The Paladino/Rudnick Battle

August 26, 2009

Part 4:  So Where Does that Leave Rudnick and the Partnership?

I’m a member of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership for the networking aspect; it gets me in front of people whom I would otherwise not get the opportunity to meet.  Some will argue that this benefit is not worth the dues one must pay to be a member and that’s a fine argument.  For now though, I’ll continue to pay my dues.

In addition to networking the BNP has (if I may paraphrase from their website) three other goals:

  • Support of business growth
  • Business services
  • Political advocacy

The third item has always been controversial as not all members may think like Carl Paladino or I do, putting the Partnership in a position where virtually any political advocacy in which they engage is bound to alienate some of their members.

I am in full agreement that the BNP (and all Chambers of Commerce in WNY) need to recalibrate, but replacing its leadership with someone who fits Carl Paladino’s expectations is no different than what Tom Golisano is doing to the State Senate, and likely to result in as much chaos as construction.

I think that if you’re going to work in both the community and in the political realm, diplomacy is of utmost importance.  Carl’s diplomatic efforts are, well, erratic at best (and I wish I could emphasize how badly we need more people like Carl, if only he could color the arguments in a more positive way).  He sees the BNP, BNE and other local organizations as structures that are in such bad shape that they must be plowed under and rebuilt from the ground up.

I think that Andrew Rudnick’s public persona is one of civility and diplomacy.  But what he also does behind the scenes matters, especially if he is not following the Partnership Board’s directives.  This is important:  Corporate leaders are beholden to their boards, not the other way around.

Should Rudnick go?  A friend of mine suggested that all public leaders be subject to term limitations.  I find that term limits have merit as long as they don’t apply to me or anyone else doing a spectacular job in his/her position; fans of Rudy Giuliani would agree as well.

Boards remove their executives when they fail to accomplish the board’s strategic directives.  If the Board decided that the Partnership should recommend voting against every incumbent next November (I hope I hope I hope), and Rudnick fails to execute, then that’s grounds for dismissal.  If the Board decides to take less provocative or behind the scenes approaches and Andrew complies, then he’s doing his job.  If the CEO is doing as the Board wishes then the CEO is doing his job.  Paladino is screwing up the chance to foment real change because he’s shooting at the wrong target.  If he doesn’t like what Rudnick is doing he should focus his attention at the Board.

But really, when it comes to Upstate success stories I can’t think of a single organization (and I’ve been thinking about this for well over a month) that stands out as having produced major, consistent results over the past 15 years, the Partnership included.  And by major I mean consistently media-grabbing.  In that regard, even Carl has only his Thruway toll initiative to brag about; what else has he done that has made a real difference for the community?

This is in no way meant to impugn Carl; indeed, in private he seems extraordinarily gracious and charitable, and I suspect he has impacted this area in many small ways, as has the BNP, the BNE, Catholic Charities, UNYTS, the Red Cross and so many other organizations.  The problem is that none of us are creating blockbuster initiatives with major, consistent impact; and none of our very worthwhile behind-the-scenes activities will ever make the press.

Maybe it’s because we can’t create those initiatives.  Short of taking up arms – short of a revolution – none of us, collectively or otherwise, can make a revolutionary difference given the political structure of our city, county and state governments.

So that leaves an evolutionary approach, a strategy that the BNP appears to be addressing at least as well as any other group.  I don’t think replacing Andrew Rudnick is an agent of change any more than I think creating a new chamber of commerce would be an agent of change.

In summary: Two polarizing figures, two different approaches, neither one visibly successful on a regular basis but striving for the same thing.

They’d be so much more effective if they’d figure out how to work together.

The End.


The Paladino/Rudnick Battle

August 24, 2009

Part 3:  The Partnership, and the Paladino – Rudnick Love Affair

I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post that the Buffalo Niagara Partnership offers its members some benefits that are informative and – in the case of the Movers and Shakers session with Senator Stachowski, highly entertaining.

Equally entertaining has been the recent media blitz headed by Carl Paladino to oust Andrew Rudnick as the head of the Partnership.  A quick review, according to the dozens of emails (53 actually, and counting) that Carl has sent to Partnership members past and current:

  • Andrew stinks at his job;
  • Andrew is a polarizing figure;
  • Andrew should resign;
  • Anyone on the Partnership Board of Directors who supports Andrew should resign;
  • If this doesn’t happen in 60 days (clock started June 10th, do the math) Carl will “…lead a concerted effort to form a new Chamber of Commerce to lead our community”.

