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Curtis Haynes is not your average Council member

I sat down Wednesday with Curtis Haynes Jr. for an 80-minute interview that will be the basis of a profile I'll write sometime in the next week for the print edition. In the meantime, I wanted to share some impressions of the new Ellicott District representative while the interview is fresh in my mind.

My take on Haynes, who I had never met before, in brief: smart, progressive, serious-minded.

I will admit to being impressed, which, as anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows, doesn't happen all that often. Or maybe I was just happy to be in Room 1408 of City Hall for the first time since Jim Pitts occupied the real estate. For some reason, Brian Davis never invited me into the inner sanctum.

Haynes might be the most educated Council member we've had, at least in recent times, having earned a doctorate. More importantly, that education, and a lot of practical experience since he graduated, is in economics. Urban economics, to be precise. That might come in handy in the nation's third-poorest city. 

At a time when some Council members have trouble paying their taxes, along comes a new guy who teaches courses at Buffalo State College that include microeconomics, industrial organization and technical analysis of financial markets.

That makes him smarter than the average bear. To say nothing of the average Council member.

Here are some other crib notes from the interview:

Haynes is well traveled. His father served in the Air Force and the family lived everywhere from California and New Jersey to England and Germany. When he took a sabbatical from Buffalo State, he bought an Amtrak pass and traveled to 26 cities across the United States.

He earned his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, whose school of economics at the time was considered perhaps the only progressive program of its type in the nation. He's gone on to focus on urban economics, and regards his appointment to the Council as an opportunity to put his knowledge to work. He's taken his economic theory and applied it in the community through a number of initiatives, including a prototype of an academy that teaches leadership, entrepreneurial and financial skills to city residents.

Haynes, curtis 2 Haynes taught at several universities -- and prisons that were part of the University Without Walls. (When he said, "I taught convicts," I couldn't help but quip that, with that experience, he shouldn't have any problem dealing with his colleagues on the Council). He joined the faculty at Buff State in 1993 and has been voted the college's best professor three times by the student senate.

His one school-age child attends public school in the city.

Ask him what kind of economist he is and he answers "urban economist." Ask him to describe his politics and he says "progressive." Ask him to describe his M/O back in the 1990s when he and some colleagues at Buff State first ventured into community issues and he says "scholar activist."

He intends to focus on economic issues and sees the future tied to creating young entrepreneurs. "We need to find a way of linking the economy to the kids," he said. Haynes said it's time to stop chasing smokestack industries and build businesses that reflect the reality of the new economy. Knowledge, Green. Stuff like that.

Haynes does not plan to be an automatic sixth vote in an anti-Brown majority on the Council. "I'm going to be independent," he said. One of his first acts as Council member was to venture down to the second floor of City Hall in an effort to introduce himself the the mayor, whose political organization worked hard on behalf of the Rev. Darius Pridgen. Alas, the mayor wasn't in. Probably at another photo op.

He'll have plenty of opportunities to stumble along the way, but Haynes comes to the job with a lot of tools you don't often see in a freshman Council member. Most members arrive first and foremost as political animals, and, if we're lucky, learn a thing or two about policy along the way.

Haynes' challenge is to learn the politics, and they will be tricky, given all the hootin' and hollerin' that surrounded his appointment. But my hunch is that if he can figure out how financial markets work, he can probably figure out City Hall politics. Whether or not he can survive them is another story, of course.

Again, this is all first-impression stuff, but I grilled him pretty good during the interview and think I have a pretty good nose for this kind of stuff. All I can say is so far, so good, and that Haynes appears to have the potential for a big upside.

Look for a fuller profile coming to a newspaper near you soon.


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City Hall | Politics
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