News Fulfills its Destiny
Buffalo News’ endorsement of Byron Brown in the Democratic
primary this Tuesday the 13th ranks among the
least surprising events in my lifetime. I would have been
shocked to learn that the News had endorsed any other candidate.
Brown was established early on as the Democratic Party’s
fast-track candidate, and has gathered all the big endorsements
there are to be had, because Buffalo politics is usually
about going through the motions: you figure out who’s going
to win, and you endorse him, and hopefully he’ll be nice
to you when he’s in charge. Brown was picked as the winner
of this race before it even began.
the News endorsement was surprising in its reasoning. One
can almost hear the writer groaning as he twists his mind
in search of a logical path to a Brown endorsement that
doesn’t include the phrases “he’s going to win anyway” or
“will serve the existing plutocracy well.” Painted into
a corner by the relative ingenuity and earnestness of Brown’s
opponents, the News resorts to cliquish “you don’t get it”
sneering to make its case. Basically, the theory is that
drastic changes are necessary to Buffalo’s survival, but
impossible to implement, so we need someone who looks good
and knows how to pander. That doesn’t make sense. When your
car breaks down, you don’t take it to a car salesman.
this is just a primary. But in Buffalo, the Democratic primary
is traditionally considered the “real” election—whoever
wins this one gets to be mayor, by virtue of the overwhelmingly
Democratic affiliation of the city. Some think that racism
will play a factor this time if and when Brown wins the
nomination, tilting the balance in Republican candidate
Kevin Helfer’s favor. This is unlikely, and would be shamefully
stupid. It’s obvious that race has nothing to do with competence—just
look at the President.
should we vote for Brown simply because he’s black?
The News seems to think so, saying, “…let’s be frank: Electing this Rust Belt city’s first black mayor
would in itself be a healthy and progressive achievement.”
I’m embarrassed to be from a city where this is considered
sound opinion. The News here speaks with the voice of its
bosses: ancient tycoons so removed from reality that their
take on modern society is decades behind the times. Black
mayors are nothing special; in fact they’re frigging everywhere
these days. Considering Brown’s election some kind of impressive
civil rights landmark only shows how backwards the Buffalo
News is on race. Regardless, the idea that we should apply
affirmative action to an election is dumb beyond comprehension.
This is serious business. We can’t afford another do-nothing
administration, white or black.
when it comes down to it, why does the News endorse Brown?
Well, he’s charismatic, and he’s black. He’s spent years
in the most corrupt and inefficient State Legislature in
the country, so he has a lot of experience not getting things
reasons for rejecting Gaughan and Calvaneso? They have new
ideas and they want to change things. Seriously:
brings a business person’s values, a few appealing initiatives
and a libertarian approach to Buffalo’s overstuffed reformist
agenda. But if elected, he likely would have trouble governing.
Demanding change and extracting it from an entrenched political
system are different tasks. Asking does not guarantee ye
shall receive. We don’t question his dedication; we doubt
he can be effective.
other words, change is difficult, so don’t bother. While
the News doesn’t elaborate on why exactly Calvaneso would
face such resistance, their dismissal of Gaughan is downright
insulting, and has “lightweight” written all over it:
may function best in a Shangri-La where innovation matters
more than votes, where ideals count more than politics,
where vision has more value than campaign contributions.
It’s a good place for him, and this region is indebted to
him for his work.
is presented as in his own silly dream world, a ‘60s hallucination
of utopian municipal government. The clear implication is
that it’s ridiculous to place vision over fundraising,
ideals above politics, or innovation over votes. The News
is describing every jaded voter’s dream candidate, the one
who, in their own estimation, really gives a shit,
and dismissing him as useless, precisely because
he’s untainted by the craven process of machine politics.
It’s a surprisingly cynical assessment from a paper which
is usually all too happy to believe in fairy tales, as long
as they involve major taxpayer-funded construction contracts.
is “smart” and “forward thinking,”
but Brown is “savvy” and “smooth.” Calvaneso and Gaughan
“offer appealing, fresh ideas and determined spirits, and
much-needed vision,” but Brown is “caring without condescension,
dedicated without zealousness.” The News’ position is clearly
that style matters much more than substance in politics.
What kind of asinine position is that? Whose interests does
a particularly blatant show of sophistry, the editorial
cites the same idea—delegation of authority to secondary
assistants—as both a strike against Gaughan and a plus for
Brown: Gaughan “would cede to a city manager day-to-day
control of a city in dire need of a day-to-day leader,”
a sign of irresponsibility, but one of Brown’s “good ideas”
is to “hire two deputy mayors - one for multi-level legislative
liaison, and one for administration and operation.” The
News is clearly biased in favor of Brown, for reasons it
has chosen not to share with us.
case against Brown? I’ll let the News make it:
downsides include his inability to articulate an inspired
vision of his mayoralty or this once-great city’s future;
his likely indebtedness to his entrenched political backers;
and his career-long acceptance of a public paycheck at a
time when new models of governance must be found. The next
mayor can’t just do things better than Mayor Anthony M.
Masiello; the next mayor must do things differently.
again, the other candidates are no good precisely for wanting
to do things differently. And there is no indication that
Brown will. The News offers up paltry pickings on his behalf—”Brown
says abuse of taxpayers [sic] dollars will not exist
on his watch,” and he promises to—gasp—hire people who are
qualified. But these are the promises of every single
candidate running for mayor this year, sort of like
a Presidential campaign promise to “protect American workers.”
Nobody’s running around promising more patronage and developer
handouts, after all. If the News is willing to wholeheartedly
believe the campaign promises of a veteran politician, described
in their own words as “savvy” and “smooth,” why not the
others, the unsophisticated newbies?
considerable drawbacks are listed and summarily dismissed.
He is given the benefit of the doubt on all questions of
integrity, while his opponents are cast aside as simple-minded
naïfs whose very hope for the future indicates their incompetence.
Hope for the future of Buffalo seems childish in a mayoral
candidate to the News. Big ideas about demanding change
are amusing, even commendable, but hey, grow up kids; this
is the real world.
about this for a second: Big ideas. Demanding change. Aren’t
these exactly what all the noise since the county budget
crisis has been about? All of these grassroots organizations
sprouting from the woodwork, the renewed vigor with which
local TV news affiliates have pursued stories of government
inefficiency and corruption, the demonization of Giambra—all
of it has been about rejecting the status quo in favor of
fresh, revolutionary approaches to old problems.
that’s not part of the Buffalo News’ agenda. They have paid
some lip service, and joined in on the Giambra-bashing,
but let’s not forget that the News endorsed Giambra and
Masiello—twice. And let’s also not forget that, as our economy
has tanked, the News has raked in more and more cash. They
have a monopoly, and another publisher would be nuts to
start a second daily in a crippled economy like ours. The
News is just fine with that. The last thing Warren Buffett
and Stan Lipsey want is some unorthodox upstart rocking
they really agreed that fundamental change was necessary,
all the News had to do was change their endorsement. After
all, they are far more powerful than a bunch of lazy bureaucrats.
With a stroke of the pen, this city could have felt the
full editorial weight of the lone major daily, as the inevitability
of a Brown election changed over breakfast to a mere possibility.
But the News doesn’t challenge; it soothes. It fears change
as much as its readers do. All it wants is a predictable,
crony-coddling company man, and it’s found him, just like
it always does. The only question is: are you going to listen