I have lots of respect for Carl.  He’s a family man, passionate about Western New York and both times I’ve had the chance to talk with him he’s been cordial and even-tempered.  I’ve written of him in past posts and complimented him (sort of) in his quest for change within state government.  I think he’s a pretty cool guy, influential in the local area and keen on trying to make Buffalo a better place (within his lifetime; pretty far-fetched, no?)

But he’s also acting like a jerk, spitting venom and twisting reality with some numbers that I think he pulled out of some stinky orifice somewhere.  He would accomplish lots more if he’d can the bullshit and build consensus rather than further polarizing a polarized community.

The tone of Carl’s campaign goes beyond confrontational and would have better served the community had it focused on whether or not the Partnership is achieving its goals for the betterment of Western New York.  Instead it’s loaded with vitriol, supposition, lots of statistics (plenty of taint there) and loads of innuendo but not a lot of meat.  Questioning Rudnick’s role as CEO is one thing; blaming him for our dysfunctional city school system and lame politicians is a bit of stretch. That part I don’t get.

Many of the emails begin with Hey Andy.  This has become the campaign catchphrase.  The emails are hard to read not because of their rancor (they’re like a bad car accident; you know you shouldn’t slow down and look, still you must) but because they are replete with bad grammar and even worse spelling.  Carl should hit the spell-checker button now and then; really, it would help a lot, especially coming from an executive as high up the ladder as Carl.  Okay, this is selfish motivation on my part:  I want my kids left with the impression that it takes more than grade school mastery of spelling to achieve greatness, just so they stay in school!

Rudnick isn’t biting, at least not yet.  The Partnership’s board so far has taken the high road and delivered responses that are both cordial and boring, not at all controversial enough for media attention.  You know that full-page ad the Partnership put in the newspaper a few weeks ago?  I suggested that they proactively put in some catchphrases of their own, be creative and grab people’s attention in the first three sentences, maybe cut through the storm clouds with some sharp wit.  They opted for maturity – thoughtful but bland – not something that would draw media attention unless they paid for it.

In the midst of Carl’s Hey Andy emails was one regarding Uniland’s successful attempt to get state subsidies for its development of the Avant building, and how unfair that was to all us taxpayers and to businesses like his own “…that…have to go to bankrupcy [sic][you know you shouldn’t look but you must] court to address our mistakes or incompetence”.  But Carl forgot to mention that his own company got an Empire Zone extended so he could place high-priced condominiums in it, saving him close to $1 million in sales taxes.  The hypocrisy spoke volumes and made me realize that cronyism is a personal failing only when it’s being painted on someone else.

Rudnick and the Partnership have said little in response to this or other Paladino emails.

Gary Burns from Buffalo Business First asked Carl what he would do to fix things around here.  Carl’s responses followed an interesting pattern:  Repeal this law, Remove that politician, Close those schools, Allocate money to Western New YorkThese are great ideas, and I am behind Carl all the way! And I’ll bet Andrew Rudnick would think these are great ideas too!  If only Carl were King of New York so he could implement these changes at will but he’s not so these solutions are nothing more than the same wistful thoughts all of us have.  Without going through the glacially slow and Carl-incompatible approach of working with the existing political structures, these changes will not occur, regardless of who is running the Partnership, the BNE or any other well-meaning organization, for that matter.

The problem with this battle is that it’s all Carl, yelling and screaming, demanding and getting media attention, throwing down the gauntlet and providing non-solutions while the Partnership and Rudnick try to take the high road and not settle into tit-for-tat trench warfare.  So you get this one-sided view of things which is tainted with opinion and innuendo dressed up as facts, when it didn’t need to be.

Yet Carl has a legitimate case.  Andrew Rudnick’s been a polarizing figure within an organization whose issues and opinions run the gamut from ultra-conservative to the radical left.  He and the Partnership can’t so much as sneeze without pissing off someone in that broad-spectrum constituency.  Carl should have kept it professional and leveraged concerns for Rudnick’s leadership into a more polished package, one that might have garnered both respect and influence from inside the Partnership board.  That he didn’t makes it all the harder to be an instrument of change but easy to be one of derision.  As a Partnership Board member and a corporate manager I find it hard to comprehend why Paladino would not try to maintain a professional mannerism on such a critical issue.  That he didn’t do this is a disappointment, and an impediment to progress.  As a successful business leader he knows darn well that the Partnership’s effectiveness comes down to the same questions asked of any organization:

  • What are its goals?
  • How well is it achieving these goals?
  • How can the leadership facilitate achieving these goals?

