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Long Story Short: Fixer uppers



Another Billion, please

First there was the Joint Schools Reconstruction Project, a billion-dollar state-supported capital-improvements campaign for city schools. Then Governor Cuomo gave us the Buffalo Billion. Now, Common Council President Darius Pridgen would like a second billion to fix the twenty-seven housing properties owned by the ailing Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA). He’s holding his empty bowl out to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). BMHA is a public housing agency that participates in the Section 8 Housing, and Public Housing programs to provide services and opportunities associated with affordable, desirable, and secure housing to individuals and families.


The Pridgen plea

Pridgen wrote to Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Congressman Brian Higgins for additional federal help. The way Pridgen sees it, we owe it to the “most vulnerable” to renovate properties that have been neglected for many decades. He’s right about that, and a spokesperson for Mayor Byron Brown voiced support for the request.


Not so fast, says Higgins, who has been critical of BMHA management. He would like more funding also, but he makes it clear that inadequate financial support isn’t the only reason Buffalo’s BMHA properties are derelict. Poor management is at the root of the problem, he says. Other cities had the same financial constraints, but, as he notes, “are not plagued with the same vacancy rates, the same low physical inspection scores, the same poor financial performance, nor do they have the same track record of significant findings of financial mismanagement from government auditors at every level.”




City officials say they are addressing the problems that plagued the BMHA in the past, but there is skepticism. In a scathing editorial, the Buffalo News contends that no funds should be allotted to fix the current mess until the city demonstrates that the new executive director, Gillian Brown, has cleaned up the incompetent and corrupt authority. In the meantime, residents of troubled BMHA properties, such as the dismal Perry projects in downtown Buffalo, continue to suffer.



Boomerangs’ deck wreck

The owner of Boomerangs Grill on Niagara Street may not have been planning to renovate the outside deck and wheelchair ramp, but on November 23, demolition of the old one took only two seconds.


The details:

When an SUV heading north on Niagara Street experienced sudden brake failure, the driver veered onto the sidewalk to avoid rear-ending a stopped bus. Good for the driver and the bus; bad for Boomerangs’ deck, which the vehicle completely wiped out—instantly. By pure chance, no one was on the sidewalk or deck, and there were no injuries or charges in the incident.


Sounds crazy, right? The whole incident was caught on a surveillance camera, and Boomerangs’ owner, Guillermo Ruiz, posted video, shot on a cellphone of the surveillance recording,  You can watch it here.



File this under amusing

Maybe you heard that the Buffalo Bills announced a planned viability study to investigate building a new stadium vs. renovating the current one. Well, it turns out that a rickety cafeteria chair at 1 Bills Drive in Orchard Park might have triggered the study by CAA ICON and Populous. According to SBNATION, Bills owner Terry Pegula got angry at an unmanageable chair with one uneven leg that kept wobbling, eventually causing a coffee spill. And to make matters worse, it was THE WRONG KIND OF COFFEE. Pegula favors Jamaican Me Crazy, but he had to settle for “goddamn medium roast” when the coffee station didn’t have his first choice. The owner loudly groused about it, then sat down and, when the chair tilted again, spilled his joe on his shirt. Even his wife, Kim Pegula, could not calm the enraged owner down.


“Goddamn $500-million-dollar renovation my ass,” Pegula is quoted as saying.


Then he left in a huff, and hours later, news of the stadium study broke. Smart money is on a downtown stadium sometime in the future.



He fought the law, and he won! (twice)

Carlo Marinello admits that while he was building his Buffalo-based courier business, he put little effort into keeping records, filing tax returns, and, you know, paying taxes. He destroyed bank statements, paid employees in cash, transferred assets to his wife, and mingled business and personal finances. It was pretty much everything not to do when running a business. In 2014, a federal court agreed with the IRS that such spectacularly bad recordkeeping is grounds for a tax fraud conviction, and Marinello was sent off to federal prison.


