Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Poor Mouthing

So Mayor Duffy went off to the Capitol yesterday to panhandle for more money again . This has become an annual pilgrimage by Duffy, as it was with Mayor Johnson before him.

We hope he succeeds, but it brings up the issue of a certain kind of lack of accountability on the part of Rochester's City government. Yes, State funding per capita is lower for Rochester than for Syracuse and Buffalo. But don't shed too many tears for the City government as it whines about its lower state aid per person.

What we won’t hear from Mayor Duffy, or see reported in our totally unbiased Newspaper of Record, is the fact that the City of Rochester receives over $125 million in sales tax revenue from the County.

The Mayor and his cheering section at the Democrat and Chronicle never mention that when they talk about aid received by the City.

That's right, this year the City will receive over $125 million in revenue-sharing from Monroe County, on top of whatever they get from the State. That means the City of Rochester will actually get significantly more money than either Syracuse or Buffalo when you add up all the revenue sharing dollars it receives, both State and County.

In fact, when it comes to revenue sharing by county government, Syracuse and Buffalo don’t even come close. Here are the figures, based on 2008 estimated amounts for sales-tax sharing by counties:

  • Rochester to get from Monroe County:
  • Buffalo to get from Erie County
  • Syracuse to get from Onandaga County:

  • $125 million
    $65 million
    $61 million

    We understand why the City needs to poor-mouth it when going hat-in-hand to Albany. But our local media seem to never hold the City government to the same standard of accountability, for things like economizing and streamlining government, as they hold Monroe County. The enormous amount of county sales tax revenue the City receives, as compared with Syracuse or Buffalo, is never discussed. Only how much the City can beg from Albany and how it's treated so unfairly compared with the other upstate cities.

    And, of course, in discussing the County's budget woes, the press rarely mentions in the same article that if the County weren't so generous with its sales tax revenue to the City, it wouldn't have had budget problems to start with.


    Monday, January 28, 2008

    An American Voice

    Barack Obama's comments after winning South Carolina brought home an idea that's been growing on us for a while:   there's something about this candidate that seems genuinely transformative.   We're referring to aspects of the man and his campaign that transcend the idea he could become the first black president (itself a transcendent concept) or the rock-star buzz about his candidacy.

    Specifically, in Obama's message and words we hear the emergence of a new, and authentic, American voice.   In American history this happens every once in a great while.   The country experienced it with both Roosevelts, with Kennedy, and with Reagan:   a call of unmistakeable sincerity to something better, something different, to some aspect of what's best in our nature.

    Saturday night In South Carolina, Obama recounted "I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina. I saw South Carolina."   Noting that the country confronts forces feeding "habits that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation," he continued,

    It's a politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon, a politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us, the assumption that young people are apathetic, the assumption that Republicans won't cross over, the assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor and that the poor don't vote, the assumption that African-Americans can't support the white candidate, whites can't support the African-American candidate, blacks and Latinos cannot come together.

    We are here tonight to say that that is not the America we believe in.

    Now, we have no illusions about the limitless capacity of presidential candidates for hyperbole.   This, however, represents much more.   Obama's words amount to a direct challenge to the group identity-politics that have formed the foundation of the Democratic Party and its core philosophy, since at least 1972.   No way that Obama doesn't understand this very clearly.   His willingness to challenge the philosophical and structural foundation of his own party testifies to a courage and strength of character that's much rarer than it should be among presidential candidates in recent years.

    George W. Bush spoke in 2000 of being a uniter, not a divider. We all know how that turned out.   Obama's invocation of the same concept is different.  His South Carolina remarks capture a core message of his campaign that appeals to a country tired of political division and bickering.  It's a message that has appeal even for many Republicans.

    While the Clintons openly pursue a campaign strategy seeking to leverage racial divisions (Bill's comparison of Obama to Jesse Jackson the day after the S.C. primary is typical), in Obama we are witnessing a phenomenon that occurs only rarely:   the emergence of an authentic American voice of moral majesty.   It's voice that speaks for millions.

