historic Central Terminal played host to a modern-day
political uprising Saturday a political revolution
that doesnt include any picketing, chanting or
burning anyone in effigy. The Buffalo News,
Sunday, May 29, 2005
people have a macabre fascination with destructive power
the fantastic feeling of putting a rock through
a window or the thrilling sound of a snowball thudding
against the side of a passing car. Children know these
pleasures, but reject this antisocial behavior when
they grow up, or wind up in court sooner or later.
Central Terminal on Buffalos East Side offers
a chance to connect for a moment with the good old days
of running wild on the streets, and blowing up flowerpots
with M-80 firecrackers. For example, hooligans have
launched rocks through the train stations once
elegant windows, and vandals long ago pried away anything
of value and carried it out. Some crude graffiti colors
the dingy walls.
people look at the train station in its current state
and think wistfully back on the past when passengers
filled the place and Buffalo bore some small resemblance
to New York City. Not me. Ive been to Grand Central
Station many times lately, and while visually spectacular,
its no fun to hang out in. Camouflage clad machine
gun toting soldiers stare at each other from opposite
ends. The place is packed with harried commuters and
slow gawking tourists. Any kind of remotely antisocial
behavior would result in a bullet between the eyes.
Central Terminal in Buffalo, however, is a monument
to decay and destruction. Those East Side ruffians must
have had a great time busting out the windows and running
amok with a can of Krylon, painting obscenities on the
I was thinking about the spirit of rebellion as I entered
the decrepit building Saturday. I was there with Beast
publisher Paul Fallon to check out A Taste of
Freedom, an event hosted by Free Buffalo, a local
incarnation of the so-called Tax Revolt. We stepped
into the decaying shell of the old train station and
were confronted with a strange scene: a madman throwing
a party in what looked like one of the post-apocalyptic
sets from the original Planet of the Apes
broad coalition of interests had set up tables, including
the Save Jobs Party, Green Party, Primary Challenge,
American Indian Movement and Literacy Volunteers. Red
Join the Revolution T-shirts sold for $10
apiece. Cover bands blared in the background and local
food vendors sold everything from hot dogs to sweet
it was the beer that kept Fallon and me sated. If not
for the beer, the event would have been intolerably
dull. Only about 300 people including the vendors
showed for an indoor bash on a rainy Saturday.
effect of the poor turnout was written all over Free
Buffalo founder and event organizer Jim Ostrowskis
face. Early Saturday afternoon as rain fell on the cars
parked outside, Ostrowski rubbed vigorously at his chin
while looking around the big, empty echoing space. Later,
he put on a brave face for a local TV station when he
said, Look, we had probably close to 400 people
here today, probably our biggest turnout and were
not offering them a job, or a grant or a subsidy - they
just want to improve their communities.
at The Beast intend to take him at his word. The problem
with the likes of Ostrowski and other so-called tax
revolutionaries, however, is that their radical plans
to re-shape the region politically have never been considerate
of economic realities.
carnage, now filled the whole year
Head after head, and never heads enough
For those that bade them fall.
William Wordsworth on the French Revolution
Robespierre would have known what to do with our county
legislators, and the members of Buffalos city
council, and New Yorks state assembly. "Terror,
he said, is nought but prompt, severe, inflexible justice.
Perhaps Constitutional proscriptions like cruel
and unusual are too broad. We might get some meaningful
ideas on the county budget from legislators if the whetstone
were touched to the guillotine.
course its tempting to think so, but the kind
of off with their heads populism practiced
in Erie County during the past six months has ignored
the economic realities. Consider some sobering facts:
Erie County has either lowered or maintained its property
tax rate since 1997; the rate is now half the statewide
The County Legislature rebuffed an attempt to raise
the sales tax this year and was forced to lay off
1,500 workers and cut services.
County Executive Joel Giambra projects a $60 million
budget deficit this year. Comptroller Nancy Naples
says the deficit will be $113 million. Either way,
its a lot.
Raising the sales tax to 8.25 percent would raise
$30 million annually. The county rate was 8.25 until
June 1 when the states .25 cents on the dollar
expired. Raising it to 9 cents on the dollar would
generate $120 million per year.
