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Gillibrand Tourism Session Notable for Who Wasn't Invited

By Craig Tretiak

Dyster and Gillibrand seem, not unlike the old song, happy together.
Photos by Maurice Pompatus.

"Why isn't this man smiling?"

Maziarz and Gillibrand have a somewhat heated exchange about tourism.

When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and local officials met to discuss tourism on Monday (May 13) at Fort Niagara, something was missing: officials who actually represented the area around Fort Niagara.

It also included a discussion of Niagara Falls tourism led by Gillibrand that would not have been out of place in a fourth-grade classroom for its pure vapidity.

The tourism confab included many recognizable faces.  There was Gillibrand, of course, and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster. Also on hand were Niagara Falls City Administrator Donna Owens, Niagara Falls Director of Community Development Seth Piccirillo, and Niagara County Democratic Elections Commissioner Lora Allen.

With a guest list that included the Democratic elections commissioner, then, it’s surprising who wasn’t invited: Mert Weipert, the longtime supervisor of the Town of Porter.  Clyde Burmaster; the Niagara County Legislature’s long-serving vice chairman who happens to represent Fort Niagara and Youngstown in county government; and Steven L. Reiter, supervisor of the Town of Lewiston which sits directly between Niagara Falls and Fort Niagara.

In fact, only a last-minute invitation from Gillibrand’s staff to Sen. George D. Maziarz brought the event to the Western New York political powerhouse’s attention. Most other Republican elected officials were never apprised of the press conference, organized by the senator who the National Journal magazine rated the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate a year ago—besting even Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California.

On top of Gillibrand’s apparent snub of Republican officeholders, one Democratic official present Monday who spoke off the record said that many of the Democrats who were present were invited to the public policy event by Democratic Party Chairman Nick Forster.

That public policy event featured Gillibrand, flanked by senior officials from the Commerce Department and the Department of Homeland Security, announcing a new initiative to increase tourism in the Niagara region.  (Apparently, this balances out a proposed border-crossing fee that DHS wants to impose on traffic going back and forth between the U.S. and Canada.)

Snubbed Republican leaders would have missed out on some first-class oration by a member of the world’s greatest deliberative body if Maziarz himself hadn’t brought them along.

“It is a thrill to be here in the Niagara Region,” Gillibrand breathlessly told those in attendance, “a thrill that we want more Americans and folks from Canada and all across the world to be able to come here and enjoy.”

Gillibrand then delved into a deep, penetrating analysis of the characteristics of cross-border tourism along the Niagara Frontier.

“As anyone from here or who has been—can tell you, uh, the, Greater Niagara Region has it all, from awe-inspiring magnificent—uh, magnificence of Niagara Falls, to the vineyards of the Niagara Wine Trail, to fishing and boating on Lake Ontario, to the battle sites of the War of 1812, and the architectural gems just up the river in Buffalo...Everyone cherishes their first visit to Niagara Falls.”

Gillibrand offered some further keen insights into Niagara’s premier tourist attraction, a beaming Dyster looking on:

“Standing on that deck, staring through telescopes, the mist hitting your face, overwhelmed by the sound and the sheer volume of water rushing over the edge, this area offers truly amazing experiences that everyone should have the chance to enjoy.”

Gillibrand continued. This was all a prelude to Gillibrand’s big (and giggly) announcement: “A new effort to help make the most of everything that we have here to offer. Brand USA will soon launch a new campaign to promote our very own Niagara region as an international travel destination.  It’s a good piece of news.”

Apparently, Brand USA is, according to their website, “a public private partnership with the mission of promoting international travel to the U.S.” The “public private partnership’s” website lists exactly one “industry partner,” something called “MegaFam 2013.”

Gillibrand’s follow-up to the press conference was a meeting deep in the bowels of Fort Niagara’s castle—from which members of the press were promptly ejected by panel members.  The public policy panel did not include Gillibrand, who departed after the press conference, or Mayor Dyster, who departed as soon as the last TV cameras had been packed up. It did, however, include representatives of Brand USA, Homeland Security, and the Commerce Department.

Several individuals in the closed-door panel session tell us that panel members received an earful from Maziarz and the public officials who weren’t actually on Gillibrand’s guest list:  Weipert, Reiter, Burmaster, and Tuscarora leader Joe Anderson had a number of concerns, ranging from a lack of Nexus lanes at border crossings, to slow implementation of promised projects.

Maziarz and Burmaster also sought federal support for a “ferry” or “water taxi” crossing between Youngstown and Niagara-on-the-Lake from panel members—something they believe would help unify Canadian and American tourism that centers on the falls.

Despite Gillibrand’s early departure, though, Maziarz and Burmaster pushed that issue with her as well.  Seconds after Gillibrand ended the press conference, the duo thrust a heavy binder into Gillibrand’s hands containing a study that detailed the river-crossing ferry plan, the costs of implementation, and problems that federal and local officials would need to overcome.

Binder firmly in her hands, Gillibrand asked the duo: “What do you need from me, a letter of support or something?”

Maziarz indicated he hopes that Gillibrand will offer more significant support than a letter, and stated that he is working on a letter of his own to Gillibrand, which will question the exclusion of both local Republican officials and the press from Monday’s events.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

May 14, 2013