He appealed and eight out of ten federal judges upheld the conviction. Two disagreed though, saying that the law gave prosecutors too much discretion. “If this is the law,” said US Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs, “no one is safe.”


On to the Supreme Court

It’s rare that the Supreme Court hears an appeal on a local federal case, rarer still that they rule in the defendant’s favor. That’s what happened last March, when in a seven to two decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the criminal tax law that led to Marinello's conviction was overly broad and subject to prosecutorial abuse. After twenty-one months in prison, Marinello was set free.


It didn’t end there

Despite having won a landmark Supreme Court decision, Marinello—now age seventy-two and in poor health—found himself back in court last week, as pissed-off prosecutors noted his failure to pay income tax for eighteen years, or to make restitution on $351,763 he owes the IRS. Plus, he isn’t sorry, they said.


"I made a mistake," replied Marinello, "I apologize. I don't want to go back to jail." Okay, said US District Judge William Skretny, and he sentenced Marinello to "time served." Unless prosecutors appeal (and you never know) that should wrap this case up.


How did Marinello get away with it?

Well, he didn’t really. Marinello’s original three-year sentence was mostly for the overturned felony conviction. The others were misdemeanor tax evasion convictions that carry one-year concurrent sentences, which is less than he already served. He’s broke now, so restitution is unlikely, but not because he’s unwilling. And of course, there’s double jeopardy.



War in a time capsule

World War I was the “War to End All Wars” (which of course it didn’t). People living today may not fully realize the horrific nature of the first global battle of the machine age, which ended one-hundred years ago this year. It’s one thing to read about war in history books, where it’s reduced to facts, figures, and dates, but entirely another to learn about it first hand—from a dead grandfather you never met. That’s what happened to Bob Pawelski, and, thanks to his efforts, you can read about it too.


The details:

When Pawelski went out to his mother’s garage in Hamburg three years ago to get Christmas decorations, he never expected to connect with the grandfather he never knew. Louis Pawelski had kept a journal of his experience as a private first-class doughboy on the battlefields of France; his fifty-nine-year-old grandson discovered it in a vinyl pouch enclosed in Tupperware.


The yellowed hand-written pages begin with President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war. They take readers on a journey from Louis Pawelsk’s East Side Buffalo home, to training camp, and onto the trenches of Chateau Thierry. The terrible adventures continue in Verdun, the Argonne Forest, Saint Mihiel, and Thiaucourtthen. Today, the battlefields of Verdun and the Argonne Forrest are preserved as war monuments, eerily silent testaments to Pawelski’s journal.


During his first moments on the battlefield, Pawelski’s unit was ordered to march single file “a couple yards apart,” so German shells whizzing by wouldn’t take them all out at once. As they crossed a field, they witnessed aerial dogfights and opposing spy balloons that monitored their movements. “We were told to get into shell holes and dug in, no lights, no talking and no smoking under penalty of being shot by disobeying orders,” he writes, “This was war now, in all its glory.” He describes the sound of bullets as they zipped overhead “as if someone would strike a stick over a stretched wire.” Shells endlessly landed all around. Machine guns kept up a constant rat-a-tat. Planes flew overhead, as pilots threw bombs out onto the troops. Then came mustard gas, Phosgene gas, and tear gas.


That was the first twenty-four hours.


Pawelski describes the nightmarish conditions in vivid detail. Swarms of bees plagued the solders, continuously getting into their food until they just surrendered and ate them. Sleep was rare and restless, “with a rosary in one hand and a .45 in the other.” Pawelski was assigned as a message carrier known as a runner, one of the most dangerous jobs in the war. His friend died doing the same.


You can read more

With help from his wife, Diane, and daughter Emily, Bob Pawelski carefully transcribed the century old journal. They’ve created a tribute website  in honor of the machine-gunner and runner from the 28th “Iron” Division, where you can read the full account. It’s like being there, only much safer.  


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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