We've got two "Partnerships" in town and in the past three weeks we've been given the benefit of their competing visions for the community.
Late last month, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership summoned its people and compliant politicians like Chris Collins and Byron Brown to unveil a REGIONAL AGENDA! Yeah, technically, it was a shared vision, but Andrew Rudnick's fingerprints, palm prints and footprints were all over it, right down for a call to eliminate any progressive elements of national health care reform.
In a nutshell, the folks crying for government to cut taxes and generally get government off our backs asked Albany and Washington for $450 million in capital projects. Stuff like parking ramps, football stadiums and other projects that would supposedly turn this community around.
Chris Collins wasn't in the room; he must have been busy counting all the money it's going to take to pay those Washington lawyers he's hired to defend the abuse of county prisoners.
The mayor? I dunno, maybe he was down the street getting a haircut at one of the barbershops he doled out grant money to.
For those of you who don't know about PPG, as it's known in progressive circles, it's an umbrella organization of nonprofit organizations trying ot make a difference. People like Aaron Bartley of PUSH Buffalo and Allison Duwe of the Coalition for Economic Justice, pictured right.
This is the third year they've developed, in collaboration with partner organizations, a list of priorities that have at least a fighting chance of getting accomplished and an organization working towards that end.
Allow me to run down the list quickly, then focus on the most intriguing one:
-- Deal with poverty through the continued promotion of living wage initiatives.
-- Improve conditions at the downtown holding center and county jail in Alden.
-- Maintain inner-city health care centers targeted by Collins.
-- Revive stalled efforts to deal with the growing number of housing vacancies not only in the city, but inner-ring suburbs.
-- Eliminate toxic pollution belching from Tonawanda Coke. (In the interest of disclosure, my daughter, Erin, is executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, which is leading that fight).
-- Launch initiatives in two targeted communities to promote green initiatives that would result in, among other things, lower utility bills and provide jobs for poor people performing green retro-fits of houses.
-- Improve the access of low-income city residents to healthy food through a number of initiatives, including the promotion of urban farming and establishment of a city Food Policy Council.
-- Reform state economic development subsidy programs, namely Empire Zones and industrial development agencies, to promote the creation of quality jobs and corporate accountability.
-- Reform state campaign finance laws to include, among other things, lower contribution limits, matching public financing and more vigorous enforcement.
-- Last, and not least, negotiate a community benefits agreement for Canal Side, a.k.a. Bass Pro.
Community benefits agreements aren't common in these parts, but they're used in some other communities, and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy has proved particularly adept at negotiating them out in la-la land for projects involving oodles of public money. (Here's an excellent primer on CBAs from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.)
The PPG folks here would like to see an agreement on five issues, and I'll quote directly:
-- living wage jobs.
-- environmentally friendly buildings and operations.
-- locally owned businesses.
-- mixed income housing.
-- a building and site design appropriate to the location.
I got hold of Larry Quinn last night, the guy with the pointer on the left and one of the main movers behind Canal Side, and bounced the proposed CBA off him. I thought he might take exception, but he was pretty receptive.
"I agree with four of their five points," he said.
Living wages is where he parts ways with PPG.
"I don't blame them for their sentiments, but I think instituting a living wage would result in fewer jobs, not more," Quinn said. "It doesn't reflect the real marketplace for jobs."
Hmmm, sounds like, on balance, there's room for a constructive dialog.
The biggest disappointment of Wednesday's event came near the end, when politicians in attendance were invited to make a few remarks. Maria Whyte was a bit of a let down.
Oh, it wasn't anything she said. In fact, it was nice to hear a politician speak without saying "I" over and over again. (Of course, that kind of conduct over time could land her in hot water with the politicians' union.)
No, it was that, for the first time in which I've heard her speak, Whyte didn't once punctuate her remarks with a clenched fist or three.
I know it's the week before Christmas and all, but don't go soft on us, Maria.
I distinctly remember her at a rally outside Tonawanda Coke a couple of months back, railing against plant owner J.D. Crane, cradling her baby in one arm and pumping her fist with the other. It was something to behold, people.
I haven't see that kind of progressive passion on a local stage since Gene Fahey had a full head of hair.
No empty pants suit, she.
Which begs the question: What are you doing in four years, Maria?(Follow this blog and my reporting on Facebook and Twitter. Have a story tip or something you want to share? e-mail me.)