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

Conservative Party Defames Sergio Rodriguez

When you have to attack and defame a poorly funded grassroots candidate who doesn’t even have the financial or organizational backing of his own party’s county committee, you have to wonder just how weak and pathetic your own fusion party is. 

What on Earth could Sergio do differently from Byron with respect to the 2nd Amendment? Does this have to do with the NY SAFE Act? 

He does pay his bills. All of these debts were satisfied in full. If Sergio is the only person who has ever found himself in school debt that he was temporarily unable to pay back, then this might be effective. Sergio came from nothing, served our country as a Marine, and got a college education. To hell with anyone who would do this to him. Seriously. 

Finally, 

consergio.jpeg 2013-09-06 06-45-48

Click to enlarge, enrage

Rodriguez’s campaign says,

All this to deny voters a choice. Lorigo has now resorted to ugly, dirty, slanderous and baseless politics that people have grown to detest. I am a U.S. Marine who served honorably and with distinction, and will not back down from Lorigo’s shameful tactics. If somehow this chairman and his party’s out-of-touch leadership think for one minute that I will back down, they have another thing coming.

 

Buffalo Mayoral Debate the Third

Untitled

By Joe Janiak

There was a third debate Tuesday night between Mayor Byron Brown, his Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert, and his Republican opponent Sergio Rodriguez. I don’t see a full video available online, but the challengers took shots at the sitting Mayor, and Byron gave as good he got – especially against Tolbert. During one exchange, Tolbert said his wife accuses him of being “married” to the city of Buffalo, and Byron retorted that Tolbert must be an “absentee husband”. Rodriguez is energetic and charming – he very effectively gets a one-liner out as his first sentence, and the crowd loves him. (At one point, he echoed President Obama, saying he attributed the successful waterfront to  “Mayor Higgins…I mean Congressman Brian Higgins.” Good stuff). I like that more people get to see him during a prime-time debate that’s been broadcast on TV. 

Brown tried to play an interesting card last night, accusing his opponents of “tearing Buffalo down” when, in fact, they’ve been tearing Mayor Brown down

There were questions about education, with Tolbert and Rodriguez accusing Brown of letting the schools crumble around him, but Brown pointed to a very recent donation of city money to restore music programs as evidence of his engagement. Rodriguez retorted that, with the graduation rate having dropped from 54% to 47%, maybe we don’t need the Mayor’s involvement.  Candidates did not support a “full” state takeover of the schools, but didn’t explain what sort of a partial takeover they’d prefer. Rodriguez pointed to Yonkers and New York City as successful examples of mayoral control of schools. 

Brown’s record on crime was attacked, with Tolbert and Rodriguez pointing out that the numbers don’t really reflect positive change in the crime rate, (see below, e.g.). Brown’s challengers also pointed out the perception of safety and quality of life, insisting that uniformed cops walking a beat in a neighborhood would be a great first step towards actual safety, involved policing, and the perception of safety. Rodriguez noted that the city spent $11 million on police overtime last year, and we could instead hire 200 new cops to walk a beat throughout Buffalo neighborhoods.  

Eileen Buckley brought up an interesting question – how do we stabilize the West and East sides and halt these demolitions of dilapidated properties. I don’t remember anyone asking that question in front of so wide an audience before. Tolbert said cranes are nice on the waterfront and all, but the city is ignoring the neighborhoods. Rodriguez said we need the city to help bridge the gap between neighborhood activists and developers, and we need to fight for women and minorities to get development jobs. Mayor Brown proudly touts the demolition of 4,700 buildings – I guess an urban prarie is better than dilapidated squalor, but God is it really something to be proud of? 23,000 vacant buildings? 

Bob McCarthy asked about the NY SAFE gun control act, and Mayor Brown finally stopped fumfering and said that he backed it. He also went out of his way to tell us how many pages it was, and that he read “every bit of it.” What a waste of time. Rodriguez said he agreed with some of it and not with other parts, but criticized the Mayor’s gun buy-backs. Tolbert echoed Rodriguez’s hit on the gun buybacks – that we need to get guns away from criminals, and not use “stunts”. 

