Longtime Erie County Legislator and two-time candidate for State Senate, Betty Jean Grant — a formidable political figure in her own right — is calling on Common Council President Darius Pridgen and City Comptroller Mark Schroeder to challenge incumbent Mayor Byron W. Brown in the Democratic Party primary next year. After failing to secure a federal appointment in the incoming administration, the third term mayor is widely known to be eyeing a bid for a fourth term.
Brown was appointed State Chairman of the Democratic Party by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year, despite his deep unpopularity on the East Side.
“In order to redevelop the East Side of Buffalo and for it to be made whole, either Darius Pridgen or Mark Schroeder has to run for Mayor in 2017,” Grant wrote in a widely disseminated statement to supporters via social media. Grant has proven her ability to mobilize the African American community with a nominal amount of fundraising — which continues to intimidate sitting State Senator Tim Kennedy (D-South Buffalo).
“My preference is for Darius Pridgen, but if Pridgen does not run, we have to decide if we want to vote for a person’s color, personality, or for an individual who will fight for the East Side,” she writes. “If you have had three times to fix a problem and you have not even tried, why shoud we continue begging you or asking you to do the right thing? What or whom do we put first? Our children and community’s survival or East Side politics as usual?”
Grant is a popular figure among activists and longtime East Side residents. She is well known and carries herself with integrity, clearly motivated to do what is in the public’s best interest. Many of her supporters say that she should consider running for the Mayor herself.
“I know Daruis Pridgen and I know Mark Schroeder well. I know that either one of them will fight to improve all of Buffalo, not just the tourists or visitors’ destinations. They both are outstanding candidates and I know that under their leadership, Buffalo will become the city that all of us believe in and are proud of,” Grant explains.
Grant is unapologetic in her assessment of Brown’s leadership. She says she is willing to put her career on the line, because she sees the city’s future generation at stake.
“I am going to be criticized but I am putting my political career on the line because I owe this and future generations of Buffalo citizens a decent chance to succeed in this city,” she said.
“The Niagara Corridor is being greatly redeveloped because it is the gateway to Canada. The Medical Corridor is being redeveloped. Canalside is a tourist destination with things being added daily,” she notes. “Who is talking about and designating anything for the East Side?”
Grant is not alone in her criticism of the Mayor.
“I say, do a clean sweep of city hall and vote for people with integrity regardless of color. Look at what voting color has done so far,” says Veronica Hemphill-Nichols, a community activist in the Fruit Belt neighborhood who has mobilized the community around concerns about parking and city owned lots in the area.
Samuel A. Herbert, a former candidate for the Fillmore District Common Council seat, adds that, “Mayor Brown been in that position for three four-year terms at a salary of $104,000 a year. Mayor Brown has earned over 1 million bucks, god bless him. I believe in term limits for all elected offices.”
Alberto Cappas, a social justice activist, argues that the community needs a citywide committee, representative of all council districts, to convene to choose a candidate to be the next mayor. We can no longer allow “party politics” to pick the next Mayor for us.
It should be noted that the East Side’s representatives are largely entrenched longtime Democratic Party politicians who were first members of the party’s organizing machine before being elected.
Fillmore District Councilman David Franczyk was first elected more than 28 years ago. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes was first elected to public office some 22 years ago. Mayor Byron W. Brown was elected to the Common Council 20 years ago. Lovejoy Councilman Richard Fontana was elected 18 years ago. Congressman Brian Higgins was elected to the Common Council 18 years ago, before serving in the Assembly. Councilman Joe Golombek has served for 16 years, as has Grant. Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams was first elected 14 years ago. Senator Tim Kennedy was first elected to the county legislature more than 12 years ago.
Council President Darius Pridgen is a relative newcomer to elected office, first elected to the Council’s Ellicott District 5 years ago. His protege, Rasheed Wyatt, was elected to the University District seat 3 years ago.
The only newly elected office holder representing the East Side is Masten District Councilman Ulysses Wingo, who was elected one year ago.
“I work very closely with Council Member Pridgen so I know all the people he has helped to get jobs, written letters of support and character letters when they needed it. He has also used private resources to alleviate the suffering of people he did not know and who did not belong to his church,” Grant discusses with a supporter.
“If he is charge of designating and spending the city budget instead of approving it, I know that more money would be directed toward low income home ownership, grant money, and low interest loans for housing rehabilitation and economic development for the entire East and Lower West Side.”
“If he falls short, we will give him, as Mayor, only four years — not the current twelve years and counting — to get the job done,” she insists.