Niagara Gazette

March 11, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Council chairman responds to recent coverage

By Glenn Choolokian
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I would like to use this opportunity to respond to two articles that recently appeared in the Niagara Gazette: One was a column by Mark Scheer on Monday Feb. 18 titled “Whose fault is it?” and the other article was a Gazette editorial on Feb. 21 titled “Council’s direction is not new.”

Both articles criticized the city council majority for its funding reduction votes on the NACC, Block Club Council and Niagara Beautification Commission. The editorial severely criticized the council for not accepting a challenge grant from the Oishei Foundation in support of the NACC.

In Scheer’s column he wrote “Niagara Falls is and has been a mess for a lot of years now.” Tell us how you really feel, Mark. Niagara Falls, my hometown, is a “mess” and “has been a mess for a long time?”

How dare you write those words.

I was born and raised here and my wife and I are raising our children here, I own a home and pay taxes here. You’re welcome to your opinion but I want to know what good you thought you were possibly doing by calling Niagara Falls “a mess?” The Gazette is the newspaper of record for this city and it pulls a lot of revenue from this “mess” of a community.

The editorial rapped the council for not taking the Oishei deal as offered by Mr. Gioia. We want the Gazette readers to know that we don’t run government through fundraising “challenge grants,” used by public radio: “The XYZ foundation will match all donations for the next hour, donate now and get a free coffee mug!”

The reality of the Oishei offer is that to this day the council never received a copy of the Oishei/Dyster press release announcing the offer and we never saw their letter that Mayor Dyster referred to at the Feb. 19 council meeting. I believe the theatrical approach taken by the mayor and the foundation was designed to embarrass the council. Why else was there no communication to the council from either Oishei or Dyster?

The Gazette editorial writer made a telling admission by writing “The folks in Buffalo, the ones with money and influence who run things …” Is this what it’s all about? The man with the most money gets to call the shots, influence business and embarrass our city government? Where was the Gazette editorial writer in January 2008 when Mayor Dyster accepted funds from unidentified “powerful people with money who run things” to help him run our city government? Editor’s note: The issue actually came to a head later in 2008 and was jeered on the opinion page on Nov. 27, 2008“Paying city officials out in the open.”

The Gazette and others have accused the “council majority” of standing in the way of the administration and of obstructing progress. I think that accusation is grossly unfair.

The council questioned the construction cost of the train station and got accused of being confused on the train station project. Does the Gazette — or anyone — understand the funding of the train station project at this point in time? Editor’s note: The issue was last covered here: “Council confused on train station funding?” published Oct. 17, 2012 and here: “Train talk continues” published on Oct. 25, 2012

We questioned the cost of the study to connect John Daly Boulevard to Pine Avenue and were called obstructionists who couldn’t grasp the project’s goals: never mind that the project was more than 10 years old and has gone nowhere for the last six years. Is the Gazette aware (if not why not?) that the city has been warned that it’s in danger of losing John Daly Boulevard project funding due to the city’s indecisiveness? — Editor’s note: Yes, here’s the latest story: “Consultant for John B. Daly extension to Pine shot down by council” published Jan. 28, 2013

Our municipal building is draining the city’s finances, Lewiston Road is a “mess,” LaSalle Waterfront Park ran over budget (no one knows why), we’re spending $230,000 on a parks study, the Underground Railroad Center is mysteriously behind schedule with one of the contractors suing the city and there’s a 2014 budget crisis coming that will make last year’s budget problems look like a picnic.

The administration’s solution to the fiscal woes is to wait for the casino cash or to arrange for more borrowing. Applying for more credit cards when you can’t pay off the credit card you have won’t pass as a financial plan with lending institutions.

Having no financial plan and then pointing an accusatory finger at the council is leadership by misdirection. And for the local media to lend support to the misdirection by calling what the mayor has offered “a plan” is irresponsible. Do you think the city residents are falling for the Gazette’s soft coverage and uncritical views on the Dyster administration anymore? I don’t think so: The city’s debt; costly projects; and, a Dyster call for increased taxes have ended the credibility of this administration.

No casino revenue, debt, crime and lagging development are the issues for our city for the next decade. As the city’s “newspaper of record” the Gazette should roll up their sleeves and honestly cover those issues. Criticizing the council for its meals, turning the word “majority” into a negative and blindly supporting the Dyster administration won’t help solve the problems.

For those of us who were born and raised here these are disappointing times. We recall the Niagara Gazette that worked to break the Love Canal story. We remember the Niagara Gazette that covered city hall like a blanket with a tough unbiased eye and we clearly recall a Niagara Gazette that wrote thoughtful editorials holding everyone’s feet to the fire, party and politics be damned.

There are a lot of things we no longer have, like dollar a gallon gas and straight-forward reporting in the hometown paper. I guess we’ll just have to accept the reality of the situation and move on from there for the good of our community.

A community that — in spite of what some may write — we call home.

Glenn A. Choolokian is the chairman of the Niagara Fall City Council.

Glenn A. Choolokian is the chairman of the Niagara Fall City Council.