Since Governor Andrew Cuomo was elected to his current office in 2010 and made Sam Hoyt an official at Empire State Development, the former Assemblyman has promoted himself as “Cuomo’s top guy in Western New York.”
He even modified his title from Vice President for the Western Region, to Regional President, because he didn’t think the former fully represented his stature in the administration.
In recent years the administration has been besieged by criticism that economic development policies have largely excluded Buffalo’s Black community — and often funds projects that reenforce non-Black power structures over Black people.
That’s why it raised so many eyebrows this week when Hoyt was notably absent from one of the few economic development announcements to take place on the East Side.
Hoyt is a product of the West Side Democratic Party political machine that is home to organizations like People United for Sustainable Housing, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Councilman David Rivera, and Commissioner Maria Whyte.
That party faction is unfreindly to Grassroots, an East Side political club aligned with Mayor Byron Brown whose influence has waned in recent years.
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes was on hand to make the announcement: a $300,000 grant from the Better Buffalo Fund. The Community Action Organization, an umbrella 501c(3) through which state funds are often distributed to community groups lacking that designation, was the venue for the announcement.
The funds will be used for facade and building improvements to seven properties along Fillmore Avenue, including Ansar Communications, East Utica Market, and the Rafi Greene Masten Resource Center.
Many of the community’s civic leaders were on hand for the announcement, including the high profile education activist Sam Radford, former congressional candidate Eddie Egriu, school board member Patricia Elliott, Councilman Ulysses Wingo, CAO President L. Nathan Hare, and County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams.
“Finally, Fillmore Avenue is getting something from the ‘Buffalo Billion’ — a small portion but a big step forward. I give credit to all who participated to make this happen,” Egriu writes on social media.
“This is just the beginning,” he added. Egriu declined to pursue a bid for Congress this year, despite being urged to do by activists. “It has to start somewhere. This phase must be a success so we can continue on the rest of the areas.”
But critics are not as complimentary of the community’s political leadership.
“Give folks crumbs and they will love you! They did that because Jefferson is gone, East Utica is gone, so they come and throw crumbs on Fillmore to provide an illusion,” explains Taniqua Simmons, a resident whose recent activism has enlightened her to the community’s socio-political economics.
For his part, Hoyt is no longer the Governor’s “top guy in Buffalo.”
Local businessman and investor Howard Zemsky has been appointed President and CEO of Empire State Development, and is now considered the most influential Cuomo operative in the State of New York. It is unclear if Zemsky intends to make the Black community a priority.