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A closer look at Darius Pridgen

It looks like we're down to three candidates to replace Brian Davis on the Common Council - The Rev. Darius Pridgen, Bryan McIntyre and Curtis Haynes Jr. Brian Meyer has the latest developments in today's paper.

Pridgen is bound to be the subject of additional speculation and scrutiny, given his narrow victory Saturday with Democratic committeemen. He now stands as the party's recommended candidate to the Common Council, although party Chairman Len Lenihan sounds like he's holding his nose in pledging his support.

Just a question before I proceed, in light of the fact a quarter of Ellicott District committeemen failed to show up for the vote Saturday. What could possibly be their excuse? Lame, really lame.

But I digress.

Let's put to rest the question as to whether Pridgen is Mayor Byron Brown's preferred candidate. That was answered Saturday when Barbara Miller-Williams, chairman of the Erie County Legislature and an ally of the mayor, nominated Pridgen and Grassroots committeemen voted for him en masse.

McIntrye, meanwhile, showed he has his own base of support, given his narrow loss to Pridgen. The vote, once the field was narrowed to just he and Pridgen, was so-co close with a weighted vote of 3,325 to 3,152. A change in vote by just one committeeman would have swung the vote to McIntyre. 

Haynes was a respectable, but distant third in the balloting leading up to the final round of voting. He drew his strength from a faction headed by Champ Eve.

Haynes did well enough to not blow his chances with the Council. Some members are impressed with his credentials as an economist, to say nothing of his affiliation with Eve, who, shall we say, is not on the mayor's Christmas card list. Then again, Eve's backing is a double-edged sword, as it makes some Council members uncomfortable.

Don Allen is bye-bye. A front-runner of sorts with the Council last week, his candidacy drew flies among committeemen. More importantly, his history of financial troubles, which I reported on Saturday, has suddenly made his candidacy a non-starter with his former supporters on the Council.

One of the things I turned up in my public records search of the nine-candidates - what Pridgen owns and doesn't own - has been the subject of some comments on my blog and story published Saturday. Moreover, it's been the subject of a growing amount of chatter in the community. 

As a follow up to my research from last week, I made some phone calls Monday, including one to Pridgen, and here's what I can report.

PridgenFor starters, contrary to rumor, Pridgen does not own a Hummer. He owns a beater of a pick-up truck, a 1995 Dodge Dakota, and a 2005 Saab, which Pridgen said his son drives. He also leases a 2010 Cadillac.

Pridgen lives rent-free in a three-bedroom townhouse at Erie Basin Marina owned by his church, True Bethel Baptist. The church paid $299,000 for it in June 2007.

It's assessed at $218,500, and the property enjoys an exemption worth $1,500 because a member of the clergy lives there. Contrary to one of the rumors circulating, the townhouse pays city and county taxes that come to $5,142.79.

Now, there are folks out there who are gonna say what in the world is an inner-city church doing buying waterfront digs for its minister, a guy who drives a new Caddy to boot?

Pridgen didn't hesitate to explain.

The townhouse functions as as the church's parsonage, which was formerly housed on Humboldt Parkway. True Bethel bought the old parsonage, which Pridgen said was in rough shape, for under $100,000, fixed it up, and eventually sold it for about $300,000. The church used to proceeds to buy the townhouse at Harbor Commons for cash.

Pridgen defended the purchase in part by noting the church decided to invest in the city rather than the suburbs, and essentially said that other ministers live in nice digs, so why shouldn't he?

"'Why should I be any different than any other pastor?" he said.

Well, one could argue that most ministers are not living in waterfront quarters. And there's that thing about his church being located in the inner-city.

"Our people drive in from 10 different zip codes," he said. "To me, (the criticism) smacks of classism - that if your church is in the inner-city, you shouldn't have anything decent."

As for the Caddy and Saab, Pridgen makes no apologies for being affluent enough to afford them. He's worked since he was 15, learned to invest his money wisely and has worked hard and smart over the years.

"I don't think it's a bad thing, I think it's an asset," he said of his wealth.

I've gotta tell ya, I kind of like the guy's attitude, at least when it comes to being enterprising. 

He's clearly a go-getter, having grown his church from 40 to 4,000 members which is active on all sorts of fronts. He owns a couple of businesses, plays a role in the Subway restaurant located at the church.

What's more, unlike many of the political people who are supporting him, starting the the mayor, he takes phone calls from nosy reporters and answers their questions head on.

All this is not to negate questions people have about whether he would act independent of the mayor or why Davis has supported Pridgen's candidacy so enthusiastically.

Or questions as to what Pridgen's attitudes are towards gays,a significant constituency in the Ellicott District, or how how such a busy person can put in the hours required of a Council member, especially since he's already left elected office once citing competing demands for his time.

And then there's the dramatics he's interjected into his campaign - packing the Council chambers with his supporters when he was interviewed, and having some of the them circle the building a few weeks back when he was being interviewed by committeemen in an effort to evoke the the biblical story of the Battle of Jerico in which the Children of Israel circled the city seven times until its walls came tumbling down.

Kinda weird, if you ask me.

That said, Pridgen, in my recent, albeit limited, dealings with him, has displayed a charisma, a candor and a go-get-'em attitude that I find kind of appealing. Certainly not the norm in City Hall.

Don't take that as an endorsement - not that it would be worth anything, anyways - but rather an acknowledgment that there's more to the guy than simply the political company he's been keeping of late.


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