Wednesday, October 31, 2007

County's Financial Rating Improves

The diligent folks at one of our favorite blogs, the Waterbuffalo Press, today carry this report of an upgrade to Monroe County's credit rating as a consequence of Maggie Brooks's FAIR plan.


The Big Lie -- Part II

We noted yesterday that the 2008 county budget scheduled to be unveiled later in the day would resolve who's being truthful about a county tax credit to taxpayers in the towns.

We didn't hear Maggie Brooks say anything about the tax credit on the news. So we checked the Monroe County website and found the 2008 budget document. We looked up the information on the tax credit and ...

The Prize for the Big Lie in local elections is shared this year by the following deserving recipients:

The Democratic Candidates for County Legislature:
Todd Dunn
Dick Beebe
Carmen Gumina
Doreen Brady Levin
Ted Nixon (up to his old tricks)
Sue Davis
Vinny Esposito
Ted O'Brien
Steve Eckel

Brooks's proposed budget includes full funding -- $55 million -- for the tax credit.

The proposed budget includes a chart on page 64 that shows the amount of money being distributed to the Towns and other municipalities to "make them whole" for the effects of the Medicaid-sales tax plan.

Of the amount to go to the Towns, the budget notes: "$55 million of this amount will be in the form of a credit on the property tax bill for town residents."

This is what the FAIR Plan appeared to include the night of its enactment, and what Brooks has insisted all along.

The information is here; go to page 64.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Big Lie -- But By Whom?

The negative attack mailings sent out by Democratic candidates for County Legislature this year surprise us. The mailings (apparently the same in all districts) claim that Maggie Brooks's FAIR plan takes away about $14 million worth of tax credits that go directly to taxpayers in the towns. We're surprised at that because Brooks and other Republican leaders have insisted publicly, and in terms that for politicians are unusually ironclad and loophole-free, that the Democratic claim is flat-out untrue.

So either the Democrats are employing the Big Lie technique, or Brooks is.

We see on today's Democrat and Chronicle website that Brooks is going to present her 2008 budget this afternoon. The money to fund the tax credit either will be in the budget, meaning that it's the Democratic candidates who are deploying the Big Lie, or it won't be in the budget, meaning that it's the Brooks plan that contains the Big Lie.

Based on statements of various Democratic legislators in the press, if they're using correct figures, we should be able to tell the truth tonight from the numbers:   if the new budget provides $41 million for the credit, it means the Democrats are right (because that's $14 million less than the amount needed to continue the credit fully). If the new budget provides $55 million for the credit, it means Brooks is living up to her promise and taxpayers will, after all, continue to get the full tax credits.


$41 million = Brooks has been lying

$55 million = Democrats have been lying
If there's no mention of the credit or the numbers that support it, or if Brooks fudges on the issue, we'll suspect it's because her plan really doesn't continue the credit.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Let Spitzer Be Spitzer

Some blogs point to lots of articles elsewhere, but here on Mustard Street we prefer our own vapid drivel.

Yet a reader comment on Jay Gallagher's story today that criticizes Governor Spitzer for his "aggressive" style deserves attention.

We think the reader, Terry O'Neill, Esq., got it exactly right. We hope we do justice to his point in paraphrasing it thus: "How else are you going to get anything accomplished in this State? Experience shows that you need people of especially strong character like Spitzer in order to accomplish things."

We admire Jay Gallagher. The clarity of his understanding on exactly what happens in Albany, and why, and what the problems are, is unparalleled. But in this instance we disagree. We think the very qualities for which Gallagher's column today criticizes the Governor are among the qualities that make Spitzer a leader of greatness.

Referring to Tom Constantine, former Superintendent of the New York State Police, reader O'Neill has this to say:

He has convictions ...which, when he delivers them, come across like great Jovian thunderbolts. That quality enabled a very simple man to achieve truly great things in our struggle against transnational organized crime and terrorism.
He then refers to another New York chief executive deemed "unreasonable," Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, saying:
The product of the governor's unreasonableness can be seen in public works in every city, the most extensive and progressive judicial reform in living memory and, less fortunately, the vast underclass of people whose lives have been adversely affected by Rockefeller's eponymous drug laws.
These men had/have quite outsize personalities. It appears that Governor Spitzer shares that characteristic with them. I predict that he will go on to achieve great things for the state and people of New York.
So do we, Mr. O'Neill.