    You can read here the full text of Barack Obama's comments after winning South Carolina.


    This Really IS "For the Children"

    Excellent piece in this morning's Democrat and Chronicle by Editorial Board member Petrena Hayes, on the role school vouchers can play to bring some actual education into the lives of kids.

    Most stories in our local paper about improving the schools are little more than a torrent of the usual bilge from apologists for the schools establishment, without question the most determinedly reactionary force in New York politics. ("We want to help 'the children' -- as long as we don't have to change a thing.")

    So Ms. Hayes's clear thinking is a welcome oasis in a bleak landscape.


    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    Whad'Ya Know?

    Funniest thing we've heard all week, from Michael Feldman on his public radio show Whad'Ya Know:

    Lott has left Washington for good.
    Unfortunately, his wife looked back.


    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Too Little, Too Late

    After more than a month, County Legislature President Wayne Zyra has crawled out from under his desk, and actually spoke to a news reporter yesterday.   He might as well have remained in hiding.   His weak and defensive comments did nothing at all to get out the truth about a public defender selection process that's been completely hijacked by Assemblyman, bully and con-artist extraordinaire David Gantt.

    It's hard to believe that county Republicans, regarded in some circles as diabolical political masterminds, have blown it so completely over the public defender.

    They've blown the opportunity to show the public how it's David Gantt who's politicized the process.

    They've blown the opportunity to make the case of how Bar Association President Tom Smith has sold out his organization to Gantt.

    In short, they've lost the public relations battle on this issue.   But on second thought, they haven't.   They haven't lost anything.   They conceded it by never even trying in the first place.

    The county Republicans' complete failure to speak out on this issue, and to make their case, is as baffling as it is unexpected.


    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    Separated at Birth?

     As follow-up to Wednesday's posting:

    "Zyra would not answer our questions Thursday night . . ."
    At this point Wayne Zyra's recent performance is almost comical.   But one of yesterday's news reports gives it an ominous edge.
    " 'We are looking for the president of the legislature to respond to the request of a meeting to discuss this matter . . .,' Rev. Florence said."
    Note that Rev. Florence didn't say "Zyra refused our request."   Florence said that he, Florence, is "looking for a response" from Zyra.

    Is this why David Gantt and his band of protesters are so upset?   And why they behaved as they did at the Legislature meeting on Thursday?   Because Wayne Zyra hasn't even returned their phone calls?   That's sure what it sounds like.   And it fits completely with Zyra's consistent "unavailability" to the press.

    Maybe that's why Gantt stormed the barricades the other night, shouting in the direction of the Republican lawmakers -- because it's the only way he could get a conversation with Zyra.

    This is what it looks like.   And it makes David Gantt and his protesters look more like victims than villains in the other night's little piece of street theater.

    We're about to take on some field work.   We're going to learn what we can about His Excellency President Wayne Zyra, and just what's up with this guy.   We'll let you know what we find.


    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Debacle in the County Legislature

    Where are the leaders of the Monroe County Republicans? Why is nobody challenging the threats and accusations made by David Gantt and his cronies pertaining to the Public Defender position?

    [NOTE: Hitting Read More below automatically starts a video, with sound, embedded in the expanded posting. Scroll down and hit pause until you're ready to view it.]

    As we know, when Legislature President Wayne Zyra first announced a screening committee, both Harry Bronson (Democratic Legislative Leader) and Tom Smith (President of the Monroe County Bar Association) were on board with the membership and the process.

    Bronson was quoted in the press supporting Zyra’s initiative when it was announced. Tom Smith even thanked Zyra for including the Bar Association in the process participation.

    Then in steps David Gantt.

    Once Gantt got involved, both Bronson and Smith turned on the Zyra screening committee.

    Maybe Gantt threatened a challenge to Bronson’s leadership position, or to run someone in primary against him (Bronson runs for re-election in 2009). Maybe Gantt threatened to get Bronson fired from his job on the State Assembly staff (more likely).

