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Consider Sergio

As I explained yesterday, the Buffalo News editorial board endorsed Mayor Byron Brown in Thursday’s edition. Brown is running for his third term as mayor of a struggling, poor rust belt city who runs a hyper-politicized, allegedly corrupt petty fiefdom. With a million in the bank, he can steamroll over most challengers and has built an interdependent political machine, cavalierly flaunting the laws that ostensibly limit municipal employees’ electioneering, and his ability to compel it.

Byron Brown is a nice enough guy and people like him, but I don’t think he’s the mayor Buffalo needs.

Before you hammer me for not living in the city and opining on the election of its chief executive, I’ll concede the point. But I spend far more of my waking hours working in the city than at home, and I am a firm believer in regionalism. I believe that a strong and prosperous Buffalo is good for everybody. It is the region’s anchor – its entire reason for being, and it’s in everyone’s interests to care how it’s doing. 

I’m not a Republican, but I think that Sergio Rodriguez has run a strong, issues-based race against Mayor Brown, and he’s done so despite being forced to navigate a figurative minefield to do it. He has no support from the county Republican committee, and doesn’t have enough money to do much of anything. He’s bought some lawn signs, but doesn’t have the scratch to do a set of mailings, much less to get on radio or TV.  Instead, he’s been wearing out his shoes, going directly to voters, and he’s been using social media in a town where promotion on Instagram or Foursquare isn’t going to go far. 

Because of the feudal system that Byron Brown has inherited and enhanced, big donors know that helping Sergio is the kiss of death – Brown and his consiglieri would shun you, and no one wants to get sidetracked to discuss what’s happening. Being a Brown outlaw and attempting to do business in the City of Buffalo – any business requiring a permit or license – is untenable. The political class in Buffalo, which is dependent on Brown for its livelihood, knows better than to back Rodriguez. 

The Republicans? Some will privately say that they think Sergio isn’t ready for primetime; that they like him, but while he has good ideas, he hasn’t done much to see them through to completion. They’ll tell you his follow-through stinks, but they’d be in a unique position to help him out with this. What a coup it would be for them to take City Hall after a few generations! But they, too, have a business relationship with the Brown Administration, and it’s best to not rock that boat. 

Stefan Mychajliw is running for his first full term as County Comptroller. Despite the fact that he has literally no idea what he’s doing and treats every press release (and there’s one about every day) as an “audit”, and despite the fact that the “best and brightest” whom he’s hired have abandoned ship, he has charisma, name recognition, and a compelling backstory which will likely propel him back to the 11th floor of the Rath Building. Kevin Gaughan was the Democratic fallback candidate, and while he runs rings around Mychajliw on the details, he doesn’t even come close to touching Mychajliw when it comes to retail politicking. 

One of the reasons the Republicans won’t help Sergio has to do with city turnout; if there was a competitive Mayoral race, Democrats would vote; if city Democrats turn out to vote, they’ll likely vote for Gaughan. So, they sacrifice Sergio to help ease Stefan’s re-election. Sure, it makes perfect tactical sense, but it’s fundamentally cynical.

The News’ endorsement of Brown is astonishing because it has very little, if anything, positive to say about Brown’s accomplishments as Mayor. Almost all of the major projects taking place, representing Buffalo’s “boom” exist in spite of Brown, rather than because of him. More often than not, they come about when he gets out of the way. He gets to show up at the ribbon-cutting and make a proclamation, and then skulk back to the 2nd floor, behind armed guards, to oversee fiefdom. 

The boom that the Buffalo News identifies is illusory. For every new restaurant, medical building, and waterfront announcement, the city’s problems with poverty, crime, joblessness, hopelessness, and failing schools all continue unabated. The big-ticket items are good, but if a city can’t get the fundamentals right, what point is there? People point to positive changes along Grant Street, but gentrification without population or income growth is as unsustainable as sprawl without growth. What the city needs is a leader, not a caretaker. 

Can Sergio be that leader? I think he deserves more of a shot than he’s getting, and the forces aligned in halting him should be ashamed. Even tea party developer Carl Paladino knows that it’s better for him to back Brown and shun Rodriguez if Paladino wants his city projects to go smoothly.

