Hearsay! Weekly round of rumor & innuendo…

Westside. More than one of his colleagues says that Councilman David Rivera (D-Niagara) is considering retirement. Rivera is up for reelection this year, and has grown deeply unpopular with Westside residents who are concerned with public health threats posed by the diesel carcinogens that emanate from idling trucks at the Peace Bridge customs plaza. They say that Rivera has been dismissive of their concerns – including the neighborhood’s elevated rates of asthma, cancer, stroke, respiratory illness, and neurological disorders. They call Rivera a “Cuomo stooge,” among other names.

University Heights. Rumor has it that Bernie Tolbert is being wooed by local Republicans to run for Congress next year. Tolbert formerly led the Buffalo Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations; and was a senior executive at Coke and the NBA, charged with managing security operations across the corporations. He has the kind of heft of experience and professional stature that the GOP looks for in a candidate. His security credentials are impressive – and national security is expected to dominate the debate. Brian Higgins is the ranking member of key Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittees. Kathy Weppner – despite her sometimes raw views – easily earned 30% of the vote. Being able to swing a sizable portion of a constituency that comprises nearly 20% of the county’s population could make the contest very interesting.

Queens. It’s been rumored that Mayor Brown has tired of the Mayor’s office after nearly three terms in office. He aspires to higher office but the landscape has not made available an obvious pathway. His viability in Buffalo’s suburbs is questionable, which could make challenging Congressman Brian Higgins a more difficult task for him than for others. Sources close to city hall say that the Mayor is surveying opportunities to run for office in New York City, where the political scene is far more robust. His Queens upbringing and immigrant narrative could go a long way in a Queens congressional contest. Others suspect he’s interested in a position as a deputy mayor in Bill de Blasio’s administration.

County Executive. Word on the street is that County Executive Mark Poloncarz is nervous. He has been reluctant to publicly support the term limits legislation that is being advanced by County Legislator Joe Lorigo. He knows that if he endorses the legislation, the law will be seen by the public as an achievement of the Republican majority. But if he opposes the term limits, he could endure the brunt of political backlash. Term limits are immensely popular among voters and his likely Republican opponent, Chris Jacobs, has already endorsed the legislation – but wants the law to be even more conservative than the one advanced by Lorigo. So the question has become, how long will it take for Poloncarz to cave on the issue? Or has he already?

Buffalo News. Rumor has it that management of The News is reconsidering how it distributes coverage assignments to reporters. For instance, the paper has three reporters assigned to covering each school board meeting twice a month; but doesn’t send a single reporter to investigate the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, or the Erie County Water Authority, or the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority – which, by all accounts, are horridly mismanaged, with unaccountable governance, and no public transparency. I am hearing that they will begin regularly covering the Housing Authority’s monthly board meeting at the same level of investigative intensity as their impressive volume of education coverage. BMHA meets every third Tuesday of the month and is open to the public and cameras. That kind of work could win a Pulitzer, and News reporters know it.

NFTA. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has a leadership crisis on its hands. Critics say that the agency can barely manage the system it has with competence, let alone pursue plans for expansion. They cite chronic metro station escalator repairs, a very slow return of cars to Main Street, and a lack of modern bus system amenities (like heated bus stations and GPS mapping of buses) that other cities enjoy. Activists and planners have been clamoring for light rail expansion to the Airport and Galleria Mall; to UB’s North Campus; and along the Buffalo Belt Line. It would transform the local real estate industry and be a catalyst for a decades-long construction boom. The NFTA, however, has refused to advance expansion plans or to secure federal and state resources to meaningfully build out the light rail system. They could be playing a dynamic role in the development of our region, but seem to lack either vision or willingness. Activists want new Board appointments. Henry Sloma, a longtime politico who has been a Commissioner since 1998 is, understandably, in the crosshairs of transit activists. His current term is up in June 2015. They want Zemsky to either step aside as Chairman or provide some leadership.

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