Manufactured Crises in Suburban Public Schools

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In most of our sleepy suburban communities in western New York, school districts are run without much fuss. Once in a while you get an eruption of controversy, such as what’s been happening in Lancaster with respect to its abandonment of the “Redskins” monicker. In Lancaster, the school superintendent is now receiving death threats and police protection for him and his family. Over a mascot’s name. School is important, but not in that way. This isn’t a 3,000-word screed about the common core or testing, either.  This is about how a community helps pay to educate its kids.

Municipalities and their school boards walk a delicate tightrope between taxpayer expectations and school needs. Among the suburban districts that are typically most highly ranked in Business First’s annual assessment – Williamsville, Orchard Park, Clarence, and East Aurora – they achieve that balance in difference ways. In Williamsville, the school tax rate is about $18 per $1,000 of assessed value. In Orchard Park and East Aurora, the school tax rate exceeds $30 per $1,000 of assessed home value. By contrast, Sloan’s is $57 per $1,000.

It is also typical that budget proposals in high-performing school districts don’t regularly get a lot of pushback from taxpayers. So long as results are good and money is being spent prudently, annual school budget votes proceed without much controversy. Why ruin a good thing? When real estate is bought, the school district oftentimes weighs very heavily in the decision-making. If a home is in a high-performing district, that has a positive effect on the purchase price and home value. Look at any home listing, just about anywhere.

(I hope you’ll excuse the limited geographical scope of this piece. It’s that time of year again when my free time becomes subsumed by thoughts of school budgets and election battles. Although its scope is facially narrow, the underlying points are valid for most upstate suburban and rural school districts, especially in light of Albany’s game-playing with school funding over the last several years.)

In Clarence, however, we have a different scenario altogether. Clarence’s school tax rate is $14.80 per $1,000 of assessed value – less than half that of OP or East Aurora. Clarence is lucky – it has a lot of very expensive pieces of property, so the rate doesn’t need to be as high as in other communities. Nevertheless, a small cabal of anti-school propagandists would have you believe that the district is spendthrift, bloated, and unfair to the taxpayer – that same taxpayer who relies on the schools’ excellence for her home’s resale value.

They say it’s “unsustainable”. Yet today’s $14.80 rate is almost identical to the rate in 2008 – 2009. In 2003, the rate was significantly higher – almost $17. It dropped steadily until 2011, when it slowly began to creep up from a low of $14.13, as state funding dried up and the district had to look to local taxpayers to help bear more of the burden.

What do we get for that money? Is the district spendthrift? Bloated? Not only is the answer a resounding “no”, but the district’s educational output is outstanding. Clarence is ranked 3rd out of 432 WNY districts for excellence but also for cost-effectiveness.  It’s 6th in administrative efficiency, and its per-pupil spending is 2nd lowest in Erie County; it’s 6th lowest in the entire state. The school tax rate is the second lowest in WNY. By all accounts, this is a triumph of cost-effective, excellent results. It’s the sort of thing that anyone – liberal or conservative – would proudly show off as a testament to good, small government. You would think that a school district with those sorts of numbers would have no pushback from angry taxpayers.

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

In 2013, a perfect financial storm came about that required a proposed 9.8% tax hike to maintain then-extant staff and services. The school board took a gamble that the community had the schools’ back and would support it in a tough time. On the contrary, voters overwhelmingly rejected that proposal, sending the message that any increases in the levy should remain at or under the state’s new tax cap. That’s what the board did in the June 2013 re-vote, cutting tons of clubs, extracurriculars, sports, services, curricula, and teachers. It did so again in 2014, and there was no opposition to that at-cap budget. Meanwhile, the Clarence district alone has lost over $16 million in state aid thanks to the state legislature’s astonishingly cynical “gap elimination adjustment”, an accounting gimmick that balanced the state budget on the backs of local school districts.

Here we are in 2015, and the school board hasn’t even presented a final budget proposal, as the district tries to figure out how much state aid it’s going to receive. Yet a certain subset of local activist – as angry as they are misinformed – has pledged to vote down the budget, no matter what it is, just because.

It helps to understand how these districts determine their levy. Sales taxes are set at a fixed rate; school taxes aren’t. The district proposes a budget, which includes amounts to fund all its personnel and essential programs. Each district has different priorities. If the school district finds that it needs more money than it did last year, – even if it’s just to keep up with inflation – it has to ask for an increase in the total tax levy.  That levy is then apportioned to taxpayers based on the value of their real property. So, if the overall levy goes up 2%, but your property value rises by 4%, your tax “rate” will go down. For towns like Clarence, whose property tax cap is higher, in part, due to its “growth factor” of 1.5, if the total property value added in the district via new construction in a given year outpaces the levy increase, your actual tax bill will go down. The district doesn’t raise taxes every year. The levy might go up, but how that translates to your personal tax bill varies. That’s before we get to the passage of the veteran’s exemption, enhanced STAR, agricultural exemptions, and other programs that lower the tax or assessed value for some taxpayers, increasing the burden on others.

This year’s fight began just after the Clarence High School production of Pirates of Penzance closed its three-performance run. Dedicated and talented kids – with the help from their faculty advisers – put on a Broadway-caliber show that was absolutely world class. Everyone from the amazing pit orchestra, to the tech crew, to the cast itself worked hard for months to pull it off. It wasn’t just some accident of talent. It’s how that talent is nurtured, developed, and grown. It starts with the music programs in the elementary schools, to instrument instruction, to singing, and then is further enhanced by the bands, orchestra, chorus, plays, and musicals that are done at the middle school. By the time these kids get to high school, those who are dedicated to drama, music, tech, and singing are well on their way to becoming professionals. It’s simply an amazing progression to watch, and the Clarence High School’s annual musical productions are absolutely incredible; a testament not only to talent, but to teaching.

But the people complaining about paying the second-lowest tax rate for the third-best school district in WNY didn’t see that performance, or any of that value. They don’t know about the successes in the engineering curriculum, or the fact that our system is one of the best in the country for music education, or that our mock trial team won a countywide competition. Despite the fact that the levy has only been rising since 2011, that is “far too long”, and they presented their first argument: restore local control and kick Albany to the curb. But that gap elimination de-funding hamstrung districts – the tax cap ensured that they had no way to even ask local taxpayers to make up that difference. In Clarence’s case, it was made through cuts, dipping into the fund balance, and through modest increases in the local school tax. Since 2011, the district cut 113 full-time positions. 