Monday, October 22, 2007

The New Eugenicists

Jerri Kaiser, a member of the Democrat and Chronicle’s Editorial Board, has posted an entry on the D&C’s editorial blog about claims that special education students are driving down the test scores in area schools.

"When society states that special needs kids are a burden I submit that it's a new form of eugenics."
We agree with Ms. Kaiser.

And who are the “New Eugenicists” who have singled out special needs kids?

Say hello to …

County legislative candidate Carmen Gumina and Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle.

You see, the Rochester Business Journal publishes a "Schools Report Card" listing data about Monroe County schools.  It includes each school's record on standardized student tests.   Test score results are provided by the State.

The RBJ prints the data that the State provides.

Candidate Gumina is principal of a school in Webster.   The campaign of the man he’s trying to unseat, Legislator Dave Malta, noticed that Gumina’s school ranked last in Fourth Grade test results for English, Math and General Science.

That’s all the RBJ’s test score report card tells you.   And that’s all a recent Malta campaign mailing said about schools and test scores.

We know, because a friend in Webster showed it to us over the weekend.

The Malta mailing said nothing whatsoever about anything having to do with special needs students.   The mailing contained no hint, suggestion, implication or connotation about special needs students.  Zero.  Zip.   None.  Nada.

Neither did the test data published by the State, which, as published by RBJ, is what the mailing referred to.   The Webster Superintendent of Schools confirmed this, in a letter to residents:

"New York State does not separate 'general' education from 'special education' when reporting test results."

So in complaining about the Malta piece it’s candidate Gumina who’s invoking special needs kids.

It's fair for Gumina and his surrogates to point out a significant factor regarding the test scores, if they feel they must:  that when you assign all of a district’s special needs students to one school, you have to remember that the needs of many of those kids have to do with learning disabilities.   And that could affect the school’s aggregate test scores.

However, what we find both objectionable and dishonest is the main thrust of the Gumina campaign’s response:   that Malta is somehow criticizing special needs students.   The Malta mailing made no reference to such students, either directly or indirectly.  How could it have?   The State's published test data says nothing whatsoever about special needs students.

This morning’s Democrat and Chronicle editorial wonders why the Malta mailing hasn’t been brought before the Fair Election Practices Committee.   The reason is because Malta's mailing contains only truthful information, since all it does is to repeat the State of New York’s own data on school performance.

Actually, on second thought, there is something in Malta’s mailing that's untruthful and misleading.

It’s the part that calls Carmen Gumina a “nice guy.”


Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Highest-Paid Local Officials

Opponents of the Maggie Brooks FAIR plan paid a lot of attention recently to an online poll on the Brooks plan conducted by the Rochester Business Journal.   First, in rallying their troops to skew it (which you can do with online polls) and then touting the skewed result.

Understandably, they've drawn no attention at all to the hard data -- not an unscientific poll -- the RBJ published last Friday.   It's the RBJ's annual list of the Fifty Highest-Paid Public Officials in Monroe County.

Who do you think we'd find on a list like that?

How about an obvious one:  Mayor Bob Duffy.   But he didn't make the list.

Let's try the Mayor's counterpart in county government, County Executive Maggie Brooks.   But no.   Brooks doesn't make the cut, either.

Neither does Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn.   Or John Auberger, Supervisor of Greece, our most populous town.   Or Sandra Frankel, Supervisor of Brighton, the most populous east-side town.

If the likes of the Mayor, the County Executive, the Sheriff and leading Supervisors don't make the list of most highly-paid officials, who does?

An elementary school principal in the City, that's who.  (Number 37 on the list).  So does another one (Number 43).

A middle school principal in Brighton (41).   A high-school principal in Fairport (46).   A Director of Guidance in the City school district (44).   These, of course, are the also-rans in the nether regions of the list of the highest-paid.

The top 12 most highly-paid public officials are all school Superintendents, with base compensation ranging from $220,000 for Number 1 to $172,000 for Number 12.

The Assistant Superintendent in Brighton pops in at Number 13, then it's a clean run of more Superintendents from 14 through 20.

"Forty seven of the 50 highest-paid people in local governments – county, town, city and village – and school districts in Monroe County work as school administrators, this week’s list of the highest-paid public officials shows."

"School administrators took the top 24 spots in this year’s list."

