(Artvoice 26 October 2000)
Peace Bridge Chronicles #45
What Andrew Rudnick Didn’t Say
One of our readers faxed us the October issue of “Buffalo Bylines,” the newsletter of the National Association of Purchasing Management-Buffalo, Inc. The newsletter focused on the Annual International Night Meeting held jointly with the PMA of Canada-Niagara District, Thursday October 19, at the Minolta Tower in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
After a reception beginning at 6:00 p.m. and a dinner beginning at 7:00 p.m., the primary event of the evening would be a presentation entitled “Peace Bridge Twinning Project.” The two speakers would be Andrew J. Rudnick, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and Steven J. Mayer, of the Peace Bridge Authority. (That’s what it said: “Peace Bridge Authority.” One would expect international purchasing agents to know there is no such thing as the “Peace Bridge Authority,” but there you go.) The newsletter had a two paragraph bio for Rudnick and a long paragraph describing the Partnership, the Partnership logo and a small photo of Rudnick. It gave no information at all about Steve Mayer other than that single phrase, “Peace Bridge Authority.”
Given Rudnick’s relentless advocacy for a steel twin span even though that would drive a lot of jobs from this area and would disrupt traffic on Buffalo’s west side for years, and Mayer’s close involvement with the twin span proposal for several years, we thought this event was important enough to ask our chief international affairs correspondent, Bruce Jackson, to drive up there to cover this story.
Jackson did not, we’re sorry to report, get the story we sent him across the border to get. It’s the first time since he started covering the Peace Bridge War for Artvoice two years ago that he came back empty handed. All he delivered was this:
Sorry to say there’s nothing to report about Andy Rudnick, Steve Mayer and the International Association of Purchasing Management-Buffalo and PMA of Canada-Niagara District. For some reason, both men changed topics at the last minute. Indeed, neither Rudnick nor Mayer once in their presentations used the phrases “twinning project” or “twin span.”
This all took place—or didn’t take place, rather—in the Minolta Tower in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Traffic had been slow crossing the Rainbow Bridge so Diane and I didn’t get there until a little after 7:00 p.m. The Minolta Tower is a 28 storey building with nothing between the ground floor and the 25th floor except the stairway and elevator shaft. The ground floor is gloomy and tacky: maybe a dozen huge electronic games that mostly focus on driving fast or shooting people or both at once, a closed popcorn counter, a gift shop full of the kind of dreadful souvenirs that people bring back from trips and wonder why they did that. The event was in a restaurant on the 26th floor.
There was a huge mob of Japanese tourists trying to get on the elevator we were trying to get out of. That was pretty scary, let me tell you. They were in kind of a wedge, sohey couldn’t move back or to the side and they had packages of souvenirs from downstairs, some of which were pointed and sharp.,
By the time we got inside, the purchasing managers were sitting down and getting their soup. Some waiters cleaned off one of the tables the Japanese tourists had just vacated and gave us soup, too.
I managed to catch Steve Mayer’s eye after a while and we waved hello. I set up a tape recorder near where they’d be speaking so I’d be sure to get every word they said about the Peace Bridge twinning project. Andy Rudnick came over to Steve’s table during the turkey stuffed with apple dressing and they conferred and looked over at where Diane and I were sitting but Andy didn’t wave hello at me. Andy never waves hello to me.
During his 20-minute talk, Rudnick mentioned the bridge only once, in passing. His talk was hard to summarize because it was so spread out. I think he said that there are three primary modes of transportation for moving goods—trucks, trains, and air—and we should use all of them. He also said the people around here, on both sides of the border, were wonderful and hard-working. When he finished, he said Steve would talk now and he ran out of the room. At first I thought he was heading for the men’s room, then I realized he was heading for the elevator. I thought he maybe had another pressing presentation, but he only stood by the elevator until Mayer started talking and then he came back into the room and sat down in a corner so far away from where I was sitting I couldn’t see him.
Mayer had a computer and screen and PowerPoint projector set up. He talked about how important the several bridges in the area were and how manufacturers don’t use warehouses so much any more and that’s why some of them consider the Thruway an extension of their manufacturing operation because that’s where their goods are a lot of the time. He said a lot of nice things about the area and told us things about the importance of transportation. He never did show any of those PowerPoint slides. After a while he said that he’d pretty much covered everything in the slides anyway, and were there any questions?