    Maybe Gantt brought Smith to heel by threatening to stop funding the Bar’s pet project – the Campaign for Legal Justice. Gantt funneled $150,000 of State Assembly pork to this organization. Tom Smith is a member of its board.

    Guaranteed that none of these questions will be asked by Gantt’s enablers at the Democrat and Chronicle. That we expect. But where are the Republican leaders?

    The selection process was moving along to the satisfaction of all involved – Democratic, Republican and Bar Association -- until Gantt got involved.

    No one is willing to stand up and state the reality that the the so called “community groups” interfering with the County Legislature's right and duty to appoint a public defender are controlled by David Gantt. Ray Scott and Franklin Florence are his pawns.

    Why hasn’t anyone called out Gantt for claiming the Zyra selection committee was “political” despite the fact that it gave the Bar Association 2 seats, gave each of the County Legislature’s Democratic and Republican leaders one seat each to appoint, and included a bipartisan collection of judges?

    If the public defender selection process has become "politicized," it's because of Gantt’s interference and bullying. If interested candidates have declined to be considered because of politicization, the fault is Gantt's.

    Gantt’s performance at last night’s county legislature meeting was a disgrace.

    Was that David Gantt we saw attempting to push aside a police officer? Yes.

    Was that David Gantt disrupting a meeting by yelling at elected officials? Yes.
    But the evening’s biggest disgrace wasn’t Gantt. It was the Republicans, and especially Legislature President Wayne Zyra, who was there at the meeting. Zyra should have been right in Gantt’s face telling him to back off.

    We thought it was Zyra on WHAM—TV’s raw video of the event, trying to reason with Gantt, just past the 5:00 minute mark in the video. But it turns out that it was Legislator Jack Driscoll. The video caught Zyra in the background, retreating to the corner of the room, then slipping out, while Driscoll engages Gantt.

    Credit to Legislator Driscoll, for standing up to Gantt. But shame on Zyra for losing control of his own chamber and for slinking out of the room when things got tough. What kind of “leader” is this?


    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Transcript Vindicates Cuomo

    Since writing on Tuesday our posting under the title Defining Deviancy Downward, we've read the relevant portion of the transcript of the radio program in which Attorney General Cuomo uttered a comment originally reported in a way that made it seem like a racially insensitive reference to Barack Obama.

    The transcript makes it quite plain that Cuomo did not employ the phrase at issue in the context of discussing reasons for Hillary Clinton's win in New Hampshire over Obama.

    Rather, Cuomo used the term in the context of the frantic pace and mayhem of a presidential campaign, and its demands, without reference to any candidate or to the outcome in New Hampshire.

    Its use was perfectly benign.

    The Attorney General didn't deserve the criticism he received over this comment, including the criticism leveled by us.   For this reason we've corrected that posting cited above by removing the references to the Attorney General and to the comment that created such a stir.

    You can read the transcript here.


    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Where's Wayne?

    Mustard Street contributor Miss Lucy’s recent reflections on selecting a new public defender raised a question that occurred to us again yesterday, when the Democrat and a Chronicle reported that County Legislature President Wayne Zyra has disbanded the applicant screening committee he'd established.

    We think highly of Zyra for setting up a bipartisan screening committee of professionals.   It consisted of judges and bar association members, with knowledge and experience necessary to evaluate applicants for the position of public defender, in painful contrast to so-called "community groups" of unclear origins, and even less clear credentials for evaluating an attorney's legal skills or ability to run a law office.

    Zyra's statesmanship secured the support of County Bar Association President Tom Smith -- before Smith prostituted the Bar Association to David Gantt, and withdrew his support.   Similarly, Zyra secured the support of County Legislature Democratic Leader Harry Bronson, before Bronson caved under similar pressure.   Because of the clear integrity of the process proposed by Zyra, the bipartisan group of judges he appointed stuck by the panel to the end.

    Zyra accomplished something to be proud of.

    But have we overlooked something, or has President Zyra been missing in action for much of the time since his joint announcement of the selection committee with Democratic Leader Bronson, back around the beginning of December?