Brown hasn’t even deigned to compete against Rodriguez, which is the ultimate insult – denying voters a race they deserve. But whether or not you think Sergio is the leader Buffalo needs, he has spent months talking about the fundamentals – talking to residents and business owners (small ones, the ones who serve the community rather than big-money interests) about the problems that they face on a daily basis. It’s not pretty – Brown is busy on the radio promoting jobs at Geico way the hell up in north Amherst, so you’re all set if you have a reliable car. Buffalo needs jobs for Buffalonians in Buffalo. There’s no regional plan for much of anything, and one would expect a Buffalo mayor to focus on the quality of life basics, not to ensure his re-election, but to make sure his constituents are better-off.

If you’re one of the preservationist elites, Mayor Brown has had almost 10 years to develop a strategic plan to market and help people finance the purchase and renovation of dilapidated and vacant city-owned foreclosed homes. Just yesterday, a vacant city-owned house near Grant Street was demolished, and no one knew it was for sale because the city doesn’t put up signs or list them properly.

Sergio Rodriguez may deserve your vote, if you’re so inclined, but at a bare minimum he deserves your attention. He’s talking about the bigger picture, and recognizes that a leader requires a vision. In a town where the mayor has touted the number of demolitions he’s overseen, Sergio has instead addressed the issues of joblessness, crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, vacancies, and crime – things that don’t particularly matter to big developers with Rolls-Royces. But Sergio is also the guy who says City Hall will be open and inviting to all, and where good ideas will find a home. It will be inclusive and transparent, rather than an impenetrable fortress. Is it Sergio’s time? That’s up to you. But he certainly deserves your attention and your thoughtful consideration. I think he’s talking about the important things no one wants meaningfully to discuss, and his party affiliation shouldn’t be held against him. 


  • I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know that I’d agree with Rodriguez on issues, but democracy can only work the way it’s supposed to if the issues get DISCUSSED, as opposed to this thing we have now where a mayor just bumbles along and asks for a fresh rubber stamp from the voters every four years. Yes, some good stuff is happening, but I am very weary of the formulation of democracy that says “Some good stuff is happening, this guy is in office at the time, ergo, he gets credit and votes.” I would gladly trade most of the cranes and shit for schools that were actually improving, economic development that was really helping raise levels of income amongst the poor in the city, and so on.

  • Hank Kaczmarek

    I have to agree with Kelly. I spoke to my Mom in Buffalo yesterday and she said she had voted for him (In the primary I’m guessing). I have a close relative (obviously can’t mention the name) who works in City Hall. The prevailing observation (and my only disagreement with Alan here) is that he doesn’t spend much time on the 2nd floor—-or for that matter in the building at all. Perhaps Alan could get Donn Esmonde to do an opinion piece that says “It’s time for Buffalo to have a Hispanic Mayor”. Worked for Byron Brown substituting the word “Black” for “Hispanic”. If BB is re-elected, it will be 4 more years of slow steady decline, and a continuation of Goodenoughistan on the banks of the Mighty Niagara. OMG Kelly! we agree again!

  • MichaelRCaputo

    I’m fairly certain the majority of the Buffalo News editorial board also lives outside the city. So, no great shakes there. Opine on.

  • MichaelRCaputo

    Wait a minute. Who’s the developer with a Rolls Royce? I’ve got some seat covers I need to unload.

  • Oswald Carnes

    This will be the 2nd time I’ve voted for a Republican in my life (1st was Grisanti).

  • vhrix

    One point. You argue that while big boom items are gaining attention, the fundamentals are not being addressed. This is absolutely true. Absolutely true. But I would ask you to name ONE city Buffalo’s size or larger that has grown and thrived while addressing the fundamentals. Certainly not San Francisco, NYC, Seattle, L.A., D.C., or Denver where the solution seems to be to develop luxury and high end spaces such that lower income individuals are forced out. Hide the problem or else shove it aside.

    The argument that Brown has failed here is poor because no one has succeeded here, a result of poor policy at the national, state, and local levels and partially due to a lack of any kind of corporate or organizational ethics.

    The idea that Rodriguez could succeed here is laughable. Why? Because he can very little, if anything within the framework of the city without much change throughout higher levels of government.

    • I think that in the last 20-30 years, all of the cities you cite have worked to improve the fundamental basics of city living – quality of life stuff that helps attract people and their money to visit and live there.