Sergio blew Byron away on the issue of jobs, noting that summer jobs for youth aren’t what anyone’s talking about, and we need real jobs for real families, and Brown can’t say there’s been “progress” when the city’s unemployment rate is at a 20 year high. Brown claimed that donations to his campaign is not a quid pro quo for a City Hall job, but Sergio blew that away, calling it a “cultural fear” that funds his campaign. Tolbert accused the administration of soliciting city employee contributions by taking it directly from their paychecks periodically; he pledged to never solicit donations from developers or employees. 

Lastly, here’s an infographic of Buffalo homicide stats that Redditor SunnyDelish put together, using Buffalo Police Department data: 

On The Trail

Buffalo photographer and Redditor Sunny Hasija has been following Republican Mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez on the campaign trail in recent weeks. Here are some pictures he’s posted to Flickr. If any other photographers have similar images, please contact me here

Post Debate Interview with Channel 4

Interview with NPR

Citizen Journalists recording every moment

Sergio introducing himself

The Moderator

Standing Room Only

Sergio @ Grease Pole Festival

 

Siena Polls Buffalo, Looking Good for Brown

The Buffalo News and Channel 2 commissioned a Siena poll of 966 Buffalo registered voters, and 620 likely (D) voters. 51% think New York State is on the right track, and 56% of respondents think Buffalo is going in the right direction. 

The one thing that was interesting about the mayoral race was how differently younger respondents felt about people and issues than older voters. The candidates for mayor have a built-in disadvantage, given the way that City Hall’s patronage system has turned it into a piggy bank and volunteer database for mayoral re-election campaigns. But Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert and Republican nominee Sergio Rodriguez really need to get their messages out more effectively, but it’s very difficult when you’re a marginally funded or unfunded challenger to an incumbent with a million bucks in the bank. It’s especially difficult when the local media abrogate their civic duty and choose Jeopardy and Entertainment Tonight over a lengthy, substantive mayoral debate. Reddit AMAs and YouTube-only videos are no substitute for direct mail and TV advertising, and given the results of the News’ poll, it’s tough to see how Rodriguez especially is going to be able to overcome his financial disadvantage and defeat Brown. 

At least we have the crosstabs to look at. 

If Donn Esmonde wants to throw challengers to Byron Brown under the bus, he’s ignoring the fact that Tolbert’s numbers are similar to the “wrong track” figure. That makes any challenge against a sitting, well-funded incumbent who has an entire corrupt political machine at his disposal an extraordinarily difficult prospect. Add to that the fact that 58% of respondents have a positive view of Byron Brown. – especially people over the age of 35. Younger voters support Brown by a minimal margin of 49 – 43, with 9% not being sure. 

When asked about Tolbert, the winner is “not sure”, with 44%. 39% of people have a positive view of him, and he is unpopular with younger voters, 23% of whom like him, 29% of whom don’t, and fully half of whom have no idea who he is. 

The poll tells us that County Executive Poloncarz has a 60% favorability rating, and Brian Higgins’ is 77%. But with Poloncarz, too, voters under the age of 35 have no clue whether they like him or not. 

Alas, it’s uglier for Sergio Rodriguez – fully 55% of respondents have no idea who he is. Of the people who do, 22% like him and 24% don’t.  That’s pretty devastating. Older voters are more ignorant of Rodriguez than younger voters – 56% of voters over 55 don’t know who he is, while 47% of voters under 35% are clueless. 

Carl Paladino has done a good job polarizing the populace, and making himself unlikeable. 91% of people are aware of him, and 47% don’t like him; 44% do. His popularity is stronger with Republicans, as you might expect (68%), and independents/other (55%). His support is evenly split among older people who know him, but younger people disapprove of him 49 – 34. White respondents are far more supportive of Paladino than African-Americans, only 24% of whom like him versus 63% of whom who don’t. Most respondents think that Paladino has only been “somewhat effective” on the school board, and generally oppose a state takeover of city schools.

Most respondents think that Byron Brown is doing a “good” or “fair” job as mayor. Only 28% of likely Brown voters think he’s doing an “excellent” job – is that grounds for a third term? 49% say yes, while 43% would prefer someone else.

Of likely voters, just a bit over half have made up their mind. 48% are open to alternatives. More voters think that Byron Brown would be better than Tolbert on the issues of crime, education, neighborhood issues, economic development, jobs, and taxes. 

Did You See the Mayoral Debate & Other Things (UPDATED)

1. Federal prosecutors may soon ask  to exhume a dead convicted drug dealer who died while awaiting sentencing. Well, there’s a death certificate, but the government has reason to believe the guy’s not dead. An ingenious getaway attempt, if true, to escape on paper. This would make a great script. 

