Tag Archives: Bernie Tolbert

Buffalo Mayoral Debate the Third

28 Aug
Untitled

By Joe Janiak

There was a third debate Tuesday night between Mayor Byron Brown, his Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert, and his Republican opponent Sergio Rodriguez. I don’t see a full video available online, but the challengers took shots at the sitting Mayor, and Byron gave as good he got – especially against Tolbert. During one exchange, Tolbert said his wife accuses him of being “married” to the city of Buffalo, and Byron retorted that Tolbert must be an “absentee husband”. Rodriguez is energetic and charming – he very effectively gets a one-liner out as his first sentence, and the crowd loves him. (At one point, he echoed President Obama, saying he attributed the successful waterfront to  “Mayor Higgins…I mean Congressman Brian Higgins.” Good stuff). I like that more people get to see him during a prime-time debate that’s been broadcast on TV. 

Brown tried to play an interesting card last night, accusing his opponents of “tearing Buffalo down” when, in fact, they’ve been tearing Mayor Brown down

There were questions about education, with Tolbert and Rodriguez accusing Brown of letting the schools crumble around him, but Brown pointed to a very recent donation of city money to restore music programs as evidence of his engagement. Rodriguez retorted that, with the graduation rate having dropped from 54% to 47%, maybe we don’t need the Mayor’s involvement.  Candidates did not support a “full” state takeover of the schools, but didn’t explain what sort of a partial takeover they’d prefer. Rodriguez pointed to Yonkers and New York City as successful examples of mayoral control of schools. 

Brown’s record on crime was attacked, with Tolbert and Rodriguez pointing out that the numbers don’t really reflect positive change in the crime rate, (see below, e.g.). Brown’s challengers also pointed out the perception of safety and quality of life, insisting that uniformed cops walking a beat in a neighborhood would be a great first step towards actual safety, involved policing, and the perception of safety. Rodriguez noted that the city spent $11 million on police overtime last year, and we could instead hire 200 new cops to walk a beat throughout Buffalo neighborhoods.  

Eileen Buckley brought up an interesting question – how do we stabilize the West and East sides and halt these demolitions of dilapidated properties. I don’t remember anyone asking that question in front of so wide an audience before. Tolbert said cranes are nice on the waterfront and all, but the city is ignoring the neighborhoods. Rodriguez said we need the city to help bridge the gap between neighborhood activists and developers, and we need to fight for women and minorities to get development jobs. Mayor Brown proudly touts the demolition of 4,700 buildings – I guess an urban prarie is better than dilapidated squalor, but God is it really something to be proud of? 23,000 vacant buildings? 

Bob McCarthy asked about the NY SAFE gun control act, and Mayor Brown finally stopped fumfering and said that he backed it. He also went out of his way to tell us how many pages it was, and that he read “every bit of it.” What a waste of time. Rodriguez said he agreed with some of it and not with other parts, but criticized the Mayor’s gun buy-backs. Tolbert echoed Rodriguez’s hit on the gun buybacks – that we need to get guns away from criminals, and not use “stunts”. 

Sergio blew Byron away on the issue of jobs, noting that summer jobs for youth aren’t what anyone’s talking about, and we need real jobs for real families, and Brown can’t say there’s been “progress” when the city’s unemployment rate is at a 20 year high. Brown claimed that donations to his campaign is not a quid pro quo for a City Hall job, but Sergio blew that away, calling it a “cultural fear” that funds his campaign. Tolbert accused the administration of soliciting city employee contributions by taking it directly from their paychecks periodically; he pledged to never solicit donations from developers or employees. 

Lastly, here’s an infographic of Buffalo homicide stats that Redditor SunnyDelish put together, using Buffalo Police Department data: 

Shorter Esmonde

19 Aug

Part of the running “Donn Esmonde is an Ass” series, “shorter” takes a typical 500-word Esmonde column and reduces it to a couple of sentences. I try to preserve the general tone and theme of the original column while boiling it down to its essential point. Think of it as a public service: I read it so you don’t have to. 

Friday

Regarding the awful, horrible, soul-sucking pits of racism we call “suburbs”, at least one has thankfully come around to my way of thinking and decided to make their streets less treacherous. 