-- Rochester Business Journal, October 12, 2007, p.1

Thirteen out of the top 50 are administrators in the City schools, upholding the grand tradition of the worst-performing school districts having not just the highest-paid people, but the greatest number of them.

We have no reason to think that any of the school officials on this list aren’t earning every penny.   Of those few whose records or reputations we’re familiar with, not only are they worth it, but they’re making a considerable personal sacrifice to serve the calling of education, considering what they could make in the private sector given their ability and credentials.

But this list helps to illustrate why, we think, Maggie Brooks has the political wind at her back for her FAIR plan, which reduces suburban school district revenues by 1 – 2 %.   It explains why it resonates with the public when Brooks says, as quoted in the same RBJ article:
“…these well-paid and non-elected officials are choosing to sue Monroe County rather than finding a 2 percent savings in their total budgets.”



Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Spirit of Innovation

If the Democrat and Chronicle were genuinely interested in solutions to traffic problems, instead of using the subject as a pretext to give free publicity to a dishonest candidate, it would analyze innovative solutions being tried elsewhere.

Like the one in this public service announcement from the Danish Road Safety Council.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Imus Untimeous

OK, so it's not local.   But we find disturbing and wrong the prospect that disgraced -- for so we should regard him -- radio host Don Imus may soon be back on the air.

Imus used a racially-tinged insult in referring to a largely African-American women's college basketball team. The words themselves may not have been as blatant as the racist tirade of comedian Michael Richards about a year ago, or as Mel Gibson's anti-semitic rant about the same time. But we think they earned Imus a permanent place in life's penalty box of social ostracism along with Richards and Gibson.

When someone pulls a stunt like Imus or Richards or Gibson, our reaction is pretty consistent. After the initial shock at the sheer ugliness of the thing, we have to wonder: Who do these people think they are to talk that way, either to or about someone else?

The racism alone is bad enough. But the attitude makes it worse. A member of the Michael Richards audience, interviewed by CNN, nailed it:

Basically: "I'm rich. I don't care what you think. I have enough money to have you arrested."

It's a form of bullying. Imus has the power of a national microphone. He wielded it rudely, recklessly disregarding the feelings of some young women who had just accomplished something challenging and admirable.

Then this moron unloads. We use the term deliberately, for Imus is of the age, has the experience, and knows of the responsibility demanded by the power of his microphone, to have known better. This idea of the powerful man deliberately upsetting young, powerless women is what bothers us as much as the racial tinge of the insult. It's what places Imus in the same category as Richards and Gibson, though his words themselves may not have been as inflammatory.

Call us old-fashioned.   You'd be right.

And Don Imus should be off the air for good.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pimp My Candidate

e have a warmer regard for the editorial side of our Newspaper of Record than for the paper's news-reporting side. For example, Saturday's lead editorial called for clean political campaigns, urging local candidates to refrain from "misleading advertising about opponents."

We endorse this view. But its implications must be resented by the leaders of the paper's news side, News Editor Karen Magnuson and Publisher Michael Kane. For Karen and Mike have worked hard to do for a local candidate with a problem what Xzibit, raffish host of MTV's Pimp My Ride, does for the old wrecks brought into his body shop.

Not that the candidacy of one Democratic candidate for county legislature isn't in need of some heavy-duty pimping.

When Ted Nixon ran for the same seat in 2005, the Fair Election Practices Committee (FEPC) found him guilty of two ethical violations:   falsifying a quotation he attributed to his opponent; and attributing to his opponent words that were not the opponent's in a way intended to create a false impression.
Those aren't our words; they're the words of the FEPC's decision. You can read it here.

For these stunts he got caught, and called out by the Fair Election Practices Committee.

It means that, so far this year, of all candidates for County legislature of both parties, Nixon's the only one who has been found guilty of campaign ethics violations, breaking the Fair Campaign Pledge and misleading voters.

A public image disfigured by such behavior badly needs what Xzibit would call some "pimping." That's where Karen Magnuson and Mike Kean went to work.

Boisterously uninhibited by such antiquated constraints as professionalism and journalistic ethics, Magnuson and Kane ran a gratuitous front page puff piece on Nixon about a month ago. On the urgent subject of . . . traffic on residential through streets. Above the fold. Complete with photo of candidate and wife on page 1.