A purchasing manager from Grand Island said that as far as he could tell all the congestion on the Peace Bridge came from traffic backed up at the toll and customs and immigration booths, so he wondered what congestion there would be, if any, if there were no tolls and no customs and no immigrations booths. Mayer said that was hard to say because it’s a three-lane bridge and sometimes you have two lanes in one direction and sometimes you have two lanes in the other direction. The man from Grand Island had trouble grasping how that answered his question, so he asked it again another way. Mayer went into a lot of interesting detail about how much help the Commercial Vehicle Processing Center in Fort Erie has been and how they really could use another truck inspection lane and how if the US and Canada ever get around to declaring the bridge an international facility in which the laws of both countries apply all of the operations that cause congestion on the American side could immediately be moved to the Canadian side and none of this mess in Buffalo would be necessary at all. He never did say what congestion there would be, if any, if there were no tolls and customs and immigration booths.
Someone else asked what was the status of the Peace Bridge expansion. Meyer said there had been two lawsuits filed against the Bridge and the Bridge had filed a lawsuit against someone else and they’d lost that one. They were, he said, trying to decide what to do about those lawsuits filed against them and the one they’d lost and they were “working very hard to break the logjam.” He said that an environmental impact study would take three to five years and, if they did have to do one, the whole project would take ten years or more.
Several times in the course of the Q&A Mayer referred to Rudnick and gestured back to the corner where I think he was sitting, but Rudnick never said anything and never took any questions himself. I got to wondering if maybe the reason Rudnick had fled the room immediately on finishing his comments about three primary modes of transportation being trucks, trains, and air and about how wonderful the people around here are, was because he maybe didn’t want to field questions from members of the American and Canadian purchasing managers or other people in the audience.
At the elevator I heard one purchasing agent say to another, “I thought they were supposed to be talking about twinning the Peace Bridge.”
“Yeah,” the guy he was talking to said. “What we got was Chamber of Commerce.”
“Maybe they forgot which audience they were talking to,” the first guy said.
“I guess,” the second guy said.
As Diane and I were getting into our car, I saw Steve Mayer’s assistant carrying the PowerPoint equipment across the street to a parking lot.
So, Geoff, I won't have that piece I promised you for this week’s paper. Neither Rudnick nor Mayer talked about what they program said they were going to talk about. You’d have thought that once they saw that Diane and I were there, taping it all and taking photographs, that they’d be especially concerned to stick to the program because both surely know how much the subject interests the readers of Artvoice. Maybe we’ll catch them doing it some other time.
P.S.: I assume I can put all this on my expense account even though I didn’t get the story: $2.50 for the bridge, $14 for the turkey stuffed with apple dressing, $6 for the glass of not bad cabernet, and $32.50 for the ashtray, t-shirt and panoramic poster I picked up in the first floor gift shop in the way out. All US $. I left the receipts in the office in the usual place.
The editors wrote Jackson back, reminding him that he doesn’t have an expense account, and even if he did it wouldn’t cover an ashtray, t-shirt and panoramic poster. As for the rest, we said, his case would be helped if he filed a story about something Andrew Rudnick did do rather than something he didn't do. This arrived Tuesday morning:
You got it, chief.
I saw Rudnick a few days later, at the Monday, October 23, meeting of the Common Council’s bridge Task Force. The main subject of that meeting was a draft proposal the Public Bridge Authority sent to the city on Friday offering to do the environmental impact study ordered
by Judge Eugene Fahey if the city agrees to certain conditions. Neither Buffalo Corporation Council Michael Risman nor the engineer representing the PBA at the Task Force meeting would say what those conditions were. They said that they only people who were in on the current negotiations were new attorneys from New York City hired especially by the PBA to handle this operation and Buffalo city attorneys.
The curious thing was, just about every time anyone asked a question about the draft and the negotiations, Rudnick’s head bobbed up and down or nodded back and forth. Sometimes he answered questions he seemed to think warranted a more detailed response than Risman had provided or questions he had avoided entirely. Rudnick said he was attending the meeting as a representative of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership but he didn’t explain why he was providing information on behalf of the PBA or how he knew so much about matters the city attorney said had transpired in secret attorney-only sessions. (Rudnick’s degree is in economics.)
Everyone there who had a part in the secret meetings said they expected some kind of resolution to the negotiations within a month, but don’t count on it. There’s not much trust on either side these days. The last time the city signed on to a draft agreement proposed by the PBA it turned out to be a time-bomb that nearly destroyed the Public Consensus Review Panel. The Canadian members of the Public Bridge Authority are disgusted at the way the Common Council, the Olmsted Conservancy and the Episcopal Church Home have gotten talking rights in what they think should be a deal
designed and carried out by the Big Boys in the Back Room, the way it’s always been done.
Too bad for them, I think: Common Council president James Pitts and Olmsted Conservancy president Andrea Schilacci made it clear to the Corporation Counsel, the PBA engineer, and Andrew Rudnick that they very much intended to give a very careful look at and have a real voice in any new deal between the PBA and the city of Buffalo.
All prior instalments in the Peace Bridge Chronicles are available online at www.brucejackson.net.
copyright 2000 Bruce Jackson