2. I watched the last half of last night’s mayoral debate. Unfortunately, not one channel saw fit to broadcast it live on TV. I had to find a stream online (and thanks to the magic of Apple TV, we were able to Airplay it to the TV after all). The local media – Channels 2, 3, 4, and 7 and YNN all abrogated their responsibility as FCC licensees to inform and educate the population. It is unconscionable that Channel 4, who had one reporter acting as moderator and another on the panel, couldn’t see fit to preempt a couple of Merv Griffin game shows to get this debate to as wide an audience as possible. Absolutely disgusting. 

You can watch it here at WIVB.com. Mayor Brown seemed petty and defensive – his closing argument implored voters to pick him over a bunch of “novices”. Burn.

But when the sitting Mayor can’t accomplish simple, promised reforms in his seven years in office, why not consider the novices? I also think Tolbert’s work history is far more extensive and accomplished than Brown’s, and Rodriguez was a Marine. Denigrating their backgrounds and experience is hardly a winning strategy for someone who went from being a legislative staffer to the Common Council to the State Senate, and never stood out for bold initiatives or ideas, but relied instead on the power of the political machine. 

For their parts, Bernie Tolbert acquitted himself well, but Sergio Rodriguez was a standout. He was conversational – he didn’t sound like he was reading off a script or memorized group of talking points. He was answering questions in a way that really connected with an audience that was audibly hostile to the sitting Mayor. Tolbert’s substance was very similar to Rodriguez’s, and they pressed the Mayor relentlessly on crime, jobs, and education. 

The only advantages I think Brown has now is his massive, loyal-by-necessity machine, and his huge pile of cash. Well, they’re actually pretty huge advantages when you put it that way. But in terms of connecting with voters and really questioning the engagement and competency of a Brown Administration which is taking undue credit for progress with which it had nothing to do, Tolbert and Rodriguez have a real shot if they can get their messages out. You could hear, if not feel, the frustration and dissatisfaction rolling through the assembled crowd. 

When Rodriguez and Tolbert said they wanted to make the city more business-friendly by streamlining permitting, lowering fees, increasing predictability and uniformity, and setting up a “one-stop shop”, Brown said the city was working on it. 

Working on it?! You’ve BEEN THE MAYOR FOR SEVEN YEARS. YOU CONTROL – WITH ORWELLIAN EFFICIENCY – EVERY EXECUTIVE FUNCTION IN CITY HALL. SEVEN YEARS AND YOU’RE STILL “WORKING ON IT?” City Hall is – and has been – a fetid swamp of bureaucratic sloth and mendacity.

When describing Yugoslav communist self-preservation, corruption, and stasis, Milovan Djilas wrote that a “New Class” had been created, comprised of dictatorial bureaucrats. In Buffalo, we have the same phenomenon – marginally educated people hired and retained not for their merit, but for their politico-financial loyalty to the bureaucrat-di-tutti-bureaucrats, Byron Brown. Forget the “political class” of WNY – our larger problem is this new patronage class. They are neither working class nor transitioning into middle / upper middle class; they have instead carved out their own patronage class whereby your social mobility is founded on the political ties – and donations – you make, rather than your labor, smarts, or merit. It takes seven years to do simple things because the patronage class is united in its opposition to any reformation of the bureaucracy that guarantees it its oft-redundant jobs. 

Byron Brown cannot take on the patronage class because his entire political career is founded on their interdependency. 

The candidates can talk about downtown domed football stadiums until the cows come home, but there is a huge question mark hanging over the city of Buffalo that Mayor Brown hasn’t even seen – much less answered – in the 7 (SEVEN!1) years he’s been occupying the 2nd floor of City Hall. 

3. The Congressional Republicans’ descent into nihilistic brinksmanship continues apace. When your only philosophy and platform is to hate Obama and deny millions of people access to affordable health insurance, I guess that’s what you’re left with. 

#ItsTime vs. #BelieveinBernie vs. #Progress

He may be underfunded, and he may have a dramatic party enrollment disadvantage, but Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez has staked out a unique position here. While Mayor Brown touts “progress” which he hasn’t had a lot to do with, and while Bernie Tolbert shows random people who “believe” in him for unexplained reasons, Sergio shows a set of fundamental problems – crime, unemployment, lack of opportunity, and despair – and declares that it’s time for a change.