I’m afraid that if I joined Carl’s Let’s Fire Andy crusade that I would be sorely disappointed the moment I disagreed with the direction that Carl takes his version of a Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, for it is clear from his emails that it’s Carl’s way or the wrong way:  In essence, he evokes the same attitude for which he is criticizing Rudnick.

And in spite of all the media attention, Carl is a one-trick pony:  He got the toll barriers removed.  Anything else?  Nothing comes to mind.  That he is a polarizing influence – without a really great track record – in a community that has been incredibly polarized for two generations does not convince me that he could do any better at running a chamber of commerce than Rudnick has done.

Next Up:  So where does that leave Rudnick and the Partnership?


Bill Stachowski Meets His Constituents, Part Deux

August 23, 2009

Part 2:  Why 62 Senators Stood Pat for 2 Months NOT Doing the People’s Business.

Bill Stachowski

Senator Bill Stachowski spent an hour and a half with about 25 members of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership last Thursday.  His introductory remarks focused on why he voted for the 2010 state budget.  In summary:

  • The governor’s office gave them little to work with;
  • Legislative rules prevented them from making wholesale changes;
  • The state senate was forced to re-insert necessary expenditures that the governor’s office removed;
  • The other side refused to deal with this mess last year.
  • Voting YES was the lesser of two evils;

I’m glad he was able to deflect blame away from the Democrats; otherwise he would have had to implicitly blame my Democratic-leaning friends who voted for him.  Luckily, there were plenty of other entities with which he could spread fault for this fiscal mess.  This was a practice session:  I’m sure that next year during the election season he’ll find even more scapegoats and not-for-the-people public officials to impune.

But I was interested in learning more about the recent two-month-long senate stalemate, so during the Q&A I asked this question:

“There were 62 senators who – to a person – decided that allegiance to the Party was more important than the people’s business.  Why, to a person, is the Party so much more important than your own constituency?”

Stachowski got clearly irritated and trampled on the last word of my question to blurt out

“You’ve got it all wrong”

At which point some guy to my right shouted out “That’s bulls**t, that’s exactly what it was”.

Stachowski and the guy, and the guy next to him went back and forth for what seemed to be an uncomfortably long time but was probably just a few seconds.  I didn’t really mean to cause a ruckus, I just wanted an answer to a question that’s been on my mind since June.

“Our side offered 15 different resolutions to solve the impass.  The other side rejected all of them.”

He proceeded to explain the compromises that the Democrats offered the other side about power sharing, each party submitting bills on alternate days and some other measures to break the impasse.  He was clearly irritated but not belligerent.  I think it was because I distracted him from the roll he was on with the budget, with all that smugness because he could throw out jargon and policy-ese and bill-ese that only those in the know, like him, could comprehend.  The 31-31 impasse was clearly not something he wanted to talk about and he did so in a more curmudgeonly manner than on budget questions.

He never did answer my question though.  It is clear that neither he nor anyone else in the senate thought that crossing party lines was a solution.  I learned a lesson here, that someday, if I really want to wield power, I should join a political party so they can tell me exactly how I should wield it.  Yesiree, I’ll take my marching orders from the Party!

Stachowski is betting that by next November we voters will have forgotten about this rotten budget and the senate impasse.  Brian Sampson of Unshackle Upstate is betting that our state politicians’ collective behavior will not be forgotten.  Unshackle plans to be highly visible during the 2010 elections reminding the voting public how political spinelessness and Party allegiance above all else got us to where we are today.  Stachowski on the other hand has $4 million in legislative pork to spend on his constituency in order to buy their votes and make them forget.  Ah, pork:  a most potent amnesiac.

Back to the budget.  Brian pointed out that with 38 million people, California’s state budget topped off at $91 billion.  New York – with half that population – has a $132 billion budget.  Here’s what the burden per person looks like:

NY-Calif per capita burden, 2010

Brian also spoke of the state pension hole that will force dramatic tax increases in 5 years as state employees retire en masse (and move to Florida where the New York State legislature has much less authority).  Stachowski brushed it off as an accounting trick, that in reality the hole doesn’t exist.  This article begs to differ.  I beg to differ too.  In fact, I begged to differ with almost everything Stachowski said.  It would have been refreshing to have him even hint that New York State is out of control both fiscally and politically, but it didn’t happen.

