Two years ago, the entire Western New York community was told by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Brian Higgins, Mayor Paul Dyster and every other significant local politician that it was an imperative emergency to give Mark Hamister a fat deal on his game changing hotel on Rainbow Boulevard.
Council President Glenn Choolokian, Sam Fruscione and Bob Anderson initially demanded financial information about the proposed project.
When none was forthcoming, the trio- led by Fruscione tabled the deal to vet it.
At once the local media went on the attack, telling us that even a moment's delay would capsize the rebounding economic future of the great City of Niagara Falls.
The media pounded the recalcitrant threesome until Anderson finally buckled under the pressure and went along with the mystery deal.
It was a media feeding frenzy.
The rest is history.
Hamister got the land and a sweetheart deal, the proposal kept getting smaller, and, two years later, not a shovel of dirt has been turned. It appears that no hotel will ever be built on the site by Hamister, as he apparently lacks the financial resources to get the job done.
Unfortunately for Councilman Sam Fruscione, 2013 was his re-election year and, following eight years on the Council, he was turned out by the voters in November, after losing the all critical Democratic Primary in September. In retrospect, Fruscione was right and all the politicians and news personalities were dead wrong. Interested in the personal view of this continuing debacle, we met up with former Councilman Fruscione last Sunday at the Hyde Park Cafe. Following some chit chat we got down to business.
Q: In 2013 there was the big rush to fund the Hamister Hotel project and the track record of Hamister was not good based on his botched purchase of the Sabres in 2002. What were your key concerns?
A: The deal was real simple, when they brought it to the council there were no financials included. None at all. Every other deal, from the smallest restaurant always included financials. The Hamister deal did not. Council wanted to add three amendments to it but they never made it to the table because the media got a hold of it. Never before did this happen, and it was a deal stopper, especially because this was the best piece of land in the city.
Q: Did anyone support your position?
A. The only one was Glenn Choolokian - he was with me all the way to the end. Everyone came out against me, from the Governor to the Congressman, like I was the mob boss of Niagara Falls. I'm a 5th grade teacher, raising two daughters, and married to my wife of twenty-five years and they treated me this way. I would be embarrassed if I were the Governor or the Congressman who attacked me for questioning the building of a garbage hotel like this in a hokey town like Niagara Falls. This hotel was like any of the other hotels on the Boulevard. They are all chains. The Niagara Falls Reporter and Frank Parlato also stood up for me.
Q: Would $10,000 in political contributions have any bearing on this?
A: Everyone got money. Grandinetti got money, Walker got money but he never reported any campaign receipts at the time. All the councilmembers that voted for it got money and I truly believe that the media got money also. Following my election loss, I also lost the lease on my store on Falls Street. The new owner even got a grant to run his store.
Q: How long were you on the Council?
A: 8 years - 2 terms. I was Chairman for 4 of the 8 years. During that time, every economic incentive deal had financials submitted. For this deal we had an independent appraisal done - the land was valued at $1.5 million, but the media never mentioned it. Even at $1.5 million, it was a great deal. Frank Strangio who built his hotel up the street from this site paid more than $1.5 million for his property which was 6 blocks away from the Falls. This was at the same time so, they had to renegotiate the Strangio deal to even it up. I don't know why none of this has come out now in the midst of the current mayoral and council election. Since I was defeated, taxes have increased repeatedly, while spending on police enforcement has been cut, leading to an increase in crime and drug use.
Q: What impact did the media firestorm have on our personal life?
A: Nothing, but it had a great impact on the community's life. Now we have corruption, wasted money, etc. - but the people get what they vote for. Now there are no checks and balances, and the Mayor is spending like crazy. Crime is going up, and they can't balance the budget. When I was on the council taxes went down, now taxes are going up.
Q; So what about the last election, did you get clobbered?
A: I didn't get clobbered, but did lose the Democratic Primary. In the General Election, I ran on the Conservative line, but couldn't win. In the past I was high vote getter due to the other lines, but I was never high vote on the Democratic line, even though I won.
Q: You paid a heck of a price for doing what you did - would you do it again?
A: I won't run again, but if I was still on the Council and this came up again - YES.
Q: Do you still love your wife.
Q: You're still standing?
Q: But the Hamister Hotel is not standing?
A: Correct, it hasn't even been started.
Q: So, if you can say one thing to the readers/voters - what would it be?
A: Don't believe everything you see on TV.
Q: What would you say to a young person thinking of getting into politics today?
A: Don't do it because you want to be a Democrat. Don't do it because you want to be a Republican. Do it for the right reason. Regardless of your party, don't waste the people's money. Run for office, but don't be a shape shifter. Stick to what you think is right.
Q: Would you ever run again?
A: No, I'm registered as a Conservative now.
Q: If we ever clean up the mess the Democratic Party has become, would you come back?
A: No, I won't ever come back to the Democratic Party again.
Following the interview, we drove to Rainbow Boulevard to make sure that the Grand Hamister Hotel was still missing. Sam couldn't find it either, but the Modern Corporation dumpster still lives there.