ESD President no friend to Niagara Falls
The resignation this week of Empire State Development Regional President Sam Hoyt resonated with this writer, who has crossed paths with Mr. Hoyt several times over the years, certainly more often than the average Niagara County resident. Overwhelmingly the encounters were negative, predictive of how much damage he would eventually inflict on the city of Niagara Falls and Niagara County.
A second generation politician who, like Niagara Falls mayor Paul Dyster, obtained his undergraduate college degree not in any useful discipline such as business or technology but in Political Science, Mr. Hoyt assumed his father’s seat in the NYS Assembly by means of a special election after the latter’s tragic and sudden death from a heart attack in 1992.
Both Hoyts achieved considerable success as environmental advocates in the Assembly, to the extent that Hoyt Lake, the centerpiece of Buffalo’s world famous, Olmsted-designed Delaware Park, was named for the elder Hoyt.
Chairing the Political Committee of the Niagara Group of the Sierra Club, comprising a couple of thousand dedicated environmentalists throughout Western New York, it was my responsibility to research the records of candidates for public office, identify those deserving of the local chapter’s endorsement and make recommendations to the membership accordingly. By the early 2000’s, Sam Hoyt had already compiled a positive environmental voting record and won awards from both the National Audubon Society and the League of Conservation Voters, so his endorsement by Sierra was always a given.
Now, there is this quirky little statute in New York State called the “Parkland Alienation” law, which says that any municipality wishing to sell parkland to developers to construct a housing project or a shopping mall must first get approval from the state legislature in Albany. We’re not talking about state parks. Any town board or city council that wishes to pursue the condemnation of a local park must jump through this hoop.
Maybe it’s naive to think that Mr. Hoyt, with all of his environmental accolades, should not vote to alienate parkland from one end of the state to the other, which he did, repeatedly, during his tenure in the New York Assembly. Maybe most Sierra Club members figured it was a reasonable trade-off to support Sam Hoyt year after year, given his “big picture” accomplishments on behalf of bike paths, old growth forests and fighting suburban sprawl, and increasing political prominence both here and in Albany. In any event, when his parkland alienation record was brought to the attention of fellow Sierrans, it was met with a shrug.
Fast forward a couple of years, to the 50-year relicensing of NYPA’s Niagara Power Project at Lewiston, NY.
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt sponsored the bill that established the Niagara River Greenway, modeled after similar initiatives elsewhere in the state and country, to be funded as part of the relicensing settlement.
Mr. Hoyt’s first appointment to the Greenway Commission was one-time Ciminelli Construction CEO and president John Giardino. What do construction executives know about tree-lined waterfront nature trails?
At first, members of Niagara Group of Sierra Club were incensed at the Hoyt choice for Greenway commissioner, when this inveterate pot-stirrer brought it to their attention. Sam Hoyt called me, and the conversation did not go well. He also called others, and the Giardino appointment fell off the Sierra Club radar.
It was bad enough that Mr. Hoyt structured the Greenway legislation so that $3 million of the annual $7 million allotment is funneled to New York State Parks, simply amounting to a transfer of wealth from one government agency to another. Relicensing dollars that should have benefited Niagara Falls and Niagara County communities instead accrue to Albany-based State Parks, which of course spent its first $25 million from Greenway upgrading parking and food service in Niagara Falls State Park, ensuring that Albany captures even more of the local tourist trade at the expense of downtown Niagara Falls.
Most of the entire complicated Greenway bureaucratic machinery, consisting of the Commission itself and several subcommittees, would eventually become populated with Erie County and Buffalo powerbrokers such as Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
The real travesty with regards to Mr. Hoyt’s Niagara River Greenway, however, was that Buffalo and Erie County got any Greenway money at all. And they’ve gotten over half of it in the ten years that the program has been in existence.
Look, the city of Buffalo is thirty miles away from the Power Project, and suffers no ill environmental effects from the facility whatsoever (the ice boom theory, that it delays spring and prolongs winter, has been thoroughly debunked by the scientific community).
The restoration of Buffalo’s waterfront is a wonderful thing – but have no doubt, it’s been largely accomplished on our dime.
Finally, in formulating the Niagara River Greenway legislation, Sam Hoyt discounted the fact that 80% of the waterfront of the city of Niagara Falls is owned and operated by the state, namely, NYPA and State Parks. It’s kind of hard to apply for and spend Greenway funds on waterfront you don’t own. In fact, it’s impossible.
Did Sam Hoyt’s Greenway end-around really matter to the city of Niagara Falls? If you can’t name a single Greenway project here in the city, don’t feel bad, most people can’t.
On the other hand, you’re probably aware that massive tax increases are due to take effect later this year to alleviate the city’s rapidly increasing budget shortfalls. And that the city of Niagara Falls officially has both the highest rates of unemployment and crime, and near highest rates of poverty and tax burden, of any city in New York State.
“Sam Hoyt has been an enemy of the city of Niagara Falls for some time now,” Niagara Falls community activist and film producer Ken Cosentino told the Reporter.
“He tried to railroad our resolution to stop the Goat Island lodge in February. His office destroyed Three Sisters Islands and called them ‘improvements’. Last month, our resistance lit up his office phone with hundreds of phone calls in an attempt to get Hoyt to know that we are serious about stopping any commercialization or further destruction of the lower gorge trails. His office phone was shut down and calls were rerouted to a voicemail.
“He knows that the people don’t like him. Governor Andrew Cuomo advocated Hoyt’s sexual deviancy by promoting him after Hoyt’s first sexual allegations in 2008, instead of removing him from office. What kind of governor promotes a man like Hoyt? What does that say about Cuomo?”
Not to mention the many failed Cuomo promises, such as Wonderfalls and the “Downtown Niagara Falls Development Challenge,” which fell by the wayside during ESD President Hoyt’s watch.
Of course, it’s Mr. Hoyt’s inability to resist reaching into the cookie jar, that’s purported to be the reason he’s resigning his powerful government post.
This writer, as Planned Parenthood of Niagara County “Volunteer of the Year” for 2000, and a subsequent board member of that organization at the same time Sam Hoyt was darling of the Buffalo Planned Parenthood crowd, heard from two different attractive young Planned Parenthood female staffers that Mr. Hoyt expressed an interest in, shall we say, getting to know them better. This was years before Mr. Hoyt landed in hot water for alleged affairs with legislative interns while on marital holiday in Albany.
A champion of womens’ reproductive rights during his Assembly career, whose trophy case is also festooned with trophies and plaques from Planned Parenthood alongside the tree-hugger ones, Sam Hoyt once again showed his political side when Niagara County Planned Parenthood joined forces with Buffalo. He sat on his hands while his saintly colleague Robin Schimminger unilaterally killed a $150,000 earmark that would have subsidized the merger. $150,000 down the drain and not a peep in public from Sam I Am.