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By Mike Hudson

I want to start off this week with a big thank you to the Niagara Falls City Council for making the Niagara Falls Reporter an official city newspaper. The unanimous vote came as something of a surprise to me; I wasn't even aware it was going to come up for consideration until the weekend before the Monday meeting.

The often antagonistic relationship the Reporter has had with local government in general over the past decade has not been a one-way street. Organized efforts to put us out of business have been attempted by a long line of elected officials, and as recently as October, Mayor Paul Dyster told a writer for a national business magazine that the paper didn't exist as a print publication, but was merely a crackpot website.

Reader reaction to the Council's move has been mixed. Some say that it's about time City Hall recognized one of the most successful and high-profile businesses to launch here in the young century, while others seem to think that we will be somehow co-opted by that recognition, and become a part of an establishment here that many residents hold in contempt.

In recent weeks here, a debate has been building -- on various websites, including Facebook, and in coffee shops and taverns throughout the city -- about whether the problems of Niagara Falls are merely problems of perception. Dyster and his supporters seem to believe that if we could simply tell ourselves that things aren't so bad, and are getting better, outside investors and magazine writers would view our city as a success story, rather than as a monumental disaster created by poor government planning.

The problem with that point of view is that it is not supported by the facts, which are dismal. One in four children in Niagara Falls is growing up in a household that lives below the federal poverty line. One half of the population is receiving some sort of government subsidy, and just 14 percent of city residents possess a college degree, the second lowest percentage of any city in the state of New York.

Astonishingly, more than 20 percent of the people here don't have a car, and nearly 7 percent don't have a telephone!

For the city's sizable African American population, the dire conditions are even more acute. A full 42 percent live in poverty, double the statewide average of 21 percent.

The myriad problems that result from this brutal and widespread poverty -- from street crime to official corruption to a business climate that can best be described as hopeless -- are the stuff that fill the pages of the Reporter and most other responsible newspapers around the country.

And it's not pretty.

So while we thank Council members Kristen Grandinetti, Charles Walker, Bob Anderson and Chairman Sam Fruscione for the official recognition and designation, you can bet that we will continue to examine the problems that plague our city in the hope that finally someone in a position to do so does something about them.

And speaking of those problems, our friends over at the excellent Niagara Times website seized on a shocking statistic from the city police department's annual crime report that the Pollyannas over at the Niagara Gazette chose to ignore completely. A nearly 20 percent spike in the number of burglaries over the past year speaks volumes about the lack of leadership the Dyster administration has shown in matters of law enforcement here.

While able-bodied police officers are cooling their heels sitting outside the office of City Administrator Donna Owens, or at the virtually unused offices of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, or are accompanying city inspectors on ZOOM program raids ticketing beleaguered homeowners for not cleaning their rain gutters or allowing their shrubbery to grow past the officially permissible point, house-breaking burglars are running wild in the streets, often robbing houses in broad daylight.

The 40-inch, flat-screen TVs, computer equipment and video game systems you read about every time cops raid one of the city's crack houses aren't being bought retail at Target, but at greatly reduced prices on street corners along Pierce Avenue.

Councilman Bob Anderson has long advocated that a portion of the city's casino money be directed to beefing up the police department by as many as100 new officers to make our streets safe once again. Dyster and his law department say the money can't be used for that, and are instead spending it on ineffectual $100,000-a-year department heads, City Hall office remodeling projects and a commission to study an entirely fabricated history of the Underground Railroad here.

The money is being handed out wholesale to saloon-owning campaign contributors on Third Street, to campaign-contributing consultants to see whether the mayor's house -- his own private house -- should be made into a historical landmark, and to campaign-contributing engineering firms to study paving over a bucolic park on Cayuga Island against the wishes of the people who live there.

As I stated earlier, there are a sizable number of people in Niagara Falls who think that the only problem here is one of perception. My perception is that maybe they ought to get off the meds for a day and concentrate on reality instead.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Jan. 18, 2011