    "Zyra did not return repeated calls seeking comment . . . ," reported the Messenger Post papers on January 7.

    OK, that can happen.   People take vacations, or get the flu, or are otherwise unavailable for a while.   But this was the pattern during most of the controversy, with Zyra consistently failing to step up publicly to defend his own screening committee.

    The Legislature President gave the Daily Record a phone interview on December 13.   He commented to the D&C on December 14, and again in another article the next day.   But that was a month ago. And that was the last time we heard from Wayne Zyra publicly on this subject.

    "Zyra did not return City Newspaper's calls last week," reported City News on December 19.

    Why ever not?   Being on the right side of the merits of this issue allowed Zyra to hit a home run with almost any public statement he might make about it.

    "Legislature President Wayne Zyra was unavailable for comment," said R News in its story on January 10.

    Has this guy gone AWOL?

    Zyra should have been out front and center defending his panel.   He should have denounced Bar Association President Tom Smith publicly, for Smith's disgraceful stunt of trying to intimidate the judges on the selection panel into quitting, threatening them with disciplinary action.   Smith's only goal here was to strip the panel of the legitimacy that having a bipartisan group of judges gave it.   (The judges, to their credit, and with a better grasp of the ethical rules than Smith, held firm throughout.)

    Last week David Gantt staged a public meeting at the Aenon Baptist Church, to pressure Zyra into placing Gantt’s flunkies, in the guise of “community group” representatives, on the panel.   And to smear the panel’s credibility if Gantt couldn’t get his way.

    Where was Zyra?   He should have had a press conference the next morning, to state why he wouldn't buy into Gantt's plan to politicize the PD's selection.

    But instead he disbands the selection committee, giving David Gantt, Tom Smith and Democratic partisans in the County Legislature exactly what they wanted -- to torpedo a fair process.   Thereby being able to malign any person selected by the County Legislature, however qualified, as a "political appointee."

    If Zyra has been seriously ill for the last month, we hope he gets better, and retract our criticism.   (But in that case wouldn't he have designated another legislator as spokesperson?)   Otherwise ... isn't something strange here?   Aren't politicians media hounds who can't get in front of a camera or microphone fast enough?   Zyra's silence is baffling.

    Through total failure to speak or act, Wayne Zyra has given his political opponents free run of the field to rack up PR points, without even attempting to defend a well-conceived, bipartisan selection process.   By failing to stand up publicly for his own plan, Zyra has let down the process, the plan, the judges who stood by him, his constituents, his other supporters and, most importantly, the public.

    Which is the real Wayne Zyra?   The statesman who put together an admirable selection panel?   Or the cowardly lion of the Republican Party, a time-server who’s afraid to stand up for his own principles?   If so – is this the best Republicans can come up with for President of the Legislature?

    To the end, Zyra remained true to recent form.   Yesterday’s Democrat and Chronicle story about the panel’s disbanding concluded with this:
    "Calls to Zyra about the news release were not returned Monday night."


    The Continuing Farce

    How convenient of interim City school Superintendent William Cala to propose sweeping reforms for the city schools, on his way out the door. It’s a bold plan that takes to task the city school district and the education establishment, but Cala won’t be there to implement it. So let’s not give him too much credit for his 48-page report, since Cala can now sit comfortably at home and say, “You deal with the problems.” Grand designs are easier to propose than carry out.

    Cala was being paid $1000 a day as interim Super. (Nice work if you can get it.) Maybe we’d feel better about that if he attempted some of his own reforms while still in office. Now, it’s for someone else to roll up their sleeves and try to fix the City’s broken education system. Again, how convenient.

    Despite this criticism, let’s applaud Cala for his bold recommendations, made without regard to whom they may embarrass or upset. Maybe that’s why they had to be offered on the way out the door. After all, his report claims the highly paid administrative staff of the school district is bloated and needs to be reduced. (In the schools establishment, this is a startling revelation.)