  • Russ Andolina

    Well said. His GOP label is nominal. Very much regret I won’t have a say in this being a fellow burbs resident.

  • starrrbuck

    Is yesterday’s “fuck you” here also directed toward others who endorse Mayor Brown this year, or laser-targeted only at News editorial writers for expressing that opinion?

    http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/2013/10/24/caution-profanity-ahead/

    If you’re giving the mayor credit for things he didn’t do, and cheering a “boom” that is only benefiting the wealthy, white, and well-connected while the majority of the city is packed with joblessness, despair, poverty, and violence, fuck you.
    If you’re arguing that the mayor of Buffalo is good enough for us here in Goodenoughistan, fuck you.
    If you’re endorsing the mayor who isn’t even having the decency to campaign against his challenger because fuck you, fuck you.

    How about at this guy?
    http://news.wbfo.org/post/poloncarz-endorses-brown-mayors-race

    “I’m pleased to announce today, as I noted, that not only am I here to endorse Mayor Brown, but as a city of Buffalo resident I will be voting for him this fall for another term as mayor of the city of Buffalo,” said Poloncarz.
    … WBFO News asked Poloncarz if he gave any consideration to endorsing Tolbert.
    “Byron has done a strong job, and truthfully I like Bernie personally, but I don’t think he’s got a cohesive message of why he wants to be mayor.”

    Wouldn’t Poloncarz’s integrity prevent him from endorsing anybody who he isn’t convinced would be a better mayor for the city than Tolbert or Rodriguez? Or to endorse a worse candidate based on a party label or for quid pro quo favors from Brown?

    Regardless of motives, Poloncarz very strongly gave the same mayoral endorsement as the News editorial writers did. Funny that he as the highest ranking elected official in Erie County isn’t criticized at least as strongly for doing the same thing.

    • Poloncarz is a Democrat endorsing a Democratic mayor. It’s what party leaders are supposed to do for each other.

      You’re asking me the wrong question. I want to know: where’s Chris Collins, Nick Langworthy, Stefan Mychajliw, and Carl Paladino when Sergio needs them for their support and links to donors?

      • starrrbuck

        It’s what party leaders are supposed to do

        I disagree with your premise that they should automatically do it for that reason, even if some party loyalists would think that they’re “supposed to”.

        If Poloncarz really thinks re-electing Brown as mayor would be as awful for Buffalo and the region as you’ve written that it would be, then it’d be a bad thing for Poloncarz to put partisan party loyalty as a higher priority via his very strong endorsement of Brown.

        If you’d won your election try for county leg, then you’d have endorsed Brown for mayor over Tolbert in the primary as Poloncarz did because endorsing the incumbent would be what you’re ‘supposed’ to do?

        Seriously? Where would be any integrity in that?

        Also, that endorsement was during the primary campaign. It isn’t unheard of for Democrats to refrain from endorsing incumbents who are being primary challenged or to endorse challengers. How about Ned Lamont vs Joe Lieberman? Or for local examples, Hogues vs. incumbent Miller-Williams, Betty Jean Grant vs. incumbent Tim Kennedy? In all of those cases, didn’t some D officials endorse the primary challengers?

      • starrrbuck

        where’s Chris Collins, Nick Langworthy, Stefan Mychajliw, and Carl Paladino when Sergio needs them for their support and links to donors?

        I don’t question that for at least two reasons.

        I’m independent and don’t care about party labels, intra-party issues, or alleged conspiracy of suppressing turnout which is BS. If I can show up to vote – which I will – then everybody else in the city can show up too. I’m not suppressed even though there’s seldom any city candidates on the ballot who I like. Why does nobody criticize EC Dems for repeatedly not running any candidates against Mills in the Springville county leg district, btw? Is that “suppression” for countywide races too? Funny how that’s never mentioned.

        I’m not impressed with Sergio. I’m not donating to him, not helping him find other donors, not supporting him. Thus, I can’t disagree with anybody else (of any party) who also isn’t doing what I’m not willing to do.

