The city must do more to address decaying neighborhoods, an exodus of businesses, crime and other problems plaguing the East Side, some candidates hoping to fill an empty Common Council seat said Wednesday.
They participated in a 2 1/2 -hour Council forum that some lauded as "groundbreaking." For the first time, the Council conducted public job interviews with five candidates seeking to be named to the Masten District seat vacated by Antoine M. Thompson after his election to the State Senate.
It is part of a push for a more open process when the Council appoints people to fill empty seats. The session was even taped for later airing on the government-access cable television channel.
While Erie County Legislator Demone A. Smith is viewed as the front-runner for the $52,000-a-year job, it was clear that lawmakers were impressed with presentations made by other hopefuls.
For example, Leon M. Hicks, a legislative assistant in the Council's Lovejoy District, gave a Power Point presentation that highlighted some problems facing Masten, as well many of the district's assets. Hicks underscored the need for neighborhood cleanups and other initiatives to keep "Masten on the move."
Melissa R.H. Brown, a Democratic committeewoman who has worked in banking, hit hard on the need to combat crime.
"I'm concerned when I wake up at 2, 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, and I'm hearing gunfire," she lamented.
Terrence A. Robinson also discussed crime, saying prevention efforts are key. The former Buffalo police officer dealt openly in his resume with the fact that he was convicted of manslaughter and served prison time for a 1989 fatal shooting. Robinson told lawmakers he continues to "vehemently" contest his conviction.
Media reports indicated that he was off-duty at the time and was helping another off-duty officer to subdue a man during a scuffle. The victim, Anthony Williams, was handcuffed at the time of the shooting. He had been subdued after a traffic accident.
Robinson, a former Marine, said his challenges allow him to relate to different people.
"I can talk to the thugs. I can talk to the cops. I have a sense of the dynamics that have to be confronted," he said.
John E. Hemphill, who ran unsuccessfully for Erie County sheriff and several other offices, also is seeking appointment to the Masten seat. The retired corrections officer said he wants to serve because his family has long been "in the business of helping people."
Smith, who won the endorsement of the Masten District Democratic Committee, will likely be named to the empty Council seat during a special meeting Friday.
Smith stressed his experience as an Erie County lawmaker and a former Council staff member, saying his priorities are good schools, safe streets, competitive taxes and a strong infrastructure.
Last fall, city voters approved a referendum requiring that Council vacancies be advertised on the city's Web site and government-access cable TV channels. The new law also requires applicants to submit resumes.