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If GOP loses Senate, city looks to win

There's a lot of local hand-wringing over the possibility that Democrats will take over the State Senate on Tuesday and that downstate leaders will then redline Western New York.

But the election eve angst ignores one thing: There is no monolithic Western New York. There's the City of Buffalo, and then there's everywhere else.

That's the reality, thanks to efforts here to scuttle genuine regionalism at every turn.

And since the suburbs don't want to be too closely associated with the hub of the region, it leaves an interesting question for the central city: What's more important, geographic proximity or demographic similarity?

Does Buffalo stand to gain more by hitching its wagon to the agenda of nearby suburbs, or by drafting in the wake of New York City and riding the winds of an urban agenda more attuned to inner-city populations?

The GOP is trying to sell one answer, pushing candidates in three local Senate races partly on the grounds that Republicans must form a bulwark against Gov. David A. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both New York City Democrats. If Democrats take the upper chamber, the new Senate leader would be Malcolm Smith, also of New York City.

It would mean that the infamous "three men in a room" wouldn't have to go far to meet.

That's scarier than Halloween for Republicans who would lose the perks of leadership and who, in turn, want to scare voters. Business leaders fret over a "downstate agenda" that ignores critical issues like mandate relief and labor law reform. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos even came here to warn that "Buffalo wouldn't stand a chance" under a takeover by downstate Democrats.

But while the city obviously would benefit from some GOP-backed reforms, Republicans don't talk about the other side of the story. How many times have suburban GOP candidates even mentioned the plight of Buffalo during the campaign?

"The reality is that if Democrats take over, you're going to get more 'city' representation," said Henry L. Taylor Jr., director of the University at Buffalo's Center for Urban Studies. "Democrats are more sensitive to the issues people in urban centers are confronted with."

Issues such as poverty come quickly to mind (except in the Senate) in the nation's third-poorest big city.

So does brownfields reclamation, which primarily affects urban areas.

So does funding for after-school programs, recreational centers and youth leagues that keep kids off the street and which suburbanites take for granted.

So does job training as the best antidote to crime, and rehabilitation for petty criminals rather than the GOP's costly "law and order" approach of building more prisons.

"They see a different kind of world," Taylor said. "Even progressive suburbanites, they just don't see the same issues."

Just as Buffalo benefited from the New York City lawsuit over school funding, it could benefit in other ways from common interests with poor downstate areas -- especially as the state budget ax looms.

And to the degree that this is true, Republicans have only themselves to blame. For the latest proof, look no further than Erie County Executive Chris Collins' move to abandon the landmark parks agreement and dump costs for the regional Olmsted parks back on the city. Instead of uniting Western New York under a regional vision, we have every municipality for itself.

As long as that's the case, it's not at all clear that folks in Buffalo need to shed any tears if the GOP suddenly finds itself on the outside looking in -- just like poor inner-city residents do every day.


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