With no mention that this is a candidate for office of any kind. Just a concerned citizen worried about that scary traffic. And how we ordinary, non-political citizens -- just like Ted! -- have to do something.

You have to admire the Democrat and Chronicle for its forthright brazenness. An open promotion of a candidate in a contested race. An absurdly transparent fig leaf of news value as a pretext. Forget that old nonsense about "Dog bites man isn't news." It is news at the Democrat and Chronicle -- as long as it's in the right cause. Cars have been traveling on residential through streets for as long as there have been cars. And people who live there have disliked it for just as long.

And of all the through streets in western New York, the D&C just happened to pick the one where there lives a Democratic candidate who needs help with his image.

And of all the people who live on that particular street (we consulted a map -- it's a long street), the D&C just happens -- in an amazing, totally random coincidence -- to anchor the story on that very candidate.

And of all the moments to pick to focus on the ground-breaking and highly topical issue of traffic -- which we're sure no one has ever reported on before -- the D&C decides to do it at the very opening of campaign season, right around Labor Day!

And the issue of traffic on that one street is so urgent and so compelling that the paper's local section -- even its cover page -- just won't do! It's got to be in Section 1! And on the front page! And above the fold! With picture! And not a picture of those pesky cars, but of that candidate who was picked totally, accidentally at random! With picture and name repeated on the carryover page, just in case you forgot who he was or what he looked like in the time it took to turn the page!

And in another completely coincidental turn, the D&C just plain forgot to mention that its randomly selected poster boy for traffic worrying is currently a candidate for public office! A piece of information that the Democrat and Chronicle itself had known for months, and had published months before.

So, while the D&C's editorial page editors call for ethics in political campaigns, the D&C's news staff abandons even the pretense of ethics or professionalism in journalism. Nothing they may say can explain their way around this one.

All that's left to wonder is this: what kind of influence does this candidate have over the Democrat and Chronicle to pull this off? Is there yet a deeper level of Nixonian skullduggery we haven't learned about?

Metaphorically speaking (to use a metaphor of recent memory): how many times did Ted Nixon have to tap on the bathroom floor -- and next to whose stall -- to get the Democrat and Chronicle to turn its front page over to him, and its integrity to the garbage?


Reckless Driving

Visitors to Mustard Street know that we're strong supporters of Governor Spitzer.   The road to salvation for New York depends on more of the Spitzer touch, not less.   We'd be sickened by the hypocrisy of an old-school political hack like Joe Bruno excoriating the Governor on the much overblown "troopergate" matter, if we weren't distressed instead by its potential for distracting the Governor from his agenda.

One such distraction is the State Department of Motor Vehicles' poorly-conceived plan to give drivers licenses to illegal aliens.   In the face of Bruno's onslaught, the Guv supports this in order to shore up his base, since the proposal really has little to do with driving and everything to do with registering illegal aliens to vote. The only document needed in order to register is a drivers license.

Why so many Democrats assume that convicted felons (to whom they also want to give the vote) and other lawbreakers such as illegal aliens will all vote Democratic is a mystery.   Maybe it tells us more about what some Democrats really think about their party than they'd want us to know.   We asked the lovely Miss Lucy, Mustard Street resident and proud -- though independently-minded -- member of the party of Jefferson and Jackson.   Lucy says it makes complete sense:   "Democrats talk about redistributing wealth.   Criminals go out and do it."

Maybe there's a philosophic kinship we hadn't thought about.

On the local scene, calmer heads are responding.   County Clerk Cheryl DiNolfo, whose office issues drivers licenses, has said she won't issue licenses in contravention of state law, which is what the State DMV's edict would have her do.

County Legislator Dave Malta introduced in the Monroe County Legislature a resolution preventing the County Clerk's office from using County resources to issue licenses in violation of law.   It passed last night with bi-partisan support.   One source relates that it was Democratic legislator Ted O'Brien -- himself a lawyer -- who made the case that state law forbids the Clerk to issue licenses to illegal aliens.   O'Brien pointed out that if the state DMV wants to change the license-issuing policy, then the state legislature needs to amend the existing law.  But that unless and until it does, the County Legislature's action last night calls on DiNolfo to follow the law.

O'Brien, joined by the two other Democrats running for office this year in competitive districts, then voted in favor of Malta's resolution to withhold county resources (e.g., taxpayers' money) from issuing drivers licenses illegally.