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By James Hufnagel

"Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences." -- Robert Louis Stevenson.

Any day now the Niagara Parks Commission of Ontario will award a new lease for the lucrative Maid of the Mist franchise, ousting the Glynn family and ending once and for all their corrosively corrupt influence on the Canadian tourism industry. Since the Canadian lease is a sine qua non for running the business on the American side, it is expected that New York state will soon follow.

The decades-long saga of the Glynn family is playing out like some kind of Greek tragedy, with overtones of "Falcon Crest" thrown in for good measure. It begins with family patriarch and business mogul James Glynn, who rose from the ranks to purchase the Maid business 40 years ago. Glynn's ruthless ambition, unrestrained greed and boundless ego were the character traits that enabled him to subdue the local tourism industry, buying influence and wielding power in ways that would have made Machiavelli blush.

The Glynn family thrived over the years, accumulating a large fortune, while the surrounding city deteriorated and the citizens of Niagara Falls grew poor.

This was the winning formula for robber baron Glynn: Establish a foothold in a state park that hosts a world-famous tourist attraction. Secure a long-term, no-bid lease from the state agency that owns the park.

Blessed with an enormous tax base, thanks to burgeoning industries that employed tens of thousands, it was a golden age for the city of Niagara Falls. Characterized by vibrant neighborhoods, busy stores, safe streets and the bustle and feeling of general prosperity, no one seemed to know or care that James Glynn was quietly laying the groundwork, weaving his web.

First to go were the trees of Goat Island. The forests of 19th-century Niagara Reservation planner Frederick Law Olmsted were leveled to make room for parking lots, even though Olmsted insisted that vehicular traffic be restricted to the village proper for two reasons -- to promote commerce within the city and to keep the park unsullied by man-made contrivances.

Add a limited-access, dedicated roadway that bypasses the city, strangling it off from its waterfront. Funnel tourists to the attraction and give them easy exit a couple hours later, guaranteeing that the family-vacation dollar stays in the park, pocketed by Glynn.

Build a garish Observation Tower mere yards from the attraction, housing elevators that convey thousands of tourists who have been standing in line for hours to the docks below, where they are squeezed together like sardines for a 20-minute boat ride before being herded through your souvenir shop.

When former governor George Pataki first saw the Observation Tower, he pronounced it an "eyesore." Two years later, the 1997 "initial preferred alternative" was to remove the tower and construct Cave of the Winds-style elevators through subterranean tunnels hidden from view. Instead, the 2001 renovation resulted in an expanded tower with additional elevators and an enlarged gift shop. The Maid of the Mist bottom line swelled virtually overnight from this taxpayer-funded boondoggle, as did Maid's campaign contributions to Pataki and the individual who was supposedly representing us in Albany at the time, Francine Del Monte.

Of course, when you're defacing a natural wonder, hijacking the tourism industry and bleeding the local economy of millions, it's important to remember the less fortunate. Pay for a few meals at the soup kitchen, or better yet, fund some college internships to study the roots of the poverty for which you largely were responsible. It's useful for solidifying your position as a pillar of the community and public benefactor. "Image is everything," as tennis champ Andre Agassi said. And the corporate tax deduction is the icing on the cake.

Like any business, it's good strategy to deploy family members to key positions. James' son Christopher is now Maid president. You've heard the expression about someone being born on third plate, thinking they hit a home run? Christopher Glynn was dropped on his head on home plate. He now spends his time as a figurehead, fiddling like Nero in the waning days of his dad's fiefdom, whiling away the hours as a commissioner on the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Commission. It's more than a little pathetic seeing him seated at the table with the other commissioners, evincing an air of bewilderment as to what exactly he is doing there, while the others unaffectedly accept his presence as a quaint vestige of privilege.

Last and least, James' brother Don has served clan interests as the ethically challenged Niagara Gazette columnist who has "covered" politics and, specifically, state parks issues for decades. Don has published many thousands of words in the compliant Gazette defending the kingdom, advancing its interests with articles and columns framed as real journalism. As recently as last week, Don derogated the unwashed peasants at One Niagara who dared compete with his family's multimillion-dollar Maid of the Mist empire in the state park, whining in his column about the riff-raff who have the audacity to labor under a hot sun or over a hot grill, cutting into his family's profits.

Don Glynn laughingly refers to Niagara Falls State Park as "pristine parkland," which much of it was until his greedy family and its state parks lackeys cut down the trees, paved it, built an ugly tower on it, and cordoned it off to keep the tourists and their money in and the city out, all for their own financial gain.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 12, 2011