Three chairs sat conspicuously empty Tuesday night during a special hearing convened by the Community Development Committee of the Buffalo Common Council. Adorning those chairs were the names of three senior Obama Administration officials — Dan Tangherlini, Denise Pease, and Madeline Caliendo — who are alleged to have abused their powers to violate federal environmental law and Obama Administration directives for political expediency at the expense of Buffalo residents. The trio represent the three most senior officials of the “Federal Five” who had been summoned by the Common Council to testify on their involvement in the thwarted August 2012 interagency environmental justice taskforce investigation into the West Side’s childhood asthma epidemic.”
As reported by The Buffalo News, that taskforce was disbanded at the behest of Denise Pease, head of the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) New York regional office, and Madeline Caliendo, GSA’s director of civil rights official. The taskforce included 22 expert federal officials from six agencies, including the GSA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
“If they had nothing to hide, they would be here – and they would answer any and all of the questions before them. Worst case scenario, they should have sent staff on their behalf. They show condescension towards this honorable body and towards the residents of the City of Buffalo,” said Councilman Joseph Golombek. “I find that utterly and completely contemptible.”
“We are going to continue to request that information. We have asked our federal elected, who may have more influence in Washington and over federal agencies, to look out for our interests. I continue to ask Schumer, Gillibrand, Higgins to provide us information,” Councilman David Rivera said. “We are going to continue requesting that our federal elected provide us with any and all information.”
“It’s absolute arrogance,” Councilman David Francyak added. “To be treated in this manner is absolutely contemptuous.”
Council President Darius Pridgen had similar sentiments.
“I expected them to at least send staff to read a statement,” Pridgen explained. “It shows a lot of disrespect.”
Residents were also outraged.
“The federal five are not here – or were ordered not to appear – because they have something to hide, and that means that this legislative body is barking up the right tree. It’s up to this body to demand that all five appear and testify under oath. To you, that might seem like a daunting procedure. But for us, it is a matter of life and breath,” said Kathy Mecca, the President of the Columbus Park Association. “The future health of our children is in your hands. What will you do with it?”
“I want to point out that I am in fact the highest level of government. I am a citizen, a taxpayer, and a voter. If it weren’t for me there wouldn’t be any need for this government. I am incredibly insulted by this,” said Peter Reese, a noted Buffalo attorney and election law expert. “We are talking about health, safety, and compliance with law here. It is astounding to me that these people are displaying the degree of arrogance they are.”
“It is incumbent on the Council and I urge you all to subpoena these people. There may be legal issues with respect to whether the City has the authority to subpoena them, but let them go to Court and question it,” Reese argues.
Eddie Egriu, who is challenging longtime Congressman Brian Higgins in this year’s Democratic Party primary, also appeared before the Council in support of West Side residents. Schumer and Higgins have frequently made questionable claims relating to the Peace Bridge.
“Schumer and Brian Higgins should be ashamed of themselves,” Egriu said. “This is a very important issue because [diesel exhaust] is coming right in the heart of the City of Buffalo. If we allow this, tomorrow your children will blame you for it … we are going to bring some people together and make some noise – and we’re going to make sure we stop it,” Egriu promises.
“If Washington refuses to come to Buffalo — then stay tuned for part two — when Buffalo goes to Washington,” Chairman Golombek concluded before gaveling the hearing to a close.