In light of a discussion that was generated by this post and this post, I attended a meeting of preservationists Tuesday morning. In an area where progress and action is unfortunately fueled by transactional politicking, I recommended that the preservationist community become more active in that world. There isn’t a problem plaguing WNY that doesn’t have a political cause and solution.
For instance, one speaker related how Mayor Brown refused to write a simple letter in support of the Central Terminal master plan because it wasn’t a priority for him – downtown is. (If downtown is a priority for the Mayor who’s served since 2006, I’d say his list of accomplishments is horrifically microscopic.)
So, how does a preservationist community that is as sincere as it is factionalized become an effective political force? Less reactive and more proactive?
1. Unify. There are too many preservationist organizations in Buffalo. I can’t tell one from the other, and there seems to be little actual thought or reason behind it. Egos and ambition should be set aside to present a unified front to promote their issues and goals.
2. Start a PAC. By doing so, the preservationist community can advocate for ideas and for policies. They can draft proposed legislation that would create a city or regional “do not demolish under any circumstances” list, and an objective set of criteria for other buildings to be added to that list in the future.
3. Start a political club. Perhaps more effective, by doing this the preservation community can vet and endorse candidates. They can hold events that don’t just raise money for their cause, as with a PAC, but actually hold fundraisers for favored political figures. They can publicize their electoral choices among their membership and elicit detailed information from candidates for public office regarding their positions regarding preservationist issues. With promises of money, influence, and warm bodies to canvass, stuff envelopes, and make phone calls, the preservationist community can help do the dirty work of electing candidates friendly to their cause.
4. Create a fusion party. While not my personal favorite, this is an option that’s available to the preservationists – a “Preservation Party,” which can not just endorse and raise money for candidates, but actually provide them with another party line, and actual votes.
The people who make up the preservationist community are some of the best-connected in town, with existing access to media, elected officials, the regional apparatchik class, the money-rich foundations, and the moneyed elites. Yet instead of capitalizing on that, they reduce themselves to “this place matters” passive resistance and emergency leafletting or litigation. They’re often referred to as “obstructionist” specifically because of that. While they may not care about it, and rationalize it, it’s a perception that can be changed rather easily.