Tag Archives: Byron Brown

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. 

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: 

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. 

#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. 

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

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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The Antoine Thompson Hire: Look on the Bright Side

11 Dec

The Buffalo Employment and Training Center (BETC) is a Buffalo city agency that exists to help people find jobs. It works with applicants to try and match them with prospective employers, and has a roster of companies and agencies with which it works. It would make sense that the person whom the city retains to operate BETC would have some significant and meaningful experience in the field of hiring, human resources, or recruiting. 

Antoine Thompson spent his political adolescence being groomed by the Grassroots political club to be the next Byron Brown.  His ambition often seems to be in adverse proportion to his abilities; he started out in the Common Council as Brown’s appointed replacement, and within just 4 years was sniffing around Louise Slaughter’s congressional seat because he was upset that the party leaders had not picked him to replace then Mayor-elect Brown in the senate. Thompson eventually made it to the senate in 2006 when, with the support of Brown and Grassroots, he defeated Marc Coppola. It should come as no surprise that the Thompson/Coppola battle of 2006 forms the genesis of the hostility between the Lenihan and Brown political factions. Thompson then defeated then-Democrat Mark Grisanti in a primary race for the 60th Senate District seat in 2008. Grisanti ran as a Republican in 2010 and defeated Thompson that year. 

Since leaving government, Thompson has worked on the periphery of politics, nominally a real estate agent but also operating a newspaper and writing web pieces for former Joe Illuzzi associate Glenn Gramigna.

Actual ad on BlackWNY.com

 Throughout his short walk in the wilderness, Thompson has been seen at so many fundraisers and political gatherings that it was merely a matter of time before he jumped back into the life. In recent months, Thompson and Grassroots had been estranged from Byron Brown and his city hall political faction. Apparently, there’s been a rapprochement. 

This week, Mayor Brown appointed Mr. Thompson to become the head of BETC. The job pays almost $80,000 – more than what a state senator makes, exclusive of per diems and lulus – and Thompson’s experience in the private sector amounts to the last two years during which he’s been working as a real estate agent. Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney surmises that this hire gives Brown some cover against charges that his administration is overwhelmingly Caucasian. Perhaps, but this also placates Thompson and effectively removes him from politics, and therefore as a threat to Brown. It releases a pressure valve that would have conceivably seen Thompson challenge the Mayor in 2013, or one of the mayor’s allies in some other race. 

What can’t be forgotten in this instance is that Antoine Thompson’s tenure in the state senate was pockmarked with scandal. There was the bizarre  junket to Jamaica, where Thompson claimed to be on a trade mission, paid for with campaign funds. During the short-lived and wildly corrupt Democratic leadership of the state senate, Thompson’s behavior became brazen and strange. He got his staff to lie for him, had been accused of accepting money in exchange for influence on Racino management, and developed a reputation for being thought of as a statewide laughingstock.  He stiffed groups that relied on his member item handouts.  In his own life, Thompson stiffed his creditors to the tune of $5,700.  Thompson gave $1000 to the legal defense fund for convicted fraudster and woman-slasher Hiram Monseratte.

Thompson arranged for a $400,000 subsidy to Howard Milstein’s Niagara Falls Redevelopment, an outfit run by a billionaire chairman of the Thruway Authority that has redeveloped absolutely nothing. When Thompson suffered a minor pulled-muscle injury in a car crash and discovered that he wasn’t hurt enough to meet the tort threshold and file a personal injury suit, he tried to change the law

Then there was this

They claimed to have nobody on staff called John Taylor. They said the Albany staffer is Shawn Curry, a recent hire as a legislative assistant.

So who is John Taylor? That’s what we wanted to know. So we called him up.

The Post: “Hi, is this John Taylor?”

“Yes”

The Post: ” But isn’t your name really Shawn Curry? And if so why are you giving out a fake name from the Senator’s office?”

“Could you hold please . . .[in the same voice] This is Shawn Curry.”

The Post: “Why are you using a fake name from the Senator’s office, Shawn?”

“I am very busy, I have business to attend to, I can’t answer your question.”

Just the strangest.  

Antoine Thompson’s qualifications to run BETC are non-existent. Given his track record in elected office, I am at a loss to explain what position he may be qualified to hold in any arena. This is clearly a patronage hire, and a lucrative one, at that. But it’s the mayor’s position to fill, and he can select whomever he pleases. If Thompson’s track record of ineptitude continues, it will be Buffalo job-seekers who will be victimized by it. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those patronage scandals where a new position is created out of whole cloth in order to placate or reward a political associate; he is being hired to fill an existing position. 

Perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps containing Antoine Thompson is the best way to limit the damage that he can do. Think of it this way – while this hire may be simply horrible for people who turn to BETC for help, it may be good for the community at-large. With Antoine Thompson running a city agency for a decent salary, he has been effectively removed from the world of elected office. That means that we won’t have him running around trying to position himself for a return to the state senate or some other representative office.  Micro loss, macro win. 

There’s much more about Mr. Thompson’s past performance at our archives. Back in 2009, when asked why we need a state senate, Mr. Thompson gave this answer: 

 Maybe we collectively dodged a bullet here, folks.