But these anti-tax warriors are playing people. In their public pronouncements, they say they want to maintain school quality, but when their words aren’t being recorded for posterity, or they’re speaking amongst themselves, they clearly intend to manufacture a crisis that would require the schools to effectively wither and die. Otherwise, they’d attend regular school board meetings and offer ideas. They’d know about the very strongly-worded letter that Superintendent Geoff Hicks sent to Governor Cuomo.   They’d use the district’s legislative advocacy page. They’d show up.

Disapproval of a within-cap levy increase would do to the schools what 2013 did, and force students out of programs, eliminate teachers, close electives, and do palpable and real harm to students and their educations. For what? What is the underlying complaint here? Cui bono?

It doesn’t make any sense. After all, when the tax rate inched up last year, every taxpayer received a rebate check for the exact amount of the increase – mine was $71, and I donated it to the Clarence School Enrichment Foundation. The same thing will happen with this budget, if any increase is at or below the cap. The cap, for the record, is 4.7% because the town continues to grow, and because the district refinanced some existing debt at a lower rate, saving $4 million over the life of the note, and the new payments kick in this year.

So, in the face of all these excellent results and efficient, frugal management, we’re left with one argument: the teachers make too much. They’re greedy. They get summers off. They work short days. They get fat pensions and pay only 10% of their health insurance costs.

We hear a lot from tax opponents about “running government like a business”. Of course, schools don’t exist to make money – they exist to educate children. The output in Clarence is excellent. If you ran a multi-million dollar corporation, and when annual review came along, almost 85% of your key employees were exceeding expectations, you wouldn’t cut their pay and benefits, you’d give them a damn bonus. If you wanted to attract and retain this kind of talent, you need to pay them a living wage. So, are these mostly “highly effective” teachers overpaid?

I had someone argue to me that teachers don’t live in the “real world”. That’s completely wrong. Everyone’s “real world” is a bit different. Most New York teachers, unlike most of us in the “real world”, hold masters degrees. They must be tested, vetted, and authorized – licensed and certified – to teach. They are ad hoc social workers, mandated reporters, emergency caregivers, mediators, peacemakers, peacekeepers, role models, safe havens, and that’s before you get to the actual teaching part. As for teaching, they don’t just have to deal with ever-increasing class sizes, but also with administrators, parents, the state, and bureaucracy. They don’t make as much money as their peers with M.A.s or M.S.s in the private sector, and many of them take pay cuts to work in Clarence, which is by no means the district with the largest salaries in WNY for teaching professionals; Clarence is 13th for teacher pay. Sure, they get better health insurance and retirement than most people in the private sector, but that’s really an indictment not of the teachers, but of the private sector and the way it has stripped workers of pay and benefits over time.

It’s also comparing apples to oranges. Public sector workers go to work to serve the public, oftentimes at wages that would be embarrassing in the private sector. Consider, for instance, why it’s tough to find a CPA to run for comptroller. So, the public sector makes up for that by offering good benefits, usually negotiated through collective bargaining. So, is public service the “real world”? You don’t hear a lot of people whining about Chris Collins’ congressional salary, or that of his staff. Or Mike Ranzenhofer or Jane Corwin – no one bats an eye. No one much cares that the Clarence supervisor gave himself a couple of nice raises over the past few years. What is the “real world”? Why do teachers get this sort of scrutiny, but other public employees don’t? 



If the real world of teaching in New York public schools was the bonanza of wine, song, and riches that some imagine, then everyone would be clamoring to join this profession. But for some reason they don’t.  Maybe some people see the private sector as offering more opportunities for personal enrichment – after all, private sector salaries have no upper limit. Teachers on average make about $50-60k in Clarence, and that’s after at least a decade of service. It’s a nice paycheck, but none of them are getting rich. People complain that their benefits package can’t match what a teacher earns (note that word “earns”), but that’s the real world. Isn’t a good education part of the American dream? Don’t we want properly and adequately to remunerate the professionals upon whom Americans rely to educate our children?

Teachers aren’t paid during the summer. Their workday is not nearly as short as the kids’; it doesn’t begin and end when the bell rings – they have to attend conferences, plan their curriculum, grade papers, draft tests and course materials, and deal with all manner of after-hours parent or student issues. They’re not entitled to retirement benefits until they’ve worked in the district for 10 years. The teachers’ contract is online. An entry-level teacher with a master’s degree earns an annual salary of $41,400 at Step 1. That doesn’t break $50,000 until Step 9. You break $60,000 at Step 13, and $70,000 at Step 16. The max is $93,000 at Step 20. Some teachers receive stipends for extracurricular work, bumping veteran teachers up into the very low 6-figures.

Is $93,000 for a teaching professional with a master’s degree and 20+ years of experience excessive? Or are these wages firmly middle class? Clarence’s median income is $68,000. No one’s getting rich from a $90,000 annual income. No one’s driving a Bentley or smoking Cohibas in West Palm on that salary. Teachers give up the private sector, where financial risk and reward are both higher, in order to educate the next generation, and do so with some modicum of job and retirement security. There are few professions more important or noble, yet we continually demonize them as the root of the problem.

It’s a lot of money, but do they not earn and deserve it? How is their labor not incredibly valuable? I’m not saying their salary and benefits are cheap – they’re just earned. One of the leaders of the current anti-school effort in Clarence has a school tax bill that is, in 2014, a full 32% lower than it was in 2006. In real dollars. But she’s upset about sustainability?

The school board held a budget information session on March 30th. There, Superintendent Hicks outlined a revised proposal that would take into account estimates of increase state aid to raise the levy by 3.9% – significantly lower than the 4.7% tax cap, and restore 4 positions. In the meantime, since the state budget came out, it looks like we may see restoration of as many as 10 positions at that 3.9% figure. It’s a prudent measure designed to placate anti-tax members of the board, and also the parent-taxpayers who are demanding smaller class sizes, restored programs, and easing the burden on remaining teachers. It was a lively meeting, with a good debate. A few students came and spoke. Two teachers spoke. Two. Everyone else was either a parent-taxpayer or an anti-school activist.

The head of this year’s “no” posse sent a note to her listserv about that budget meeting and it was filled with either lies or emotion.

She was moaning about how “defeated” she felt because she was so outnumbered. Her crew was indeed outnumbered, but not by teachers or their union, but instead by concerned taxpayer-parents. We moved to that town because the schools are good and the taxes are lower than, say, Williamsville or Orchard Park. It’s a pretty sweet equation that few other places are able to replicate. But the gutting of teachers and programs in 2013 wasn’t good enough – the school opponents are now out for blood. They’ve moved the goalposts – 4.7% is too high, 3.9% is too high, indeed anything greater than 0% is too high. Their arguments go back and forth like a pinball from “state control” to “teachers are paid too much” to “union contract”. The people demonizing teachers argue that, in addition to making too much, they enjoy tenure and cannot be fired. Tell it to the many Clarence teachers who have been let go since 2011.

