to see a six-foot man suddenly go to four feet tall when they cut his legs off," he said. "The closest place for dialysis is Buffalo, and there's been nothing done to address this problem."
John, who fought many battles with the federal court system over taxation issues when he entered into the cigarette business, said that the tight three-way race is a challenge worth risking.
"I've been doing this for five decades, and I've been an underdog all my life," he said. "We're starting off here as underdogs, I guess, but we're making progress every day." Snyder agreed, saying that his presidential candidacy amounts to a referendum on the future of the 7,300 enrolled Senecas.
"I'm not here for a job, I don't need a job," the two-time former Seneca president said. "But I believe our people have been taken advantage of. And I believe the casino management is responsible to each and every person in the Seneca Nation."
Mickey Brown would disagree. While he pulled down $1.2 million last year, it's doubtful he gave any thought whatsoever to the many Senecas living in poverty. When he plays the big shot, hosting politicians and other VIP's in his luxury box at Ralph Wilson Stadium, does he think about the orphaned children down on the Allegany and Cattaraugus?
But it's the Seneca people who are paying for all that largess, and it will be the Seneca people who will ultimately decide whether the Brown regime will continue.
|Niagara Falls Reporter
|Oct. 19 2004