Long story short, Aaron Bartley, Eric Walker and Co. organize to give people a meaningful voice about what happens in their neighborhood and how public dollars are spent towards that end.
It's bottom up -- and effective.
No pointless press conferences.
No playing footsies with the politicians.
No insiders sitting around in a room deciding what's best for other people.
Nope. Good old-fashioned community organizing, something we need a lot more of in this town.
"What makes us unique is that, unlike a lot of groups that are doing development or community-based work, we're interested in building power for people in the neighborhood. That's not something you see very often," said Eric Walker, PUSH's organizing director.
"For us, power is community control of resources."
Reminds me of something Dr. Winston O'Boggie once said.
As an aside, I'm up to my eyeballs wrapping up a package of stories Pat Lakamp and I are working on about the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. Consider them "Son of One Sunset." The stories will run over the course of the next couple of weeks. I've got to cut back on my blogging in the meantime to focus on getting my portion of the work done, but will try and post a little something each day.
More like the Bill Murray film in which the poor guy wakes up every day only to do the same thing over and over and over again.
Our version of Groundhog Day is directed by Andrew Rudnick of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and this year co-stars Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Chris Collins.
Every year, the region's business and political e-lite gather for the unveiling of the ... drum roll please ... REGIONAL AGENDA!
It's our "ask" to the powers that be in Albany and Washington.
It seems like the REGIONAL AGENDA! doesn't change much from year to year. That's because so little on the list gets accomplished.
Not even Dubya (remember him?) would dare declare MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Maybe it's because the REGIONAL AGENDA! is longer than a 6-year-old's wish list to Santa and that so little of it is prioritized, aside from the UB 2020 plan which, if you don't know, is the latest Silver Bullet That Is Going To Save Us All.
I counted 'em up and there are no fewer than 57 requests listed.
Now, the release of the REGIONAL AGENDA! has never gotten under my skin before, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention. For whatever reason, I'm unsure whether to laugh or cry after reading the other day about the latest roll out, for a couple of reasons.
First off, the regional economy is that much deeper in the hole. State employment figures show we've lost 17,000 jobs from this time a year ago. That's the steepest drop in at least the past 20 years, probably much longer.
Now, more than ever, we need a solid plan. And the REGIONAL AGENDA! ain't it.
But, truth be told, that's not the biggest reason why I'm cheesed. No, that can be found on Page 3 of the REGIONAL AGENDA!
Among our asks is $40 million to build a new stadium at Buffalo State College. We're told it also will serve city schools.
Gee, didn't we just build a new stadium at the University at Buffalo? And hasn't the school district recently refurbished All High Stadium And isn't the city redoing the athletic complex at the old War Memorial Stadium site for the second time?
In other words, I think we're OK on the stadium front. Yeah, yeah, I know, in this town, you can never have enough cold beer or stadium parking lots to drink it in. But really, I think we're good.
But wait, there's more on Page 3 -- a request for $5 million to build a parking ramp at Buff State.
Another blankety-blank parking ramp?!
Let me get this straight. We're losing jobs almost as fast as we're losing young people, the smart economic thinkers say we need to be thinking technology and green, Buffalo has sunk to being the third-poorest city in the nation and we're asking the state for $45 million to build a sports stadium and parking ramp?
But wait, there's still more.
The REGIONAL AGENDA! talks out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of reforming the state's low-cost hydropower program that is vital to WNY, but makes it very clear that the companies currently enjoying Empire Zone benefits should be held harmless when the successor program is put in place.
Another recommendation calls for Albany to sink another $10 million into the bottomless money pit known as the Darwin Martin House. How many years is it going to take to recoup the public investment on that project? Can't we just send in the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew to wrap things up?
Our e-lites even feel the need to weigh in on health care reform. No employer mandates, no public option. Right out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce play book.
To this, the Democratic mayors of Buffalo and Niagara Falls signed on.
Said Brown: "I think the positive thing is that the community is speaking with one voice, that we are unified in presenting this agenda, and I think that gives us a better opportunity of achieving success."
Said Collins: "For too long, we spoke with multiple voices, and in doing so, Albany and Washington were able to ignore us."
Well, actually, there are other voices out there, ones worth listening to.
For starters, while it's not the be-all, there's the priority list developed by the Partnership for the Public Good. Includes stuff like green jobs, neighborhood revitalization, more effective economic development programs, investments in public transit and reforms to help the poor get a better education and hopefully a job, or a better one.
It would be easy to laugh off the Groundhog Day exercise, but folks, this community needs a blueprint for digging out from under, and the REGIONAL AGENDA! is what passes for it. And what we've got to work from is a lot of blah-blah-blah.