        Very weak on substantive policy ideas, full of glib slogans, inaccurate in some claims (“3rd poorest city” for instance), very wrong during mayoral debates about hiring quotas for downtown construction projects, showed up at City Hall rally supporting the status quo Board of Ed majority after so much talk from him about huge educational reforms being needed, …

        Not that Brown is a good choice either. I haven’t fully decided yet who to vote for. If I vote for Sergio it’ll be intended only as a negative vote against Brown realizing he’ll win regardless, not as a positive vote for Sergio at all or hoping to see him as mayor.

        At the moment I’m leaning slightly toward Brown as a lesser of bad choices – IOW, leaning toward voting as if the vote mattered to the result even though it doesn’t. Brown has been better in a few ways than Masiello was, although that’s setting the bar low.

        Who knows – maybe that’s how my fellow city resident Poloncarz looks at it too instead of basing it mainly on party labels as you posited. Note that Poloncarz not only endorsed Brown, but he added that he’d vote for him. He wouldn’t have had to add the latter.

      • I’m independent and don’t care about party labels, intra-party issues, or alleged conspiracy of suppressing turnout which is BS.

        It’s categorically _not_ B.S. They’ll never admit it on the record, but they’ll tell you it privately.

        If I can show up to vote – which I will – then everybody else in the city can show up too. I’m not suppressed even though there’s seldom any city candidates on the ballot who I like. Why does nobody criticize EC Dems for repeatedly not running any candidates against Mills in the Springville county leg district, btw? Is that “suppression” for countywide races too? Funny how that’s never mentioned.

        Perhaps you’re not the model of the typical voter. EC Dems probably couldn’t find a candidate to run against Mills, and Mills doesn’t particularly piss people off, is good at what he does, and is well-liked.

        I’m not impressed with Sergio. I’m not donating to him, not helping him find other donors, not supporting him. Thus, I can’t disagree with anybody else (of any party) who also isn’t doing what I’m not willing to do.

        Very weak on substantive policy ideas, full of glib slogans, inaccurate in some claims (“3rd poorest city” for instance), very wrong during mayoral debates about hiring quotas for downtown construction projects, showed up at City Hall rally supporting the status quo Board of Ed majority after so much talk from him about huge educational reforms being needed, …

        Not that Brown is a good choice either. I haven’t fully decided yet who to vote for. If I vote for Sergio it’ll be intended only as a negative vote against Brown realizing he’ll win regardless, not as a positive vote for Sergio at all or hoping to see him as mayor.

        At the moment I’m leaning slightly toward Brown as a lesser of bad choices – IOW, leaning toward voting as if the vote mattered to the result even though it doesn’t. Brown has been better in a few ways than Masiello was, although that’s setting the bar low.

        Who knows – maybe that’s how my fellow city resident Poloncarz looks at it too instead of basing it mainly on party labels as you posited. Note that Poloncarz not only endorsed Brown, but he added that he’d vote for him. He wouldn’t have “had to” add the latter even if he felt he was “supposed to” set his integrity aside to endorse him.

        So, you’ve considered Sergio.

        You don’t fault Langworthy and other Republican leaders / donors for their active support and endorsement of disgraced unethical Ted Morton, self-appointed Court of Appeals justice Tim Howard, but it’s perfectly normal for them to completely ignore the sole Republican running for Mayor of the City of Buffalo because he’s glib? Fascinating.

      • starrrbuck

        It’s categorically _not_ B.S.

        Suppression is a BS claim because who is or isn’t given campaign donations, or who’s on the ballot, doesn’t fit the definition.
        http://www.thefreedictionary.com/suppress

        “sup·press (s-prs) tr.v. sup·pressed, sup·press·ing, sup·press·es
        1. To put an end to forcibly; subdue.
        2. To curtail or prohibit the activities of.
        3. To keep from being revealed, published, or circulated.
        4. To deliberately exclude (unacceptable desires or thoughts) from the mind.
        5. To inhibit the expression of (an impulse, for example); check: suppress a smile.
        6. To reduce the incidence or severity of (a hemorrhage or cough, for example); arrest.

        If I can show up to vote regardless of what the GOP (or any party org, Dems in example of rural Erie Co) do or don’t, then the other thousands also can show up. Nobody is suppressed. It is BS.

