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'Investigative Post' launches

I left The Buffalo News in August 2011 to start Investigative Post, a non-profit investigative reporting center covering issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York. I am reporting and blogging for my new venture and my work will appear in The News on occasion.

For those of you who read my previous post from May 2010, my son is OK.

This blog is on hiatus

It's been several weeks since I last posted and I want to let you readers know that the blog will be on hiatus for a while. My son was critically injured in a cycling accident and I have taken a leave from the paper to focus on his recovery. Thankfully, the doctors are confident he will make a full recovery, but he has a long road ahead of him. I hope to return to work the latter half of June or sometime in July.

The two faces of Carl Paladino

Paladino announcing

Long before he announced his candidacy for governor, a number of people I deal with told me they saw a disconnect between what Carl Paladino says about politics and what he does as a businessman. They complained that Paladino, on one hand, rails against government spending while making money hand over fist in numerous dealings with said government.

One prominent politician told me the contrasts were an example of what he termed "The two faces of Carl Paladino."

Which brings me to my front page story in Sunday's Buffalo News.

There have been reports in recent weeks that mentioned Paladino's leases with state agencies, and about three weeks ago I set out to document the extent of his dealings, not only with Albany, but with the federal and local governments. I looked not only at leases on office space, but tax breaks he's received as a developer and purchases he's made of buildings that had fallen into government hands.

What I found, in a nutshell, is that Paladino holds at least 37 leases with government agencies that will bring him $10.1 million in rent this year. He's the state's biggest landlord in Western New York, holding leases on half of the 52 leases it has on local offices. 

Paladino also has obtained at least $12 million in tax breaks since 2003, and the figure is likely substantially larger because not all the benefits have been calculated by the assorted economic development agencies that have awarded Paladino benefits.

He's also bought at least a couple of buildings dirt cheap from the government.

His purchase of the former L.L. Berger building in downtown Buffalo for $1 in 1999 is kind of old news, although still relevant. Of more recent vintage is the deal he made with state officials to to acquire the former United Office Building in Niagara Falls for only $10 after the state spent about $1 million to land the property. Paladino redeveloped the building recently, with the help of more than $2 million in tax breaks.

All this does not make Paladino a bad person. More of a shrewd businessman, actually. But it does call into question his credentials as a political populist.

I mean, when you're doing this much business with the government, business that has helped make you a multimillionaire, how serious can or should voters take you when you hoot and holler about government spending?

Likewise, it raises a question as to how serious voters should take claims of being a political outsider when you've contributed close to a half-million-dollars to politicians over the years and obviously built cozy relationships with a fair number of them?

Paladino refused to talk to me during the course of my reporting, which has got to just about be a first, given the guy's "dial a quote" reputation. But I understand. He's long professed his admiration for my work -- when my guns were trained on others -- but now that I've come knocking on his door, well, he'd much prefer I go back to sniffing around City Hall. Or the State Capitol. Or NYPA headquarters. Anywhere but Ellicott Square, which, just in case you're counting, is where Paladino takes in $1.5 million a year via 14 leases with government tenants. When he's not having his supporters over for beers and roast beef sandwiches. 

Here's an exchange of e-mails leading up to Paladino's "no comment, not now, not ever," which was apparently triggered by the bolded fourth paragraph of this blog post of mine. Keep in mind that Carl has proclaimed he's got a "thick skin." (I have a hunch my "no filter" blog post may have as much to do with Carl's anger as anything else.)

The thing of it is, Paladino, if he had chosen to talk, could have mounted a potentially reasonable defense to some of his dealings with the government. I tried to be as fair as I could in my story, but there's only so much a reporter can do when one side of the story won't tell it.

On one hand, it looks kind of bad that Paladino is the state's biggest landlord in WNY, given his rants about Albany's spending. But, in the guy's defense, he quoted lower prices than his competitors in the proposals he submitted for the biggest leases he's landed with the state.

You could also make a case that the buildings he bought on the cheap have turned out OK, given that he redeveloped properties that had been long abandoned. Whether he should have gotten the grants and tax breaks on top of the cheap sale prices is debatable, however.

