Niagara Gazette

January 14, 2013

CITY DESK: So long to the 'Silver Fox'

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A resident attending a meeting of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency’s board of directors once referred to outgoing Chairman Henry Sloma as the “Silver Fox.”

It seemed a fitting nickname for the white-haired, 69-year-old Sloma, a guy who never held elected public office but by appointment to various boards often found himself at the center of key issues facing the community. 

The man others know as “Mickey” garnered his share of headlines over the years, making the most waves when he stood by a plan, criticized by many, to offer a lucrative tax break to the AES plant in Somerset. 

He could be a hard case to deal with at times, but then that’s not unusual when it comes to people who rise to his level of influence in government and politics. 

I called him once to ask about his relationship with current Niagara County Community College trustee Bonnie Gifford. At the time, one of our competitors had already suggested in print that Gifford was a lock for the NCCC post, largely because of her connections to Sloma. 

After a few choice words, he hung up the telephone on me that day, suggesting his personal business was none of mine and that he never thought the Gazette would sink to the level of tabloid journalism. 

Things eventually settled down between the two of us. I think. 

In 2011, when the Niagara Gazette embarked on a year-long series aimed at stirring up some conversation about why the economy of the Niagara Falls area was so downtrodden for so long, Sloma happily sat down to discuss the situation and offer his thoughts. 

It was evident to me that whether you agreed or disagreed with his position on things, Sloma brought a level of passion to whatever it was he was doing, be it economic development or his work with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. 

An NFTA union boss once told me how he invited all the members of the NFTA’s board down to the bus garage to see how things really operated and to learn a little about the daily life of the drivers. He said he respected Sloma because he was the one — the only — to show up, even getting behind the wheel to learn the ins and outs of bus safety. 

Our contributor Ken Hamilton will tell you that when he was approached by some concerned residents about the need for a bus shelter outside the new Walmart on Military Road, Sloma not only listened but made sure the NFTA installed a shelter on the property. 

In other words, while Sloma will be remembered most for his often brazen style and attitude, he did more than just the stuff that found its way onto the front page of the newspapers. 

Sloma announced last week that he’s chaired his last meeting as the head of the NCIDA’s board. He said he’s going to do some work with a consulting company he’s involved in and doesn’t want it to pose a conflict of interest down the road.

It better not because he can bet the house that someone here at the Niagara Gazette will call him on it. 

Who knows, I may end up being the one doing the calling and the asking. 

And, yes, it’s possible Sloma will become so annoyed that he’ll hang up on me again — one last time, for old time’s sake.