Autocracy and Speaking for the People

14 Feb

When Larry Quinn announced that he was leaving the board of the Erie County Harbor Development Corporation. he said:

I’m going to finish up here, and I’m going to kind of cut off my involvements with other things in Buffalo for now … I have an old expression, that you can nail wings on a pig but you can’t make it fly, and I’m tired of trying to make a pig fly. This political community here is so screwed up that I’m tired of it. It’s just a joke.

Truer words have never been said. The political atmosphere in Buffalo is downright toxic. It is, generally, ideas’ kryptonite.

As we all know, Tim Tielman – the Sarah Palin of Buffalo development – weighed in, likening Quinn to, of all people, Hosni Mubarak. That was followed up yesterday by a wishy-washy Donn Esmonde (one minute he lurves guys like Quinn and Higgins, the next minute he tsk-tsks them).

Through all of it, I think Quinn represented the worst of a top-down, magic-bullet mindset that too often afflicts this community’s decision-making. The Bass Pro fiasco, backed by virtually every power broker and politician, cost the community years of time, money and needless conflict. Think about that, the next time somebody says preservationists are the “obstructionists.”

What Quinn was doing was trying to ensure that a development with a large shopping component have a large shopping draw. Whether you were for or against Bass Pro, the logic of its inclusion was without question. We don’t crowdsource what shopping options go to Elmwood Avenue or the Walden Galleria, so to have a parade of developmental Sarah Palins call Bass Pro everything but Hitler was as unproductive (if not more so) than the attempts to lure the store.

When the Tielmanites talked of the aborted siting of the Bass Pro on the Central Wharf, you’d have thought they were talking of a Shoah.

But when did they hold the referendum? When did the people truly decide?

Because when the Tielmanite Palinists declare development projects to be horrifically wrong, they’re merely substituting their own opinions to someone else’s; we have the preservationist elite (usually in alliance with the foundation elite and activist elite) doing battle with the politically-connected & developer/new money elites. (The Buffalo elites are explained in this post.)

Regular people, though – the people who slot into none of the elites – never got a chance to weigh in on any of the plans until today. For every criticism that Donn Esmonde hucks at Larry Quinn for his supposed autocratic “discount[ing] public process” and “blast[ing] of project skeptics” who had blasted him, the same goes for Tim Tielman and his ilk.

Because Tim Tielman and the anti-development types in Buffalo held exactly zero public hearings or listening tours or referenda or other opportunities to listen to the public. Not that they’re legally obligated to, but when they purport to speak for the entire community, and when Donn Esmonde implies that they speak for everyone, they should be reminded that the regular people – the ones who don’t slot into any of Buffalo elites – no one ever asked them.

19 Responses to “Autocracy and Speaking for the People”

  1. Brian February 14, 2011 at 6:01 am #

    I’m extremely uneasy with the tyranny of a majority (witness California’s referendums, which have reduced a great state to, well, something else), but EVERYTHING in Buffalo seems to go on in some strange ethereal yet nasty place out of reach of Joe  Sixpack and me.  I guess it’s a feeling that agrees with Matt Taibbi’s take:  The fix is in. Elections do not matter.

  2. Jeremy February 14, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    If you asked the “regular people” of Buffalo (underscore Buffalo) what they wanted, do you think the answer would have been any better?

    Henry Ford once said that if he’d asked people what they wanted before the car was invented, they’d have said “a faster horse.” Leadership and vision are about looking beyond the supposed wisdom of the masses and doing better for them than a referendum might accomplish on it’s own. Lacking these things, we wind up with empty spaces and pointless curiosities that few people will care to visit. Like downtown Buffalo right now.

  3. Mark February 14, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    We don’t crowdsource what will go into the Galleria or the Elmwood Strip, but we also don’t throw a bunch of public money at a single pre-selected client that a small group of people decided should go there, and then call people who don’t like that idea Palinists.

    I don’t like all this jockeying to see who can be the most non-elitist. Tielman speaks for his supporters, Quinn speaks for his supporters, and Alan Bedenko and the rest of WNYMedia speak for their supporters. No one can speak for “the community” because there is no “the community” and there is no “the people.” Do you think that if you subtract “the elites,” from “the community,” you end up with some pure version of the popular will?

