One of the most contentious local matches in Tuesday’s Democratic primary races is the battle for the 2nd District Erie County Legislature seat pitting a veteran lawmaker against a first-time candidate for political office.
In recent days, Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant has taken a newly registered political action committee to task for smearing her in an effort to boost her opponent’s fortunes.
But Joyce Wilson-Nixon, who for 25 years has spent the bulk of her time running a nonprofit youth service agency dedicated to delinquency prevention, says the attacks are not coming from her campaign.
“I don’t know who is messing with Betty Jean, but I know we can’t afford to mess with anybody,” said Wilson-Nixon, executive director of National Inner Cities Youth Opportunities.
“I run a small campaign with my husband, who is my campaign manager, and I owe him big time,” she said, referring to her husband, Jeff Nixon, a former Buffalo Bill and current youth employment director for the City of Buffalo.
“I’m aware of some of the feathers Betty Jean has ruffled, but she has to deal with that. Not me,” Wilson-Nixon added.
While Grant does not accuse Wilson-Nixon of having had any direct input with the mailers sent out by Western New York Progressive Caucus, Grant said Wilson-Nixon has an obligation to condemn them.
“After all, she will be a beneficiary if the voters believe these false allegations,” Grant said.
Grant, a former member of the Buffalo Common Council and Buffalo Board of Education, is seeking a third term in the Legislature, where her skill at consensus-building helped propel her to the chairmanship in 2012.
After successfully launching an effort to restore county funding to public libraries and cultural institutions, Grant, 65, made a run for the newly redrawn 63rd State Senate seat, which she narrowly lost to Timothy M. Kennedy in the Democratic primary last September.
During her tenure in the Legislature, Grant has championed a number of social, economic and public safety initiatives for residents in her largely minority district, including formation of the Minority and Women Business Enterprise Committee aimed at increasing the number of women and minority entrepreneurs who bid on county contracts.
She also has established a sort of mentor relationship with freshman Legislator Timothy R. Hogues, who represents the First District.
“Put Legislator Hogues and I together, we’ll have almost all of the City of Buffalo,” Grant said. “We’ll have a solid block of two to address these issues. When you have two, and most things have to be passed by six votes, we are one third of the majority. It’s easy for us to lobby for our communities together because they’re similar.”
Grant has the Working Families Party line in the November election.
As a Legislature hopeful, Wilson-Nixon, 56, said she seeks to bring innovation and more partnering with private industry, particularly as a vehicle to help fund youth, arts and cultural programs.
“I know there’s a lot we can’t do because of limited resources, but we can partner with the private sector to make a difference,” she said. “The county has that power and name recognition to initiate that. So why not use that power?” Wilson-Nixon’s nearly 40-year-old youth organization operates programs from the casino building in Martin Luther King Park, including the Randy Smith Basketball League and the General Bass/Pappy Martin Tennis League, among others. After funding for cultural programs was cut in 2008, Wilson-Nixon said she also took a cut in pay as the CEO of her own agency.
“I just wrote myself out of the budget and went back to singing,” said Wilson-Nixon, who performs with local bands and is paid by the Department of Defense to sing for the troops. “The advantage I have is that most of my big programs are run by boards,” she added.
Despite the rancor surrounding her race, Wilson-Nixon said she prides herself on having run a clean campaign.
“I’ve worked for a long time to be a role model, and I need to continue being a role model after Sept. 10” she said.