Pridgen Takes the Oath
by Geoff Kelly - posted 12:15 pm, January 3, 2014
The political import of yesterday’s swearing-in of Reverend Darius Pridgen as president of Buffalo’s Common Council can be measured by any number of yardsticks. The size of the crowd and the celebratory atmosphere were the most obvious indicators: Never in recent memory has a reorganization filled the Council chambers with so vibrant and adoring a crowd.
And, like any much-anticipated entertainment (and, as one of Pridgen’s parishioners observed, like many Sunday morning services at True Bethel Baptist Church), it started late.
That crowd included number of influential African-American ministers and political figures, as well, and a couple rows full of current and former elected officials: Congressman Brian Higgins, State Senator Tim Kennedy, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Niagara Falls Councilman Charles Walker, Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs (who arrived late for the swearing-in but in time for the reception afterward), and James Pitts, the former Council president, whom Pridgen honored in his remarks as a pioneer among African-American politicians. (Pridgen is the fourth African-American president of the city’s Common Council; Pitts was the third, and the last to be voted president in a citywide election. Delmar Mitchell was the first, followed by George Arthur.) Pridgen also honored past president David Franczyk, councilman for the Fillmore District, and the outgoing president, Rich Fontana of Lovejoy, who wore a brave face through the proceedings.
In short, there was a lot of political weight in that peanut gallery. But there was a more modest measure of the event’s gravity, too, much easier to miss: Joe Jarzembek, with whom I shared an elevator to the 13th floor.
Jarzembek is a well-liked attorney who works for Erie County Family Court. A Democrat, he ran as an outsider candidate for Family Court judge this past fall. He lost, but not for lack of hard work: All last summer and fall, at any event where a dozen or more voters were likely to gather, you’d find Joe Jarzembek, handing out literature and shaking hands. He lobbied Democratic bosses of all the party’s factions for support; he went door-to-door, as all candidates must. He worked his tail off.
Still, he lost, largely because he was an outsider: Despite his efforts to win them over, the party bosses hitched their wagons to other horses. Now Jarzembek has his eyes on a vacancy in Buffalo City Court. And he recognized Pridgen’s swearing-in as the kind of event at which a candidate seeking office should be seen.
There were more than 300 people in Council chambers Thursday afternoon, despite arctic cold and lousy roads, to witness, and be witnessed at, Pridgen’s next step up in city politics. Many of those present—probably most—expect him to take another step up soon, to the mayor’s office. How many were there—like Jarzembek, but also like developer David Pawlik, for example—not only to pay their respects but because they have aspirations that they hope Pridgen will help them to achieve?