NIAGARA FALLS – An anonymous political mailer supporting City Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione and calling developer Mark Hamister a con man appears to have put the future of a $25 million downtown development project in further doubt.
The mailer, which arrived at Falls homes on Tuesday, lauds Fruscione for asking questions about the proposed development deal, which the City Council majority tabled in early July. Some in the Falls see the majority’s action as holding up the project.
Fruscione is a member of the three-person majority, along with Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian and Councilman Robert A. Anderson Jr. He is also running in next week’s Democratic primary.
The top of one side of the mailer reads: “ ‘Developer’ Mark Hamister is running a con game on the city of Niagara Falls ... and he just got caught!”
On Tuesday night, Fruscione told The Buffalo News he had nothing to do with the mailer and did not know who sent it out.
Fruscione, however, did characterize much of the message of the mailer as accurate, in that the questions raised by him and his colleagues were the reasons the situation has progressed the way it has.
“I appreciate it,” Fruscione said, noting the mailer was sent by someone apparently speaking on his behalf.
Fruscione also said he did not think the mailer “matters much at all,” adding that there were anonymous mailers that came out in early August critical of his stance on the proposed Hamister project.
The Hamister Group’s proposal for a $25.3 million mixed-use development, including a five-story hotel, apartments and retail space, at 310 Rainbow Blvd. was selected after a request for proposals was issued by USA Niagara Development, the Niagara Falls arm of Empire State Development.
The City Council tabled the proposal on July 8, initially raising concerns about the “transparency” of the process, as well as the $100,000 the city was to receive for the parcel. An attempt to bring the proposal to a vote later in July failed.
Under the proposed agreement, Hamister would receive $2.75 million from the state for the project. The parcel of land had been seen as the city’s contribution to the project from early on, including when the Council designated Hamister as the preferred developer in early 2012.
The parcel is city-owned and is currently used for a small restaurant as well as a parking lot. The city was given the land by developer David Cordish as part of the deal in which he donated the former Rainbow Centre mall to the city and Niagara County Community College for development of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
Earlier this week, members of the Council majority delineated further concerns they have about the proposed agreement.
The Hamister Group had been planning a 2 p.m. news conference today at its Sheridan Drive headquarters, but it was canceled early this morning.
Mayor Paul A. Dyster this morning said the situation was “evolving rapidly” and that he would meet with Hamister if the developer wanted to.
“We’ve been in touch with the Hamister Group and we’re just going to have to see what the day brings,” Dyster said, “but we’re keeping the dialogue up.”
Dyster called it “pretty unprecedented” that a private citizen would be the subject of a political mailer, as opposed to elected officials who Dyster said are “attacked all the time.”
The mayor said he would understand if Hamister wanted to stand up for himself and rebut accusations.
Describing a previous discussion he said he had with Hamister, Dyster said the developer told him he felt like the Council was attempting to renege on the deal that had been reached in good faith.
In late July, Hamister said his group was going to try to stay patient, “for at least another month or two.” He also had said he does not intend to renegotiate the deal.
“I don’t renegotiate deals,” Hamister said.
The mailers were sent out with first-class postage stamps, but they had a bulk mail permit number printed on them.
The permit belongs to Gallagher Printing of Buffalo, U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Karen Mazurkiewicz said today.
David Gallagher, founder of the company, declined to disclose who paid for the mailer, but acknowledged it was an organization, not an individual person. He also said the organization was not from Niagara County.
Since the start of 2010, Gallagher Printing has done about $120,000 worth of work for Republican and Conservative candidates and organizations in Niagara County, according to state Board of Elections data. Those include the Niagara County Republican Committee and the Niagara County Conservative Party.
So far this year, Gallagher Printing also has been paid for work by a group known as Cheektowaga Democrats 2013, Buffalo Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez’s campaign and the Western New York Progressive Caucus, a newly-formed political action committee that’s been getting involved in Democratic primaries for the Erie County Legislature.
Niagara County GOP Chairman Scott P. Kiedrowski said his organization had nothing to do with the mailer.
“I have no knowledge of this mailer and I have not authorized any payment of such,” Kiedrowski said.
Kiedrowski said from what he knows about the project, he does not see any good reason why the proposal from Hamister should be turned down.
Noting that it’s political season, the GOP chairman said he believes “a whole host of individuals could be responsible” for the mailer.
“At this point, I wouldn’t put it past anyone,” Kiedrowski said.
Conservative Party Chairman Daniel Weiss said the mailer did not come from his organization either.
Weiss said he would not support a mailer in the Falls that is anti-business.
“We can’t afford to give up opportunities like that in the City of Niagara Falls,” he said of the Hamister project.