According to her email, one of the two school board members the anti-tax crowd perceives as friendly wrote to them, “Don’t give up – that’s what they want. Keep up the good work. You guys showing up last night was important because it balances out the teacher influence. Keep the troops organized and keep coming to the meetings. thank you for what you do – it makes a difference.”

That was written by a school trustee who owes a fiduciary duty to maintain the excellence of the school system in a way that is respectful to all taxpayers. I don’t know what “teacher influence” was extant at that meeting, as only two teachers spoke. The “difference” being made is that the board could choose to raise the levy by 4.7% and restore even more positions, but won’t. Is that refusal to right the wrongs of the past few years in the district’s best interests? Are the students’ needs being met?

What I do know is this: parents will agitate for the levy to go up to the cap, and for the restoration of teachers, social workers, and electives. The “no” crowd doesn’t get to control or monopolize the agenda. What is there to lose? The anti-school people will vote “no”, regardless; they will vote no for 4.7%, and they will vote no for 3.9% and they would vote no if the increase in the levy was 0.01%. The parents, by contrast, are likely open to compromise.

So, it’s only a matter of time before this sort of nonsense happens in every school district. Demonization of teachers, de-funding of schools, privatization, and the further erosion of the middle-class American dream. Not just demanding that teachers be at-will grunts who earn McDonald’s wages, but that parents and students be subjected to substandard public schools, leading to de-funding, vouchers, or straight tuition.

They say that private schools do it better and more efficiently.  My tax bill is about $4,400, and that pays for two kids’ educations. That’s a bargain, and one of the most important taxes I pay, and I pay it gladly. Our future depends on it.

It will continue to be thus when they graduate, because all town kids deserve the same shot that mine got, if not better.

Please get active in your school board. Take an interest in what’s going on – whether you have kids or not, but especially if you do. Apathy is the ally of malevolence, and you can help ensure that the people you elect do the right thing.

Donn Esmonde Should Just STFU about Teachers

As a general reminder, please reacquaint yourself with the notion that Donn Esmonde – the News columnist who won’t leave – is an unethical, morally repugnant, tea partying  ass.

It was just last year that Esmonde (whose wife is a Buffalo Public School teacher, and who has actively shilled for his charter-school running business partner) regaled WNY with tales of greedy teachers gorging at the public trough. (I love how his business partner’s daughter wrote a glowing paean to Esmonde in Buffalo Rising in 2008). 

Now, we’re supposed to believe that teachers are good? That they can be people’s “favorite“? That they are not only professionals and educators, but also reliable, trusted adults to whom kids can turn for aid and comfort? Was Joe Finucane one of those greedy suburban teachers? I mean, he made $90,000 at Williamsville North

Donn Esmonde owes too many apologies to count at this point, but one thing is for sure: while his tea party friends continue their privatization and dismantling of Buffalo’s school district, with no one asking, “cui bono?”, Esmonde should probably just stop writing about educators. He is unworthy of them. 

The Curse of the Donn Esmonde Column

What better way to explain away systemic failure than to do what they did in the Middle Ages and just blame it on some supernatural curse? 

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy first articulated the concept of the Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino” in a book released in 1990.  It soon became lore – during fall Sox games, the “Reverse Curve” sign on an overpass on the outbound Storrow Drive became “Reverse Curse”. 

So Donn Esmonde, a semi-retired Buffalo News columnist/asshole, came up with a “curse” for Buffalo. This is, naturally, not at all original. Some believe that Buffalo is cursed because President McKinley was assassinated here. It’s much easier than, say, absorbing the details and lessons from Diana Dillaway’s “Power Failure and addressing longstanding ways in which Buffalo continues to stand in the way of its own progress. 

Esmonde’s way of cheering the Pegula family’s purchase of the Buffalo Bills reads more like the rantings of an obsessed geek fanboy writing erotic fanfiction featuring Karen Gillan and Kari from “Mythbusters“. 

If the stars and fates were – for reasons unknown – lined up for decades against the city, those fortunes indisputably have changed. The U-turn has been so dramatic – and the reversal so long overdue – that the dark cloud may have lifted for generations to come.

Note to Fate: It’s about time.

It’s not fate. There is not a single thing about Buffalo and WNY that has fundamentally changed in the last 10 years, except perhaps locals’ attitudes about the city. When the governor throws a billion dollars at your city for economic development, good things would happen anywhere. The funding of ECHDC with money from the power authority helped bring about Canalside, and that was thanks to smart politicians exercising their clout. But do we really need NYPA? Shouldn’t WNY have been benefiting from cheap hydropower for the last century? Couldn’t Albany do something about making it easier to start and do business in New York State instead of just making it rain cash? Our recent election results show just how same old same old our area is.  Lucking into finding a sports-fan billionaire is just that – luck. His purchase of the Bills changes none of the fundamental, underlying problems that we face. 

Any “curse” is of our own creation, and we maintain it lovingly every time we “participate” in our electoral system. 

If indeed there was a dark cloud hanging for decades over our sporting teams and civic fortunes, it’s safe to conclude it has been mugged, mauled, pummeled and smothered into submission.

The way things are going, there will be a shiny Stanley Cup in our trophy case and a Super Bowl parade down Main Street sometime in the next decade. Crazy talk, I know. But who could have imagined that a Pegula would suddenly appear, as if brought to life by our collective wishful thinking?

We suffered the misfortunes of Wide Right, four straight Super Bowl losses, No Goal and various other sporting calamities. The supposed prior salvation of the Sabres – and a downtown-reviving Adelphia empire – offered by the Rigas family vaporized in false promises and prison sentences.

The sports calamities pale in comparison to our social, economic, and political calamities, all of which continue apace. Another article in the News details the process whereby amateur, unqualified “planners” dictate the future of the Outer Harbor by passive-aggressive sticky note.  Don’t tell me that any curse is lifted when we have people whining about people living in gorgeous new housing near the Lake. I mean, just look at what waterfront development did to those unlivable hellholes like Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Singapore, and Chicago! We’d never want to be like those places! By God, that Outer Harbor has been a contaminated wasteland for the last 80 years, and by God a contaminated wasteland it should stay!

