Mickey in Masten
by Geoff Kelly - posted 9:22 am, August 25, 2009
It took a while for Mickey Kearns to draw a round of genuine laughter from the crowd at True Bethel Baptist Church last night. He’d come at the invitation of the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, whose three-person panel peppered him with questions about policy and race and qualifications and expectations. He also fielded questions submitted online and from the audience of about 100, including a couple heavily loaded questions from Masten District Councilmember Demone Smith, who replied to Kearns’s “It good to see you, Demone” with “It’s not always good to see you, Mickey.”
Kearns handled these well enough. It may be too generous call the South District Councilmember “plainspoken,” however. Sometimes, speaking in environments like this, one would guess that his hero was not Jimmy Griffin but Yogi Berra. Still, he made his points, and his points made sesnse.
Many more of the questions were laden with race issues, which is hardly surprising. An Irishman from South Buffalo is taking on the city’s first African-American mayor, citing Griffin—a man widely disliked on the East Side—as his political mentor.
The mayor had been invited, too; the event was supoosed to be a debate. The mayor did not reply to the invitation, according to initial accounts. At the event itself, another story was offered: Someone from the mayor’s office had replied, but after the deadline for a reply had passed. No one seemed to buy that.
Was it true, a young woman asked, that members of his campaign staff taunted fellow South Buffalonians for supporting Byron Brown? Why, asked Demone Smith, had he not voted for any minority representation in the Common Council leadership? Why had he voted against several African-American nominees for various city jobs. (Demone also asked him why the Council majority had not address a complete lack of African Americans working in the City Clerk’s office, but his premise was incorrect: There are in fact several African Americans working in the City Clerk’s office, as well as several Latinos.)
By and large, Kearns handled these questions well, too. The rationale he offered—that he looks not at a person’s skin color but at his or her qualifications—is threadbare, and might have been irritating from someone who seemed to be excusing himself from thinking about why race matters in one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. But Kearns did not seem to be excusing himself. As much as Smith tried to paint Kearns as a typical South Buffalo Irishman who didn’t give a damn about the black East Side, those colors kepts peeling away. Instead, Kearns returned again and again to his themes: poverty and education, crime and housing.
But the conversation kept returning to race. Finally, Kearns said, “Okay, let’s air this out. You want to talk about this? Let’s look at the current adminsitration.
The fire commissioner, he said, is a Caucasian from South Buffalo. So is one of his deputy commissioners. The commissioner of public works is a Caucasian from South Buffalo. The manager of sewers is a Caucasian from South Buffalo. The director of real estate, the commissioner of assessment and taxation, the deputy commissioner in charge of inspections—all Caucasians from South Buffalo.
“It looks to me like you’ve already got a mayor from South Buffalo,” Kearns said.
The room roared with laughter. Even Demone Smith cracked a smile.