Sunday

If I were Bernie Tolbert’s campaign manager, he’d be losing in a different way. His refusal to read my mind and follow my phantom campaign strategy means he is “woefully unprepared” – not to be mayor, but to run for mayor.1

1As an aside, I will note that I receive all of Tolbert’s campaign releases and his problem isn’t not issuing press releases or holding news conferences quickly enough after news comes out – his problem is the town’s reductive media either ignoring him completely or preempting the mayoral race for Extra and Jeopardy. If Esmonde thinks that something’s wrong with the mayoral race, a lot of the blame sits firmly with the way it’s being covered. 

Meanwhile, Tolbert is the first mayoral candidate to secure statements – on tape – from two police officers (who are anonymized to prevent retaliation) who explain how the Brown Administration plays games with crime statistics in Buffalo. It’s shocking. 

Siena Polls Buffalo, Looking Good for Brown

18 Aug

The Buffalo News and Channel 2 commissioned a Siena poll of 966 Buffalo registered voters, and 620 likely (D) voters. 51% think New York State is on the right track, and 56% of respondents think Buffalo is going in the right direction. 

The one thing that was interesting about the mayoral race was how differently younger respondents felt about people and issues than older voters. The candidates for mayor have a built-in disadvantage, given the way that City Hall’s patronage system has turned it into a piggy bank and volunteer database for mayoral re-election campaigns. But Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert and Republican nominee Sergio Rodriguez really need to get their messages out more effectively, but it’s very difficult when you’re a marginally funded or unfunded challenger to an incumbent with a million bucks in the bank. It’s especially difficult when the local media abrogate their civic duty and choose Jeopardy and Entertainment Tonight over a lengthy, substantive mayoral debate. Reddit AMAs and YouTube-only videos are no substitute for direct mail and TV advertising, and given the results of the News’ poll, it’s tough to see how Rodriguez especially is going to be able to overcome his financial disadvantage and defeat Brown. 

At least we have the crosstabs to look at. 

If Donn Esmonde wants to throw challengers to Byron Brown under the bus, he’s ignoring the fact that Tolbert’s numbers are similar to the “wrong track” figure. That makes any challenge against a sitting, well-funded incumbent who has an entire corrupt political machine at his disposal an extraordinarily difficult prospect. Add to that the fact that 58% of respondents have a positive view of Byron Brown. – especially people over the age of 35. Younger voters support Brown by a minimal margin of 49 – 43, with 9% not being sure. 

When asked about Tolbert, the winner is “not sure”, with 44%. 39% of people have a positive view of him, and he is unpopular with younger voters, 23% of whom like him, 29% of whom don’t, and fully half of whom have no idea who he is. 

The poll tells us that County Executive Poloncarz has a 60% favorability rating, and Brian Higgins’ is 77%. But with Poloncarz, too, voters under the age of 35 have no clue whether they like him or not. 

Alas, it’s uglier for Sergio Rodriguez – fully 55% of respondents have no idea who he is. Of the people who do, 22% like him and 24% don’t.  That’s pretty devastating. Older voters are more ignorant of Rodriguez than younger voters – 56% of voters over 55 don’t know who he is, while 47% of voters under 35% are clueless. 

Carl Paladino has done a good job polarizing the populace, and making himself unlikeable. 91% of people are aware of him, and 47% don’t like him; 44% do. His popularity is stronger with Republicans, as you might expect (68%), and independents/other (55%). His support is evenly split among older people who know him, but younger people disapprove of him 49 – 34. White respondents are far more supportive of Paladino than African-Americans, only 24% of whom like him versus 63% of whom who don’t. Most respondents think that Paladino has only been “somewhat effective” on the school board, and generally oppose a state takeover of city schools.

Most respondents think that Byron Brown is doing a “good” or “fair” job as mayor. Only 28% of likely Brown voters think he’s doing an “excellent” job – is that grounds for a third term? 49% say yes, while 43% would prefer someone else.

Of likely voters, just a bit over half have made up their mind. 48% are open to alternatives. More voters think that Byron Brown would be better than Tolbert on the issues of crime, education, neighborhood issues, economic development, jobs, and taxes. 