The tax breaks are where Paladino is on the shakiest ground, and I say this in part based on the extensive reporting I've done the past 10 years of economic development programs in the region.

It's not just that Paladino has laid claim to every penny of tax breaks he possibly could. He's also  tried to shape public economic development policy in ways that benefits his businesses.

Case in point is Buffalo's use of Empire Zone benefits, the most lucrative of the state's economic development programs that offers a wide range of tax breaks. The program was intended to promote investment and job creation in distressed neighborhoods, abandoned industrial areas, etc.

But when it came time for City Hall to draw boundaries back when Tony Masiello was mayor, Paladino was among the crowd that successfully lobbied that the zone include most of downtown -- and with it, most of Paladino's key property holdings. Paladino then went about getting no fewer than 30 of his companies certified as eligible to receive benefits. Only one other business operator in the entire state had more as of 2007, the latest year for which there are complete records.

Right after Byron Brown took office as mayor, Paladino was at it again, getting City Hall to amend Empire Zone boundaries to include waterfront land he had acquired near Erie Basin Marina. Thus, a program conceived as a means to help the poor enabled Paladino to build condominiums that sell for up to $1.3 million a pop.

Add it all up and Paladino has saved at least $4.3 million in sales and property taxes under the Empire Zone program since 2003. And the buyers of his waterfront condos will save some $5 million in property taxes.

When you factor it all in -- the leases, the tax breaks, the buildings for a buck -- what emerges is a portrait of a businessman who is making a lot of money, and managing to avoid paying a lot of taxes, while saying as a candidate for governor that the government should be spending less money and looking out more for taxpayers.

The two faces of Carl Paladino, indeed. 


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Carl Paladino, tea partyers, etc.

Anybody out there suffering from Carl Paladino fatigue?

Yeah, me too.

I've got extra reason for it. Since the week before he announced, I've been compiling data and crunching numbers trying to determine the extent of Paladino's dealings with the government he is railing against in his campaign for governor. The story is scheduled to run Sunday, so save up your pennies, boys and girls, and spring for a paper.

I'm glad Carl has decided to hang on as a candidate at least through the weekend, so the story remains relevant. Not that he's got much of a campaign left. I mean, when you draw only 35 people to a rally in New York City, well, it's all over but the shouting.

Of course, with Paladino, there could still be a lot of shouting.

My advice to Carl is, well, first, return my phone calls so I can add your two cents to my Sunday story, and stop with the "elite liberal" talk. Take my word for it, it's not just the arugula eaters who are having a hard time getting past you sending those racist and pornographic e-mails, especially the one involving the woman and Mr. Ed.

Speaking of which:

Anyway, on to the news of the day.

Gov. David Paterson has had second thoughts regarding his cockamamie idea to review Paladino's leases with state agencies to determine if there's a way Albany could break them. It seems there are no morality clauses to be found.

Paterson's idea was a dumb one to begin with. If the government is going to stop doing business with offensive people, it would have to knock several noted developers off the list, starting with Bill Huntress of Acquest Development, who is doing a lot of business with the federal government, among others.

Why Huntress? Read this.

Elsewhere, the Tea Party crowd is starting to flail away at each other. Big surprise there, huh?

Why, just yesterday I was telling Donn Esmonde that the Tea Party movement could end up like the IRA -- ya know, Official Tea Party, Provisional Tea Party, Real Tea Party, etc. All shooting at each other, as well as the so-called enemy.

It seems the sniping -- verbal, that is -- has already started, according to a story Jerry Zremski has in today's paper. The warring factions are using terms like "nut case" and "gray-haired old farts" to describe each other.

They're correct, of course. On all counts.

Think not? Read the poll results published yesterday by The New York Times that shows that those with an affinity for Tea Party politics tend to be really white, really conservative and really angry.

Some of them are also kind of kooky. I mean, nine in 10 think Obama has us on the road to socialism, according to the poll.

