The Antoine Thompson Hire: Look on the Bright Side
The Buffalo Employment and Training Center (BETC) is a Buffalo city agency that exists to help people find jobs. It works with applicants to try and match them with prospective employers, and has a roster of companies and agencies with which it works. It would make sense that the person whom the city retains to operate BETC would have some significant and meaningful experience in the field of hiring, human resources, or recruiting.
Antoine Thompson spent his political adolescence being groomed by the Grassroots political club to be the next Byron Brown. His ambition often seems to be in adverse proportion to his abilities; he started out in the Common Council as Brown’s appointed replacement, and within just 4 years was sniffing around Louise Slaughter’s congressional seat because he was upset that the party leaders had not picked him to replace then Mayor-elect Brown in the senate. Thompson eventually made it to the senate in 2006 when, with the support of Brown and Grassroots, he defeated Marc Coppola. It should come as no surprise that the Thompson/Coppola battle of 2006 forms the genesis of the hostility between the Lenihan and Brown political factions. Thompson then defeated then-Democrat Mark Grisanti in a primary race for the 60th Senate District seat in 2008. Grisanti ran as a Republican in 2010 and defeated Thompson that year.
Since leaving government, Thompson has worked on the periphery of politics, nominally a real estate agent but also operating a newspaper and writing web pieces for former Joe Illuzzi associate Glenn Gramigna.
Throughout his short walk in the wilderness, Thompson has been seen at so many fundraisers and political gatherings that it was merely a matter of time before he jumped back into the life. In recent months, Thompson and Grassroots had been estranged from Byron Brown and his city hall political faction. Apparently, there’s been a rapprochement.
This week, Mayor Brown appointed Mr. Thompson to become the head of BETC. The job pays almost $80,000 – more than what a state senator makes, exclusive of per diems and lulus – and Thompson’s experience in the private sector amounts to the last two years during which he’s been working as a real estate agent. Investigative Post’s Jim Heaney surmises that this hire gives Brown some cover against charges that his administration is overwhelmingly Caucasian. Perhaps, but this also placates Thompson and effectively removes him from politics, and therefore as a threat to Brown. It releases a pressure valve that would have conceivably seen Thompson challenge the Mayor in 2013, or one of the mayor’s allies in some other race.
What can’t be forgotten in this instance is that Antoine Thompson’s tenure in the state senate was pockmarked with scandal. There was the bizarre junket to Jamaica, where Thompson claimed to be on a trade mission, paid for with campaign funds. During the short-lived and wildly corrupt Democratic leadership of the state senate, Thompson’s behavior became brazen and strange. He got his staff to lie for him, had been accused of accepting money in exchange for influence on Racino management, and developed a reputation for being thought of as a statewide laughingstock. He stiffed groups that relied on his member item handouts. In his own life, Thompson stiffed his creditors to the tune of $5,700. Thompson gave $1000 to the legal defense fund for convicted fraudster and woman-slasher Hiram Monseratte.
Thompson arranged for a $400,000 subsidy to Howard Milstein’s Niagara Falls Redevelopment, an outfit run by a billionaire chairman of the Thruway Authority that has redeveloped absolutely nothing. When Thompson suffered a minor pulled-muscle injury in a car crash and discovered that he wasn’t hurt enough to meet the tort threshold and file a personal injury suit, he tried to change the law.
They claimed to have nobody on staff called John Taylor. They said the Albany staffer is Shawn Curry, a recent hire as a legislative assistant.
So who is John Taylor? That’s what we wanted to know. So we called him up.
The Post: “Hi, is this John Taylor?”
The Post: ” But isn’t your name really Shawn Curry? And if so why are you giving out a fake name from the Senator’s office?”
“Could you hold please . . .[in the same voice] This is Shawn Curry.”
The Post: “Why are you using a fake name from the Senator’s office, Shawn?”
“I am very busy, I have business to attend to, I can’t answer your question.”
Just the strangest.
Antoine Thompson’s qualifications to run BETC are non-existent. Given his track record in elected office, I am at a loss to explain what position he may be qualified to hold in any arena. This is clearly a patronage hire, and a lucrative one, at that. But it’s the mayor’s position to fill, and he can select whomever he pleases. If Thompson’s track record of ineptitude continues, it will be Buffalo job-seekers who will be victimized by it. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those patronage scandals where a new position is created out of whole cloth in order to placate or reward a political associate; he is being hired to fill an existing position.
Perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps containing Antoine Thompson is the best way to limit the damage that he can do. Think of it this way – while this hire may be simply horrible for people who turn to BETC for help, it may be good for the community at-large. With Antoine Thompson running a city agency for a decent salary, he has been effectively removed from the world of elected office. That means that we won’t have him running around trying to position himself for a return to the state senate or some other representative office. Micro loss, macro win.
There’s much more about Mr. Thompson’s past performance at our archives. Back in 2009, when asked why we need a state senate, Mr. Thompson gave this answer:
Maybe we collectively dodged a bullet here, folks.