The Raucous Caucus: Politics Vs. Substance
by Geoff Kelly - posted 11:16 am, May 13, 2008
Two weeks ago, during the April 29 Common Council meeting, Masten District Councilmember Demone Smith threw a bit of a fit. The previous Friday, the Common Council had released its annual action plan, and Smith complained he’d been given inadequate time to review that plan and had not received a personal invitation to take part in its public release.
Don’t worry about what this “action plan” is. It’s pretty close to meaningless. What’s important is that Smith, who is one of four councilmembers who comprise a minority bloc, felt slighted by the five-member majority bloc. He accused them of freezing out him and his three fellow bloc members, though none of the other three joined him in his complaint.
Council President Dave Franczyk and Lovejoy District Councilmember Rich Fontana tried to head off Smith’s indignation, arguing that every member of council had received drafts of the plan and invitations to the unveiling by email, to which Smith replied, “Everybody knows my email doesn’t work.” (“Get it fixed,” Franczyk said.) Franczyk said they’d discussed the plan in legislative caucus—the closed [note: I stand corrected, the caucus is open] meeting of councilmembers in which all the voting in the public session is predetermined—but Smith had not attended. (“All I ask is that councilmembers take some responsibility,” Franczyk said.)
But Smith was tapping into his own deep vein of resentment: Ever since last November’s Common Council elections, he’s been in the minority, whereas when he took over the empty Masten seat from the departing Antoine Thompson, he was part of a solid majority aligned with Mayor Byron Brown. It’s no fun to go from starter to second string.
By the end of the exchange, Franczyk and Smith were talking over each other heatedly, and Smith said that if the new majority was going to trample over the other councilmembers, then maybe the minority bloc would have to create it’s own legislative caucus.
What that would accomplish is not clear, apart from creating another set of meetings closed to public scrutiny for councilmembers to miss. But last Thursday Smith filed this letter with the City Clerk offering a rough outline of a proposal for a new legislative caucus, which he calls the “Progressive Caucus of the Common Council of Buffalo,” which “will make the Common Council of the City of Buffalo more democratic by creating an additional center of legislative power that promotes cooperation.”