Consider this quote from The Times story from a Florida retiree:

“I just feel he’s getting away from what America is. He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction."

Translation: "I'm white and I want my president to be white, too."

The socialist tag has been used by white supremacists against African-American leaders for a century. The prime example is FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's attempts to hang the communist label on Martin Luther King.

None other than Congressman Ron Paul, a darling to much of the right, dismisses the ongoing socialist rants aimed at Obama.

Here's what he had to say at a recent gathering of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference:

"The question has been raised about whether or not our president is a socialist. I am sure there are some people here who believe it. But in the technical sense, in the economic definition of a what a socialist is, no, he's not a socialist."

"He's a corporatist. And unfortunately we have corporatists inside the Republican Party and that means you take care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country."

Before I leave the subject, take a look at this hilarious slide showat the New York Daily News on all the misspelled protest signs at Tea party rallies. The Daily News dubs it "teabonics."

But I digress. This blog is supposed to be about Carl Paladino. But enough about Carl Paladino. Read Sunday's story and blog post and we'll pick up the conversation after that. And then, hopefully, we can move on.


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The 'liberal elites' behind the Paladino e-mail story

There's a lot of sputtering coming out of the Carl Paladino camp about the web site that broke the story about him sending racist and pornographic e-mail. Stuff like they're Democratic operatives -- or worse, liberal elites, gasp! -- who hacked his computer to obtain the e-mails. Yada-yaha-yada.

I happen to know the three fellows behind and spoke Tuesday to the head honcho of sorts, Chris Smith, about all the hell that's broken loose since they posted the e-mails Monday morning.

"We're usually good for one big thing a year, but we've never done anything this large," he said.

I guess not. The post was all over the media, capped by Keith Olbermann of MSNBC declaring Paladino "The Worst Person in the World," on his show Monday night.

Paladino, worst person in the world

That hasn't happened to anyone from Buffalo since maybe when the Bills' Ronnie Harmon dropped that touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns. Or maybe Wide Right.

But I digress. has gotten almost 4 million page views since Monday -- which is especially impressive since Smith said the site was effectively shut down for about 12 hours Tuesday when a cyber attack overwhelmed its server and denied users access.  

"Someone was trying to clog the ports people use to get to the site," he said.

Smith doesn't know who the guilty parties are, but my guess is you can't blame it on the Chinese. Nah, the guilty parties most likely have a photo of Richard Nixon, not Chairman Mao, on their bunker wall.

But I digress.

What about the charge that hacked Paladino's computer?

Being a reporter, I knew the answer to that question before I asked it. When people do stupid things and do it in writing, much less on the Internet, it comes back to haunt them. Guys like me make a living off such shenanigans.

But I'll let Chris provide the details.

"Carl sent out e-mails to thousands of people over a decade. It's pretty likely one of those people might forward them for media review."

Gee, ya think?

Is there more to come?

"We're trying to parse additional data and verify additional information," Smith said.

In other words, stay tuned.

Or, as Austin Powers once put it:

OK, how about the charge that the party responsible for the post is, in Paladino's words, "a Democrat elitist person who has another agenda." Or, as Carl's campaign manager charged yesterday, the report was nothing but a "liberal Democrat blog smear."

Let's take a look at this supposed Axis of Elitest Evil.

First, we've got the face of, Alan Bedenko, aka, the Buffalo Pundit. I read his blog every day and can tell you he slams Republicans -- when he's not slamming Democrats. I checked his voter registration and, sure enough, he's a Democrat. But wait, he was a registered Republican until late 2003 and later run for public office. Which means he changed parties several years before getting into politics, kind of like, well, Carl Paladino. Except the Pundit never gave money to Al Gore or Hillary Clinton, unlike, well, Carl Paladino.

But I digress.

Arugula What about this Marc Odien fellow? He's the in-house techie who wields a mean video camera, writes a blog and generally keeps the site humming. He used to work at WGRZ-TV News, which rules him out as a media elite. Plus, I can tell you from first-hand experience that he eats at cheap restaurants where they don't serve arugula. (Donn Esmonde had to spell that one for me -- a sure sign he is a media elite. He's got a good column today on the Paladino situation, by the way.)