Did You See the Mayoral Debate & Other Things (UPDATED)

15 Aug

1. Federal prosecutors may soon ask  to exhume a dead convicted drug dealer who died while awaiting sentencing. Well, there’s a death certificate, but the government has reason to believe the guy’s not dead. An ingenious getaway attempt, if true, to escape on paper. This would make a great script. 

2. I watched the last half of last night’s mayoral debate. Unfortunately, not one channel saw fit to broadcast it live on TV. I had to find a stream online (and thanks to the magic of Apple TV, we were able to Airplay it to the TV after all). The local media – Channels 2, 3, 4, and 7 and YNN all abrogated their responsibility as FCC licensees to inform and educate the population. It is unconscionable that Channel 4, who had one reporter acting as moderator and another on the panel, couldn’t see fit to preempt a couple of Merv Griffin game shows to get this debate to as wide an audience as possible. Absolutely disgusting. 

You can watch it here at WIVB.com. Mayor Brown seemed petty and defensive – his closing argument implored voters to pick him over a bunch of “novices”. Burn.

But when the sitting Mayor can’t accomplish simple, promised reforms in his seven years in office, why not consider the novices? I also think Tolbert’s work history is far more extensive and accomplished than Brown’s, and Rodriguez was a Marine. Denigrating their backgrounds and experience is hardly a winning strategy for someone who went from being a legislative staffer to the Common Council to the State Senate, and never stood out for bold initiatives or ideas, but relied instead on the power of the political machine. 

For their parts, Bernie Tolbert acquitted himself well, but Sergio Rodriguez was a standout. He was conversational – he didn’t sound like he was reading off a script or memorized group of talking points. He was answering questions in a way that really connected with an audience that was audibly hostile to the sitting Mayor. Tolbert’s substance was very similar to Rodriguez’s, and they pressed the Mayor relentlessly on crime, jobs, and education. 

The only advantages I think Brown has now is his massive, loyal-by-necessity machine, and his huge pile of cash. Well, they’re actually pretty huge advantages when you put it that way. But in terms of connecting with voters and really questioning the engagement and competency of a Brown Administration which is taking undue credit for progress with which it had nothing to do, Tolbert and Rodriguez have a real shot if they can get their messages out. You could hear, if not feel, the frustration and dissatisfaction rolling through the assembled crowd. 

When Rodriguez and Tolbert said they wanted to make the city more business-friendly by streamlining permitting, lowering fees, increasing predictability and uniformity, and setting up a “one-stop shop”, Brown said the city was working on it. 

Working on it?! You’ve BEEN THE MAYOR FOR SEVEN YEARS. YOU CONTROL – WITH ORWELLIAN EFFICIENCY – EVERY EXECUTIVE FUNCTION IN CITY HALL. SEVEN YEARS AND YOU’RE STILL “WORKING ON IT?” City Hall is – and has been – a fetid swamp of bureaucratic sloth and mendacity.

When describing Yugoslav communist self-preservation, corruption, and stasis, Milovan Djilas wrote that a “New Class” had been created, comprised of dictatorial bureaucrats. In Buffalo, we have the same phenomenon – marginally educated people hired and retained not for their merit, but for their politico-financial loyalty to the bureaucrat-di-tutti-bureaucrats, Byron Brown. Forget the “political class” of WNY – our larger problem is this new patronage class. They are neither working class nor transitioning into middle / upper middle class; they have instead carved out their own patronage class whereby your social mobility is founded on the political ties – and donations – you make, rather than your labor, smarts, or merit. It takes seven years to do simple things because the patronage class is united in its opposition to any reformation of the bureaucracy that guarantees it its oft-redundant jobs. 

Byron Brown cannot take on the patronage class because his entire political career is founded on their interdependency. 

The candidates can talk about downtown domed football stadiums until the cows come home, but there is a huge question mark hanging over the city of Buffalo that Mayor Brown hasn’t even seen – much less answered – in the 7 (SEVEN!1) years he’s been occupying the 2nd floor of City Hall. 

3. The Congressional Republicans’ descent into nihilistic brinksmanship continues apace. When your only philosophy and platform is to hate Obama and deny millions of people access to affordable health insurance, I guess that’s what you’re left with. 