More than anything, it underscores the state of what passes for leadership in this community.
Next year, we might as well have Gabby Johnson outline the REGIONAL AGENDA! for us. It might make more sense.
There have been some quiet, behind-the-scenes meetings taking place the last month or two aimed at trying to figure out how to fix the mother-of-a-problem involving the city's use of public dollars, mostly federal, to combat poverty and promote economic development.
"What we have to do is take 30 years of layering on not 'best practices' and clean it up to start fresh," said Dennis Penman, left, acting president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., who initiated the effort.
OK, I can go for that. A rethinking is certainly in order, preferably accompanied by a couple of sticks of dynamite to blow things up and start over.
But here's the rub -- the folks summoned to sort things out include many of the usual suspects, in some cases the very people who helped get us in this fix to begin with.
Participants include former city economic development commissioners and/or senior staff, including Chuck Rosenow, Larry Rubin, Jim Militello, Larry Quinn, Fred Fadel, Pete Cammarata and Dave Stebbins. Some of them are bright, others are part of a long line of bureaucrats who, along with the politicians, built the dysfunctional system that needs fixing.
Others in the room have included Nancy Peacock, No. 2 person in the local HUD office; Robert Gioia, whose latest Mr. Insider hat includes foundation bigwig; former Common Council President Jim Pitts; and a couple of folks from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Curious names. I mean, HUD has spent 20 years mostly looking the other way and Pitts is one of the leading political architects of this mess. From them, we expect solutions?
In typical Buffalo style, we've got top-down -- a group of mostly older, white establishment guys sitting around talking about how to help poor black folks.
The people in the trenches making things happen, guys like Aaron Bartley of PUSH Buffalo or Michael Clarke of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., are nowhere to be found. To say nothing of people in the community who all this federal money is supposed to be helping.
Penman said this may be the opening salvo of what could evolve into a broader, more-inclusive process. He described the handful of meetings held so far as informal, "more fact finding, a listening tour."
"If it's going to move forward, it should be a more formalized, public process," Penman said.
Notably, he said, a broader base of people should be included if the process evolves. His hope would be to have recommendations to the mayor by February-March.
I'm not sure how to go about this. Closed-door meetings of insiders doesn't feel right, especially with the crew Penman has pulled together. Nor does a blue-ribbon panel approach, which usually produces a lot of politically correct hot air and a report that sits on a shelf collecting dust.
Don't get me wrong; folks with experience in the system are worth hearing out.
But so too are the growing cadre of young, smart progressive people, many of them affiliated with the Partnership for the Public Good, who are doing good work in the field while boning up on best practices elsewhere.
Personally, I think we ought to treat this like New Year's Eve. You know, out with the old, in with the new.
Get a few of the sage graybeards to work with the young Turks and, by all means, involve at some meaningful level the people who these federal dollars are supposed to be helping.
Fred Dicker of the New York Post reports that now that the Democrats are completely in charge of state government, they're spending more time fighting each other than the Republicans.
The public budget battle between Gov. Paterson and the Legislature's Democratic leaders tells only half the story: They're fighting like cats and dogs in private as well.
Sources in Paterson's office and at the Legislature told The Post of a rising animosity and even hatred between the governor and several of the leaders, as well as bitter divisions among legislative leaders themselves, as they all struggle with a projected $3 billion state budget gap.
"They all hate each other," was how one senior Democratic official, who has frequent contacts with all the parties, put it.
No reporter in town likes to hoist politicians by their petards more than I do. But I just don't buy into the grief Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III is getting from some quarters for the guilty plea entered last week by Ellicott Common Council Member Brian Davis.
The argument goes something like this: Davis might have committed felonies, and might have been convicted if brought to trial, so therefore Sedita was wrong to negotiate a plea to Class A misdemeanor charges.
I see two flaws in that reasoning.
First, prosecutors since -- what, Roman times? -- have taken the bird in the hand (a plea) over two in the bush (the prospect of a conviction through trial). But all of a sudden, in this case, there's something wrong that that strategy.
Second, the plea by Davis was grounds for his automatic removal from office.
So, what the district attorney effectively did was get Davis to plea to charges that resulted in his removal from office. And some people are taking him to task for it. I guess they think more pounds of flesh should have been extracted.
"My conduct was unacceptable and I do want to apologize," Davis said in the statement. "My 32,000-plus constituents in the Ellicott District, and the city as a whole, deserve better. I am truly sorry."
With Davis officially out of the way, the fun 'n' games to choose a successor is off and running. I floated some names the other day and Brian's story in Thursday's News mentions a few others, including the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church.
