County Clerk Chris Jacobs is doubling down on his call for an earlier bar closing time, despite the issue igniting a scathing discourse with sharply classist overtones. The issue is dividing the city between its blue collar populace and its new downtown loft dwellers.
The press event was well choreographed, and Jacobs had Jack Moretti of the State Troopers’ union at his side to deliver a sharply classist message. As WBEN reports:
Troopers union secretary Jack Moretti defended an earlier closing, saying the City of Buffalo specifically has to accommodate its white collar citizens.
“Buffalo’s changing. There’s more loft apartments. There’s a lot of things happening in the City of Buffalo where it’s taking a new image, new character from a blue collar to a white collar city,” said Moretti. “I think with the 4 o’clock closing and the problems that occur from patrons leaving the bar early morning, I think the residents need some support also in the area for this 2 o’clock closing.”
Jacobs repeated his position during a staged political photo-op held on county property inside a public facility during business hours on public time — while using the county seal, something that is expressly illegal for campaign purposes. The issue of bar closing times falls far outside Jacobs’ portfolio as County Clerk, undermining the claim that he is using public property properly to execute the duties of his office.
In the past month, downtown developer Marc Croce has lambasted Jacobs’ call pointing to the lost revenue that the law would impose on entertainment venues. Croce and other business owners say that the law would crush the Chippewa Street entertainment district and could kill Ellicott Development’s recently proposed 12 story hotel at Pearl and Tupper Streets.
Jacobs is widely expected to run for State Senate later next year in the 60th district; where incumbent Marc Panepinto is fending off a tough primary challenge from retired Senator Al Coppola; and where Republican Kevin Stocker is polling very strongly.
Some activists say that Jacobs, as a downtown real estate developer, has a conflict of interest on the issue. They argue that an earlier bar closing time is designed to increase the prices of downtown apartments, which would personally enrich Jacobs. Using one’s political office for personal enrichment is a major ethical lapse and, under certain circumstances, could be criminal.
It is the same ethical lapse that Panepinto has been accused of earlier this year by Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, when he lobbied for changes to insurance laws that would likely benefit his law firm, Dolce Panepinto, LP. That largely takes the ethics criticism off the table for a Jacobs campaign — something that Republican primary voters will be weighing heavily.
The evolution of an ugly discourse
Earlier this year a poll was conducted that indicated a significant majority of voters agree with an earlier bar closing time, but that very few people think it’s an important enough issue to determine their vote. Long criticized for lacking convictions, Jacobs ran with the poll and publicly demanded an earlier bar closing time on the logic that it would improve traffic safety. Almost immediately, Jacobs was roundly criticized for faulty logic and suspect data. Even County Legislator Joe Lorigo publicly opposed the change.
The public discourse didn’t end there. It evolved into a brutal debate about class, gentrification, and the Buffalonian identity as a blue collar working class community. Buffalo has long been known as “a drinking town with a sports problem.” The city’s history as an industrial center with third shifts ending beyond midnight, is the root of the 4:00 am closing time. But the city’s drinking culture is far deeper than that — stemming from proud ethnic communities, like the Germans, the Polish, and the Irish, whose traditions revolve around beer.
Still, the discourse remained civil — until developer Rocco Termini, a recipient of millions of dollars worth of development incentives and public subsidies — made statements supporting Jacobs’ proposal. He made the argument that wealthy folks who were moving into his loft conversions and high end apartments downtown don’t want to be bothered with Chippewa Street nightlife, which is seen as working class and low brow. That’s when the discourse took on a dishearteningly classist tone.
At the same time, residents of Marine Drive were complaining about noise emanating from Canalside concerts, creating a public backlash against them that included the slashing of tires of 30 vehicles parked at the public housing complex. Ironically, when Termini complained about drinking at Lafayette Square in 2010, he had the low-brow free concerts moved to the waterfront.
The city is already riled by issues of gentrification, rent increases, and residential displacement. Up until the issue of bar closing times was raised, working class whites were nominally supportive of gentrification — which they presumed to associate with the prospect of better schools, higher home values, and safer neighborhoods. But the issue of bar closing times has now put their culture and communities in the same crosshairs as the minority community.
Increasingly, working class communities are realizing that the wealthy scions of Buffalo are imagining and actively building a future that doesn’t include them; that will refuse to live, eat, and drink alongside them; that dreams of a city without them.