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Cop Block WNY’s Debut

28 Apr

A police officer is empowered to use reasonable force to overcome resistance and effect a lawful arrest. Once a person is subdued and in custody, however, smacking, hitting, or kicking the suspect is straight up brutality. If you hit a handcuffed suspect who’s lying on the ground, you’re basically torturing him.

But why? They don’t appear to be asking him any questions. They’re not trying to get information – there’s no evidence he’s giving that the courts can suppress.  They appear merely to be battering him for the sake of it.

That is to say, there’s a fine line between using force lawfully to subdue a suspect who is resisting arrest, and sadism. So, I’d love to know what precipitated this.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind people that your smartphone’s shape is like a widescreen TV, but only when you hold it horizontally. If you take video in the vertical aspect, that video is going to suck.

 

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Consider Sergio

25 Oct

As I explained yesterday, the Buffalo News editorial board endorsed Mayor Byron Brown in Thursday’s edition. Brown is running for his third term as mayor of a struggling, poor rust belt city who runs a hyper-politicized, allegedly corrupt petty fiefdom. With a million in the bank, he can steamroll over most challengers and has built an interdependent political machine, cavalierly flaunting the laws that ostensibly limit municipal employees’ electioneering, and his ability to compel it.

Byron Brown is a nice enough guy and people like him, but I don’t think he’s the mayor Buffalo needs.

Before you hammer me for not living in the city and opining on the election of its chief executive, I’ll concede the point. But I spend far more of my waking hours working in the city than at home, and I am a firm believer in regionalism. I believe that a strong and prosperous Buffalo is good for everybody. It is the region’s anchor – its entire reason for being, and it’s in everyone’s interests to care how it’s doing. 

I’m not a Republican, but I think that Sergio Rodriguez has run a strong, issues-based race against Mayor Brown, and he’s done so despite being forced to navigate a figurative minefield to do it. He has no support from the county Republican committee, and doesn’t have enough money to do much of anything. He’s bought some lawn signs, but doesn’t have the scratch to do a set of mailings, much less to get on radio or TV.  Instead, he’s been wearing out his shoes, going directly to voters, and he’s been using social media in a town where promotion on Instagram or Foursquare isn’t going to go far. 

Because of the feudal system that Byron Brown has inherited and enhanced, big donors know that helping Sergio is the kiss of death – Brown and his consiglieri would shun you, and no one wants to get sidetracked to discuss what’s happening. Being a Brown outlaw and attempting to do business in the City of Buffalo – any business requiring a permit or license – is untenable. The political class in Buffalo, which is dependent on Brown for its livelihood, knows better than to back Rodriguez. 

The Republicans? Some will privately say that they think Sergio isn’t ready for primetime; that they like him, but while he has good ideas, he hasn’t done much to see them through to completion. They’ll tell you his follow-through stinks, but they’d be in a unique position to help him out with this. What a coup it would be for them to take City Hall after a few generations! But they, too, have a business relationship with the Brown Administration, and it’s best to not rock that boat. 

Stefan Mychajliw is running for his first full term as County Comptroller. Despite the fact that he has literally no idea what he’s doing and treats every press release (and there’s one about every day) as an “audit”, and despite the fact that the “best and brightest” whom he’s hired have abandoned ship, he has charisma, name recognition, and a compelling backstory which will likely propel him back to the 11th floor of the Rath Building. Kevin Gaughan was the Democratic fallback candidate, and while he runs rings around Mychajliw on the details, he doesn’t even come close to touching Mychajliw when it comes to retail politicking. 

One of the reasons the Republicans won’t help Sergio has to do with city turnout; if there was a competitive Mayoral race, Democrats would vote; if city Democrats turn out to vote, they’ll likely vote for Gaughan. So, they sacrifice Sergio to help ease Stefan’s re-election. Sure, it makes perfect tactical sense, but it’s fundamentally cynical.

