Mayoral Candidates Debate The Issues

THE CANDIDATES: Mayor Brown, LegislatorGrant and Comptroller Schroeder.

THE CANDIDATES: Mayor Brown, LegislatorGrant and Comptroller Schroeder.

Brown staunchly defends his 12 year record in the face of strong criticism from Grant and Schroeder for what they say is Brown's disconnect - charging that he has neglected many neighborhoods and residents as he focuses on downtown and the waterfront development.

In overflow crowd packed into the Burchfield Penny Art Center last Thursday for the much anticipated Mayoral debate which was hosted by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists. For 90 minutes, citizens got a chance to hear candidates respond to a number of important issues. It was the first time, said moderator Al Vaughters of WIBV-TV, that three elected officials were vying for the office of Mayor for the City of Buffalo at the same time.

Opening Statements City Comptroller Mark Schroeder touted his “new vision for Buffalo” where “everybody will have a seat at the table…and no neighborhood will be left behind.” Referencing his 5 ½ years in office, he said he knows how to fix mismanagement in the city. He introduced his “Compass Plan” which he said would offer direction for the city and all its residents. His platform includes providing comprehensive training for City of Buffalo police and a work plan to attack a myriad of problems that effects neighborhoods.

Legislator Betty Jean Grant said she was running because she was the best qualified candidate for the job. Known for her work in the community, she went right in to declare that she would not “engage in pay to play politics.” City Hall, she continued “would not be for sale to the highest bidder.” Her platform includes creating a budget of inclusiveness and working with council members to have streets paved, sidewalks fixed and homicides reduced and solved. In addition, she said she would hire a New police commissioner, push to make the Central Terminal the home for the new Train Station and direct millions of federal block grant funds to the neighborhoods, to remove poverty and blight. “I will have a new Buffalo that will include all of Buffalo not just parts.

” Mayor Brown, immediately putting on his “defense of my record” armor, opened by describing a city on its way out when he came in.  “When I started as Mayor Buffalo was in fiscal crisis,” he said, pointing out that the state had placed the city under a financial control board; city wages were frozen; neighborhoods blighted with hundreds of vacant and dilapidated structures and more. To his administration’s credit he said, the city’s finances have been stabilized and its economy improved; he passed 12 balanced budgets with huge surpluses; over 600 vacant buildings have been demolished; investments in city schools increased; crime reduced; and “our municipal ratings higher than it’s ever been.” All this without raising taxes on homeowners and businesses. “I am asking for your vote…to continue the work we started together…to continue to build a Buffalo of opportunity for all people.” The first question from the panel was on gun violence and what ideas the candidates had to reduce or eliminate the scourge.

Legislator Grant offered placing checkpoints at towns bordering the city suggesting “if the points are done within the city, they should not just be done in one area. She said she would also focus on establishing job training programs at area centers for young minority men who are suffering a 35-45% unemployment rate.

Mayor Brown, reflecting on his record, suggested that education and providing jobs would go a long way to prevent a life of crime. He cited millions that the city has invested in Say Yes Buffalo and other academic areas. “We’re spending the highest amount of money in the history of the city of Buffalo, putting our youth to work in the summertime…that has been very successful in showing our youth alternatives to violence,” said Brown.

Schroeder begged to differ. “Mr. Mayor all due respect you’ve had 12 years and the results are not good enough,” he retorted. He cited “over 550 shootings and 46 homicides in 2016. Today there are 55 gangs in the city of Buffalo and over 700 gang members, he continued. His plan to help solve the problem he said, includes his “Compass Plan” - a one stop shop for neighborhood development and his “Ezekiel Program” - to aid troubled youth and help families in the City of Buffalo. “We can do better Mr. Mayor, you’ve had 12 year to do better.”

The Mayor shot back by accusing Schroeder of refusing to vote to take a guns out of the hands of children as young as 11 years old while serving in the NYS Assembly or to advance background checks for guns. “Why didn’t you talk about your Ezekiel plan when you were a member of the NYS assembly Mr. Comptroller?

Schroeder, reflecting on his politics as an independent at the time, admitted making mistakes. but said that he had learned from them as he continues to move forward. Does Buffalo Have a race problem? “There is systemic racism that continues on in the City of Buffalo” said Schroder., adding that there is also an education gap, and a criminal justice. He chided the Mayor for allowing police check points primarily on the East side of town – a decision he said, made solely by the Mayor and the police commissioner.

Brown called Schroeder’s comments “ridiculous” and said the checkpoints were merely traffic safety stops as a result of citizens who complained about speeding, loud (loud what? )etc. He said that his administration has hired the most diverse employees in the history of the city of Buffalo with more Black, Latino and Women in management level positions.

Legislator Grant said Buffalo has more of a “Classism and elitism” problem than a race problem. As an example, she said, “there are Port-A-Potties in MLK Park and the restrooms are closed. You go to Canalside and they have air conditioned restrooms…”

The issue of new housing and gentrification elicited strong response from Grant who made clear that the new housing was for the people in the community. “it is for those who work in the Medical Corridor. It’s for those we who will be going to school at UB Medial School. It is for those who will be working for the new Children’s Hospital. It’s not for the residents,” she said referencing a Buffalo News article. “You are not building for the community. Why are you pretending? We need a Mayor, she continued, who will say we’re not going to force the people out who’ve been here…We have to protect our city because they stayed when nobody wanted to be here. “The issue” she said, is gentrification.

Brown countered that he could run off a list of many affordable housing projects in the city such as Holy Family apartments in South Buffalo and Parkview Apartments on Fillmore and Best “done by an African American Female developer.” He also said that his administration was concerned about affordability in the City of Buffalo and that he will be releasing a housing strategy soon and a comprehensive plan to build mixed income houses.

Schroeder said that there are many good neighborhoods that should be protected. “They should stay that way…and not be pushed out by the developers who are coming in doing whatever it is they want to do…Why is it that in the Fruit Belt there is an organization that has land bank trust volunteers because they do not trust the city of Buffalo or Erie County. These are people in the neighborhoods who are fearful.

Also during the debate: *Brown said Schroeder and Grant were attacking his record “because I have one”. *Schroeder said Brown needs to release a report on his “Opportunity Pledge” initiated a few years ago, as well as compliance and MWBE statistics. The opportunity Pledge touted to encourage businesses and institutions to be more diverse and inclusive. *Brown accused the Comptroller of not advocating for jobs for people of color or women when he was in the Assembly. Schroeder denied the charge and told Brown he “should be ashamed of himself. Tell the truth and shame the devil” he admonished the mayor. *Schroeder accused the Brown administration of restructuring the BMHA just before the Primary election and said the BMHA was guilty of gross mismanagement.Both he and Legislator Grant cited the deplorable condition of some of the BMHA housing projects. The Democratic Primary is Tuesday, September 12