Apart from Silicon Valley, newly minted billionaires don’t generally fall from the sky – particularly around here. Pegula, in essence, emerged from the earth – or, at least, the source of his billions did. Advancements in the technology of natural gas extraction, called fracking, in recent years turned natural gas deposits mile-deep in shale into 21st-century treasure. Though environmentally controversial, fracking transformed Pegula seemingly overnight into a multibillionaire. With decades in the industry, Pegula – a native Pennsylvanian whose Western New York roots are nearly 40 years deep – saw the coming technology early on and acquired massive stretches of shale-rich land. He has, over the last five years, sold pieces of his stake for billions of dollars.

Luckily for us.

This one is fantastic. Esmonde is glossing over the environmental disaster that is natural gas extraction through hydrofracking. The modern fracking they do in Pennsylvania and other places is not yet allowed in New York, and while some think it would be a boon for economically depressed parts of central New York – mostly around Utica and Binghamton – it comes with huge environmental risks. 

You need look no further than this Donn Esmonde column from 2011, wherein he recounts how fracking rigs in Springville made a young family sick, and turned their well water suddenly flammable. Heartbreaking:

“I couldn’t understand why my kids were getting sick,” said Brant. “Are they going to have health problems for the rest of their lives? I have six girls, will they be able to have children?”

One could argue that fracking may have “cursed” that family, because looking at it all scientifically, empirically, and objectively is far too complicated and difficult. But what’s a little poisoned water, poisoned kids, and geological trauma when a billionaire can buy our sports team? 

I understand that we’re willing to hold our collective civic nose and ignore how Pegula made his billions, but to gloss over it and cheer the lifting of a “curse” is going a bit too far, even for Tea Party Donn

With Pegula’s emergence, Buffalo really stepped in it – but this time, instead of stomping into something odoriferous, we walked into a bed of roses. Mesh the reversal of our sporting fortunes with the ongoing repopulation of downtown, the development of the waterfront, the revival of the West Side, the emergence of Canalside and the rise of the Medical Campus, and there is just one rational rhetorical question begging to be asked: Curse? What Curse?

Buffalo’s population continues to decline. Our politics remain hopelessly dysfunctional and corrupt, and all of these things are happening in spite of that. Buffalonians and WNYers may have more optimism and hope, but it’s not because one billionaire bought the Bills – it’s because in the last 20 years, we’ve been forced at last to get past our post-industrial malaise and figure out a path to the future. We may not always agree, and we may fight and argue about the details of how to move forward, but it’s because of the work of visionary businesspeople, tax credits and incentives, activists, volunteers, and organizations that our region seems to be moving forward. For every billionaire sports team owner, the real hard work is being done by people who live paycheck to paycheck, or freelance check to freelance check. It’s being done by entrepreneurs who put their talent and passion into various projects. It’s not the grand shopping sprees that make Buffalo better, it’s all the little things that people do with minimal fanfare and very hard work. 

As for me, I’m convinced that Buffalo’s “curse” won’t be lifted until Donn Esmonde stops writing trite, humorless nonsense in the local paper and retires to his suburban tract home in Florida

Donn Esmonde, Ass and Other Things

1. The Buffalo News’ Jerry Zremski has an interesting piece about Williamsville native Andrea Bozek, the current head of communications for the National Republican Campaign Committee. Tagged as fighting a war on the “war on women”, the actual substance of the piece reveals something quite different. Rendered an embarrassment by the ignorant mouth-noises of some Republican politicians and commentators, the Republicans realize that they need to attract women by, e.g., not repelling them. So, she’s not so much going after Democrats as much as she is counseling Republicans to tamp down any misogynistic utterances or actions they might be contemplating, and to focus on a handful of issues affecting contemporary women that won’t offend any Republican principles. 

The fact that this sort of thing is novel or revolutionary is the story, here. 

2. Back when a few Clarence parents put together a hit list of “offensive” books, (articles here and here) I wrote this to Donn Esmonde, the tea party retiree who inexplicably continues to write for the Buffalo News: 

Mr. Esmonde, 

Last year, you threw every Clarence family who believes not just in public education, but excellence in public education, under the bus. Specifically, you wrote about Marlene Wacek, Lisa Thrun, and the Showalters in glowing terms about how hard they were working to prevent runaway spending (which didn’t exist) and runaway taxes (which was, at best, a wild tea partyesque oversimplification of the facts).  You told all of us working diligently to maintain funding that they wouldn’t really cut anything – that these threats were part of a  “false choice”. 

They weren’t false at all, but you never corrected yourself.  All the threatened cuts to teachers, programs, sports, classes, and electives took place. Families had to scramble to raise money to restore some of what we lost. 

You never addressed how wrong you were about the emptiness of the threats because you saw everything through your facile suburbs-suck lens. 

Well, the Showalter-Lahti family (Roger Showalter and Jason Lahti are related by marriage, and both are now on our school board) are creating a brand-new crisis out of whole cloth. Showalter’s sister & Lahti’s wife Ginger Showalter-Lahti has circulated a letter demanding the banning of certain books and texts, and her husband has added this as an item on the agenda. 

These are the people whom you so uncritically promoted as a new breed of school reformer. I hope you’re satisfied. 

(Here is the letter Mrs. Lahti has circulated to certain, selected local families: http://www.scribd.com/doc/211263269/Clarence-School-Curriculum-Letter-March-2014  Here is the letter I sent to the school board: http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/2014/03/09/clarence-schools-urged-to-ban-books/

Some “reformer” you’ve found.

Surprisingly, Donn Esmonde never replied to me. He can dish it out, but can’t take it. Mostly because he’s an asshole who can’t be bothered to defend himself or admit he’s wrong, but also because the whole debacle was an acute embarrassment for him. 

Here’s another one. 

Detestable creature that he is, Esmonde whines about how – boo hoo – a lot of suburban electeds aren’t going to show up for the new urbanism conference that’s being held in Buffalo this coming week. So, he’s trying to shame them.

“It’s disappointing,” said George Grasser, urbanologist and co-chairman of the CNU host committee. “These are the people who can change zoning laws to spur development, who foot the cost for sprawl. This is all about making their communities more livable. They should be here.” Tell it, George.

If our village mayors, town superintendents and council members drop in on even a few of the dozens of CNU events, tours or presentations, they will be less likely to sign off on awful, neighborhood-assaulting hotels; ugly strip malls; Lego-like office buildings; stores fronted by parking lots; and vehicle-first, people-last communities – all of it hard-wired by zoning laws from a previous, car-centric century.

That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? “Liveable”? It used to be “walkable”. Who is to determine what is and isn’t “livable”? Isn’t the homeowner the best arbiter of what is “livable”? Who would move to our suburban ticky-tacky if it wasn’t “livable”.

