Buffalo’s black community is large, young, and poor. Betty Jean Grant has represented the East Side on the Common Council and as the Chairwoman of the County Legislature for nearly two decades. But her constituents – particularly younger African Americans who are unwilling to be puppeted by white Party Bosses – disdain her political allegiance to the 36 year old Jeremy Zellner, a brutish Chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party.
“She hasn’t done anything for our neighborhoods,” surmises Shanelle Jones, a resident of the Bailey Kensington neighborhood and local college student. “As the Chairwoman of the County Legislature she had real power – she was the top official running all of Erie County. And she didn’t use any of that power to rebuild her neighborhood – she wasted it to help Jeremy maintain his political grudges.”
Many have grown up knowing of Ms. Grant as the cold and short tempered woman who sold them ice cream and stale snacks at her Jefferson Avenue convenience store.
Jones is not alone in her sentiments, and points readily to a series of issues on which the Chairwoman has “underperformed”:
- Potholes. Grant voted against County funding to address this season’s horribly poor road conditions. Seemingly with no logic to defend her vote, she explained that “she doubted the County Legislature even has the authority to bring this spending to a vote.” Mind you, the County regularly maintains hundreds of miles of roadways, and the Eastside has among the poorest road conditions in the County.
- Child Protective Services. Our most vulnerable children from our most broken families have been dying, despite being monitored by the County’s Department of Social Services. Grant oversaw the County’s operations and budget during the two years that County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a close ally, stuffed the Department with patronage hacks who, it is rumored, haven’t even passed required civil service exams. Grant signed off on the budgets and looked the other way. Five children have died. How many more children have to die so that Party political workers can get jobs?
- Erie County Holding Center. For years, the Holding Center has been under investigation by the United States Department of Justice for civil rights violations and a staggering rate of “alleged” suicides. For at least a decade rumors about abusive guards, brutal beatings of inmates, and staged suicides have been whispered around the city. As Legislature Chairwoman, Grant oversaw both the Sherriff’s Department and the Holding Center. Conditions continue to be deplorable and minorities continue to suffer at higher rates.
“When she became Chairwoman, I thought that we would see our subway stations getting fixed, maybe get the Baily Kensington streetscapes rebuilt, and spotlight the challenges facing minority communities. We didn’t get any of that, because she used all of her influence to fight Jeremy Zellner’s wars, like an unthinking puppet,” Jones says. “It’s really embarrassing that she would let herself be used by a 36 year old bully. He’s still a child, and doesn’t show her any respect—and she seems fine with it.”
Some say that Ms. Grant has taken the Eastside’s vote for granted. She narrowly lost a Democratic Primary battle two years ago. Her candidacy was lifted by a high voter turnout on the coattails of an intense presidential primary season. But her confidence can be off putting at times, and her base of support is mostly motivated for identity politics rather than out of admiration or respect for her personally or professionally.
Ms. Grant’s campaign is being managed by Karla Thomas, the City’s former Human Resources Commissioner.