East Buffalo Needs a Black Politician Buyback Program (this column is a reprint from the 12/16 Buffalo Challenger)
by Chris Stevenson
One day, while waiting for Jay Z and Alicia to do a song about Buffalo it suddenly hit me; it’s not really about Brian, it’s about Byron. The forces that have been warring against Byron took out Brian because he was an easier target. How easy it would be to just assume this is just the latest example of black council reduction by council President David Franczyk. Indirectly it is, but it was the usage of a 100-year-old Public Officer’s Law that would sink Davis because it mandates a vacancy would be created by any public official upon “e-His conviction of a felony, or a crime involving a violation of his oath of office.” If this sounds familiar you’re right, this same provision was used to oust former Legislature George Butch Holt.
Eventually Brian’s transgressions became a pack of Marlboro’s and he got smoked. You think it’s just $1,900 dollars and two misdemeanors but I get the feeling it’s much more because if Davis didn’t plead guilty, Sedita would have summoned a Grand Jury and I don’t see them going to trial over such a small amount. So it wasn’t really Franczyk or South District Councilman Micky Kearns (who invoked the Public Officers Law at a recent hearing) who purged Davis, it was his behavior which led up to his downfall. Kearns’ past decisions will probably have direct bearing on how powerful the committeemen are and who is eventually chosen to replace Brian.
It’s too bad really. Speculating on who will replace Brian is almost as scary as Brian still being there. I’ve heard several names being tossed around by various people, but the local major media is focusing on Pastor Darious Pridgen and longtime Davis political rival Bryon McIntyre. Pridgen brings a lot to the table. Great orator, notable community organizer, innovative and as Clarence Lott President of East Side Political Network put it, “he’s got a following… 3,000 blacks [churchgoers].” Pridgen comes from a working-class background, former Mailman, former Naval Officer, college educated, former at-large school board member. Great credentials, but not for Ellicott Council. Of prime concern to me is his commitment, he bolted the school board in ’02 for reasons I’m still not clear on. Pridgen completely detached himself from any responsibility towards Stepping Stone Charter School-then situated right next to True Bethel-even amidst amazingly low academic ratings among area schools and it’s eventual shutdown.
Publicly the good Pastor talks of unifying the Council, Franczyk worked many years dividing the council, no one can unify it before 2011. I see Pridgen working at the pleasure of Mayor Byron Brown, his voice could have more pull that Demone Smith or Bonnie Russell. Since Brown has demonstrated he is not a black Mayor (see Cariol Horne), just how independent could Councilman Pridgen be since he is perceived to be close to Brown and Grassroots Inc.? Elliott doesn’t need someone who has so many irons in the fire that he can’t devote his full time to it.
McIntyre from my vantage point could make the best choice for the Council Committee. Like Pridgen he comes from a working-class background; Fireman, substitute teacher, community activist, columnist, commentator, lifelong Ellicott resident and last but not least; one of the 73 Ellicott District Democratic Committeemen. Though McIntyre has never held office he has lost some races by a very close margin (especially his last 2 School Board races), which mean he too has a following. Not known to be tied with big political machines or local developers, this could make him more independent than Pridg. Yes Brown could possibly have a strong voice in his favor if Pastor Pridgen is appointed, maybe even enough of a voice to make up for the Common Council’s racial disparity. But in a situation where East Buffalo is involved, the needs of the blacks outweigh the needs of the Brown.
When it comes down to it, Brown is the one that sources cites as privately dismissing Davis. This was after University District Council Bonnie Russell and Masten Council Demone Smith tossed him under the bus publicly by telling reporter Brian Meyer that he had to go. Local black elected and appointed officials have been seen as selling-out for so long that it looks like East Buffalo needs a Black Politician Buyback Program to go along with the Gun Buyback Program. Hence the need for the Council Majority to respect the communities choice of a replacement for Davis.
Ellicott-like Fillmore-is a highly coveted district, it’s said between half to two thirds of monies (federal, state and block grants) allocated to districts go to Ellicott. Though this next pick won’t be through any public election the choice is still up to residents of Ellicott District. They’re the ones who voted for the committeemen and have the ones in the inner city have the pulse of the streets. “In fact the way 9 out of 10 elected officials got their seats was through the committeeman process,” disclosed Lott. Kearns changed law recently that usurps electoral process. Conceivably he can get someone from South Buffalo to serve Ellicott under the new law. Kearns’ law does not have to take suggestions of committeemen, shortly after he replaced then-retired Jimmy Griffin, the Common Council could advertise the vacancy, take applications, accept resumes, interview qualified candidates in public hearings, then vote in a replacement.
According to Geoff Kelly the old law never said committeemen specifically get to choose, it was just an understanding. The fear is, It makes committee votes invalid. If passed due to council majority. The committee is seen as being drastically divided anyway while Buffalo’s black power-base is conspicuously waning. In 2006, Kearns, put forth legislation that would transfer the decision making power for the filling of vacancies on the Common Council for reasons other than the expiration of the term, from the hands of District Committeepersons to the Common Council. This legislation was signed and enacted by Mayor Byron Brown and voted on by referendum in the November 2006 election.
What this legislation did was:
1. Reduced the integrity of the Committeemen process by dis empowering them in the vacancy replacement process.
2. Silenced the voice of the residents or constituents of the district where the vacancy occurred because their representative was the one being replaced.
Enactment required a referendum which was virtually sneaked onto the November 2006 ballot without much fanfare. The Buffalo News did include information on the referendum in an article entitled “Approve Key Propositions” printed in the November 4, 2006 edition where they voiced their approval of the legislation.
Don’t get me wrong, the committeemen still need to recommend a candidate, like I said the process hasn’t changed., but the law can now supersede the process. As a result, there is a strong suspicion among some black insiders that the people have been stripped once again. Don’t forget, the at-large positions were generally held by minorities and the former process which included the Committeeman also left opportunity for at-large members who lived in a respective district where a vacancy occurred to become a candidate for the seat. Opportunity after opportunity has been legislated away in City government and it appears that politricks instead of the people’s work has been the motivating factor for the changes. Mondays (12/7) 2 Buffalo News reports was a clever inference of Brown being a racist even though he is anything-but. What he is, is the next target. These people don’t rest.