#ItsTime vs. #BelieveinBernie vs. #Progress

13 Aug

He may be underfunded, and he may have a dramatic party enrollment disadvantage, but Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez has staked out a unique position here. While Mayor Brown touts “progress” which he hasn’t had a lot to do with, and while Bernie Tolbert shows random people who “believe” in him for unexplained reasons, Sergio shows a set of fundamental problems – crime, unemployment, lack of opportunity, and despair – and declares that it’s time for a change. 

For a young Marine who is getting jerked around left and right by every Republican political machine with which he comes into contact, he’s showing people that he won’t give up, won’t back down, and can’t be bought. That is refreshing all by itself. 

Admittedly, he doesn’t go into details of what that change would look like, and the candidate himself only makes a cameo appearance at the end, but I think it’s easily the best ad from any Buffalo mayoral campaign in perhaps ever. Kudos to Sergio and his team, and I’m looking forward to the hashtag mayoral race. 

Elections, Tolbert and Brown, Vouchers, Pope Francis, and Stone/Spitzer

30 Jul

1949_poll_tax_receipt1. Who would have thought that striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act would result in certain conservative, mostly Southern, states moving immediately to placing restrictions on people’s right and ability to vote?

2. Has the Bernie Tolbert campaign explained why he’s running to anyone’s satisfaction? Compare Brown’s ad, which is positive and sets a tone and theme right away, to Tolbert’s. Brown’s ad has people setting forth a specific alleged Brown accomplishment. Tolbert’s just has random people saying that they “believe in Bernie”. Believe in what, precisely?

3. Republicans and the tea party don’t believe in public education – most of them just don’t have the balls to come right out and say it in so many words. They want to incrementally abolish what they will inevitably call socialized education, using Frank Luntz-style weasel words. You don’t say you want to abolish public education and throw every kid into a private or parochial setting; you don’t say you’re going to allow big business to set up mediocre for-profit schools that will accept whatever cheap, underfunded voucher program the conservative dystopia will offer to worker-drones with few rights or privileges of citizenship (remember – the system has made it costly and difficult for them to vote – see supra). But when they set up a system to judge the quality of these private education “choices”, the right people will be able to change their scores because they’re big political donors. This is the future that Americans for Progress and Donn Esmonde foresee for America, and it can best be described as a rapid descent into Central American plutocratic despotism. The third world is the conservative model.

4. It’s news that the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world decided not to heap fire and brimstone hatred and eternal damnation on gay people. Well, gay priests, to be specific, but there’s hope that the new Pope may hold a more conciliatory view towards gay people in general. The last Pope thought that being gay was an inherent evil and a mental disorder. So, progress, I guess.

5. If you thought Anthony Weiner sending post-resignation dick pics wasn’t odd enough, Republican political dirty trickster Roger Stone Tweeted this yesterday:

Donn Esmonde Looks at things Backwards

21 Jul

Donn Esmonde is an Ass” is the name of the series, and he seldom, if ever disappoints. In Friday’s column, he devoted about 550 words to talking about how lame Byron Brown is and how Bernie Tolbert sure is swell for trying.

Bernie Tolbert doesn’t need or want my sympathy. But I can’t help feeling sorry for the guy. Taking on Byron Brown is like trying to grab a puff of smoke or lasso a shadow. Nothing sticks to the Teflon Mayor.

On Brown’s two-term watch, Buffalo lost another 20,000 people. Schools went deeper into the dumpster, while he watched the charter school revolution from the sidelines. His anti-poverty “plan” for America’s third-poorest city was a lame, idea-absent rehash. Buffalo is basically a ward of the state, which covers a third of its budget and the bulk of its school costs.

The “charter school revolution” is city people suburbanizing city schools. Pull kids and money out of the traditional public schools, so your kids can have a Williamsville experience without moving to Williamsville. Esmonde has an especial hard-on for suburban schools, and has spent three or four columns advocating for the decimation of what had until recently been one of the best districts in the region. Esmonde’s concern-trolling about schools is utter nonsense, given his complete transformation into a tea party Sith lord.

Brown backed a proposed Bass Pro store that would have smothered the downtown waterfront, and a Seneca casino that experts say does us more harm than good. But mostly, he is mum – even on obvious causes such as expanding ECC’s downtown campus. Nearly two-thirds of respondents rated him no better than average in a Buffalo News leadership survey. He is vision-lite, cliche-heavy and largely uninspiring.