He would be a formidable candidate. He's held elected office before on the Board of Education, although he quit 19 months before his term was up, saying his pastoral duties demanded his time.
Psssst, Rev, serving on the Council is a full-time job involving a lot more hours than the School Board. Could you really do justice to both jobs?
Then again, while I don't know Pridgen, from a distance he seems to be dynamic and accomplished, and knows how to operate in the public sphere. All good things.
He's said to be close to the mayor, and for all I know, hizzoner is one of the folks encouraging him to seek the post. Given his standing in the community, Pridgen could be a tough candidate for the Council to turn down if he is recommended by Democratic committeemen.
I don't know enough about him to know whether he'd operate independent of the mayor. I mean, does he have the backbone to tell Steve Casey to take a hike? And would he want to?
Fom all the names floated -- and remember, it's still early -- Pridgen and Bryon McIntrye strike me as possible front-runners.
McIntryre is a city firefighter who knows his way around the district, being active in community affairs and having run for the Council and School Board. His support for Mickey Kearns in the mayoral primary will not hurt him with the Council majority who control the votes that choose Davis' successor.
Barbara Miller-Williams, meanwhile, insists she is not interested in leaving her seat on the County Legislature for a return engagement on the Council. She must be having too much fun playing footsies with the Republicans.
One new name I'm hearing is Don Allen, a former commissioner under Jimmy Griffin and Tony Masiello.
Update: Don called me Thursday morning to say he will be filing his resume for consideration by the Council. He said he's got the experience in government to be an effective Council member.
What names are you hearing, folks, or what names ought we be hearing?
Anyone have any insights -- as opposed to scuttlebutt -- on Pridgen's relationship with Bryon Brown?
The State Senate has seven dwarfs -- members who are opposed to any cuts to education and Medicaid, but no proposals on how to cut money elsewhere in the budget in order to balance the budget, according to this column in the New York Daily News.
Senators from Western New York account for two of the seven -- Antoine Thompson and Bill Stachowski.
Says columnist Bill Hammond:
These seven Democratic pols - call them the seven dwarfs - declared that they cannot possibly go along with trimming education aid in the middle of the school year, as Gov. Paterson has proposed to help close a $3.2 billion deficit.
Nor do they like Paterson's suggested cuts in Medicaid funding for hospitals and nursing homes, which they dismissed as "untenable."
Nor do they support Paterson's plan to raise money by forcing New Yorkers to buy new license plates.
Okay, now we know what they're against. So what are they for? How, pray tell, do they propose to resolve a cash crunch so severe that the state might not be able to pay its bills next month?
They've got nothing.
Well, it's not exactly true "they've got nothing."
They've got money in the bank, in the form of campaign contributions they keep soliciting while they hem and haw while doing the people's business.Thompson has been especially busy, although we won't know how much loot he and others have taken in the second half of this year until the next round of disclosure reports are filed in January.
It's pretty safe to say it's all over but the shouting, and believe me, there will be shouting.
The first business day after Brian Davis pleaded guilty to pocketing campaign contributions and lying to about it to the state Board of Elections, his colleagues on the Common Council got busy making him a persona non-grata.
They stripped him of all his committee assignments and pretty much said said he's finished. Or, in the words of Mickey Kearns of the Sounth District:
"Based on his guilty plea, he has violated state public officers' law, and he's no longer a Council member."
Update: Davis' support on the Council is down to zero as of Tuesday afternoon. About the only pol we haven't heard from is Mayor Byron Brown. Why are we not surprised?
Council leaders on Monday met with Acting Corporation Counsel David Rodriguez to ask him about what it takes to replace Davis and how soon the city law department will render a legal opinion to get the ball rolling.
Perhaps it won't be long until Davis can compare notes with Eliot Sptizer. I mean, they've both got time on their hands, right?
Already, attention is turning to who will replace Davis for the remaining 25 months of his term.
Here's the intelligence I've picked up the past couple of days:
The Council would appoint a replacement, after presumably conducting interviews of candidates and fielding a non-binding, but usually accepted recommendation from the Democratic committeemen for the Ellicott District.
If you're assuming Brown's surrogates in Grassroots control committee seats in the district, you'd be wrong. I'm told neither Grassroots nor another faction headed by Arthur O. Eve. Jr. hold a majority of seats. There's also a number of committeemen independent of those two camps - swing votes, if you will.
Prospective candidates are already coming out of the woodwork and the field could grow to 10 or more. Names being bandied about include Barabara Miller-Williams, who used to hold the seat and now serves in the County Legislature; firefighter Byron McIntrye, who previously ran against Davis and who narrowly lost a race this spring for the Board of Education; and a couple of other former candidates for the Ellicott seat, William Trezevant and Kenny Robinson. I'm also hearing Marilyn Rogers, who works for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
A lot is at stake politically.