    It’s disturbing that the leadership of the City School Board is asleep at the switch. In response to Cala’s report, School Board President (and Democrat and Chronicle teacher’s pet) Malik Evans said, “It wasn’t anything that I wasn’t aware of and nothing that hasn’t already been discussed with the new Superintendent.”

    Well, where have you been, Mr. Evans? President of the School Board and aware of 48 pages worth of problems – and now you’re getting around to discussing them with the new Superintendent? Maybe the problem starts with the School Board itself!

    A 39% graduation rate and, of course, the highest per-capita school spending in Monroe County (and one of the highest statewide). I once read a restaurant review that said, “The food’s bad, but expensive.” Maybe the chef was Malik Evans.


    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Defining Deviancy Downward

    Visitors to Mustard Street will know of our disgust over the "rehabilitation" of radio personality Don Imus.   His hurtful and racially derogatory comments led to his sacking – rightly so, for reasons we’ve discussed.

    Since then, we’ve expressed dismay that, except for the writer of a Democrat and Chronicle editorial we admired, no one else seems to be upset that this man is back on the air, or to be concerned about the message that sends.

    Jim Lawrence of the D&C could have been speaking for us when he wrote recently, in the paper’s Editorial Blog:  “I must admit that I was taken aback by the exclusion of the Imus controversy from the list of top stories for 2007.”   So were we, and for the same reasons stated by Mr. Lawrence in his posting.

    We’ve also witnessed a vigorous reassertion of both subtle and not-so-subtle antisemitism in the past five years or so.   On some elite college campuses it’s practically fashionable, at least in the faculty room.

    As if to illustrate the point, yesterday’s news brought word of Arun Gandhi, a professor affiliated with the University of Rochester, standing by his statement in a Washington Post blog, that Jews “overplay” the Holocaust for sympathy.   When you read Gandhi’s posting, note the antisemitic reader comments in response.

    In the same posting Gandhi said:   “We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) . . .”

    Is this the Washington Post we're reading, or Der Stürmer?

    Until a few years ago, most ordinarily astute people would have said we’re moving away from this sort of thing.   So how can this be happening?

    We don’t want to be part of a society where this is considered acceptable.  And every time it’s accepted, it makes acceptance the next time around that much easier.   Thus, as Senator Moynihan once admonished Americans, does our society “define deviancy downward.”

    We ask once more:   Where’s the Outrage?


    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Papa Doc Sends In the Tontons

    It's reported to us that the patriarch of the Koon family dynasty was being very indiscreet in a Pittsford barbershop the Saturday before last.

    That's where Assemblyman David "Papa Doc" Koon is reported to have boasted about working the phones himself, to turn out Democratic supporters from outside East Rochester to attend the January 2 meeting of the ER Village Board.   This in order to have some vocal support at the meeting for Hizzoner Jason "Baby Doc" Koon, Mayor of East Rochester.

    Baby Doc had a bad night at the previous meeting, just before Christmas.   A roomful of angry ER residents confronted him for incompetencies such as firing the Village Attorney, even though he had no power to appoint a replacement.   Evidently, the law lets him fire the attorney, but doesn't let him hire a new one without approval by the Village Board.   This apparently was too complicated for the match-book-cover lawyers of the Odorisi Law Firm, who have been programming Baby Doc, to figure out before they had him fire the old attorney.

    At the next Village Court session, more than a dozen cases had to be put off because there was no attorney to represent the Village.   Duh.

    But Papa Doc's tonton macoutes fulfilled their assigned task and voiced support for the scion of the dynasty at the January 2 meeting, supplementing the voices of the ER residents who spoke out, again, against the Mayor.

    Now, you'd expect a father to help out his son.   We'd actually think less of David Koon if he hadn't done something to shore up Jason.   There are many more useful forms of help the elder Koon might have offered, such as advice on how not to look stupid in public by asserting powers you don't have, or learning how to count to three, which is the number of votes it takes to pass anything on the East Rochester Village Board.

    But the part we can't figure is this:   why did David Koon have to mouth off in the barber shop about his personal efforts to contrive a showing of support for his confused offspring?

