Diversity of district makes Fillmore council race a toss up

The Fillmore district is a gerrymandered concoction that was drawn in the 2010/11 redistricting process. Then Council President David Franzcyk, a deeply unpopular figure who was first elected in 1988 and watched his neighborhood collapse, desperately needed to find white voters to draw into his district in order to make his reelection viable. The resulting district incorporates a fascinatingly diverse subset of the city.

Franczyk is running against the longtime progressive activist and five term housing Commissioner Joe Mascia and Sam Herbert, a perennial candidate who has run for the same seat unsuccessfully three times before.

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Based on 2010 US Census numbers, the district is about 49.1% white, comprising a large Irish demographic in South Buffalo, a smaller Polish community in Emslie and along Clinton Street, and a younger professional population in Allentown.

The district is 37.5% black, where the population is concentrated on the far Eastside and the historic center of the district at Broadway Fillmore, which is still racially mixed.

The remaining 13.4% of the district identifies as a group other than white or black. A significant Latino population resides on the lower west side, and a small but growing Arab population is located near the Broadway Market. There is also a sizable gay population in Allentown and Waterfront Village, where educational attainment, average income, and property values stand in stark contrast with the rest of the district.

The district has a 40.5% unemployment rate.

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The old ethnic Polish population that first elected him no longer inhabits the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. Most have fled the city for the suburbs — and those who have remained are deeply cynical of politics and disgusted with Franczyk’s performance in recent years.

“I can’t get anything done because the Mayor doesn’t like me,” he said at a meeting of preservationists earlier this year, an attendee tells me.

Over the course of three decades of decline under Franczyk’s tenure in office, the neighborhood’s population, commercial activity, average income, quality of life, and housing stock have experienced precipitous decline. Nearly six decades of a deliberate and systematic disinvestment of the east side has been orchestrated by local banking and real estate interests who used the fear of racial integration as a driver of suburban development — while Franczyk sat by and idly watched his neighborhood collapse.

It’s rumored in political circles that Franczyk doesn’t live in the district. Neighbors don’t see much activity at the house where he is registered to vote. A source tells me that his curiously low water bills are particularly incriminating, but the source would not yet share the documents with The Chronicle. 

There are also several large public housing complexes in the district, including Marine Drive Apartments, the Commodore Perry Homes, and Lakeshore Apartments, where voter turnout has ranged widely. The complexes are racially mixed. In recent years residents have become angry — even vengeful — toward Mayor Byron Brown’s policies of privatization and gentrification that have been pushed by his appointees at the municipal housing authority.

Commissioner Mascia has been an outspoken critic of these same Brown administration policies, and has been elected by housing authority residents for five consecutive terms.

In a typical low turnout environment, the average age of voters is 62 years old. Even in very high turnout scenarios, the average of age of projected voters is still quite old, at 58. Among voters who vote more than two times per year, the average age increases to 64.  This demographic is, presumably, more forgiving than most towards a candidate’s politically incorrect faux pas.

Given his performance in his previous runs for office, Herbert’s vote tops out at about 750 votes, which come mainly from the far Eastside. Herbert ran four years ago and lost by about 200 votes in a head to head match up with Franczyk.

Herbert is seen, even inside the African American community, as a deeply flawed candidate whose inappropriate Facebook postings, sexist attitudes, and his recent termination from the County Auto Bureau for asking a woman if he could write his phone number on her breast, make him unqualified and unelectable. Those voters who do vote for him do so begrudgingly.

In a three way race, the demographics and political dynamics make it a toss up.

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