Zoning codes and design standards aren’t sexy. But they make the difference between walkable, people-magnet neighborhoods like Hertel Avenue or Hamburg village, and irredeemably ugly stretches like Harlem Road in Cheektowaga or Niagara Falls Boulevard. A numbing succession of boxy buildings fronted by parking lots is an awful, inedible fruitcake of a “gift” that gets passed from generation to generation. So is the corrosive cost – in tax dollars and urban abandonment – of sprawl.

If sprawl is so horrific, why does it lead to “urban abandonment”? Perhaps it’s a more complicated equation than whether you can walk to the local quinoa stand. 

If nothing else, there is a bottom line that should speak to elected officials: The more livable a place, the higher the property values and greater the tax revenue. It’s no coincidence that values in Elmwood Village soared in recent decades, as more people grasped the appeal of back-to-the-future commercial/residential neighborhoods.

“Livability” involves a lot more than mere walkability and mixed use. It also has to do with functioning government and school district.  It can’t just rely on whether you can walk to the store to buy a pack of gum, but also whether you’re going to need to scramble to enter a lottery for your kid’s school, or pony up for private.

New Urbanism already has traction here. Such villages as Hamburg and Williamsville are recapturing their micro-urban essence. Buffalo is reshaping its future with a progressive “green” zoning code. The downtown waterfront’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” mantra is a CNU staple. What we’ve got, from waterfront grain elevators to walkable villages to a resurrecting downtown, lured CNU here. Many events are open to the public.

Not everywhere wants or needs to be Hamburg and Williamsville. Niagara Falls Boulevard and Transit Road serve their own purpose, just like Delaware Avenue is different from Hertel is different from Elmwood is different from Broadway.

New urbanism is great. Walkability is great. 

But people like Esmonde who proselytize new urbanism to neanderthal suburbanites are like that nightmare friend everyone has who aggressively shoves veganism down everyone’s throat.  There are ways to be something, or to believe something – and even to promote something – that don’t sound like a condescending lecture from an annoying evangelist. 

I wonder what sort of genuine outreach took place between the CNU organizers and suburban electeds – was it an email invitation and a shaming column from Donn Esmonde, or were there visits to planning boards and town boards? Were there in-person pitches or just “your town sucks, you should really go to this”? 

Elmwood Avenue gets a lot of ink and pixels, held up as the model for new urbanism and of what generally should be. But Elmwood Avenue today is not significantly dissimilar from Elmwood Avenue of 10 years ago. The storefronts that aren’t vacant (thanks to short-sighted landlords who demand exorbitant rents and use the empty locations as a tax hedge) are mostly independent local shops.

If we had a vibrant economy, those Elmwood vacancies would be filled, and indies slowly replaced by chains. (Replacing a Blockbuster with a Panera hardly counts). The Gap, Urban Outfitters, Banana Republic, and other mall staples would be filling in the spaces and pushing independents out to new frontiers like Grant Street or Broadway.  We have that small-scale gentrification taking place in fits and starts on Grant, but without the concomitant economic and population growth that happened in places like Brooklyn or Boston’s South End. 

The key to making Buffalo better isn’t to shame suburbanites or laud buildings, but to attract people and their money. While the real estate market is hot in certain Buffalo neighborhoods, we still haven’t tackled the systemic problems that help to prevent population decline or spur population growth and attract wealth. These are people problems – political problems – that no volume of urban planning hand-wringing will solve. 

I get that some town and village executives have day jobs. But there are night and weekend CNU sessions, and a roster of talent that is worth missing work for.

What a condescending ass. 

3. If the new owner of the Buffalo Bills wants a new stadium, he, she, or it will likely build a new stadium. If such a stadium is built, it will likely be done with some contribution from the public through subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives. The hope is that the Bills will stay somewhere in the region, mostly because of the blow it would deal the local psyche if they were to move somewhere else. Esmonde wrote pieces about how Bills fans would shun the team if it moved out of town, and that the Bills need a new owner who “values loyalty over greed“.

So, Esmonde believes that the community values the Bills, and that we should find an unusually ungreedy billionaire to buy the team. If the new owner decides that there’s value to, say, moving the stadium to a different location – perhaps one more convenient to fans from Southern Ontario and parts East – why not examine and support that? Where is the fundamental flaw? If the new owner decides that a retractable roof would draw in more crowds, then this should be looked at closely. If the new owner decides that the best way to keep the team in the region is to fundamentally change the location and design of the team’s physical plant, then do it. 

If moving the stadium so that it can attract big business and big money from the greater Tor-Buff-Chester megaregion, then moving away from the Southtowns might make a lot of sense. 

Neither Esmonde nor the professors whom he cites own or operate an NFL team, so maybe leave that decision up to the people who are taking the economic and political risk of doing that.

Welcome To Buffalo, You Philistines

WINTER

By Patrick Blake via the AV Photo Daily Flickr Group

I literally cringed while I read this. Not figuratively – but “for real”. 

The title of the piece itself is cringeworthy in its clumsiness – “Welcome to Buffalo, folks, you’re in for a nice surprise”. People will be swarming into town to watch the basketball.  Many of them have never been here. Certainly some are thinking, “Buffalo? Really?” For those reasons, I wouldn’t at all blame the local convention & visitors’ bureau from retaining the services of an ad agency to develop a slick handout to direct NCAA spectators to places and things to do whilst not watching the basketball. 

But the Buffalo News’ most insufferable nominal columnist, Donn Esmonde, couldn’t resist getting into the act. Knowing Buffalo, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they took today’s column and reprinted it in the “welcome to Buffalo NCAA people” brochure. Esmonde can’t help himself – he is a scold even when trying to put a welcoming face on an embarrassing downtown.  And it reads like a 7th grader’s book report. 

Congratulations, NCAA visitors. You have drawn the long straw, hit the proverbial jackpot. An extended weekend in Buffalo may not seem like an ideal destination. Yet what awaits you is not just a basketball-filled 72 hours, but a journey of discovery.

Welcome to Buffalo, the best-kept civic secret in America. By the time you leave Sunday, you will have been enlightened, transformed, rebirthed and metamorphosed. OK, maybe we can’t promise a complete epiphany. But we can guarantee you a good time – and I suspect your perception of our city will change for the better.

The set-up here is interesting because it jokingly oversells what these visitors are going to experience, which is somewhat limited in scope.  They’re not coming to Buffalo to come to Buffalo, they’re coming here for the basketball, to eat food, drink beverages, and to sleep.  Everything else – wings, Falls, transformation, enlightenment, rebirth, metamorphosis – is secondary. Maybe tertiary. 