        EC Dems probably couldn’t find a candidate to run against Mills

        It isn’t believable that they can’t find a D for the ballot in the Mills district for 3 elections in a row to give voters a choice. I just looked at BoE site – they left D line empty in ’09, ’11, now in ’13. It looks exactly like what you and McCarthy criticize Rs for in the city. If I looked, I bet I could find rural Assembly races were the D line is also repeatedly conveniently left empty time after time.

        In neither case is it suppression. But no matter what it’s called, funny how it’s complained about so often for only for one party.

        Polling has shown big majorities in the city also say essentially this about Byron Brown as you said about Mills: “doesn’t particularly piss people off, is good at what he does, and is well-liked.” Favorability rating in the last poll I noticed was 70%. That might be an outlier, but it’s consistently high. So in that way too, I don’t see any difference between the Brown and Mills examples.

      • The ECGOP has abandoned the sole Republican candidate for Mayor because an active race for Mayor turns out Democrats for a countywide race, which hurts Stefan. End of discussion.

      • starrrbuck

        Your sentence in the other reply says it all:

        It’s [Rath’s Clarence/Newstead] just an almost impossibly Republican district for a challenger to win.

        It’s also true for the Springville district of Mills.
        Now substitute the location and party name, then voila – goose/gander:

        Same thing:
        Buffalo’s just an almost impossibly Democratic district for a Republican challenger to win.

        Rath’s D challenger is being financially abandoned as shown by the funding report linked in my previous comment. Meanwhile Mills in Springville for three elections in a row runs against an empty ballot line on the D row (like happened in the last mayoral race in 2009 when the GOP left its line empty).

        I’d suppose at least 99% of voters couldn’t care less if it’s a county committee or city committee endorsing anybody, so the ECDems’ county committee endorsement of Rath’s challenger is unimportant compared to the funding shutout. Actions speak louder than words for both parties.

        ECDems aren’t funding/running challengers in heavily Republican Clarence/Newstead and Springville.

        because an active race for Mayor turns out Democrats for a countywide race, which hurts Stefan.

        Same thing:
        because active well-funded races against very popular Rath and Mills turns out Republicans for a countywide race, which hurts Kevin Gaughan.

        It’s amusing when some are so critical about only one side for it and try to make excuses on behalf of the other side’s doing the exact same two things when a party is overwhelmingly outnumbered: leaving ballot lines empty and financially abandoning challengers when lines aren’t empty.

      • You get back to me with that when Clarence, Newstead, or Springville become the second largest city in the state.

        In the meantime, I’ll remind you that ultra-liberal New York City has had a Republican mayor since 1994.

      • starrrbuck

        Bunch of red herrings:

        You don’t fault Langworthy and other Republican leaders / donors for their active support and endorsement of disgraced unethical Ted Morton, self-appointed Court of Appeals justice Tim Howard, but it’s perfectly normal for them to completely ignore the sole Republican running for Mayor of the City of Buffalo because he’s glib?

        I wrote some substance of why I don’t favor Sergio. You extract one of my few nonsubstantive words, “glib”, and paraphrase me as saying that’s why some leaders/donors who I’ve never met aren’t supporting him.

        If Sergio was a more impressive, substantive candidate perhaps more donors might help him even if he doesn’t have a chance against Brown. Or maybe not. Or maybe the party would be more interested in grooming him for another office. I don’t claim to now what the party or donors should consider normal. I’m saying it’s how I’d look at it.

        Why assume anything about my views re Morton or who I don’t or do fault about him?

        If Morton were running where D enrollment outnumbers R by 7:1 as in Buffalo, against an incumbent who has 70% favorability, then I’d suppose R leaders/donors wouldn’t be giving Morton any more support than they’re giving Sergio. OTOH, if Sergio was the R leg candidate in Morton’s district, I’d suppose he’d be getting support from leaders/donors as Morton is now. Can’t prove a hypothetical, but see no reason to assume otherwise.

      • “Glib” is the shorthand for your myriad criticisms of Sergio Rodriguez, the plucky, bright, energetic, Republican Marine veteran who is challenging Byron Brown for Mayor of Buffalo, and who doesn’t have the endorsement of the county Republican committee – a committee that has endorsed NO ONE for the post, effectively endorsing the Democrat.

      • starrrbuck

        It was a pejorative shorthand by choosing the most insulting looking word from my whole comment to paraphrase it. But yes, some things Sergio has said are glib and lacking substance. Brown also has been weak on substance over the years in office and campaigns, hence I’ve never been impressed with him either.

