The apparent front-runner to fill a vacancy on the Common Council has been friends with Council President Darius G. Pridgen for a long time. In fact, in the informal moments before city meetings, the two have been heard telling stories about the early days of True Bethel Baptist Church, where Pridgen is pastor.
But Rasheed N.C. Wyatt, Council chief of staff and the leading contender to be appointed to represent the University District, said that while the two have known each other a long time, the men have their differences.
“At the end of the day I’m my own person, I like to make my own decisions,” he said.
The pair even filed papers in 1994 to start a company that would have helped people recover money that is owed to them, but Wyatt said it never actually got off the ground or had any clients.
After a period when he lived in Newport News, Va., Wyatt, 50, said he returned to Buffalo for an opportunity to work with the Council. He was appointed senior legislative assistant in 2012, and chief of staff in 2013.
He has spent most of his life in the Delevan-Bailey area at the southern border of the University District, he said.
The Council will meet at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers to interview candidates to replace Bonnie E. Russell, who left her University District seat earlier this month for a job in Family Court. Majority Leader Demone Smith said a vote to fill the seat could take place Jan. 28, but nothing has been set.
Eight people have submitted their resumes, and five interviewed with the Erie County Democratic Committee’s University District members. Wyatt won the recommendation.
“I think Rasheed’s answers best suited him to the endorsement,” said Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner. “You could tell in his interview he wanted it more, and he had the answers.”
Though the Council has no obligation to follow the committee members’ advice, it puts Wyatt in a good position, in addition to the other advantages he has.
As Council chief of staff, he has relationships with each of the eight sitting members, and has been able to learn what the job involves.
He has been meeting with community groups in the district, and said he is focusing on crime and collaboration between organizations.
Professionally, Wyatt has a background in banking. He likes numbers, measuring, managing, process and procedure, he said Monday.
Personally, he has lived through a foreclosure on his house, a tax warrant from the state that has been satisfied, and several judgements, which have been settled, he said. Like any American, he has lived through difficulties, he said.
“I’ve come back and been able to do whatever I’ve needed to financially to support my family,” he said.
Past financial troubles are not unique to Wyatt among the candidates for the seat, according to a search of county records, which revealed other contenders also had tax warrants and creditor judgements that appear to have been settled.
If Wyatt is appointed, there would be no woman on the Council. Russell served for 10 years, and for 10 years was the only woman.
Mary O’Rourke, a 27-year veteran of City Hall’s management information systems department who is also seeking the appointment, said women bring a perspective to certain legislative issues that men lack.
“I’m there because I feel as though women should be represented,” she said Monday.
She and Nellie B. King, former superintendent of the Lackawanna City School District, are the only two women who are seeking the appointment.
The only requirements to be considered for the position are residency in the University District for at least a year, enrollment in the Democratic Party, as Russell was, and a timely application with the Council.
The other five candidates are: Lilton L. Kelley, a Buffalo police detective; Chris W. Brown Jr., a Buffalo police video surveillance monitor and substitute teacher; Michael V. Hicks Jr., union representative for United Steel Workers Local 135; Reginald J. Griggs, resource manager, Roswell Park Cancer Institute; and Archie L. Amos Jr., former University District Council member.
Whoever is appointed will have to work quickly if they want to stay in the seat. A special election will be held in the fall, and voters will cast ballots in all Council districts in 2015.