The News’ endorsement of Brown is astonishing because it has very little, if anything, positive to say about Brown’s accomplishments as Mayor. Almost all of the major projects taking place, representing Buffalo’s “boom” exist in spite of Brown, rather than because of him. More often than not, they come about when he gets out of the way. He gets to show up at the ribbon-cutting and make a proclamation, and then skulk back to the 2nd floor, behind armed guards, to oversee fiefdom. 

The boom that the Buffalo News identifies is illusory. For every new restaurant, medical building, and waterfront announcement, the city’s problems with poverty, crime, joblessness, hopelessness, and failing schools all continue unabated. The big-ticket items are good, but if a city can’t get the fundamentals right, what point is there? People point to positive changes along Grant Street, but gentrification without population or income growth is as unsustainable as sprawl without growth. What the city needs is a leader, not a caretaker. 

Can Sergio be that leader? I think he deserves more of a shot than he’s getting, and the forces aligned in halting him should be ashamed. Even tea party developer Carl Paladino knows that it’s better for him to back Brown and shun Rodriguez if Paladino wants his city projects to go smoothly.

Brown hasn’t even deigned to compete against Rodriguez, which is the ultimate insult – denying voters a race they deserve. But whether or not you think Sergio is the leader Buffalo needs, he has spent months talking about the fundamentals – talking to residents and business owners (small ones, the ones who serve the community rather than big-money interests) about the problems that they face on a daily basis. It’s not pretty – Brown is busy on the radio promoting jobs at Geico way the hell up in north Amherst, so you’re all set if you have a reliable car. Buffalo needs jobs for Buffalonians in Buffalo. There’s no regional plan for much of anything, and one would expect a Buffalo mayor to focus on the quality of life basics, not to ensure his re-election, but to make sure his constituents are better-off.

If you’re one of the preservationist elites, Mayor Brown has had almost 10 years to develop a strategic plan to market and help people finance the purchase and renovation of dilapidated and vacant city-owned foreclosed homes. Just yesterday, a vacant city-owned house near Grant Street was demolished, and no one knew it was for sale because the city doesn’t put up signs or list them properly.

Sergio Rodriguez may deserve your vote, if you’re so inclined, but at a bare minimum he deserves your attention. He’s talking about the bigger picture, and recognizes that a leader requires a vision. In a town where the mayor has touted the number of demolitions he’s overseen, Sergio has instead addressed the issues of joblessness, crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, vacancies, and crime – things that don’t particularly matter to big developers with Rolls-Royces. But Sergio is also the guy who says City Hall will be open and inviting to all, and where good ideas will find a home. It will be inclusive and transparent, rather than an impenetrable fortress. Is it Sergio’s time? That’s up to you. But he certainly deserves your attention and your thoughtful consideration. I think he’s talking about the important things no one wants meaningfully to discuss, and his party affiliation shouldn’t be held against him. 

Brown Poll: Crosstabs at Large

8 Jul

66% of Buffalonians like Mayor Byron Brown. That’s no surprise – he’s quite personable and likable when seen out and about. Yet 80% of Buffalonians think the school system is horrible (only 11% think it’s good). 

Neither WGRZ nor the Buffalo News have seen fit to publish the full results of the poll, including crosstabs, and it’s not available at Siena’s site

So, we’ll just have to wait for the information to trickle out the way that “real media” decide for you

Who is Sergio?

6 Feb

Nothing will quite so starkly upset the Buffalo Republican establishment as Sergio Rodriguez’s announcement of his run for Mayor, set to take place at 1pm in Niagara Square. For WNY Republicans, Buffalo is a tool used to suppress the Democratic turnout for countywide candidates; Sergio Rodriguez, for instance, is Stefan Mychajliw’s worst nightmare. Our new county comptroller – who quite literally press releases a new crisis every. single. day. – won last November by a narrow enough margin that the outcome wasn’t formalized until weeks after Election Day. With a proper big-ticket race on the marquee, Mychajliw’s path to a full term becomes hypothetically more difficult.  The hypothesis is contingent, of course, on Democrats coming up with a competitive candidate. 

