In the 2010 redistricting process, Senator Tim Kennedy’s district was redrawn to ensure minority representation in the State Senate. It is heavily Democrat-enrolled, and anchored by the large African American population on Buffalo’s Eastside and in West Cheektowaga.
He even attracted tough primary contests in each of his reelection years from County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, who felt that minority representation in the State Senate is important, especially considering that this is the only minority district upstate.
The Senator has come under intense criticism in recent weeks for failing to employ even one full time black staffer in his State Senate district this term, which is comprised almost entirely of constituent services and community affairs staff.
Given the history behind the redistricting, his critics say that the oversight could not be coincidental. The fact that Grant made minority hiring in government contracting work, the Eastside’s exclusion from the Cuomo Administration’s Buffalo Billion spending, and the economic exclusion of blacks from Buffalo’s economic revival such a central part of her platform, makes Kennedy’s “oversight” even more unbelievable.
A struggle for representation
The Eastside of Buffalo was represented by Senator Antoine Thompson, until his defeat by Mark Grisanti ahead of the 2010/11 redistricting process. Former Senator George Maziarz, with the help of Seneca Nation money, orchestrated the takedown of Thompson — for the specific purpose of ensuring that Republicans controlled the Senate during the redistricting year. Otherwise, Democrat control of the process could have shut out the GOP from controlling the Senate for a generation.
The redistricting process that followed ensured that the Italian vote in North Buffalo would be extracted from the African American vote on the Eastside, in order to ensure the political viability of Republican Mark Grisanti. Political operatives in the Italian community wanted to ensure that their community had a Senate district that they could dominate, as they did prior to Byron Brown’s defeat of Al Coppola in 2002.
Some Italian operatives are still angry with Joel Giambra, who they said was too close to Grisanti and controlled too much of his thinking. The operatives — many of whom were associated with the powerful and secretive political group known as the First Amendment Club — wanted the district drawn into Niagara Falls and Lewiston, where the Italian community remains politically dominant.
Giambra, in a poorly calculated play for the Conservative party nomination, didn’t want the district drawn across county lines, which would have allowed State Chairman Mike Long to deny the line to Grisanti. All the political maneuvering was for naught, as Grisanti lost the line anyways.
Inside the Grisanti office, staff joked, “we’re going to give Tim Kennedy the Eastside — wrapped in a bow.”
The thought of the African American political power structure being in a constant and ongoing political battle with the Irish Democrat organization in South Buffalo was a hoot among staff. That Democratic primary would force the Erie County Democrats into warring factions for the next decade, ensuring that Republicans would be viable in countywide races, despite the overwhelming enrollment advantage for the Democrats.
When the seven First Amendment Club members who staffed Grisanti began leaving his Senate office in mass exodus, he lost the organization and political cunning that got him elected. That was a turning point, they insist. The First Amendment Club has since reverted to its Democrat leanings — but now, with an Italian Senate district that they largely control.
A high level operative close to Senator Kennedy says that there were black staffers in his office, though he did not name them. The operative insists that they have moved on to better jobs and that Kennedy is in the process of finding new people.
Grassroots, the black community’s political power structure, is very upset with Kennedy for failing to have at least half of his staff budget allocated to minority hires. These are constituent services positions, so they ask, “what kind of message does it send to not have any black folks in your office?”
“It looks like he doesn’t much care about serving our constituency,” they surmise. “Half of his district is black, but his office is almost exclusively Irish and Polish.”
Whatever the reason, it’s not a good look.