Share this article

print logo

BLACK VOTER TURNOUT SETS STAGE FOR COUNCIL CHANGES

African-American voters turned out in large numbers on Primary Day and made history along the way -- setting the stage for the first black majority on Buffalo's Common Council.

Democratic voters, in what promises to be the biggest Council turnover in decades, also chose six women, the largest number in history.

They also ousted the Council's lone Hispanic.

It was a day of startling changes, the result of a passionate and divisive primary, a campaign that motivated black voters to turn out in large numbers.

"People turned out to protect themselves and reacted to what they saw as an attack on themselves," said the Rev. Bennett W. Smith, pastor of St. John Baptist Church.

Mr. Smith and several other black ministers used their pulpits Sunday to warn that blacks were in danger of losing political clout at City Hall.

Their congregations reacted.

Nowhere was the interest as great as in the Masten District, an East Side area known for heavy turnouts. More than 6,200 voters went to the polls Tuesday, the largest turnout in the city.

By the time all the votes were counted, Masten's turnout was more than double some other districts and about 1,700 votes higher than its closest competitor.

The result was that November is likely to bring the election of seven black Council members, three of
them newcomers and four of them women.

All seven face opposition in the general election but, because of Buffalo's heavy Democratic enrollment, a primary victory is considered tantamount to election.

"I think it's good news for Buffalo," said Henry Taylor, director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo. "I think these election victories demonstrate that the City of Buffalo is maturing as a community. We all need to reach out and build bridges."

It was an election with several surprises:

The potential for the first black Council majority in history, a development almost certain to affect City Hall's agenda for years to come, not to mention the Council's relationship with Mayor Masiello.

Primary victories by six women, the largest number of female Council members in history. There are reports that at-large member Beverly Gray benefited from a groundswell of support among black women.

The losses of Robert Quintana, Buffalo's first and only Hispanic Council member, and two other Hispanics seeking his district seat in the Niagara District.

A newfound respect for the political organization run by Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve. He actively campaigned for Ms. Gray and helped elect two newcomers.

Speculation over who will be the next Council majority leader, given the large turnover on the Council. At-large member Rosemarie LoTempio is currently in the post.

For Hispanics, it was an especially difficult day. They watched as Quintana lost his bid for an at-large seat and two other Hispanics fell short in the race for his Niagara District seat.

"People are extremely disappointed that we lost the seat, something we fought for tooth and nail for 20 years," said Andres Garcia, president of the Western New York Hispanics and Friends Civic Association.

In contrast, it was a day when black candidates dominated the field, winning several key district races and capturing three of the Council's four citywide seats. Eve emerged from Tuesday's primary as a huge winner, backing Ms. Gray and district winners like Ms. Ellington and Ms. Grant.

"There was all this talk about how this would be decided in North Buffalo; everyone was trying to minimize this community," Eve said Wednesday, explaining that last spring's controversy over school Superintendent James Harris helped mobilize African-American voters.

"The powers that be need to include this community on decisions and plans," he said. "They need to listen to this community."

And Eve said because Pitts receives so much support in white areas of the city, it bodes well for its future.

"I think everybody's attitude is 'Let's work together for the good of this city,' " he said. "The people spoke, and they realized this is a diverse city."

Perhaps the most interesting result was the strong performance by Ms. Gray, who many perceived as a long shot to win re-election.

After all, she was running without the backing of Democratic Party headquarters and had recently received a low rating as part of a Buffalo News survey of community leaders.

She turned all that around and finished atop the field among at-large candidates.

"People felt she was an underdog," said former Common Council President George K. Arthur, "and people in this city love an underdog."

Like Pitts, Ms. Gray benefited from a large black turnout and a last-minute push from influential black ministers.

She also got help from a group that rarely gets credit for its behind-the-scenes political activism -- black women.

"There was a groundswell of support for her among African-American women," said Warren Galloway, a member of the Black Leadership Forum.

On Tuesday, they and a lot of other black voters spoke their mind.

There are no comments - be the first to comment