They don’t call it the City of Good Neighbors for nothing. Here is the happy convergence of quality of life, culture and history, wrapped around a smaller-city, Midwestern-style bonhomie. You will have no problem soliciting dinner suggestions from locals or driving directions – which may include a simple “follow me.”

Yet the games will be played at the First Niagara Center in the cold. The radius of walkable destinations between games is limited, and it’s more likely that people will end up at the Buffalo Creek Casino than diving in head-first into our “bonhomie”. 

Hope springs eternal for the heads of cultural institutions, but few hoops fans will spend their spare time perusing Picassos at our art museum, checking out our Olmsted-designed parks system or marveling at our collection of Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces. So we will stick to visitor basics: Food, drink, what makes Buffalo special and What to Do on Game-Free Friday.

That’s actually pretty self-aware. Esmonde is right – they’re not here for parks (the temperature will be quite cold this weekend) or architecture. They’re here for the basketball.  

Esmonde goes on to discuss the Buffalo wing and our very late last call, pointing out Chippewa Street as our binge-drinking strip of note.  He also gives an approving nod towards the dram shops on Allen. Then…

Buffalo is no Styrofoam Sun Belt burg, and downtown drips with character – much of it visible from the Metro Rail cars ferrying fans to the arena. The reddish-orange, terra cotta 1896 Guaranty Building was one of America’s first skyscrapers. The invention of structural steel made possible Louis Sullivan’s masterwork and enabled the vertical growth of cities.

The yellowish dome of the M&T Bank building is actual 23.75-carat gold leaf. The last roof regilding cost a half-million dollars, so don’t try this at home.

Up the block from Lafayette Square, the art deco City Hall poses a broad-shouldered, “bring it on” challenge to whatever (yes, we get a little snow) blows in from Lake Erie.

Hey, visitor from the Sun Belt – please allow our glib, local asshole of a part-time columnist to denigrate where you live! Ha ha! Welcome to Buffalo, folks from New Orleans, Orlando, Miami, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, and other “Styrofoam Sun Belt burgs”! On the one hand, it shows me that Esmonde is a horrible traveler, if he goes anywhere at all other than his suburban sprawl home in Florida. Each and every one of the aforementioned cities in the “Sun Belt” are drenched with culture. It might be different from that we have in Buffalo or the Northeast, but it’s worth finding and is no less fascinating than some dreary history lesson about scooping grain or working in a steel mill. It takes interest and effort. 

How deranged do you have to be to puff your city by denigrating someone else’s? 

History doubles-down barely a court-length from the First Niagara Center doors. The pedestrian bridge at Buffalo River’s edge – near the World War II destroyer USS The Sullivans – spans the Erie Canal’s western terminus, where DeWitt Clinton in 1826 opened the waterway that transformed America.

The hulking grain elevator across the river is a remnant of the Great Lakes trade that built Delaware Avenue’s “millionaires’ row” of mansions. Hang a right when leaving the arena to find handful of bars and restaurants, tucked into canal-era buildings in the revived Cobblestone District. And yes, visiting Milwaukee fans, we haven’t – unlike you – taken down our elevated, waterfront-stifling Skyway (yet).

Again. Visitors don’t give a shit about the Skyway. They don’t care why it’s there, why it’s not taken down, or anything of the sort. The Skyway is certainly an eyesore, but it and the elevated 190 – on or under which visitors will have to tread to get to the First Niagara Center –  isn’t the sine qua non of Buffalo’s downtown decline. If you’re writing this for visitors, keep our civic debates out of it. No one cares. “Where” Magazine in your hotel room isn’t replete with civic debates about elevated highways, but food, drink, shopping, and attractions. 

There is natural wonder, as well. The partly frozen splendor of Niagara Falls is just a 25-minute drive up Interstate 190. But you can’t get to the glitzier Canadian side unless you packed a passport.

The days of getting waved on by customs officials after flashing a driver’s license are long gone.

Once an insider’s town of nook-and-cranny bars and neighborhood restaurants, Buffalo now offers more obvious charms. The reclaimed 1904 Hotel @ The Lafayette – with in-house bars and restaurants – is the jewel of a host of downtown building resurrections.

Funny thing that – we’re endlessly impressed with ourselves for taking an old flophouse and turning it into something urbane white people would want to visit. An old building with bars and restaurants? Why they even have that in “Styrofoam Sun Belt” cities!

Chippewa Street’s emergence a generation ago gave Buffalo a go-to bar/restaurant district. The Avant is an upscale hotel with high-end condos. Yet downtown remains a work in progress. Cranes hover over the embryonic HarborCenter hotel/restaurant/ice rink complex outside the First Niagara Center doors – the brainstorm of Sabres owner Terry Pegula. Behind a nearby construction fence, workers are replicating the old canal path that will mark an entertainment district.

They don’t fucking care. You already mentioned Chippewa Street as our local binge-drinking vomitorium, and the Avant is special for us, but not for visitors. To someone from out of town, the Avant is no more or less worthy of mention than the Hampton Inn at Chippewa and Allen. The HarborCenter isn’t yet open and will confuse the hell out of people relying on Google Maps to help navigate the area around the arena. 

More hotels are in the making. Swing by the next time the tournament swings through, to see the finished product.

Until then, enjoy the wonder that we think is Buffalo. Despite what you might have thought, you drew the long straw.

The only line missing is, “I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it”. 

Buffalo stands on its own merits (and demerits). Allen Street is great. Chippewa might be great for some. But if we could stop insulting other places to make ourselves feel better about Buffalo, that would be great. 

As an aside, I read every one of Esmonde’s columns. That’s usually about 2 per week. I don’t think I’ve written a commentary about any of them since September when I exposed his undisclosed chumminess with a quoted source and his sprawl-tastic Florida home. I certainly could have – he’s insufferable 99% of the time – but didn’t. I wasn’t going to write about this, either, until I got to the “Sun Belt” line. Who in their right mind insults the supposed, perceived, subjective inauthenticity of other cities? For what purpose? For a smug sense of self-satisfaction – parroting the “for real” and “sense of place” bullshit marketing buzzwords that we actually use now in real life to market this city to prospective visitors? 

Buffalo as a place to visit stands and falls on its own merits and demerits. If you want people to visit and to like it, don’t be a prat about it – just get to what’s to like.  

We were once stranded in Dallas because while en route from California to Boston, our destination was hit with a 30″ snowstorm. We ended up stuck for 3 or 4 days and we were lucky enough to have the scratch to afford a rental car and a hotel room. So, we explored Dallas. This was 1996, so there were no smartphones and we didn’t have any sort of internet access. We got ideas for things to see from memory (Book Depository, Southfork) or from brochures we found in the hotel (Fort Worth Stockyards, museums in the city), and just from exploring with no set destination in mind. Had I read something in a Dallas paper denigrating Boston, I’d have been pissed off and thought, “what a bitter, inhospitable place”. 

