Garden Rant
Gardening While Intoxicated
Buffalo Spree


A year ago, Licata became the fourth member of a group of garden bloggers with an attitude. Garden Rant one of my favorites: A blend of gossip, news, crusade and, yes, raw rant, it blows the cobwebs out of gardening's mustier corners.

–Adrian Higgins,
Washington Post

... co-curators Elizabeth Licata and Amy Cappellazzo have magnificently transcended the limitations of what is, at bottom, a show of books. ...Preciousness—the bane of such exhibitions—is nowhere in evidence.

–Richard Huntington,
Buffalo News

"Garden Walk Buffalo: A Celebration of Urban Gardens," is a tour guide into dozens of gardens during the annual event held the last full weekend in July. It's knowingly written by Buffalo Spree editor Elizabeth Licata, and packed with gorgeous photographs...

–Mark Sommer,
Buffalo News

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"Western New York's Most Infamous Trials" (excerpt)

Looking back on an entire century of trials, one can easily see that Buffalo has had its share of lurid felonies, political scandals, and wacky community disputes that eventually wound up in our courtrooms. Many of them--like former Park Commissioner Robert Delano's trial for corruption -- dominated newspaper headlines for weeks at a time. In the end, though, how many of these will really be remembered? How many of them had a public impact that changed our community in both the short and the long term and/or stretched to national, even international boundaries? There aren't that many. I can only think of two court cases that had a lasting national impact, and a few criminal cases that have stayed in the Buffalo consciousness for various reasons. The first example is not just one trial, but many: all the court cases that make up the behemoth we've always referred to as Love Canal. There is no question that Love Canal continues to have a huge impact on environmental policy in the United States. The case is notorious throughout the world, not just for the facts of the environmental disaster, but also for how the state and federal governments and court systems dealt with it. The fact that many of the Love Canal lawsuits were settled out of court doesn't alleviate their legal impact: the settlements were so complex, they took years longer than most trials!

Twenty TwoYears and Still Going

Love Canal as an environmental catastrophe officially began in March, 1978, when the New York State Department of Health began collecting air, soil, and human health data from the area surrounding the 99th Street School, near the southern border of the city of Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls Board of Education had purchased the fifteen acre site in 1953 from Hooker Chemical and Plastics Company, who had buried thousands of tons of toxic chemicals there from 1947 to 1952.

The state study was done after years of repeated complaints from area homeowners telling of odors and "substances" they observed oozing out of the ground. Soon after the study, in June, 1978, an area housewife, Lois Gibbs, formed a group of concerned parents (Love Canal Parents Movement) who wanted to know more about what their children were being exposed to at School 99. Much to their surprise, the NYSDH issued an order to close the school and the state offered to purchase 239 houses immediately surrounding it (the infamous first two "rings") in August. These actions served to further unite the community of homeowners, and the Love Canal Homeowners Association was born. From then on, there were continual battles between the homeowners and New York State, as the state tried to define the problem as stopping at the first two rings of houses and the homeowner group contended that the scope of the disaster was far, far worse. Finally--after visits to the site by Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter, among others, countless protests by the homeowners (including holding two EPA workers hostage), and more scientific research, a total evacuation was ordered in 1980. The research had determined, among other things, that 56% of children born in Love Canal between 1974-78 had birth defects, that miscarriages increased 300% upon relocation to Love Canal, that urinary tract infections increased by 300%, and that Love Canal residents had chromosonal damage, greatly increasing their risk for cancer (with odds as high as one in ten), reproductive problems, and genetic damage.

The lawsuits began in 1979. By October 31, 1979, there were over 800 lawsuits filed naming Hooker Chemical, the City of Niagara Falls, the County of Niagara, and the Board of Education for a total of 11 billion. By December, the federal government was also suing Hooker Chemical for 124 million. Hooker had inserted a disclaimer in their 1953 agreement with the Board of Education saying that they would not be responsible for any ill effects from the chemicals, but that wasn't stopping anybody from going after both them and the Board. In the meantime, the state was trying to get back the 22 million they had spent relocating residents and cleaning up the site. Federal disaster funds were denied for this. In June, 1979, the initial 1.63 billion Superfund legislation had been conceived in order to address hazardous waste clean-up throughout America. It was finally passed in December, 1980, but for clean-up only, not compensation to victims. In fact, New York State was unable to collect for the 22 million it had spent because of a technical error in the wording of the bill. It could only collect for work done after the bill was passed. In April, 1980, New York State filed its $635 million lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum and two of its subsidiaries, the Hooker Chemical and Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corporations. All these millions and billions in lawsuits were providing employment for countless Western New York lawyers. In the end, most of the suits were settled out of court, including a 20million settlement to 1328 Love canal residents in 1983--but the settlements took many years to come to fruition, well into the 90s. In the meantime, the controversy over the resettlement of Love Canal continues.

The second big trial that comes to mind is the 1974-76 Buffalo school desegragation case, which was controversial in its time and had an aftermath that not only forever changed Buffalo but also got the attention of many other American cities.

Innovative Integration

There wasn't nearly as much money at stake in the 1974 Buffalo desegregation case as in the Love Canal lawsuits but what was at stake was--sociopolitically speaking--far more valuable than a multi-billion dollar settlement. Just as Love Canal had endangered the physical health of an entire community, Buffalo's racially segregated schools had endangered the social health of a community. In the desegregation case, the issues under discussion were social justice, racial harmony, and educational opportunity. By the end of the 1960s, the word "bussing" had become as politically charged as "abortion" is now. Buffalo parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians were very nervous, and with good reason.