In a sense, there is an anti-Brown majority on the Council - five of nine members - although when push comes to shove, most of them go along with the mayor. But politically, the majority is not on the same page as the mayor, and they realize that if they appoint another like-minded member in the Ellicott seat, they would have a veto-proof majority, which could shake things up. To say nothing of ruining Steve Casey's day.
Adding yet more intrigue are preliminary discussions among some Council members about reorganization that would change, or reaffirm, key leadership positions. Among the titles up for grabs in Council president, which is kind of a big deal, even moreso with Brown's uncertain future.
Yeah, the mayor was just re-elected to a second term, but that doesn't necessarily mean he is long for City Hall.
He's mentioned as a possible running mate to Andrew Cuomo, although not in this New York Times story from yesterday. Furthermore, his administration is being investigated by everyone this side of the KGB and, as the commerical goes "Hey, you never know."
If the mayor leaves in mid-term, the Council president succeeds him. So, the reorganization takes on special importance, and the appointment of a Davis successor is a factor.
There's another reason why the Ellicott appoint is important. Because the district is arguably one of the most important in the city.
It includes all of downtown, the inner-harbor (i.e. Bass Pro site), Erie Basin Marina and LaSalle Park, the Buffalo Medical Campus, and neighborhoods adjoining downtown on the lower west and near east sides that are in various stages of decline and revitalization.
In other words, if there's any district seat in the city where you want someone who is on the ball, someone who can influence decisions that impact the entire city -- indeed, the region -- it is Ellicott. And no one worth a hoot has occupied the seat since Jim Pitts.
So, here's hoping the the committeemen, and then the Council, go beyond politics in deciding who will fill the seat.
I'll admit to being just a wee-wee bit sorry -- maybe 2 percent -- for Brian Davis on Friday for about half an hour when he was in City Court to plead guilty to charges he pocketed campaign donations for personal purposes and lied about it.
First there was the "perp walk" between the elevators and the courtroom with five or six TV cameras and bright lights in his face.
Humiliating, I thought to myself.
Then there was the courtroom scene. After conferring with attorneys, Chief City Court Judge Thomas Amodeo allowed cameras into the chamber, and they set up shop about 15 feet away from Davis.
Lights, action, camera.
It was all over in about 12 minutes and then Davis and his attorney, Rodney Personius, eventually headed to the hallway and quickly ended my sliver of sympathy.
Personius said he had a statement, but was not going to answer questions. He went on to praise Davis for making his plea and declared his client is not stepping down from office.
With that, the pair bolted to the elevators, ignoring a torrent of questions, including "what do you have to say to your constituents?"
Davis never said "I'm sorry." Not to the judge. Not to reporters. Not to his constituents.
Maybe that was the time and place. Maybe it wasn't.
But to dig in his heels and declare his intention to fight to keep his Council seat was brazen, especially given what DA Frank Sedita is saying: that Davis vacated the seat in making his plea.
I should not have been surprised by Davis' bloodied but unbowed stance.
Ineptitude in city government is a given. But corruption, in the form of an honest-to-goodness plea or conviction is rare, rare, rare in City Hall.
That makes Common Council Member Brian Davis' plea today to criminal charges that he pocketed campaign contributions and used them for personal purposes and then lied to the state Board of Elections about it particularly scandalous.
I picked the brains of some old-timers and while mayors Steven Pankow and Chester Kowal were indicted in the 1950s and 1960s respectively, they were never convicted.
The no-show job scandal during the final term of Mayor Frank Sedita in the early 1970s did not result in legal action.
The Parks Department scandal in the late 1980s and early 1990s under Jimmy Griffin resulted in Parks Commissioner Bob Delano going to jail, and the mayor's brother Tommy served time for property tax fraud in Florida, but neither episode landed hizzoner in court.
So, it's been more than a half-century since an elected official in Buffalo has been guilty of a crime - in the eyes of the legal system, anyway. Think about that, given how screwed up City Hall has been for, well, forever, or at least since Grover Cleveland was in office?
The only thing I find surprising about Davis' fall from grace is how quickly it happened.
I reported in April that he was a deadbeat, followed up in May with a report that he had doctored his credentials, and BAM! -- six months later he's plead guilty to charges that are probably going to lead to his removal from office.
Suffice to say, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III didn't waste time.
Although Davis took a deep breath today and pleaded guilty, it doesn't mean his legal troubles are necessarily over.
He's also still got the FBI sniffing around the One Sunset scandal, in which he played a role, first helping to secure city funding for the project and later writing a check to cover the rent Brian Davis that bounced.