As for Chris Smith, well, like Odien, he is a blogger -- and a registered Democrat. Ah-hah! But wait, he started out his voting life as a registered Conservative. Then he re-registered as an independent. En route to the dark side, he served in the Air Force. 

Among what this trio has wrought on is a blog written by none other than Rus Thompson, a leader in the local Tea Party movement and a vocal supporter of one Carl Paladino. Rus hasn't done much with his platform since last fall, however.

So, as you can see, these guys aren't exactly the types to vacation in Berkeley, much less Havana. What they are are news entrepreneurs in pursuit of good stories -- and they got a hell of a good one in the Paladino e-mails. Carl and Co. can cast aspersions and try to change the subject, but it's akin to throwing punches in the dark -- few, if any, are going to find a target.

The bottom line to me is that the Paladino campaign is not challenging the factual accuracy of what has reported. In fact, it has effectively confirmed it, while at the same time saying "so what, everybody does it, can't anyone take a joke, it's no big deal."

As Paladino is finding out, a lot of people think it is a big deal, that dropping the n-word and passing along pornography -- including bestiality, for crying out loud -- is no laughing matter, especially when the perpetrator fancies himself as our next governor.

No one has expressed this with more outrage than the New York Daily News in an editorial today, in which it declared Paladino "a Grade A creep unfit to occupy a barstool, let alone the state's highest office."


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Paladino's e-mails part of a pattern

Here's the thing about Carl Paladino -- the man has no filter.

The rest of us, we've got a circuit breaker in our brain that tells us when to stop certain thoughts before we express them. Not Carl. If it comes to his mind, it comes out of his mouth.

I've been dealing with him, on and off, for close to 20 years, and I can speak from first-hand experience.

Sometimes it can be refreshing, in this age of calculating, often-phony posturing by those in the public spotlight.

Paladino, e-mail press conference I recall the day a few years back, while investigating the Thruway Authority, when I visited his office to review some related documents he had obtained under the Freedom of Information Law.

When I got through, he thrust a letter into my hand that he asked me to read. It was something he had recently written to Eliot Spitzer -- this was back when he was still governor -- ripping Spitzer up one side and down the other. It was kind of amusing, actually.

I chuckled and asked Carl if he had gotten a response. Yeah, actually, Spitzer responded with a phone call in which he told Paladino it's not everyone who writes the governor telling him to go, ah, blank himself. Paladino said they then chatted for 20 minutes or so.

There is a much darker side to Paladino, however, one that was exposed by in an explosive post Monday. Racist, pornographic e-mails he sent over the course of the past year. Everything from Obama dressed as a pimp to a woman having intercourse with a horse.

This, from a guy who wants to be governor, running on a platform that includes Christian values. It's so bad that Paladino has Keith Olbermann and the head of the state Tea Party agreeing with each other.

Paladino's e-mails are shocking, on one level. But not altogether surprising, knowing Carl.

The filter thing, ya know.

I mean, just last week, someone told me of an episode he witnessed in which Paladino, in a public forum, denounced someone he disagreed with as a "slut." The target of his venom was a well-educated gentleman in his 60s.

Of more recent vintage are his diatribes against everyone from Andrew Rudnick to Phil Rumore to, well the list goes on and on and on.Sometimes it involves pointed criticism, which in many cases is justified. But too often, it devolves into ugly, personalized attacks seemingly intended to do nothing more than insult.

I'm on one of Carl's e-mail lists -- although I didn't receive any of the ones highlighted by -- and it's gotten to the point in the past year that I can't even read what he's got to say, it's so over the top. Vicious, nasty, foaming-at-the-mouth kind of stuff.

At one point, I almost picked up the phone to tell him that his style was undermining the substance of what he was trying to say, which wasn't always wrong, but I never made the call.