    There is no single popular will, and if there was, it would not necessarily be based on knowledge or logic. That is why we have elections and committees and experts in the first place — because even if we could figure out who “the people” are, they wouldn’t necessarily know best. Should a tiny group of unelected elites make all the decisions? No, but that really isn’t any worse than trying to figure out what “the community” wants. Every single one of us has political and economic interests that may or may not coincide with 100%, 50%, 5%, or 0% of the interests of other WNYers.

  4. Andrew Kulyk February 14, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    That Esmonde slam piece was one of the worst pieces of junk he has ever put out, which is saying a lot considering the messes he has written in the past.

    LQ is not a monster or an evil person. The man bleeds Buffalo from every fibre of is being. He gets it. He tried his best. He may not be the best hockey mind, and the Sabres have taken a few wrong turns in recent seasons, but when it comes to local development, nobody was better than LQ.

    Esmonde chides LQ for promoting development goals that had the ulterior motive of financially benefiting the Sabres. Well, duh! What is sowrong with that? For Canalside to be a success, it is imperative thnat the Sabres as the largest tenant and people generator be intricately involved with the growth of their neighborhood. Developing destination points that arena patrons actually want to visit should be a no brainer. Yet Esmonde demonizes LQ, because heaven forbid we actually entice a sports bar, a Dinosaur bbq or a Hooters to this “sacrosanct” soil, when piles of ruins, interpretive plaques and movie night bouncing off the facade of some grain elevator would be far more compelling as a draw. Puh-leez!

    We just got back from another USRT adventure, this time to Orlando. The builders of their Amway Center got it right. Located right downtown, the adjoining parking ramps all house ground floor retail along the street, and ose shops are filled with cafes, bars, tchotchke shops, art galleries and other retail that basketball patrons would enjoy. The street pavings and streetscape match up to the building, and on game day are closedoff, allowing for music, games, entertainment and food and drink. Just the other side of the I-4 viaduct lies the Church St historic district, replete with taverns, nightclubs, and other fun venues.

    Why did Orlando get it right yet we can’t? Why can they have cool things yet we aren’t allowed? Esmonde, Tielman, and others of their ilk should be ashamed of themselves. And as for me, I am sorry that LQ has departed, but I am not surprised considering the bullshit he had to put up with. 

  5. peteherr February 14, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    @Andrew Kulyk – Are we talking about the same Larry Quinn that spent lots of time and money developing a Master Plan for the waterfront that was built on lots of public input and had the support of many pols…..and the same Larry Quinn who ditched that same Master Plan the minute Bass Pro wanted waterfront property? Why have a Master Plan if you aren’t going to adhere to it, at least in principle.

  6. Colin February 14, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    Not this shit again . . .

    There’s a key difference between people like Quinn and “activist elites” (sweet right wing talking point!) like Tielman or whoever. Quinn and the ECHDC were public or quasi-public, and were charged with serving the public. They were actually invested with public authority. They’re supposed to pay attention to what the public wants, rather than pushing a deal hatched by a couple of rich assholes. Tielman and other activists represent pressure groups, and if they claim to speak for the public, it’s a rhetorical ploy. It’s a rhetorical device used by almost all activists. It’s standard. The Egyptian revolutionaries claimed to be speaking for “the people,” too. They didn’t conduct a referendum before doing so. So what?

  7. JSmith February 14, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Don’t you have to actually have, like, “power” to be an elite? The preservationists in Buffalo are so impotent that virtually all they can do is gnash their teeth and decry the demolition of our built heritage and its replacement with anti-urban buildings that are unlikely to last a generation.

    Even Tim Tielman merely sits on an advisory board that is often overruled by the Common Council at the request of developers.

  8. Ned February 14, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    I agree with Andrew, if it weren’t for the braindead Democrats that he so feverishly works for, this city may have a chance.

  9. STEEL February 14, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    You sound like a 2 year old having a temper tantrum. Quinn was hired to do what he was doing and he did it. Teilman was exercising his rights as an an American citizen the way our system was designed for him to do and he did it. Calling him an elite because of that makes you sound like a teabaging douche. Tielman steps up to the plate with his time energy and money to push the agenda he and his followers want. If Joe six pack is content to sit in front of the TV and complain about what happens without lifting a finger then too bad for them.

    I don’t always agree with Tielman and his methods but he has had a good influence on development in the city more times than not. Even with Bass Pro the plan definitely improved with his input. The fact that there had to be an epic battle to force better planning is what should be examined. The fact that Bass Pro ultimately failed may have more to do with an easy out in a down economy than anything else.

  10. Mike In WNY February 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    the logic of its inclusion was without question

    That may be your opinion, but the logic is lacking and basically invalidates everything that follows.