In Boston, a state-created desegregation plan was prompting five thousand demonstrators to march through the streets of South Boston. Rocks were being thrown at both white and black students as they made their way to their newly mandated schools. In spite of the violence that enforced integration was causing in other cities, many citizens in Buffalo felt it was high time the extreme racial imbalance in the city's school system was addressed. Buffalo civil rights activists Norman Goldfarb, Frank Mesiah, and Raphael DuBard were the plaintiffs in the Buffalo desegregation case; their trial lawyer was Richard Griffin. Goldfarb had been active in the civil rights movement--working for integrated workplaces and social clubs as well as schools--since the 1950s. The defendants were the Buffalo Board of Education, the State Board of Regents, and the City of Buffalo, who had already refused to comply with a previous 1972 desegregation order by State Commissioner of Education Ewald Nyquist. Their lawyer's (Leslie Foschio) argument was that school segregation in Buffalo had happened naturally, as a result of population shifts, and that the defendants could not be held liable. Recent precedent weighed heavily against them, however, and the plaintiffs were able to show that segregated schools could be the result of less overt state actions and policies than actual laws, and that demographic shifts could come about through subtler acts like redistricting and housing discrimination.

In 1976, Judge John Curtin ruled that the defendants had violated the plaintiffs' 14th amendment rights to equal protection under the law. The Buffalo Board of Education had been so sure that he would find against them that they had been busily working out a solution they called the Buffalo Plan. This solution was to be fine tuned--under the guidance and authority of Curtin--over the next three years before it eventually became Buffalo's Magnet school system, specialty schools designed to attract students across racial boundaries. It was a grand attempt to integrate schools without forced bussing and to improve the Buffalo school system. For many years, this system, maintained in part by federal integration funds, was considered one of the best in the country. School planners from all over America, Europe, and Japan, visited Buffalo to see nationally commended newly integrated schools such as City Honors and Futures Academy. And now for some criminal trials. There are many that have garnered publicity in the area, but I chose three, two for their horror, one for its absurdity.

Richard Long--a victim of police brutality

At about the same time that Judge Curtin was deliberating about the segregation case and mothers in Love Canal were beginning to ask questions about the safety of their neighborhood, one of Buffalo's most horrifying cases of police brutality took place. Richard Long, an 18 year old from North Buffalo planning his first semester at Buffalo State College, was dragged from his brother's car at 2:30 a.m. on June 25, 1977, and beaten and stomped to death by two police officers (Philip Gramiglia and Gary Atti) and a Buffalo businessman (Jack Giammaresi). The three were charged with first degree manslaughter and convicted in 1978 of criminally negligent homicide.

The beating was precipitated by a traffic incident, in which Long, driving home after a party, cut off Gramiglia and Atti (who has also been celebrating). The two policemen bragged to their friends about the beating afterwards, over drinks at Mulligans. They never attempted to deny their actions, as this chilling testimoney from the trial transcript
"Q. he went down?
A. (Gramiglia) Yes, sir.
Q. What did you do?
A. When he was down, or when he was going down, or just about all the way down, I kicked him.
A. (Atti)...Phil reached down and grabbed him by his shirt and tried to pull, lift him up, and the kid says 'No,' so then I started to holler 'Get up, get up,' and he wouldn┬╣t get up and I gave him a quick kick to what I believe is the top of the head.
Q. Then, what happened?
A. Well, I believe we were still hollering to get up and I kicked him again."
(from Buffalo News, June 25, 1987)

Long drowned in his own blood. Most of the testimony in the trial revolved around whether other officers had been involved, and, although many people believe there were more, in the end, only Gramaglia, Atti, and Giammeresi were convicted. After a relatively painless eighteen month stretch in a minimum security facility, the three resumed their lives in Buffalo. This relatively mild verdict was condemned by many. The Long trial was front page news in Buffalo for months, and was instrumental in ending the mayoral career of Stanley Makowski, making room for then State Senator Jimmy Griffin. Makowski's police chief, Thomas Blair, left with him.

The 22-caliber killer

Joseph G. Christopher, convicted in 1982 of the September, 1980 killings of three East Side African-American men, had a second trial in 1986 in the same courtroom where McKinley's killer, Leon Czolgosz, was found guilty and sentenced to death. He would be convicted again of those killings, adding to his previous conviction of the stabbings of three Manhattan men (two African-American, one Hispanic). In addition, Christopher has always been suspected in the brutal 1980 slayings of two Buffalo taxicab drivers, whose hearts were cut out. Christopher's trials marked a low point in Buffalo race relations, and prompted actions by area black and white clergy to heal racial tensions, brought to a head by these mindless slayings. The legal strategies used in Christopher's defense centered around his mental competency.

Last and Least

Although his crimes were real and serious, for many Buffalonians, the long state and federal investigation of city Parks Commissioner Robert E. Delano--held during 1989-90--had a bit of comic relief, if only for the relative absurdity of some of Delano's actions. He ordered holes punched in the ice in Delaware Park Lake to foil the first planned Winterfest as well as ongoing skating activities. A 1988 motorcycle racing event, part of Winterfest, had to be held in Auburn instead, thanks to Delano's alleged sabotage. It was also testified that Delano had stolen 10 tons of chlorine; gave free trash pickups, hydraulic lifts usage, park benches, and tennis nets to a private club; and basically treated the Parks Department as his own private corporation, the supplies and manpower of which was entirely at his command (not the city taxpayers'). In 1992, Delano was convicted of racketeering and four other criminal charges and eventually served over two years in prison. His racketeering charges were overturned but the theft and extortion convictions held. He was released on probation in 1996. Although this case might not deserve to be listed among the most infamous, it is an example of the type of political corruption that can keep cities like Buffalo on a downhill slide.

Research assistance for this article was provided by Catherine G. Licata

Buffalo Spree, September 2000

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