He did call me the other day, however, which is no big deal, given that we've had an uneven, but generally good working relationship over the years, in part because he likes the way I've put it to the pols in Albany and City Hall. Carl didn't call to offer any compliments this time, however.

Nope, he was screaming about my blog reference to his younger daughter being "born out of wedlock." That phrase was a no-no in his mind, even though, as I pointed out to him, it was factually correct and a lot less provocative than the "love child" phrase being used by the NYC tabs. No matter. He vented for a few minutes and hung up in a huff.

While it was pretty tame stuff by Paladino standards, it was not lost on me that this was the same guy with the self-described thick skin who is taking shots at everyone in sight, who just recently expressed the hope that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would be beaten en route to Attica if and when Paladino became governor.

It does make you wonder what he was thinking when he decided to run for governor with  the history of infidelity and racist and pornographic e-mails. Did he not see the target he had painted on his back? 

And don't think we've heard the last. Among other things, his birther e-mails are bound to show up soon in the public domain, 'cause I know they're out there.

Paladino is trying to fend off the e-mail revelations as the byproduct of a liberal conspiracy and he has recently taken more than one shot at the elite, liberal press. This from a guy whose name has appeared in The Buffalo News 1,211 times since 1988 -- when we started archiving our content electronically.

Artvoice, arguably the most liberal news outlet in town, has given him a soapbox a lot more often than you'd expect from an alternative weekly.

My point is that Carl is about the most quoted guy in the community. Some reporters seem to have him on speed dial. I'm sorry, but Carl is about the last guy in town who can complain about press coverage.

Out to get him? No, the press to this point has only been out to quote him. Early and often.


My "favorite" quote from his late-afternoon press conference Monday in which he offered up one part apology, four parts defiance, was this ditty:

"To the men out there who have never opened a graphic image on the Internet, don't vote for me. For those who have, I welcome your vote."

I wasn't there to witness the reaction of his campaign manager, but I can picture him cringing and thinking to himself, "Filter, Carl, filter."


Why should have all the "fun?" Have an e-mail from Paladino knocking around in your in-box? Pass it along to me here.


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Paladino's racist, pornographic e-mails reports today in rather graphic terms that gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has a history of sending racist and pornographic e-mail to a range of people in the business and political community. (Their web site is tough to get through because of a high volume of traffic, but here is a cached version.)

Topics range from President Obama to bestiality. Toxic, vile stuff. Really something, especially from someone running on a platform that includes Christian values.

Paladino's campaign manager is not denying the e-mails, but rather is trying to characterize them as a smear job by a liberal blog.

Good luck with that defense.

I don't see how his candidacy survives. Ten million dollars doesn't buy you out of this kind of trouble.

I'll add media coverage of this as I spot it. Feel free to send me links, as well.

Buffalo News

Huffington Post

New York Magazine

Talking Points Memo



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Buffalo's budget blues

The ward of the state known as the City of Buffalo faces some tough fiscal choices in the next couple of months.

Brian Meyer and Pete Simon report in today's Buffalo News that city government is facing a $24 million budget gap for the coming fiscal year, while the Board of Education faces a shortfall of $34.2 million.

In recent years, City Hall and the School Board could count on Albany to bail it out, but the state's $9 billion budget deficit means the locals are going to have to solve their own problems.

City government finds itself in the hole for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that budget deficits are bound to happen mortibound cities like Buffalo, which struggle to deal with the legacy of poor government, poverty and a loss of both people and business. 

The insistence of Mayor Byron Brown and the Common Council to pursue the politically popular route of cutting property taxes the past four years hasn't helped.

The city's tax base is another factor - in case you haven't noticed, there aren't a lot of construction cranes to be seen, and what little development we've experienced is usually accompanied with tax breaks that have helped the bottom line of developers, but not the city treasury.

The schools, meanwhile, are looking to the city to close some of its budget gap. Good luck.

City Hall has long been unwilling to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to education. Partly as a result, Buffalo schools are more reliant on state aid than any district in New York.

South District Council Member Mickey Kearns is sounding an old refrain - that city school are top heavy with administrators and that some of them have to go if the district has any hope of getting more money from the city.