Sampson was impressive in his ability to keep a straight face while Stachowski spoke.  When it came to credibility there was no contest.  When it came to having to feign respect, there was also no contest.  Both speakers get one point each.

I have to compliment Senator Stachowski for his willingness to sit in front of us and provide justification for political decision-making that clearly no one in the room believed was justifiable and then repeat that process time after time in front of various audiences.  It takes a real belief in the system and a really thick skin to do this, or else abject stupidity.  I’m not sure which camp he belongs to.

Next Up:  The Partnership, and the Paladino – Rudnick Love Affair


Bill Stachowski Meets His Constituents

August 22, 2009

Part 1:  Encounter with Bill Stachowski:  Lessons in Finger Pointing Assigning Responsibility

Bill Stachowski

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership offers member access to its Movers and Shakers events, usually held monthly.  This month’s M&S was a meeting with state senator Bill Stachowski (D, deflection) and Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Brian Sampson.  Whether you like or dislike the Partnership the M&S event is usually informative and sometimes entertaining.  Last Thursday’s event was both.

Brian spoke first and set the stage with a critique of this year’s state budget, the inability of the state legislature to hold the line on expenses and the impact that new taxes and fees will have on personal incomes and businesses.

Senator Stachowski then aggressively took the defensive, following up with an explanation of the budget.  He spoke rapid fire – spoke might not be the correct word here; for at times I thought he had marbles in his mouth or suffered a stroke or horrible malady, his speech being so mumbly as to be intelligible – about the limited options the state senate had available to cut expenses because of what they (meaning the governor’s office) delivered.  He clearly laid blame for the current budget fiasco at the feet of the previous majority‘s refusal to deal with it in last year’s budget.  In burbled tones he spoke of FMATs and “ATAT’s”.  [I really have no idea what he said but it sure sounded like “A-T-A-T”; throughout his narrative he tossed around jargon without explanation, expecting his audience to know it cold, I guess.  I am in awe of his mastery of speed mumbling.]

Stachowski also speaks while viewing people’s midsections, like he’s trying to look at you out of the top of his glasses but not quite succeeding.  I think he was trying to make eye contact but maybe his neck or something wouldn’t let him raise his head enough to actually do so.

The good senator did make a point that the state budget’s actual increase was only 1% even though, um, when using what I learned in 4th grade it’s 10% or $12.1 billion.  “The [federal] stimulus money allowed us to fund programs that otherwise would have been cut”, he explained.  Now, even though that means next year’s budget will suffer a monster shortfall when stimulus funds are no longer available to cover those programs, that’s apparently a 2010 problem and something that he swept aside maybe for the sake of brevity during this meeting, or maybe because he didn’t want to face up to it, what with an election cycle starting soon.

Stachowski also pretty much glossed over the 88 new taxes and fees that were enacted to close the budget deficit.  Actually, he didn’t speak about those at all except in the collective:   “It was hard to vote for this budget,” he said.

But I got the feeling from the matter-of-fact bluntness by which he deflected blame elsewhere that voting YES was probably the easier choice since it was clear that the governor and the other side were to blame for this mess.  I should note that Senator Stachowski seems to have trouble saying the wordRepublican”.  I’m not sure why.

Next Up:  Why 62 senators stood pat for 2 months not doing the people’s business.


Innovate Buffalo Niagara

January 28, 2009

innovatebn_logo-rev

The Innovate Buffalo Niagara awards luncheon was held today at the Buffalo Convention Center.  The Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s now-yearly event highlighted 66 companies in 5 categories, from Advanced Manufacturing to Professional Services.  The winners got a nice plaque and a chance to bask in the limelight for about 10 seconds.

The place was full of optimism in spite of the current economic climate.  In a period where many businesses are shrinking, companies like Geico, Multisorb and Roswell Park Cancer Institute are adding to staff.  Granted these are companies whose business products are in most cases far removed from the heavy industries that made Buffalo great in the 50’s and a failure 20 years later, but that’s the point here:  This area will survive this economic downturn and grow far more quickly by having a diverse business environment than by relying on a few big players.  The 66 companies in the competition represent just how far, how quickly, we’ve come in terms of economic diversity.

We need more of these businesses.  Keep them coming, please.


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