Wyatt likely to see challenge in University district

Rasheed Wyatt, the city’s University district councilman, is likely to see a primary challenge next year. Wyatt is politically untested, lacks name recognition, doesn’t have a portfolio of accomplishments on which incumbents typically run, and has held his Council seat only since his appointment following Councilwoman Bonnie Russell’s retirement.

In recent years the University district has been plagued with violent crime emanating from teen street clubs, and shootings that largely involve teenagers caught up in territorial gang wars fueled by competing drug distribution networks.

Many East Side voters have tired of what they call the Brown Administration’s “non-strategy on crime.” They cite the Department’s many instances of excessive force; a politically connected Police Commissioner who lacks a college degree; and an organizational culture that lacks good management practices and is afraid of innovation.

Chronic underemployment in the district has inflamed political discontent, which ruptured this summer in the form of Antoine Thompson’s primary challenge against Assemblywoman  Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and Betty Jean Grant’s primary challenge against Senator Tim Kennedy.

Both primaries were motivated by the African American community’s exclusion from the Cuomo Administration’s Buffalo Billion program, which outraged the East Side’s political power structure. Governor Cuomo has since introduced a $30 million grant program for streetscape improvements in neighborhood commercial districts across the city.

Violent crime prevention and economic development in the African American community are the issues expected to dominate the political discourse, while other political observers argue that education policy will emerge as a more dominant issue in the political cycle.

Wyatt seems to lack substantive policy positions on each of those fronts, but he has a year to make his case with all of the trappings of incumbency — and there is still considerable speculation as to who might emerge to challenge the novice politician.

Operatives have floated names like Bernie Tolbert, the former FBI agent turned mayoral candidate; Kevin Helfer, the former Councilman turned parking commissioner; and school board member Barbara Seals-Nevergold.

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