Ken Hamilton

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Former Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello is awaiting two trials — one may convict him and the other may free him. His corruption trial was supposed to start on June 8 but Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Skretny has allowed a delay pending a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the validity of the law with which Anello is charged.

Having had very limited training in the law, just some business and personnel law courses, even I thought that the charges were too vague and too far-reaching when I first read them.

Pending the outcome of that Supreme Court case, Anello and former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, whose sentencing judge has granted him a delay in starting a two-year sentence to federal prison, are both waiting to either exhale — or to spend time in jail.

I am not sure of Bruno’s case, but in Anello’s case, I tend to agree with his attorney on this one. In addition to the vagueness of the law, here’s why:

Most voters either knew, or should have known, how corrupt our local political systems are. Yet we voted for him, and the system, anyhow. Once there, Anello, the longtime insider, acted as we could have expected him to act in a system that yields what it has always yielded.

Big surprise, huh?

One of the arguments that I heard about one of Anello’s earlier defenses implied that, while his behavior in other regions might be considered unethical, it is just the way that we do business in Niagara Falls, thereby rendering his actions moot. If the truth is its own best defense, then Anello is justified because, well, it’s true! They obviously did business that way. Now, if only he could convince a jury of it.

While Vince might have, Bruno couldn’t convince his jury. Though I have not followed his trial indepth enough to even suggest that his attorneys would have even tried that type of defense. Obviously it is a business norm in Albany, too.

Both Anello and Bruno would have loved for things to have remained the way that they were. Or is? When Anello was a lowly councilman, he led the charge to merge and codify the duplicitous City Charters. Yes, charters. We have more than one of them.

However, after Anello became mayor, the goal of establishing a unified and understandable rule book was seemingly the furthest thing from his mind. Why would he have wanted it changed when he was the chief rule-maker? Remember, politics is about status quo — keeping things exactly where they are. As proof of that, we can look to the $80-million HOPE VI project: Their words, not mine.

In 1996, Bruno pretty much implied that he too liked things the way that they were. He then said so to former Niagara Falls resident Andre Soleil and me when we were candidates for the New York state Senate. We were in Albany for what seemed to be a Bruno-sponsored campaign school.

Bruno came out on stage and opened the event with his thousand ducks joke, and then started talking about the party; to wit, “There are some in the party that likes things just the way that they are.”

Whether it was the Democrat or Republican Party, it doesn’t matter — neither is in a hurry to change. I assumed that Bruno was one of the ones that liked it as it was, as he was one of its leaders.

Whether or not either one of these men actually go to jail, it will not likely to alter our behavior, or the political prison in which we find ourselves. We voters are too often like the old lifer character in the 1994 movie, “Shawshank Redemption,” Brooks Hatlen. He was in his prison for so long that he could not adjust to the freedom he received upon release. So he hung himself.

I don’t know about Bruno, but as one local politician recently said, “If Anello is freed, he’d have the (guts) to run for mayor again and with these voters, he’s likely to win.”

Why? Because there are some “straight across the line” voters that actually like things the way that they are. Similar to Brooks Hatlen in prison, they feel both comfortable and empowered in the confines of that voting booth, ignorantly pulling levers in the same way that they always did.

Ken Hamilton is a Niagara Falls resident. Contact him at kenhamilton930@aol.com.

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