Two Buffalo members of the Erie County Legislature met with 30 young radicals on the West Side on Monday evening and agreed that the political system isn't working for the city.
The rare encounter took place at the Massachusetts Avenue Project. A group of young radicals called Arissa had invited all 15 legislators to come and listen to the public's reactions to the county's financial crisis.
Two Democrats showed up -- Legislators Al DeBenedetti and Demone A. Smith. Both agreed that having 10 suburban legislators and just five city legislators constitutes "political discrimination" and that most county residents don't care what happens to the city that they "abandoned" years ago.
Tim McCorry, co-chairman of the West Side Alliance Crime & Safety Committee, said 35 percent of the area consists of youths and predicted that "this summer will be a train wreck" because of massive cuts in funding for summer programs and jobs.
"They've got millions for Bass Pro but nothing for basketball courts," he said.
"That's pork," Smith said of the basketball courts. "The people have said they are against all pork."
"We have no discretionary money," DeBenedetti added.
"There's absolutely nothing for youths to do," said Jason Donati, youth coordinator at the Massachusetts Avenue Project. "This is an emergency."
After some thought, DeBenedetti said Buffalo's five county legislators might be able to tap the county's contingency fund for the Summer Prime Time program. The program once kept thousands of children off the streets during summer vacation.
Smith concurred, but he also urged the young activists: "Don't rely on government services. Don't fall into that trap. You can sponsor a volunteer internship and summer job fair. When I was growing up in the Langfield Projects, I cut grass, raked leaves and shoveled snow for my money."
After further prodding by the young activists, the two legislators also agreed to air what would be a revolutionary proposal to somehow freeze one year's payments of $119 million on debts owed by Erie County, the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Board of Education.
"The system is rigged for the rich," said Kathleen Chandler, editor of Buffalo Forum, the local publication of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization. She came with several youngsters from her group.
Chandler said this year's debt-service payments are $50.35 million for the county, $31.4 million for the city and $37.4 million for the school district.
"That's a drop in the bucket for Wall Street," she said. "If we freeze the payments, we'll have money for programs instead of making such barbaric cuts in jobs and services. The banks can be negotiated with, just like the unions."
"This will be on the Finance and Management Committee agenda," Smith replied. "I'm filing it for a special session."
DeBenedetti also indicated his support for a public hearing, commenting: "The control board is there because (the city) hit the limit on its credit cards."