For a young Marine who is getting jerked around left and right by every Republican political machine with which he comes into contact, he’s showing people that he won’t give up, won’t back down, and can’t be bought. That is refreshing all by itself.

Admittedly, he doesn’t go into details of what that change would look like, and the candidate himself only makes a cameo appearance at the end, but I think it’s easily the best ad from any Buffalo mayoral campaign in perhaps ever. Kudos to Sergio and his team, and I’m looking forward to the hashtag mayoral race.

 

#ItsTime vs. #BelieveinBernie vs. #Progress

He may be underfunded, and he may have a dramatic party enrollment disadvantage, but Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez has staked out a unique position here. While Mayor Brown touts “progress” which he hasn’t had a lot to do with, and while Bernie Tolbert shows random people who “believe” in him for unexplained reasons, Sergio shows a set of fundamental problems – crime, unemployment, lack of opportunity, and despair – and declares that it’s time for a change. 

For a young Marine who is getting jerked around left and right by every Republican political machine with which he comes into contact, he’s showing people that he won’t give up, won’t back down, and can’t be bought. That is refreshing all by itself. 

Admittedly, he doesn’t go into details of what that change would look like, and the candidate himself only makes a cameo appearance at the end, but I think it’s easily the best ad from any Buffalo mayoral campaign in perhaps ever. Kudos to Sergio and his team, and I’m looking forward to the hashtag mayoral race. 

Donn Esmonde Looks at things Backwards

Donn Esmonde is an Ass” is the name of the series, and he seldom, if ever disappoints. In Friday’s column, he devoted about 550 words to talking about how lame Byron Brown is and how Bernie Tolbert sure is swell for trying.

Bernie Tolbert doesn’t need or want my sympathy. But I can’t help feeling sorry for the guy. Taking on Byron Brown is like trying to grab a puff of smoke or lasso a shadow. Nothing sticks to the Teflon Mayor.

On Brown’s two-term watch, Buffalo lost another 20,000 people. Schools went deeper into the dumpster, while he watched the charter school revolution from the sidelines. His anti-poverty “plan” for America’s third-poorest city was a lame, idea-absent rehash. Buffalo is basically a ward of the state, which covers a third of its budget and the bulk of its school costs.

The “charter school revolution” is city people suburbanizing city schools. Pull kids and money out of the traditional public schools, so your kids can have a Williamsville experience without moving to Williamsville. Esmonde has an especial hard-on for suburban schools, and has spent three or four columns advocating for the decimation of what had until recently been one of the best districts in the region. Esmonde’s concern-trolling about schools is utter nonsense, given his complete transformation into a tea party Sith lord.

Brown backed a proposed Bass Pro store that would have smothered the downtown waterfront, and a Seneca casino that experts say does us more harm than good. But mostly, he is mum – even on obvious causes such as expanding ECC’s downtown campus. Nearly two-thirds of respondents rated him no better than average in a Buffalo News leadership survey. He is vision-lite, cliche-heavy and largely uninspiring.

You would think that the man would be fighting for his political life. Instead, the mayor is livin’ easy.

2/3 of respondents in a poll rated Brown as “average”. The Siena Poll that the Buffalo News and Channel 2 commissioned, the cross-tabs for which have never been released.

Polls show him far ahead of Tolbert, who is barely known and fights a 6-to-1 dollar disadvantage. The Democratic primary in September decides the race, as city Republicans are an endangered species. My wish to see a progressive, idea-driven mayor in this lifetime may never be granted (in lieu of that, I’d settle for a Super Bowl). Pollster Steven Greenberg can’t explain Brown’s cushy lead, given abysmal marks on schools and job creation.

Esmonde uses the word “progressive”. It is to laugh. But while city Republicans may be an “endangered species”, you’d think that the underdog candidate, Sergio Rodriguez, might merit a mention. I mean, the guy has ideas, he’s saying a lot of what Esmonde is saying in this piece, and he has a name!

Which brings us to Brown’s political genius – he has mastered the art of low expectations. By keeping his head in the foxhole, by not championing big ideas and sweeping reforms, he has conditioned people not to expect much. So he can take credit for anything good that happens – even when, like the waterfront or downtown revival, it doesn’t have much to do with him – while avoiding blame for problems. It helps that Brown was preceded by three-term Mayor Tony Masiello, who, if possible, set an even lower bar.

