Not quite four years ago, a newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to make Buffalo boom — even dedicating $1 billion over his first term for economic development investments that, he said, would turn the city around.
Crystal Peoples-Stokes represents the 141st Assembly district, the poorest in New York State, and ranking first in population loss. Since 2006, she has represented the most economically devastated and socially distraught assembly district in New York State, where all major indicators on crime, jobs, graduation rates, and quality of life have all continued to fall markedly since she took office.
Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes is so closely connected to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is currently being investigated for public corruption by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, that she serves as the statewide Co-Chairman of his campaign.
With that kind of political clout with the Governor — at a time when he was shoveling money into the economic development of Buffalo — the black community expected Peoples-Stokes to deliver big money in meaningful ways to her district. It’s what any other politician would have done.
How much did she end up getting for Buffalo’s Eastside? Next to nothing.
“Crystal got — maybe — $5 million in total for a handful of pastors’ projects on the eastside. It was all little piecemeal stuff; nothing that helps the people,” said former State Senator Antoine Thompson, who is challenging Peoples-Stokes in the Assembly. “We got excluded from Governor Cuomo’s Billion for Buffalo in a deliberate, egregious, and extraordinary way.”
“The bulk of that Buffalo Billion should have gone into this Assembly district. When Governor Cuomo setup his table of oligarchs to divvy up the state money, Crystal got a seat at that table,” Senator Thompson says, noting her appointment to the WNY Development Council led by Cuomo-financier Howard Zemsky. “Well, they had five courses and took the cake, while we got stuck with the crumbs that fell from the table.”
Prominent leaders from the black community are privately infuriated with the Assemblywoman, whom they blame outright for such a poor performance in securing state investment dollars from a Governor with whom she is extremely close.
“It makes no sense. The only answer is that she was lazy for the last four years and wasn’t doing what she should have been doing to secure some of Cuomo’s Billion for our community,” said one elder statesman of eastside politics, who asked not to be named for fear of political retribution. “It was a once in a lifetime chance for this community and we missed out. Apparently she had more important things to get to — and communities of color were thrown under the bus.”
As upset as many older members of the African American community’s political power structure are, younger black voters express outright outrage towards the Assemblywoman. They blame her for a lack of job opportunities, crumbling streets, dilapidated sewage infrastructure, staggering population losses, and the dysfunctional school systems that often leave young people without the skill sets that they need to make work for themselves.
“Frankly, if I were still in the State Senate, we would not be in this situation — because I would have stood up and fought and made sure that our seat at the table meant something,” Senator Thompson said. “At the very least, I would have secured funding to rebuild the Kensington-Bailey streetscape. Jefferson Avenue, Fillmore Avenue, Broadway, Main Street; we need to rebuild our neighborhood commercial districts and encourage businesses to emerge.”
Senator Thompson has a plan to access what little is left of the Buffalo Billion for neighborhood quality of life improvements in our most economically distraught neighborhoods and investments in public transit, especially light rapid rail.
“All along, we should have been investing this money where is does the most good,” he says.
Thompson is running an aggressive campaign with a presence in every election ward within the district. No professional polling has been conducted in the race, but political operatives expect the black vote to split relatively evenly across the eastside, with North Buffalo being a determinative swing constituency.
Some political operatives are expecting Governor Cuomo to swoop in at the last minute to save his Assemblywoman friend — perhaps even announcing major spending projects on the eastside, surely with all the pomp and circumstance that the propaganda pages of the Buffalo News will allow.