The County will still have to raise property taxes
to meet budget gaps in this and coming years.
of which is a defense of the elected goons and hacks
that have completely abrogated their responsibility
to serve the public. However, the insistence by the
Free Buffalo movement, and others, that Erie County
enact no new taxes is just as meatheaded. Failing to
raise taxes somehow during the next six months will
simply provoke serious problems.
a weird way maybe our downfall is something we can take
pride in: For once Western New York is ahead of the
curve on a national trend. What trend? Intentional and
stubborn financial crisis.
to know the effect that President Bushs cutting
of progressive taxes will have on future government,
and its budgets? Look whats happening now at the
county level after lowering or keeping taxes flat for
nearly 10 years.
isnt string theory or rocket science; its
an intentional strategy of cutting taxes to create a
shortfall, which forces government to cut programs.
These ideas gained traction during Ronald Regans
tenure, were shunted during the 1990s, but meanwhile
have been advocated for years by the so-called libertarian
think tank Americans For Tax Reform, headed by Grover
Norquist. Finally this thinking has caught fire with
current Republican bigwigs, and been followed by meek
Democrats. As a movement it is not well known. After
all, only a few hundred showed up at the Taste
of Freedom. Perhaps their appetites havent
been sufficiently whetted.
shall we live as a beacon of glory to the world!
Emperor Romulus Augustus (Shortly after Romulus made
his proclamation, the terrorist Vandals ransacked Rome
and sent Europe into the Dark Ages.)
think what it would be like without public facilities
like libraries, hospitals, schools, etc.? Do you really
think private industry would provide?
prospect of such a world is popular with tax reformers.
They like to invoke the Ross Perot worldview that government
should be run like a business. But The Beast refuses
to back down from such flippant goofy talk. And so,
armed with facts and some cold beers, Fallon and I charged
ahead to confront these reformers.
we got a photo of Fallon with WBEN radios right
wing jabbermouths Tom Bauerle and Kathy Weppner, who
were broadcasting live from the Terminal. They had taken
a break for some refreshments when Fallon asked for
a photograph with the two celebrities.
that was for The Beast, Fallon said. Bauerle seized
up, and Weppner said, What
had a good laugh over that one. (Bauerle was concerned
how his new haircut would look in the photo; we said,
Flattops are way cool.)
while Fallon worked the commerce angle with Drew Cerza,
founder of the National Buffalo Wing Festival, I charged
toward a rather large man wearing jeans and a ripped
shirt. He told me he was a property owner in the Southtowns.
(I was supposed to get the impression that he was some
big real estate mogul.) He must have been undercover,
wearing his poor everyman getup.
quickly found a subject to disagree on: libraries. This
guy (who refused to give his name) was in favor of closing
all but four of the countys libraries. He said
anyone who wanted to read a book could always go to
Media Play, sit down with a tall drink, and page through
the latest Tom Clancy thriller.
the nearest Media Play? I asked, gesturing to
the urban decay of the East Side.
wanted to wipe it all clean. The goal: No more big government
programs to waste his money. This is about the time
I knew I had the bastard; I went for the kill.
think you and I are basically in agreement, I
said. I told him that all legislatures should be abolished
in favor of public referendums conducted via email.
The County Legislature, State Legislature, and even
Congress could be wiped away. They were once needed
when communication traveled overland by letter, but
no more. Why have proxies passing or rejecting legislation?
Politicians spend half their time in office trying to
get reelected. Dont Americans think theyre
smart enough to handle governing themselves?
was really rolling on this issue, spilling the foamy
contents of my cup as I gestured wildly in the beer
tent. My victim was confused. He couldnt comprehend
it, and began to get a dazed look in his lazy eye. Top
heavy, he muttered. It would be too top
I snapped. What do you mean?
his mind was elsewhere. Im going to go walk
around, he said. Its been nice talking
to you. Later I saw him strolling through the
Terminal, a beer in his hand. He seemed lost in the
dim cavernous space that had been a playground for years
to gangs of kids who saw fun in destroying a monument
to another era. Perhaps he was considering the implications
of a real revolution.