    Bad move, Papa Doc.   You trying to prove that poor judgment runs in the family?


    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Not-So-Magnificent Obsession

    County Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle has told Mayor Duffy: "You're obsessed" over the issue of the City's selection of an ambulance service.  Most recent reports tell us that Duffy sounds like he's practically soliciting litigation against the City he leads, over the City's choice -- totally through City Council -- of Rural-Metro Ambulance as the ambulance provider going forward.

    Remember that you read it first on Mustard Streeet:   what IS the connection between Mayor Duffy and Monroe Ambulance?


    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    A Step Back for City Council

    City Council member Dana Miller, who's earned a reputation as one of the brightest and best elected officials in Monroe County, has been dumped as Chair of the Council's premier committee, the Finance Committee.   Long-time hack Carolee Conklin takes his place.

    Council President Gladys Santiago is unhappy that Miller sought the Council presidency himself, (rather than supporting Santiago) in last month's voting for a successor to Lois Geiss.   The demotion is his punishment.

    Reminds us of when a couple of County legislators lost committee chairmanships a few years ago, for defying the legislative leadership.   There is, of course, a difference.   The demotions in the Republican-controlled County Legislature rated at least one story in the Democrat and Chronicle.   To date, the paper has remained dutifully silent on Miller's demotion.  When something involves the monoparty Democratic City Council, family matters are discussed only within the family.

    One must keep up appearances.


    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Vote Now on Public Defender

    The County Legislature should do its job and vote soon to appoint a new Public Defender. Do it soon to spare us from any more whining by David Gantt’s errand-boys, namely the County Bar Association and the Democrat and Chronicle.

    Tom Smith, President of the Bar Association, deserves special criticism for surrendering the Bar Association’s independence to Gantt.

    We learned that, weeks ago, Smith approved the bipartisan screening panel proposed by County Legislature President Wayne Zyra. Zyra only proposed his panel after consulting with Smith and getting Smith's approval. Smith even thanked Zyra for continuing the role of the Bar Association in screening for the public defender position.

    Only Smith can explain why he caved in to pressure from Gantt. Whatever the reasons, it’s a craven performance that only brings disrepute to the name of the Bar Association, and to the reputation of Tom Smith, who expressed support, then backed away.

    Legislative Minority Leader Harry Bronson is another supporter of the original panel who lost bladder control when confronted by Puppet Master Gantt. When the screening committee was announced, Bronson was quoted as saying “…the committee is capable of producing a list of qualified candidates without concern for political affiliation.”

    The Democrat and Chronicle has run three editorials on this subject, about a little-known office that is irrelevant to most people in Monroe County. (Wish they had the same passion over the all-Democratic City Council’s $28 million Fast Ferry debacle).

    In none of the three editorials does the D&C acknowledge Gantt’s role in politicizing this matter or in pulling the puppet strings connected to the mouths, and God knows what other body parts, of Tom Smith and Harry Bronson. The D&C won’t acknowledge that Gantt’s cry for so-called “community groups” to be included in any screening committee is nothing more that his attempt to influence the process and get his own appointees on the committee. The D&C complains that the committee should be free of political influence. But political influence is OK by them if it comes from David Gantt.

    The County Legislature appoints the Public Defender anyway. It is time for them to review the applicants and make the choice.

    When the Leg does it, let’s hope it gives consideration not only to the users of the Public Defender’s office but to the people who pay for it . . . the Taxpayers!


    Would We Have Any Grey Poupon? Of Course!

    When we started Mustard Street, the four of us decided we'd share ideas, work on draft postings and then yours truly, Philbrick, would write up everything in final form.

    All along I've encouraged the other residents of our little street to post on their own, and now the lovely Miss Lucy joins us in publishing her own work on the blog!

    Can the others be far behind?   We'll find out.

    For now . . . Grey Poupon Lucy joins Classic French's Philbrick on the Mustard Street dinner table.


    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    Apologizing for Historic Abominations

    The State of New Jersey just issued a formal apology for slavery.
    When will the State of New York issue an apology for . . .