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Sizing up Mickey Kearns

With the primary contest for mayor tightening, more voters are taking a look at Mickey Kearns to see if he's worth supporting. There's not a ton of insightful material on the guy out in the public domain, so I'm writing this post in an effort to fill a bit of the void.

I haven't had a lot of first-hand dealings with the guy, so I can't pretend to offer any deep insights. So I picked the brains of some people I respect who have had more extensive dealings with Kearns to see what they think of him.

Here's what I came away with:

Kearns

Kearns has been a decent first-term Council member, but he's still got a lot to learn about city government.

He's no dummy, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, either. 

He has, however, shown a healthy curiosity about issues and displayed a willingness to learn.

For example, he's traveled to Chicago, Milwaukee and Toronto to learn how those cities developed their waterfronts, to the Midwest to learn about ethanol production and to Rochester to see how it delivers services in the neighborhoods.

Kearns has displayed a reformist streak, at least by Common Council standards. He was one of the co-sponsors of a bill aimed at protecting city workers from pressure to work on political campaigns. He's been a leading critic of the way the city spends block grant funds. He was one of the councilmen serving on the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency board who opposed Brown's push to award a waterfront hotel project to a development team headed by Jim Pitts. And he's big on revamping the city's building and planning codes to make it easier to do business in the city.

He's shown a willingness to take unpopular stands, as evidenced by his taking on Brian Higgins on the reconstruction of Route 5.

He's part of the Council majority that often clashes with Brown and is especially tight with Mike LoCurto, who represents the Delaware District.

While he points to Jimmy Griffin as his role model, and is a South Buffalo guy through and through, Kearns doesn't have Griffin's nasty streak. Quite the contrary, in fact.

But Kearns does have Griffin's independent streak, bucking the South Buffalo political establishment headed by Higgins to win the South District Council seat in 2007.

While he doesn't have much experience as a legislator, he's gotten a flavor of city government working as a lifeguard and garbage man when he was going to school and later as an aide to then-South District Council Member Dennis Manley. His father was a city firefighter.

If The News were to do another survey asking community, business and political leaders to rate the Council, I suspect Kearns would end up in the middle of the pack, perhaps a tad better, in what is a pretty pedestrian body. But he is hardly regarded as a star.

Is Kearns ready for prime time?

Nah.

That's not to say Byron Brown was or is, either.

In short, Kearns has shown some progressive sensibilities and comes across as an accessible, decent sort. But he's still pretty green and largely untested. His lackluster campaign for mayor this year is not reassuring.

What voters are left with is a choice between a middling councilman and a middling mayor.

The whole thing leaves me (1) wanting to say "don't blame me, I voted for Gene Fahey and (2) wishing the city's political culture and the Democratic Party that dominates it was producing bright reformers who are ready, willing and able to clean up the mess that is our city.

Don't look for them on this year's ballot, however.

If you want to know more about Kearns, check out the following:

Brian Meyer's profile of Kearns in The Buffalo News

Artvoice report on Kearns campaign appearance in Masten District

Artvoice interview with Kearns

Critique of Kearns' comments in Artvoice interview from blogger Paul Wolf.

Buffalo Rising video with Kearns fielding questions from readers.

Kearns' official campaign Web site

And, finally, the following WNYMediaNet interview with Kearns.

Any suggestions for additions, readers?

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City Hall | Politics
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