Perhaps. I covered city schools during the mid- to late '90s and looked into that issue at one point. The claim didn't hold up. Spending on administrative overhead as a percentage of the budget was lower than in suburban districts. Maybe things have changed since then, but my first-blush reaction to Kearns' remarks is "Geez Mickey, that argument sounds kind of moldy."

The silver lining in all this is that both the city and school board have a bit of cushion.

Brown and the Council have reserves, and some wiggle room in pending proposals, to work with.

And the school board is working with a budget of more than three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars, which has consistently grown even in the face of declining enrollments. I have a hard time believing the district can't find ways of cutting in ways that don't seriously harm the educational program. But my fear, based on my years of covering the board, is that in cutting the budget, the district will put the interests of adults ahead of children.

I came away from my years of covering the district firm in the belief that it was more of a Board of Adult Employment than a Board of Education. I won't pretend to have any particular insight into the crew now running the district, but the fiasco at McKinley High School a couple of years ago strongly suggests that nothing much has changed in this regard.


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Check back Monday

I'm up to my eyeballs on an assignment and will not be blogging the balance of this week. Look for a fresh post Monday.

Paladino's press clippings

Carl Paladino is a known quantity around these parts - kinda, although the extent of his money making dealings with the government he professes to loathe, and some of his more extreme political positions, have yet to be fully explored.

To the folks points east of here, Paladino is an unknown and he's gotten a lot of press since announcing for governor Monday.

How is he playing?

In reading the coverage online, three themes emerge -- he's got a big mouth, deep pockets and a kid born out of wedlock. The NYC tabs are especially eating up the latter, as you might expect.

Here's a sampler:

New York Daily News: Buffalo developer  Carl Paladino, 63, has been married nearly 40 years to his wife, Cathy. The two had three grown children together - one of whom died in a car crash last year.

It was only after that tragedy that Paladino confessed to his wife he had a secret love child, a now-10-year-old girl. A Buffalo-area source identified the child's mother as Sue Brady, an ex-staffer of Paladino's Ellicott Development company.

More New York Daily News: If Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino wants New Yorkers to take him seriously as a candidate for governor, he should stop acting like such a clown.

Paladino obviously aims to channel the anger that many New Yorkers legitimately feel about their bloated, corrupt state government. But all the money in the world won't buy him back his credibility if he keeps up the cartoonish bombast.

New York Post: Steve Levy welcomed Carl Paladino, his biggest rival for the Tea Party stamp of approval, to the gubernatorial race just now as the Buffalo developer is set to take the stage, calling him a "walking contradiction."

“He complains about liberal politicians, but donates tens of thousands to people like Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Louise Slaughter, former Governor Eliot Spitzer and former Congressman Eric Massa.

“While he says that Albany’s policies hinder economic development, he has financially benefited from tax incentives like Empire Zones. And as he rants and raves about New York’s excessive spending, he earns about $85 million in leases from the State.

New York Times: Though he lacks the institutional support enjoyed by the two other major Republican candidates — Rick A. Lazio, the former congressman, and Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive — Mr. Paladino brings something to the race that neither of the them has: a personal fortune he plans to dip deeply into during the race.

Mr. Paladino, who estimates his net worth to be $150 million, has pledged to spend as much as $10 million of his own money in the campaign. If elected, he has vowed to serve only one term.

Albany Times Union: I asked Paladino to expand on his idea that upon taking office he could declare a state of emergency that would grant him broad powers to straighten out the state’s books. Where was that in the state Constitution?

“We found a few places that we feel identify that in the case of a disaster, and in this case we have a disaster going on here,” he said.

But where was it in the Constitution? “I’m not sure — it’s in (Article) VII; I think it’s in a subsection of VII. We’ll get that for you; now that we’ve announced we’re going to produce a set of position papers on different issues. We’re very issue-oriented.”

As I'm into new media, I feel obliged to list links to Paladino's campaign web site and Facebook page, which already has over 5,500 fans.


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