Whether Rodriguez’s run will gain much traction is an open question. He ran for a seat on the Council before, and he is very active with veterans’ causes. He is a nice guy – too nice for politics, at first glance – but he’s also a Marine, so it would be foolish to put some real toughness past him. The big problems Rodriguez faces are his city-toxic party affiliation and his utter lack of money in the face of Byron Brown’s tsunami of cash. They are possibly insurmountable, unless Rodriguez can get creative with a bespoke party line (the likelihood of the Conservative Party or Independence Party jettisoning Brown is remote), and can raise some serious money, fast. Since he won’t be running in a primary, he’s got until September to get the money situation together in earnest. 

What is good for the city and region is that Byron Brown will have a challenger in November for the first time since 2005; a challenger who is, significantly, not a mere placeholder. But Rodriguez will have to build his own army from scratch, as it’s doubtful that establishment Republicans will help him canvass, raise money, or collect petition signatures. None of those activities can happen quietly, and the risks of reprisal are real. Rodriguez might conceivably find support among the grassroots / tea party type Republicans, but they’re few, far-between, not based in the city, and too preoccupied with Adolf Cuomo and Josef Obama taking their guns by force. 

The issues and problems that the city faces are tough and they are plenty, and the city has cursed itself with a mayor who doesn’t really want the job, whose concern for politics far outweighs his concern for policy, whose City Hall is corrupt and dirty, and who has no vision or overriding agenda for any of the social, economic, or development issues facing the city. Take any serious controversy that has come up in the city in the last few years, and you’ll be extraordinarily hard-pressed to remember what the mayor had to say or think about it. 

Sergio Rodriguez’s announcement is at 1pm at Niagara Square – can he do it? Is he the future of the city? Let’s listen. 

The Coopers, Formerly of Lovejoy

16 Apr

Let’s dispense for a moment with the “it’s the people” canard about why Buffalo is great – the City of Good Neighbors. 

The reality is that some people are great and neighborly, and others aren’t. Buffalonians are no more or less great or neighborly than any other Americans. Sorry, but you’re not special. 

This comes into stark view as we find out about the violent racist harassment that drove a Black family out of Lovejoy last week. When you have a lost generation of people who can no longer rely on steady industrial work in now-dormant or departed facilities, you get anger and resentment. Young, angry, and resentful people develop irrational hatreds and sometimes act out on them. 

That socioeconomic fact is, however, no excuse. The Coopers of Lovejoy have every right to live wherever they please, without fear of constant harassment from small-minded racists. The Buffalo News stories (here and here) about the issue were well done and provided extraneous details, such as the muttering of racial epithets within a News photographer’s earshot. 

Neighbors thought the family was a “gang” because, well, the Coopers are a large Black family. 

We shouldn’t be tolerating pogroms in 2012 in Buffalo, and another matter comes into stark view. Where is our political leadership on this issue? Rich Fontana is the city councilman from Lovejoy, and he laid blame on the victims

“The family was originally harassed, but when they called in other family members for protection, they turned the situation upside down, and they became the aggressors by sending two Lovejoy youths to the hospital and robbing fast food delivery people,” Fontana said. “After that, I got involved and told both sides to stop the aggression. It was calm until 4:30 this morning.”

Cooper took issue with Fontana’s assessment.

She said that white youths and adults threw rocks and bricks at one of her sons and a nephew, prompting family members to fight back, adding that it occurred after months of racial slurs. “It wears on you,” she said.

As for the allegations of fast food thefts, Cooper said no one at her home ordered the pizza or Chinese food and that no one on her porch attempted to take it.

But the delivery workers filed police reports late Tuesday night, with one claiming an order of pizza and chicken wings was snatched from him and the other reporting that he managed to flee with the Chinese food before it could be taken.

So, the Coopers certainly didn’t find any help or sympathy from Fontana. It’s their fault someone pranked them by ordering food for them. It’s their fault they fought back against harassment. Yet that contradicts this: 

“I’m telling all the residents and every kid I can pull into my arms to stop the attacks, unless you’re attacked first. You do have the right to defend yourself, but don’t be the aggressor against anyone in the neighborhood,” [Fontana] said.

