Peoples-Stokes is a no-show at Assembly debate

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a twelve-year incumbent, was a no-show at last Thursday night’s Democratic primary debate. The audience booed her absence and expressed long moans of displeasure that lasted a number of minutes, as her chair sat empty.

Challengers Antoine Thompson and Veronica Nichols proceeded to debate without the Assemblywoman. The debate was hosted by the George K. Arthur Community Center and was moderated by Mary Davis.

Attendees tell me that both candidates were impressive but that former Senator Antoine Thompson was clearly more polished and fluent with the state’s legislative process. Both held similar anti-establishment views that critiqued the Cuomo Administration’s current economic policies that have ignored disadvantaged communities in favor of wealthy real estate interests.

They both want to see more neighborhood oriented investment that revives local commercial districts.

Sen. Thompson thinks that the key to turning around the economy is in improved job training and workforce development programs. He sites the progress that he made as a legislator in expanding those programs during his time in the State Senate. He also notes his experience leading the Buffalo Employment Training Center, and highlighted his record leading the call for new energy efficiency incentives.

Ms. Nichols stressed a need to improve participatory governance that empowers marginalized communities to articulate their own vision for themselves, rather than being told by developers. She is concerned with gentrification, especially in the Fruit Belt neighborhood.

One political operative in attendance said to me, “I think Antoine may have found his next chief of staff,” complimenting Ms. Nichols’ performance and their cordial manner .

A number of Eastside powerbrokers are coming to the consensus that Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes’ ineffective service in office renders her reelection pointless — especially when it comes to the objective of securing more public investment in marginalized communities.

Sources tell me that a group of older leaders in the black community are recognizing the energy that Mr. Thompson has mustered among younger voters — who see him as the relatable, trustworthy, likably imperfect champion of their interests.

This cadre of prominent black leaders — including deacons and pastors, operatives and retired office holders — have been coalescing around Mr. Thompson, as Peoples-Stokes makes phone calls looking for public political backing.

But her election time honorariums aren’t enough to satisfy her constituency, which is angry that it has been so deliberately excluded from the Cuomo Administration’s Billion for Buffalo.

Sources are telling me that some are even expressing offense to what they call “piecemeal election time honorariums,” that have long been commonplace on the Eastside. They are wondering where the big money is — the kind of money that could rebuild streetscapes and expand the light rail system.

They see Mr. Thompson’s youth and vigor as a sharp contrast to Peoples-Stokes, who some have called “lazy.”  Thompson’s energy means more state money, they say.

“I’ve always known Antoine to work very hard and put 210% of his energy into the job that he was doing,” a local Deacon tells me. “Imagine how much of that Buffalo Billion money that Antoine could have gotten for us if he was still in the State Senate.”

“Jefferson would be beautiful,” he said.

Experienced operatives recognize how Mr. Thompson’s prior service in public office could yield dividends for the black community.

Sen. Thompson’s relationships with senior members of the Democratic Party’s NYC-based leadership are still quite strong. His influence would yield the Eastside the influence of an additional Senator, they say.

Given that the Democrats are expected to takeover the Senate next year, that could mean real resources for neighborhoods that have been ignored in Mr. Cuomo’s first term.

Ironically, the day after the Assemblywoman was a no-show at the debate, the Buffalo News endorsed her with the headline “accomplishments justify reelection,” without naming a single accomplishment in the endorsement article.

Most of her constituents can’t name any either.

The Democratic Party primary will be held on Tuesday, September 9th.

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