So, I don’t have a problem with Esmonde or anyone else writing a column welcoming basketball fans from around the world. But to criticize an entire swath of the US as inauthentic in order to sell your city as “real” is outrageous and insulting. My animus for Esmonde is well-known and well-documented, but I honestly don’t wake up twice a week rubbing my hands together like a Hanna-Barbera villain in anticipation of how I can bitchslap him in a blog post. 

Our downtown is an embarrassment, but small pockets here and there are getting better. But a visitor doesn’t give a shit about how, say, the Lafayette came about or how it’s not as bad as it was. They just want to know where it is that’s fun, cool, or interesting to go. Does the Lafayette have a nice restaurant? Swell! How do I get there? Do I walk? Is there parking? Do I take a cab? Do I take the trolley? Where does that trolley go, incidentally? Is there a goddamn bus map I can have? Are you running a shuttle bus to get me from the arena to a destination, and then back again in time to catch my next game? If not, is that bus with that car salesman on the side of it in any way reliable? How often do they come? When is the next one coming? In my cookie-cutter Sun Belt city, the bus stops are sheltered and there’s a sign that tells you in real time when the next one will stop here. 

The last thing they’re thinking about is Louis Sullivan, a replica “canal terminus” to nowhere, (in mid-30s weather and rain), and whether Buffalo is “authentic” or not.

Donny, Can You Hear Me?

Shrill, too.

Because you want to hear me explain this in a more direct and profane way, here is the audio version of “Donn Esmonde is an Ass”, recorded over lunchtime Thursday with Trending Buffalo’s Brad Riter

http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TB09-26-13bedenko.mp3

Esmonde’s Exceptional Ethics

Let’s get something clear, here. Donn Esmonde is a hypocrite. He is a semi-retired former-and-current City/Region columnist for the Buffalo News. Donn Esmonde thinks your kid deserves a quality education, including (but not limited to) charter schools; however, that right to a quality education miraculously ceases to exist, in his mind, at precisely the borders of the city of Buffalo. To Donn Esmonde, there is no greater sin in the world than the sin of “choosing to live outside Buffalo city limits.” The evidence for this was most starkly measured when he devoted two or three columns specifically to convince Clarence taxpayers to do genuine harm to the quality of that town’s school district. He succeeded in this mission. 

Make no mistake – the “Donn Esmonde is an ass” series stems directly from that, and if I wasn’t writing for Artvoice it would be named something profoundly more profane. Esmonde went on and on about the evil, greedy teacher’s union while failing to disclose that his wife belongs to one. He went on and on about how unconscionable it is for union workers to enjoy good wages and benefits, given that he and his wife have enjoyed union benefits for most – if not all – of their work-lives. He went on and on about these things without disclosing his own conflicts and biases. 

I don’t write about stuff in which I have a personal financial interest without disclosing it. 

Part of Esmonde’s shtick has been to promote the advent and growth of charter schools within city limits. In some instances, charters help kids in underperforming traditional schools to get a good education. In some instances, charters help the wealthy and well-connected families living within the city to provide their kids with a suburban school experience without packing up boxes and renting a U-Haul. In some instances, charters simply fail

Whatever. You do what’s right for your kids and their education if you care enough and have the means to do it. There’s no second chances, and you don’t have the luxury of waiting around for stuff to get better. You move to where schools are good, you apply for a charter school, you get your kids to take entrance exams for schools that need it, you go parochial or private, or you just stay put and try hard to make sure that your kid’s education – and every kid’s education – is as good as it can possibly be.  These are not just personal choices, but societal ones – as a general rule, we want well-educated kids because the alternative is horrible. For everyone. 

I don’t begrudge any parent’s choice regarding what he thinks is best for his kid. So, what does undisclosed bias have to do with anything? 

In 2000, Esmonde wrote a column about the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s effort to help charter schools in Buffalo start up.  

The Tapestry Charter School was one of Buffalo’s three finalists, but didn’t make last month’s final cut. Tapestry’s Steven Polowitz said their grass-roots effort could have used a Partnership loan fund.

“I can’t say for sure it would have made the difference (in getting a charter),” said Polowitz. “But it would have eliminated a significant question.”

In 2007, he wrote a column blasting a tax incentive given to big-money waterfront condo owners

“This is not a marginal neighborhood where you’re trying to induce people to buy [with tax breaks],” said community development attorney Steven Polowitz. “How do you reconcile giving away the store for high-end condos in a coveted area?”

In 2011, Esmonde again pimped the charters as a way to bypass failing Buffalo schools. 

“Charters are the only option that lets you make the fundamental structural changes that give these schools the best chance for success,” Steven Polowitz said.

Polowitz is a longtime charter advocate who 10 years ago co-founded the successful Tapestry charter. He is now with Chameleon Community Schools Project, a nonprofit that develops charter schools. Polowitz laid out a charter turnaround plan for James Williams just before he left as superintendent. Interim successor Amber Dixon said she is open to the charter option. I think she — and the School Board — ought to be.

These seven schools need more than cosmetic surgery. That translates into — among other things — a longer school day; smaller class sizes; an expanded school year; more classroom aides; social workers and counselors on staff; and keeping the building open for everything from after-school tutoring to child care. It will not happen in a district where contract rules stifle options and slow-track change. It only comes with restriction-lite charters.

“You can interchange parts,” Polowitz said, “but if the fundamental structure remains, it won’t make much difference.”

In fairness to Buffalo teachers, counteracting the baggage of broken homes and battered neighborhoods these kids carry into the classroom is a near-impossible job. Schools, to some degree, don’t “fail”; they simply get overstuffed with desperately needy kids. Which is why it makes sense for hurting schools to be taken over by the academic version of a SWAT team: flexible, fast on its feet and able to use every educational weapon, from alternative curriculums to business partnerships.

If schools are reinvented as charters, kids stay in the same building. Teachers either move to another school or reapply for their jobs, likely with similar pay and benefits — but without seniority and job protection. Granted, charters are only as good as the people running them. But if you need change — and these seven schools are at cliff’s edge — charters are the Extreme Makeover.

In 2012, Esmonde effectively dedicated an entire column to Steven Polowitz hagiography

“We are concerned about education in the city,” said Steve Polowitz, “and have been for years.”

Polowitz is part of the pack of reformers who are trying – against all odds – to transform two of Buffalo’s 28 failing schools into public charter schools. The folks behind the nonprofit push are taking fire from a Board of Ed that has yet to grasp the enormity of its failing-schools crisis. On the other parapet is a teachers union determined to protect its ever-shrinking turf.

