BY JAMES HUFNAGEL
It took a lot of guts.
Last week on Friday, Niagara Falls resident Ken Cosentino stood up at the end of a presentation given by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s representative, Empire State Development’s Sr. VP Sam Hoyt, in Council Chambers at Niagara Falls City Hall, and spelled out, in no uncertain terms, the deep discontent of the people.
Hoyt had just delivered an hour-long, encapsulated version of the “State of the State” speech performed by Cuomo a couple of weeks ago at the University of Buffalo’s North Campus. Filling in for ESD President and CEO Howard Zemsky, who was ill, Hoyt appeared to recycle many of the same Buffalocentric slides Cuomo used for the previous speech. The slides that did touch on Niagara Falls mostly listed uninspiring bullet points about state spending that Cuomo had directed towards “improvements” to Niagara Falls State Park and the south Robert Moses Parkway, and how this somehow will contribute to the renewed prosperity of the city of Niagara Falls.
Seated up front, directly behind Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, who has pledged to address the issue of the state’s monopoly of the local tourist trade, and Niagara Falls Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, Cosentino waited out a handful of irrelevant questions from the floor, before standing up and challenging the governor’s hireling, Hoyt, in front of an audience that largely consisted of Niagara Falls elite who, directly or indirectly, depend on the status quo both here and in Albany for their positions and influence.
Cosentino read a letter that he had mailed to Governor Cuomo at an earlier date, excerpted as follows:
“Governor Cuomo, Lately, I have seen in the news fragments of your plans for Niagara Falls, NY. As a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls, I feel that it is my duty to address the concerns of myself and fellow Niagarians regarding said plans.
“The quality of life in Niagara Falls is subpar. Jobs with livable wages are few and far between. Many of us struggle and work multiple jobs just to get by. Meanwhile, the (Niagara Falls) state park flourishes during the tourist season with millions of visitors spending countless dollars. None of this income is seen around our crumbling city.
“Mayor Paul Dyster has done your bidding and fallen in line, creating a large disconnect between himself and the people. The State Park is like a mother sow, and she has two piglets: One being NYS, the other, the city of Niagara Falls. NYS is like the large, greedy piglet that takes all of the milk for itself, pushing away it’s starving, weakened sibling.
“I have read of your plans to build a “lodge” on Goat Island, and your plans to have NYS purchase prime real estate surrounding Goat Island, including the once great Turtle. Perhaps NYS should purchase some of the property mid-city, where help is actually needed, where people and property are largely ignored. Where, as a result of neglect, heroin has run rampant and many of our citizens have died from overdoses. Instead, you wish to have NYS own and control more prime real estate for profit, not for the good of the city or it’s citizens, but for the greed of the state. I cannot stand by any longer and allow this to continue.
“Niagara water runs through my veins and has since I was in the womb. I was raised by my grandfather, and as a child he would take myself and my brothers to Three Sisters Island. He would hide pennies in the large rocks and we’d spend hours looking for them.
“My grandfather passed away October 5th, 2011. The following summer, I took comfort in going to the third of Three Sisters to look for some of those pennies in those rocks, some that we might have missed as children. In 2013, I wanted to show my fiancée those rocks. They were gone. What right have you to remove large thundering rocks which stood in that spot for thousands of years? Those stones are sacred. Where are they now? Did you ask for permission from the keepers of Niagara? No. You had those stones removed to open up a better view of the waterfall, after having a railing installed which blocks off a majority of the third island, and the spot I have been visiting since I was a small child.
“That day, with my fiancée, a tour guide saw us beyond the railing and threatened to have us arrested.
“You and NYS have robbed us of our heritage, of our birthright. You will not continue to do this any longer. I am not asking for you to change your plans; I am ordering you. I pay my taxes. Make no mistake: You work for me. Niagara Falls is my home. If you continue with your plans, I will rally the sons and daughters of Niagara who also feel this disdain, and you will be met with great opposition. If you do not comply and begin to listen to the people, you will see these words turned into actions.”
Indeed, as we’ve extensively documented in this newspaper, Gov. Cuomo’s Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements plan resulting in what most consider the ruination of Three Sisters Islands, not to mention the crass commercialization of what was to be Frederick Law Olmsted’s natural masterpiece.
A smattering of applause book-ended Cosentino’s brief address, Hoyt took some questions from media, then the chambers cleared out and everyone went back to business as usual.
Ken Cosentino is a film director, producer, and screenwriter.