        Sergio’s military service isn’t related to anything I commented, so you bringing it up in a reply to me looks like subject changing.

      • A vote that isn’t for Sergio (or no vote) is an endorsement of Brown’s malignant caretaker mayorship.

      • If Poloncarz really thinks re-electing Brown as mayor would be as awful for Buffalo and the region as you’ve written that it would be, then it’d be a bad thing for Poloncarz to put partisan party loyalty as a higher priority via his very strong endorsement of Brown.

        I don’t think re-electing Brown would be “awful”. It would just maintain the status quo. And clearly, Poloncarz disagrees with my opinion.

        If you’d won your election try for county leg, then you’d have endorsed Brown for mayor over Tolbert in the primary as Poloncarz did because endorsing the incumbent would be what you’re ‘supposed’ to do?

        A county leg backbencher doesn’t qualify as a party leader. Even remotely.

        Seriously? Where would be any integrity in that?

        Also, that endorsement was during the primary campaign. It isn’t unheard of for Democrats to refrain from endorsing incumbents who are being primary challenged or to endorse challengers. How about Ned Lamont vs Joe Lieberman? Or for local examples, Hogues vs. incumbent Miller-Williams, Betty Jean Grant vs. incumbent Tim Kennedy? In all of those cases, didn’t some D officials endorse the primary challengers?

        Some did, others didn’t. But (a) we’re not talking about primaries; and (b) Sergio didn’t have a primary, did he?

      • starrrbuck

        Poloncarz endorsed Brown for both primary and general. Looks like you’re now interpreting that endorsement as a sincere preference rather than only due to party. Why I interpreted you as thinking a Brown win would be awful for the city was the “fuck you” you wrote toward the News editors for endorsing him. Perhaps that was an agree-to-disagree style of “fuck you”, or something.

        How much support are D leaders/donors providing to Ed Rath’s opponent? Looks like “0.00” according to this so far, at least what’s reported:
        http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/CONTRIBUTORA_COUNTY?ID_in=C01580&date_From=01/01/2013&date_to=11/01/2013&AMOUNT_From=1&AMOUNT_to=100000&ZIP1=&ZIP2=&ORDERBY_IN=N&CATEGORY_IN=ALL

        Where are D donors for him? Might it be they think he has no real chance of defeating Rath so they’re directing support to where they think it could matter? Or could they be hoping to “suppress” turnout in that heavily R district to help Dobson and Gaughan? What’s the difference?

        Morton’s opponent Fisher has many donations so far:
        http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/CONTRIBUTORA_COUNTY?ID_in=C01503&date_From=01/01/2013&date_to=11/01/2013&AMOUNT_From=1&AMOUNT_to=100000&ZIP1=&ZIP2=&ORDERBY_IN=N&CATEGORY_IN=ALL

        Maybe they think she has a chance of winning, so they’d rather spend on her instead of Rath’s opponent.

        Unlike how you do it with ultraselective faulting toward one side, I don’t think I’ve ever faulted either party’s leaders/donors for who they do or don’t support or how much. Both parties are far too interested in power and patronage more than substance. Just like the fusion parties who you criticize for that.

      • 1. There isn’t a concerted Democratic effort to depress turnout in East Amherst, Clarence, and Newstead. It’s just an almost impossibly Republican district for a challenger to win. Also, Rath and Hardwick tied their Democratic challengers up in litigation until a few weeks ago, which stymied their ability and willingness to raise money.

        2. Both Fisher and Getter have the formal, vocal endorsement of their county party committee. Sergio doesn’t. Because Stefan.

  • Roe Falise-Meier

    Byron Brown has destroyed this city! He has neglected every part of it that he can. He hides behind his desk and won’t even face the competition! He has made changes that he wants not what the residents want. He doesn’t even listen to all the complaining he just don’t care. His motto is elect me for another 4 yrs and you won’t have a city left! Vote for Sergio this guy has gone out walking and canvassing this city for days on end and wearing his soles out to get people to hear him and believe in him! I am one of them people that firmly believes Sergio can run this city 10 x better than Brown ever did! Vote November 5th make ur vote count and vote for the man who WILL change this city for the better!