You would think that the man would be fighting for his political life. Instead, the mayor is livin’ easy.

2/3 of respondents in a poll rated Brown as “average”. The Siena Poll that the Buffalo News and Channel 2 commissioned, the cross-tabs for which have never been released.

Polls show him far ahead of Tolbert, who is barely known and fights a 6-to-1 dollar disadvantage. The Democratic primary in September decides the race, as city Republicans are an endangered species. My wish to see a progressive, idea-driven mayor in this lifetime may never be granted (in lieu of that, I’d settle for a Super Bowl). Pollster Steven Greenberg can’t explain Brown’s cushy lead, given abysmal marks on schools and job creation.

Esmonde uses the word “progressive”. It is to laugh. But while city Republicans may be an “endangered species”, you’d think that the underdog candidate, Sergio Rodriguez, might merit a mention. I mean, the guy has ideas, he’s saying a lot of what Esmonde is saying in this piece, and he has a name!

Which brings us to Brown’s political genius – he has mastered the art of low expectations. By keeping his head in the foxhole, by not championing big ideas and sweeping reforms, he has conditioned people not to expect much. So he can take credit for anything good that happens – even when, like the waterfront or downtown revival, it doesn’t have much to do with him – while avoiding blame for problems. It helps that Brown was preceded by three-term Mayor Tony Masiello, who, if possible, set an even lower bar.

At least Jimmy Griffin had an executive temperament, along with a temper.

A bolder, tougher, more visionary mayor would lobby for a regional planning board, to slow sprawl and funnel new business into the city. He would protect one of the city’s few resources – its stock of great old buildings – by data-basing historic properties and hammering negligent owners. He would push for mixed-income housing in the suburbs, to lighten the city’s heavy poverty load. He would embrace the choice of charter schools, while demanding accountability from traditional ones. And on and on.

How exactly does the mayor of the City of Buffalo “push for mixed-income housing in the suburbs”? Does he ask nicely, or is there some interjurisdictional power he has that I’m not aware of?

But Esmonde is partially right – to have Byron Brown record ads touting Geico, which is hiring way the fuck up in North Amherst somewhere, is an obscenity of the highest order. The city of Buffalo is precisely the place that Geico should have located its sprawling call center, but instead it went to North Bumfuck because it got a swell deal from whatever IDAs had handouts at the ready. It is the people who live in the city of Buffalo who are in desperate need of $30,000 entry-level white-collar cubicle jobs like the ones at Geico, because the manufacturing jobs are gone and working at McDonalds frankly sucks.

Byron Brown and Warren Buffett and the Buffalo News all think locating Geico up near Quebec was a swell idea.

A decent wage, a decent job, and some semblance of an opportunity are the very foundation on which you build a better future for young, underserved and underprivileged city residents. Not your “stock of great old buildings”.

Esmonde and his preservation-first cohorts have it backwards. Fixing up great old buildings doesn’t turn around the local economy, but turning around the local economy will help spur more fixing up of great old buildings. The focus on Buffalo’s hardware is well-managed by exquisitely touchy people who think that attracting “cultural tourists” to see the Darwin Martin house and other buildings is the antidote to a half-century of decline. Our town is replete with ultra-wealthy foundations sporting the names of the founders of businesses that long ago abandoned Buffalo, all of which seem to think that their deep pockets provide an avenue for them to tell everyone how they’re doing it wrong. Meanwhile, the best thing anything with the name “Oshei” in it could do is open a Goddamn windshield wiper factory in Buffalo.

Regular people will rehab your pretty old buildings when it makes economic sense to do so. People will do it when you don’t have to retain a preservation activist to help navigate your way to tax credits, and around demonstrations and litigation. People will preserve our “great old buildings” when they have money to do it. And how do you create wealth in a shit economy? You make sure you have a decent educational system, and that there are available jobs to help lift a generation out of poverty and into the economic mainstream.

Instead, we applaud the fact that Geico brings thousands of jobs to the sticks – just a few bus transfers and a commute that would make Long Islanders cringe! It’s appalling. It’s sickening. It’s a disgrace.

