Political operatives are already speculating about what Terry Robinson’s mayoral administration would look like, in the increasingly likely event that he is elected the next Mayor of the City of Buffalo. The high profile preservationist and widely respected city planning activist has not yet agreed to seek the office, but community leaders and neighborhood activists continue to call on him to unseat the disgraced three term Mayor Byron W. Brown — the longstanding subject of racketeering and public corruption allegations.
Brown, who is the city’s first African American mayor, has done little to improve the quality of life or living conditions of the city’s Black community — among the very poorest, most segregated, and least safe communities in America. On issue after issue — public education, job creation, housing costs, violent crime rates, and public transit — Brown’s three terms in office have been broadly panned by East Side activists as ‘an abysmal failure.’
Unlike Brown, Robinson is from Buffalo. He grew up in city’s Humboldt Parkway neighborhood before studying at Princeton University and becoming a police officer. Now retired, he has emerged as one of the city’s most energetic thought leaders on city planning and urban policy. Robinson is highly qualified, well respected, and deeply immersed in the region’s activist communities. Robinson is likely to look to longtime residents to fill senior positions in the administration. Amid the political prognostications, operatives posit:
Bernie Tolbert, the former Special Agent in Charge of the Buffalo field office of the FBI and senior security executive with Coke and the NBA, would be a likely choice for Chief of Police. But Tolbert is likely to run for — and get elected to — the office of Erie County Sheriff. Deputy Commissioner Kim Beatty and Police Captain Steve Nichols, the head of community policing, would be strong choices. Charlie Torres, the husband of Judge Betty Calvo-Torres, is also a contender but he, too, may also run for Sheriff.
Most political observers think that Robinson will tap key figures for mayoral appointments to economic development agencies like the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation. Matthew Ricchiazzi has been suggested for a dual role as BURC Executive Director and Deputy Mayor, though Executive Director Paul Cammaratta and David Stebbins have performed ably and may be reappointed.
Others mentioned for Deputy Mayor include congressional staffer Chris Fahey, County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, and North Buffalo activist Martha Lamparelli.
In his selection of mayoral appointments, Robinson is inclined to elevate neighborhood activists to senior positions in the government. Appointments to the urban development corporation would likely include people like Kathy Mecca, the president of the Columbus Park Neighborhood Association; Carol Perla, the longtime West Side activist and Democratic Party official; Stephanie Getter, the Hamlin Park community organizer; and Mary Kinyon, the Blackrock social justice activist.
The role of Planning Commissioner could fall to housing activist Aaron Bartley, University at Buffalo professor Brad Hobey, or non-profit administrator Mike Clark. Robinson is likely to split the positions of Planning Commissioner and Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning (filled, perhaps, by architecture critic Tim Tielman).
Robinson has long been known to support the creation of a Chief of Staff position for the city’s Preservation Board, which currently has no staff support. That role could fall to a young preservationist; perhaps Jason Wilson, Darren Cotton, or Mike Puma.
Willie Olivencia has been suggested for the position of Public Works Commissioner.
Joe Mascia, the outspoken anti-corruption crusader, could make for a controversial appointment as a commissioner to the board of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, perhaps as Chairman. The mayor has five appointments to that board. Other names often mentioned for commissioners’ positions are Anthony Armstrong; former Common Council member Karen Ellington; and former Pataki administration official Dee Cosby.
Contenders for General Counsel include election law experts Mike Kuzma and Peter Reese; Dolce Panepinto personal injury attorney Sam Davis; and the constitutional law scholar Jim Ostrowski.
In a Robinson administration, the position of Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs is likely to be key. Names floated for the position include Tom Gleed, Dave Granville, and Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux.
The position of press secretary is likely to fall to either Al Vaughters, Matt Davison, Al-nisa Banks, Geoff Kelly, Sharon Linstedt, or Claudia Ewing. Observers predict that the more senior position of Director of Communications — a key strategy figure in the administration — would likely be the renowned veteran Buffalo News journalist Sue Schulman.
Robinson has indicated that he would be more proactive than Brown on education issues. Brown created the position Deputy Mayor for Education Policy to act as a liaison with the Board of Education, a position initially held by Ellen Grant. That role could be filled by charter school founder Amy Friedman or education activist Sam Radford.
Robinson ’76 and Superintendent Kriner Cash ’77, were classmates at Princeton and could become a key relationship that forms the leadership backbone of a turnaround plan for the massive district. The two could represent a pivotal alignment that makes operations improvements possible.
Appointments for other key positions, such as Commissioner of Administration & Finance and Parking Commissioner, are less clear — though Robinson is known to support a best practices approach to improving city operations. Observers speculate that those roles could mark a departure from Brown Administration policy, which has been relying heavily on new parking fine revenues.
Robinson sits on the City’s Preservation Board and is board member of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. He is known to support the removal of the Scajaquada Expressway and restoration of the Humboldt Parkway, among other ‘rightsizing’ infrastructure projects. He has advocated to preserve the outer harbor’s natural environment, to reinvent the Skyway as an elevated public space, and to direct public investment in physical infrastructure — like streetscapes, public spaces, and parks — towards the poorest and most marginalized neighborhoods.
Mayor Brown is expected to forgo a reelection bid, during which period the Mayor and his associates would be subject to depositions, discovery, and further public disclosures of the administration’s dealings with NRP Development of Cleveland, OH, making his reelection largely implausible. He is alleged to have denied approval of a 50-unit East Side affordable housing development because his friend and political backer, Rev. Richard Stenhouse, was not offered an $80,000 consulting contract on the project.
Robinson has not yet accepted activists’ calls for him to enter the race.