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Politics and COMIDA


I wish this could be the start of something big.

Some influential people are starting to push back against the power of the Monroe County Republican Party. Last week, four of the board members of COMIDA - the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency - resigned in reaction to the scandal surrounding Republican Party Chair Bill Reilich's meddling.

The first was Realtor Mark Siwiec, who said the controversy could damage his own reputation and that of other board members. Next up: Theresa Mazzullo, an influential Conservative Party leader and businesswoman who chaired the COMIDA board; she said the controversy was affecting both the public's confidence in COMIDA and her own reputation. Board members Clint Campbell and Eugene Caccamise followed suit.

This all started when Reilich tried to attack the new county clerk, Adam Bello, a Democrat who had been Irondequoit's town supervisor. But Reilich stupidly suggested that by resigning as supervisor, Bello had "abandoned" a popular new Irondequoit development, I-Square. The development, Reilich said, was having financial problems and was in default of a COMIDA agreement.

COMIDA first issued a statement agreeing that the development was in default. But I-Square's owners, Michael and Wendy Nolan, fought back, insisting that the project isn't in financial trouble and isn't in default of its COMIDA agreement.

COMIDA has since sent the Nolans a letter saying they're not in default. And while the board had first promised an investigation into the Reilich affair, it later said there'll be no investigation. Case closed.

The resignations have been a refreshing turn of events. At first, the COMIDA board members seemed content to keep quiet, presumably assuming that the fire would burn out quickly and that nobody cared.

But somebody did care. Several somebodies. The Nolans have rallied public support, and they're speaking out at COMIDA meetings. Democrats in the County Legislature are protesting. And the media are reporting on it all, putting the COMIDA board, County Exec Cheryl Dinolfo, and the Republican Party right where they should be: on the hot seat.

When she resigned last week, Mazzullo issued a statement that sheds a bit more light. Technically, she said, I-Square was in default of a portion of the COMIDA agreement, but that technicality "happens routinely" in developments, she said, and the agency and the COMIDA recipients just get together and work it out.

Unless, of course, the Republican Party chair decides that there's political hay to be made.

Republicans have weathered this kind of scandal before. And presumably, once the news over the resignations dies down and new (presumably compliant) board members are appointed, that'll be it. Dinolfo apologized yesterday, promised to announce new safeguards, and won't tolerate this kind of behavior.

But it is a big deal, a very big deal, when the head of a political party injects himself into the workings of an important agency that is supposed to be nonpartisan. It taints the political party, of course, but more important, it taints COMIDA and the people who give their time as board members.

COMIDA is supposed to benefit the public. If there's any hint that a political leader is involved in its decisions - influences its actions in any way - that undermines the public's trust. And it taints not only COMIDA, its staff, and its board, but also every business that it helps. If the head of a political party is involved, the public can't trust that the businesses get their benefits fairly - without fear or favor, to borrow the New York Times motto.

The four resignations are important. But even if the remaining members - Ann Burr, Jay Popli, and Mary Worboys-Turner - do the same (which they should), the story will end there. No one will conduct an investigation, because the county executive, the legislature, and the Republican Party don't want the public to know more.

That's the real scandal. And it didn't start, and it won't end, with COMIDA.