His city is on life support, yet Brown shows little passion and champions few causes. What, me worry?

Granted, the mayor has strengths. He is likable, projects concern and looks good – all political pluses. The streets get plowed, and the garbage is picked up. And his timing is good. He is in office while the waterfront is shaping up and downtown is repopulating. Albany and Washington dollars, not city money, stoke the waterfront, and downtown revival is traceable mainly to market forces and momentum. Still, the rising tide lifts his boat. As numerous insiders have told me, Brown stays out of the way and shows up for the ribbon-cuttings.

Brown stays out of the way? The stories of institutional, tolerated bribery and corruption within City Hall are legion.

In Buffalo, the city of low expectations, it goes a long way. A lot further, I think, than it should.

An irony here is that Esmonde does so much to keep those expectations low and stupid.

Rodriguez Reddit AMA, Tolbert Opens HQ

19 Jul
BUFFALO NY

By PJBLAKE via Flickr

Republican candidate for Mayor Sergio Rodriguez will be holding a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”) at 5pm today on Reddit.com – more specifically, the /r/Buffalo subreddit

Democratic candidate for Mayor Bernie Tolbert will be holding a ribbon-cutting party for his campaign HQ at 1375 Main Street from 5:30 – 7:30 today (intersection with Utica St, near Utica Metro station). 

By the way, they held a summit on violence and homicide in the city the other night, and neither the sitting mayor nor the current Buffalo police commissioner bothered to show up. Think about that. 

Bernie Runs, Buffalo Shrugs (& Other Things)

13 May

1. Former head of the FBI’s Buffalo office, Bernie Tolbert, has finally stopped teasing everyone and officially entered the race for Mayor of Buffalo, running as a Democrat.  This means he’ll be primarying incumbent Byron Brown in September, and that he will be defeated. Buffalo Rising has the text of Tolbert’s announcement speech, and it focuses on education and crime, but is the same sort of talk we’re used to – technocracy and incremental improvement of bureaucratic issues. It’s a nice speech, but not one that adds a vision for a future Buffalo to the standard-issue schools-and-crime talk. 

The issues are so stark, one would think we could move beyond pablum and get into something a bit different. 

While Mayor Brown has had two terms already to do something big, he’s had little to do with anything big that’s happened. However, there is one thing he is better at than any of his competitors – building and maintenance of a formidable political machine. With the Erie County Democratic Committee likely to endorse Brown in an effort to promote intraparty peace, Tolbert’s chances are only slightly – and theoretically – above nil. 

2. But one correspondent to Buffalo Rising has identified a novel way to shuttle people to and from the Outer Harbor. Despite high prevailing winds and six months’ worth of inclement weather, he has suggested a cable car system to transport people high above the Skyway corridor from CanalSide to the empty and polluted Outer Harbor. Instead of focusing on bringing to Buffalo a cablecar system that was so popular at Walt Disney World that it was removed 25 years ago, perhaps we could spend that money to clean up the contamination on the Outer Harbor property that precludes any sort of development from happening. People on Twitter had fun with the idea on Friday under the hashtag #BuffaloCableCar.

It also reminded Chris & me of the “Detroit Entrepreneurial Guy” meme (example 1, example 2) – especially this one. Just substitute “Buffalo”. 

3. About a week ago, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington dismissively refused to listen to a podcast that Trending Buffalo’s Brad Riter recorded with Artvoice’s Chris Smith, arguing that it wasn’t “real media”. He and I argued about what constitutes “real media” over the weekend, with Harrington insisting that Trending Buffalo isn’t “real media”, and I argued (a) that the internet is a real medium; and (b) Trending Buffalo’s legitimacy as real media is determined by people who consume its content.  If it has relevance and popularity, it’s “real media”. Harrington insisted that blogs are a “wild west” (and I pointed out the wild west was a “real place”), which is an old argument. In the end, query why it is that the Buffalo News has its journalists blog and Tweet with Buffalo News branding if social media and blogging don’t constitute “real media”. 

Journalists can blog, and bloggers can be journalists. Whether an outlet is “real media” is, in the end, wholly up to the person consuming the content. 

I’ll storify up the back-and-forth later this week. 

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