If every verbal blow the reformers have taken were a punch, Polowitz would be a walking bruise.

He is 61, a rail-thin attorney with silvery hair and impeccable school-reform credentials. Eleven years ago, he and four others founded Tapestry Charter School. It is arguably the most successful charter in Buffalo. The public charter school, which since expanded through high school, last year got 1,200 applications for 200 spots.

Here’s a dissenting voice

After all Polowitz and Co. are all ready running Tapestry Charter School, you know the one with the fewest students receiving reduced price lunches of any school in the city limits, the school whose students must have private transportation, wink nudge, and we know who that’s going to keep out of the lottery don’t we ? Essentially this guy and his crew are running a private school full of middle to upper middle class kids with the ever present charter spectre of “counseling out” a.k.a. “expelling” any kid who shows a learning, emotional or behavioral issue. If you can shoot fish in a barrel your aim doesn’t have to be all that good.

Who is Steven Polowitz? Damned if I know, except from these Esmonde columns, a guy who helped start Tapestry Charter School, and someone who is a “community development attorney.” Just, y’know, random school advocate guy. 

Random guy? 

Donn Esmonde and Steven Polowitz (and their wives) are co-owners of a property in Spring Hill, Florida, just north of Tampa. 

While Esmonde touts his city-resident cred, he co-owns a very suburban, very sprawltastic single-family home in a subdivision outside of Tampa, Florida. It’s unit 12 in that particular subdivision, and has a market value of around $86,000, but possibly as low as $75,000 – it’s okay, though – the mortgage is for $66,000. With an area of just over 2,000 square feet, the house was placemade in 2004 and began to matter for Esmonde and Polowitz in 2010.  The annual property taxes are a low $1,400, and the home has 3 bedrooms. Here it is: 

Could use some better landscaping. Maybe some flowers or something. 

Sadly, the previous owners bought the place for $210,000 – Esmonde and Polowitz got it for a steal, and the prior owner took a hit of $130,000 at the time – in fact, Deutsche Bank moved to foreclose on the property in 2009.  The previous owners were a husband and wife from Buffalo who owned a paving company here, and their 2005 mortgage was for $168,000 – twice what the property is now worth. 

I don’t care about Donn Esmonde’s sprawly vacation home, or that his kids went to an exam school (away from the riff-raff), or that he is a massive hypocrite who harbors a geographical animus towards children. But one would suppose that, if I was to write a glowing blog post about someone with whom I co-owned a vacation home, I’d let you guys know about it one way or another.

Donn Esmonde hates the suburbs, except when he lives in them.  

Shorter Esmonde

1. Sergio Rodriguez is a swell guy, but he has no hope – a “sand castle has a better chance in a tsunami”. So, I will label his run for Mayor “quixotic” and otherwise dismiss him altogether, while doling out some faint praise. 

2. James Sampson is a wealthy and important person, and if there’s one thing I like, it’s wealthy and important people. He “aches” for the schools, and wants to change them. Don’t forget that my wife works for the school district, I sure didn’t bother to disclose it this week. Also remember that only the city schools matter, and suburban schools – and everyone in them – can go rot in hell

As always, Donn Esmonde is an Ass

Photos and Politics

Posting will be sort of light the next few weeks as the summer break drifts to a close and the school year begins in a flurry of binders and looseleaf paper. A few things, then. 

1. Do you guys like the photo of the day? Do you miss it? Do you want it back? 

2. If you read nothing else this week, please read this piece at Rustwire (thanks to Kevin Purdy for the tip). Substitute “Buffalo” for “Cleveland” or “Youngstown” and you’ll see that problems in rust belt cities transcend mere party politics and have more to do with the dictatorship of the bureaucracy and a lot of media attention being paid to all the superficial things while glossing over the important, systemic problems. If there is one thing I’ve tried to do since starting a blog, it’s been to draw more attention to the cracks in the foundation, rather than the leaky roof. 

3. I don’t know the first thing about the school or its underlying issues, but it is absolutely unconscionable to announce the shut-down of the Pinnacle Charter School a mere 2 weeks before the school year starts. Disgusting and unforgivable. The state Department of Education must be led by insane people. 

4. Colin Dabkowski’s piece calling the Board of Education “theater of the absurd” and writing it up as a theater review is up, and brilliant

5. Donn Esmonde, continues pecking away for some reason, despite being “retired”.  Here, he lectures the world about the high cost of higher education. I don’t know why we should care about his own personal problems with this particular issue, and I don’t understand necessarily how a ranking of college value will factor in the notion of public service, rather than income potential. In any event, we get yet another glimpse into the life of a union family that, without irony, has a semi-retired paterfamilias who denigrates the notion of higher education for anyone living outside of an arbitrary political boundary.  On Sunday, he took some time out from throwing Bernie Tolbert under the bus and completely ignoring Sergio Rodriguez’s existence to tell us that Byron Brown isn’t all that good of a mayor. Yet the last 1/4 or so of the piece extols how it’s gotten “easier” for certain developers to do business with city hall. Of course it has – it all depends on whose campaign coffers you’re busy stuffing. (See # 2, above). Maybe Donn shouldn’t have told us what a great mayor Byron would be. 

032

Shorter Esmonde

Part of the running “Donn Esmonde is an Ass” series, “shorter” takes a typical 500-word Esmonde column and reduces it to a couple of sentences. I try to preserve the general tone and theme of the original column while boiling it down to its essential point. Think of it as a public service: I read it so you don’t have to. 

Friday

Regarding the awful, horrible, soul-sucking pits of racism we call “suburbs”, at least one has thankfully come around to my way of thinking and decided to make their streets less treacherous. 

Sunday

If I were Bernie Tolbert’s campaign manager, he’d be losing in a different way. His refusal to read my mind and follow my phantom campaign strategy means he is “woefully unprepared” – not to be mayor, but to run for mayor.1

1As an aside, I will note that I receive all of Tolbert’s campaign releases and his problem isn’t not issuing press releases or holding news conferences quickly enough after news comes out – his problem is the town’s reductive media either ignoring him completely or preempting the mayoral race for Extra and Jeopardy. If Esmonde thinks that something’s wrong with the mayoral race, a lot of the blame sits firmly with the way it’s being covered. 

Meanwhile, Tolbert is the first mayoral candidate to secure statements – on tape – from two police officers (who are anonymized to prevent retaliation) who explain how the Brown Administration plays games with crime statistics in Buffalo. It’s shocking. 

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