BY JIM HEANEY
MAYOR BYRON BROWN is the epitome of an empty suit.
After getting rid of Carl Paladino, the School Board hasn’t done
anything of late—unless you count kowtowing to the Buffalo
Teachers Federation as an accomplishment.
Then there’s the Common Council: a mediocre bunch as
legislative bodies go.
The quality of the Council has ebbed and flowed over the
three decades I’ve covered government in this town, but it’s never
been as bad as the current edition. It has failed to meet its basic
obligations of legislating and acting as a check on mayoral power.
Members show little initiative in advancing significant legislation
and do little more than rubber stamp, regardless of what the
mayor puts in front of them.
This is all the more problematic given the mayor’s lack of
vision and initiative. There’s a leadership void in City Hall, and no
one on the Council is even attempting to fill it. Or, as Alan Oberst
wrote this summer in Buffalo Rising: “There is too much dead
wood, too many seat moisteners.”
Even Jeremy Zellner, chairman of the Erie County Democratic
Party, conceded back in 2013 that the Council could use an
upgrade, when he told me, “There certainly needs to be a better
Now, mind you, the Council has never been a team of all stars.
But, until recent years, it had a competent core that made up for
the seatwarmers. Lawmakers like Eugene Fahey, David Rutecki,
James Pitts, and Brian Higgins did their jobs well and, to use
the sports adage, made others around them better. They make
today’s Council members look like dwarfs. The Reverend Darius
Pridgen is the best of the current bunch, which isn’t saying much.
He occasionally takes the initiative, but is often concerned with
preening for the cameras. The Council under his leadership has
lost any semblance of independence.
I find especially troubling the indifference the mayor
and Council have shown toward the city’s black and Latino
community. The conduct of the police department is perhaps the
most glaring example. The Council’s Police Oversight Committee
meets only a couple of times a year, and when it does, members
refuse to tackle pressing issues with any vigor. Consider that
Ulysees Wingo, who represents the inner-city Masten District,
once stood on the Council floor with his fist clenched overhead to
protest the shooting of black men by police around the country.
But when men of color started dying here during encounters with
police, Wingo defended the cops.
Or take Rasheed Wallace, whose University District was
targeted by the police department’s Strike Force for traffic
stops. Wallace called for a reinstatement of the unit after it was
disbanded in the face of reports about abusive tactics.
The Council’s blind eye doesn’t stop with abusive policing
Outrages and insights
BUFFALO’S ELECTED LEADERSHIP IS A SORRY LOT
Jim Heaney is editor
of Investigative Post, a
reporting center based