Well, too late. The Coopers moved away. Mayor Brown got briefly involved, but this was an opportunity for him to use his bully pulpit for good. Seeing no ribbons to cut, he has shown zero leadership on yet another critical issue facing the city. 

Good people are good, and bad people are bad – and they come in every hue, from every nation. One would have thought that, in 2012, we’d all be on the same page with that. And in Buffalo, we reserve our outrage for important matters, like footballers’ criticisms of our hotels and the giggles of a different Cooper – Anderson, of Manhattan. 

Saving Trico & the Leadership Vacuum

2 Apr

It’s only been a few short weeks, but I’m already absolutely sick & tired of hearing about, talking about, or thinking about the decaying, unusued Trico factory. Empty now for a decade, it stands as an overgrown, brown headstone honoring the memory of industries lost to the cheap labor and lax environmental regulations of Mexico’s borderlands. Trico assembles wipers in Matamoros. Trico is dead. Oishei so loved Buffalo that they moved the wiper business – which employed people and created local wealth and economic activity – and set up a foundation. 

Battle lines have been drawn, and the forces of “preservation” have selected an old building as a “must-save”, and will go to every length to prevent even the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus from demolishing and replacing the dormant Buffalo factory building. This despite the fact that BNMC is driven by innovation and knowledge, and employing people in something other than piddling service jobs or anachronistic assembly positions. This despite the fact that much of what BNMC has built in recent years has been architecturally as innovative as the work done within the buildings. 

Sure, I could point out that the work that BNMC and its people do is today’s version of building wiper blades, but that doesn’t matter. Trico must be saved! I could point out that the cavernous Trico building’s design could just as easily be described as an eyesore as it can be held up as an example of a factory design that was innovative 100 years ago, but that doesn’t matter. Trico must be saved! Even hypothetically – if a company was saying it wanted to move to Buffalo and create a zillion jobs at $50,000 per year, but wanted to be downtown on a large plot of land and build something designed by Frank Gehry on the site of the mothballed Trico site, and it wouldn’t matter. Trico must be saved!

This despite the fact that Trico has been sitting there for a century, and it is so significant and historical and historically significant that there exists nothing on the books that would legally prohibit its demolition. 

There is no winning in this argument. Only headaches. Buffalo’s activist class have temporarily united to combat anything but Trico’s adaptive reuse. Even Rocco Termini – whose entire business model is based on (a) being friendly with Byron Brown; and (b) using subsidies to render adaptive reuse economically feasible shamelessly says he has a dollar in his pocket to buy Trico and then save it – using government subsidies to do so. 

There seems to be a belief that because Trico can be adapted and reused, it must be adapted and reused. I don’t think that’s true, but it doesn’t matter. Trico must be saved!

Usually, when populations and stakeholders have some sort of disagreement, political leaders will step in and show some leadership on the issue. Not here. Anyone know where Byron Brown stands on this controversy? With whom will he side – with jobs and innovation, or with the defenders of a “daylight factory”, which was innovative in its use of windows?

Buffalo Rising’s April Fool’s joke involved Trico “saving itself”, and flying away because the city is so mean to it. I wish it were true. I wish we could ship our unused industrial detritus elsewhere, but we can’t.  We can either turn it into the “Trico lofts”, or tear it down. But a vocal and well-organized minority has decided that Trico is important and must be saved – not because it’s in any way attractive, but because of its “good bones”. Because of a leadership vacuum in City Hall and no one much caring, BNMC will be bullied into submission. There will be no peace until the state subsidizes cut-rate rental apartments, maybe offices, and vacant street-level retail space in that massive building.  Or perhaps BNMC will decide to put its 21st century people in a century-old factory. 

In inadvertently picking a fight over historic preservation, the BNMC – the future of Buffalo – never had a chance. 

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