At least Jimmy Griffin had an executive temperament, along with a temper.

A bolder, tougher, more visionary mayor would lobby for a regional planning board, to slow sprawl and funnel new business into the city. He would protect one of the city’s few resources – its stock of great old buildings – by data-basing historic properties and hammering negligent owners. He would push for mixed-income housing in the suburbs, to lighten the city’s heavy poverty load. He would embrace the choice of charter schools, while demanding accountability from traditional ones. And on and on.

How exactly does the mayor of the City of Buffalo “push for mixed-income housing in the suburbs”? Does he ask nicely, or is there some interjurisdictional power he has that I’m not aware of?

But Esmonde is partially right – to have Byron Brown record ads touting Geico, which is hiring way the fuck up in North Amherst somewhere, is an obscenity of the highest order. The city of Buffalo is precisely the place that Geico should have located its sprawling call center, but instead it went to North Bumfuck because it got a swell deal from whatever IDAs had handouts at the ready. It is the people who live in the city of Buffalo who are in desperate need of $30,000 entry-level white-collar cubicle jobs like the ones at Geico, because the manufacturing jobs are gone and working at McDonalds frankly sucks.

Byron Brown and Warren Buffett and the Buffalo News all think locating Geico up near Quebec was a swell idea.

A decent wage, a decent job, and some semblance of an opportunity are the very foundation on which you build a better future for young, underserved and underprivileged city residents. Not your “stock of great old buildings”.

Esmonde and his preservation-first cohorts have it backwards. Fixing up great old buildings doesn’t turn around the local economy, but turning around the local economy will help spur more fixing up of great old buildings. The focus on Buffalo’s hardware is well-managed by exquisitely touchy people who think that attracting “cultural tourists” to see the Darwin Martin house and other buildings is the antidote to a half-century of decline. Our town is replete with ultra-wealthy foundations sporting the names of the founders of businesses that long ago abandoned Buffalo, all of which seem to think that their deep pockets provide an avenue for them to tell everyone how they’re doing it wrong. Meanwhile, the best thing anything with the name “Oshei” in it could do is open a Goddamn windshield wiper factory in Buffalo.

Regular people will rehab your pretty old buildings when it makes economic sense to do so. People will do it when you don’t have to retain a preservation activist to help navigate your way to tax credits, and around demonstrations and litigation. People will preserve our “great old buildings” when they have money to do it. And how do you create wealth in a shit economy? You make sure you have a decent educational system, and that there are available jobs to help lift a generation out of poverty and into the economic mainstream.

Instead, we applaud the fact that Geico brings thousands of jobs to the sticks – just a few bus transfers and a commute that would make Long Islanders cringe! It’s appalling. It’s sickening. It’s a disgrace.

His city is on life support, yet Brown shows little passion and champions few causes. What, me worry?

Granted, the mayor has strengths. He is likable, projects concern and looks good – all political pluses. The streets get plowed, and the garbage is picked up. And his timing is good. He is in office while the waterfront is shaping up and downtown is repopulating. Albany and Washington dollars, not city money, stoke the waterfront, and downtown revival is traceable mainly to market forces and momentum. Still, the rising tide lifts his boat. As numerous insiders have told me, Brown stays out of the way and shows up for the ribbon-cuttings.

Brown stays out of the way? The stories of institutional, tolerated bribery and corruption within City Hall are legion.

In Buffalo, the city of low expectations, it goes a long way. A lot further, I think, than it should.

An irony here is that Esmonde does so much to keep those expectations low and stupid.

Rodriguez Reddit AMA, Tolbert Opens HQ

BUFFALO NY

By PJBLAKE via Flickr

Republican candidate for Mayor Sergio Rodriguez will be holding a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”) at 5pm today on Reddit.com – more specifically, the /r/Buffalo subreddit

Democratic candidate for Mayor Bernie Tolbert will be holding a ribbon-cutting party for his campaign HQ at 1375 Main Street from 5:30 – 7:30 today (intersection with Utica St, near Utica Metro station). 

By the way, they held a summit on violence and homicide in the city the other night, and neither the sitting mayor nor the current Buffalo police commissioner bothered to show up. Think about that. 

1 2