    Good riddance to Quinn, sadly for us, he didn’t leave soon enough.

  11. Patrick February 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    I may be wrong but Tielman was in favor of the original award winning plan for the harbor was he not?

    So to say he is “anti-development” does not seem fair. I think saying he is anti public subsidy to a corporation that has cut and run on public subsidies is more applicable.

  12. Starbuck February 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    A scientific poll before Bass Pro withdrew showed overwhelming public opposition. At the time, I remember thinking that poll was likely a major factor, along with the ultimatum from Higgins, in why Bass Pro pulled the plug.

    http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=80681&catid=37

    BUFFALO, NY – The current Bass Pro plan is off, and as it turns out, the public was against the plan before it was killed on Friday afternoon.

    An exclusive 2 On Your Side poll reveals that the vast majority of Erie County residents believe Bass Pro was receiving too much public money, and should not be the anchor of Buffalo’s inner harbor waterfront. The scientific telephone poll, conducted by Survey U.S.A., an independent polling company, questioned 500 random Erie County residents, with a 4.3% margin of error.

    We asked residents the following questions:

    1) Should Bass Pro be the signature store in the Canalside waterfront development project?

    Yes – 27%
    No – 64%
    The rest were not sure.

    2) Bass Pro is being offered $35 million in subsidies to come to Buffalo. Is that too much money? Too little money? Or just about the right amount?

    Too Much – 80%
    Too Little – 5%
    Just About Right – 13%
    The rest were not sure.

  13. mike in buffalo February 15, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    The problem this whole time has been that Larry Quinn didn’t know that pigs can’t fly! Did he also realize that retail is not economic development in a shrinking region? Probably not. Few do.

  14. jhorn February 15, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    Thanks for that post, Starbuck. Those kind of numbers cover a lot of the niche elites Mark referred to including the regular-people elite. The people spoke and, surprisingly, it was Bass Pro that listened. Not Mr. Quinn.

  15. Hapklein February 15, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    I watched LQ with hope during the 1990’s. A good part of any success is developing visions and goals then recruiting people to your side to accomplish much as a result.
    I have concluded that Quinn’s sense of self importance is a direct inverse ratio of his impact on the community. 
    He seems trapped in tunnel vision combined with high energy. Aside from wealth accrual and lots of publicity he really did little for the community but lots for himself. Ave, Salve.

  16. Hank February 15, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Pigs can’t fly? Someone never saw Pink Floyd when they did their “Animals” tour. Not only do they fly, but lazers give them the vectors, But I digress.

    Until Joe 6 Pack gets off his lounge chair, the bar stool or the Union Hall bench and decides to give a shit, development of the DMZ that is downtown will have the same shitty flavor it does now. I for one won’t hang by my huevos waiting for it to change.

  17. Eric P. February 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Larry Quinn is a smarmy, arrogant prick who has only sought to benefit himself and his monied friends by way of ECHDC (an Authority created by another Authority – answerable to no one).

    BuffaloPundit has, in the past, written about the unfair, self-perpetuating, dictatorial nature of Authorities in NYS – doesn’t ECHDC count? Quinn’s comment, cited in the same article as Tielman’s quote, is far more telling and worthy of derision.

    Quinn says, “This political community here is so screwed up that I’m tired of it. It’s just a joke”. Quinn is a tired, screwed-up, and a joke who is taking his money and running. Larry Quinn is a thoroughbred asshole.

    The idea of “preservationist elites” is laughable; and what measurable self-interest can be attributed to them? What great financial reward do the preservationists receive? Really.

    Tielman’s use of the “Mubarak” label seems reasonable when applied to Quinn, a greedy, duplicitous little dictator. Calling Tielman “Palin” is a real weird stretch, Alan – no sale.

    Also, If I cared much about the Sabres, I’m sure I would have many more reasons to dislike Hosni Quinn.

  18. JohnnyWalker February 16, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    You really have to question Tielmans motives. Got a foundation (that is suppose to help the poor) give him 8k just so he could drive his little yellow shool bus with the top chopped off. Didn’t say a word when a civil war era farmhouse in Allentown (A national historic preservation district) was torn down to expand a printing business. Why? Makes on wonder?

  19. Andrew W. March 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    This city has remainded virtually unchanged since I was a child and I see no reason to believe it will before I pass. Politicians and preservationists will drag this city down until it falls into a giant sinkhole. Long live TT.

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