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Diversity not Collins' business

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

As a businessman who's done a lot of hiring, I'm sure Chris Collins knows that adage.

The first impression the county executive-elect has made after winning office is that African-Americans and Hispanics should not expect much out of his administration.

After appointing transition team co-chairmen, a 10-member transition team and 31 heads of key subcommittees, the "change" Collins promised already has fallen short in one key respect.

It's still "business as usual" when it comes to finding talented people to help shape government. Apparently, that talent comes almost exclusively in one shade: white.

Of the 43 transition team positions Collins thought so important that he filled them first, a spokesman could point to only two that went to African-Americans.

In other words, 95 percent of the slots went to whites.

That's in a county with a 16 percent black and Hispanic population. And in Buffalo -- the engine of Erie County -- blacks and Hispanics make up 45 percent of the population.

You would think the business whiz would have learned that representatives of such huge chunks of the populace would have something to add in shaping county government.

Yet the first impression of the guy we just hired is that he doesn't think African-Americans and Hispanics have much to offer.

What does Collins have to say for himself?

He issued a one-paragraph response saying his transition team "represents a diverse cross-section of . . . business, government, civic, union and community organizations" and that he's "proud of its makeup."

Beyond that he's not talking, which is strange given his reputation.

He's supposed to be a stand-up guy, and I guess he is: He's already stood up the black and Hispanic communities.

"I'm just hoping what I see doesn't reflect his attitude toward the African-American community," said Frank Mesiah, president of the Buffalo NAACP.

Mesiah also noted there's a difference between appointing a black or Hispanic and appointing someone who represents a black or Hispanic constituency. Collins' two African-American appointees to top-level slots are the CEO of the county's health care provider and someone from the Center for Industrial Effectiveness.

"There's more to Erie County than just the business community," Mesiah said.

Collins' spokesman emphasized that the transition effort will include more than 160 people and that there are more appointments to come.

An influential Republican made the same point.

Russell Smith, a member of Republicans of Color, warned against judging Collins too quickly. Smith said he is confident the diversity of the county will be reflected as more appointments are announced.

"I think, in all fairness, there is more to come," said Smith, a vice chairman of the Erie County Republican Party and chairman of the Masten District GOP committee.

I hope he's right. Indeed, some subcommittee members -- including a few minorities -- were named Wednesday.

Still, tapping a few blacks and Hispanics as an afterthought or for lower-level slots will not inspire confidence that those communities will play much of a role in shaping the turn-around Collins wants to lead.

He came in promising change. But so far, he's just proving another adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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