Election Day: Buffalo City Court
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:44 am, November 7, 2011
City of Buffalo voters have a choice between six candidates for four open seats on Buffalo City Court on Tuesday. The incumbents are Robert Russell, Susan Eagan, Joseph Fiorella, all of whom enjoy a host of lines on the ballot, as judicial incumbents so often do around here, and David Manz, whose collection of merit badges lacks only the vitally important Democratic Party line, which he lost in the September primary.
The challengers are Diane Wray (who appears on the Democratic line, having knocked off Manz in September’s primary) and Gillian Brown (who appears on the Working Families Party line). We’ll focus on them.
In this city, it is reasonable to assume that the four candidates with the Democratic line will win handily. Wray finished thrid in the primary, well ahead of Fiorella, so she has reason to be optimistic.
But both Brown and Manz have some advantages, too: Manz, of course, is an incumbent, which should help him. The bad news is that he’s an incumbent city court judge who has done little to distinguish himself—in the manner, for example, that Russell or Hank Nowak have done—and so no one has ever heard of him. Fiorella has a slightly less acute case of the same affliction, mitigated by the gargantuan lawn signs his people have stuck in yards around the city, and by the delivery-van-turned-campaign-vehicle that is often parked illegally at the corner of Lafayette and Ashland.
Brown was prevented from competing in the Democratic primary when Manz succeeded in challeging the signatures on his nominating petition. (One wonders whether Manz wishes know he had spent less time in pursuit of that challenge and more time consolidating his primary votes.) He’s well known in Democratic circles, well liked, and has the energy of a lot of younger progressive activists who are taken by his desire to continue Nowak’s legacy of reform and innovation in the city’s housing court. They’re mounting a last-minute push for him. Here’s what David Torke of FixBuffalo wrote this weekend on Buffalo Rising:
In the struggle to save this city, housing court is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where good intentions are separated from bad; where irresponsible property owners are taken to task and those who are doing their best seek more time and direction. It’s where innovative ideas for reviving the city’s derelict buildings and empty lots can seek the legitimacy of a judge’s approval.
And, of course, it’s where, in the day-in, day-out fight to maintain the vitality of Buffalo’s great neighborhoods, it’s where decisions are made that, if they’re the right decisions, prevent the creation of more vacant lots and derelict buildings, and the damage those do to the integrity of a neighborhood and the city as a whole.
Until last year, Buffalo’s housing court enjoyed the dynamic leadership of Judge Hank Nowak, who has moved on to New York State Supreme Court. Nowak introduced significant reforms, embraced new ideas, and worked like a dog to use housing court as a tool for revitalizing city neighborhoods.
Among the six candidates for four slots on city court in Tuesday’s election, Nowak has a natural successor: Gillian Brown.
Democrats didn’t have a chance to vote for Brown in September, as they did for Wray, the other challenger; on Tuesday they will. It will be interesting to see how many do.