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Link ‘Buffalo Billion’ jobs to those most in need

Chalma Warmley. And everyone like him. That’s who Bishop Richard Malone, and the posse of clergy who stood with him at Canisius College last week, had in mind. That’s why they put the weight of their respective congregations behind the simple yet profound idea: Make sure people in the city’s poorest neighborhoods get first crack at thousands of jobs coming to SolarCity and other “Buffalo Billion” seedlings. Make sure those who have too often been left behind get moved to the front of the hiring line.

One Buffalo, at last.

If the righteous idea flies, the gift of opportunity would finally filter first to people in the neighborhoods usually last on the list. The HIRE Buffalo plan, hatched by Assemblyman Sean Ryan, is not just a notion for the holiday season. Folks who historically have been passed by will get to catch up. Call it economic justice. Call it, as the bishop of our Catholic diocese did, a moral imperative. Just don’t hold it back.

Chalma Warmley is among the legion who are waiting. I met him Thursday at the Merriweather Library on Jefferson Avenue, where he’d come for a job seminar.

“It’s a great idea, if they see it through,” he told me. “People my age don’t believe things are out there for them. It’s dog-eat-dog here. Unless you take something like this and put it in people’s faces, they’re not convinced there’s an opportunity.”

Warmley is 29, with a steady gaze, military posture and firm handshake. Warmley has cobbled together temp jobs since leaving the Air Force three years ago. Living with his father and 3-year-old daughter, he could use a steady paycheck – and the car that would come with it.

“I just declined a job in Hamburg because I had no way to get there,” he said.

It’s not just younger guys who need work. Richard Bonds and Lawrence O. Satcher are on the far side of 40 and hold laborers cards with Local 210. At the library seminar, they told me they’d barely gotten a sniff of the action at HarborCenter or New Buffalo’s other new builds.

Bonds has four kids, a car and “all the usual bills.” He recently borrowed money from his 71-year-old mother.

“I’m a grown man, I should be helping her, not the other way around,” said Bonds, who’s bouncer-big and bartender-sociable. “I’m not out there sticking a shotgun in some storekeeper’s face. I’m not selling drugs. But I need work.”

The reed-thin Satcher noted the number of downtown construction cranes, then asked: “Why do you hardly see any minorities at HarborCenter or these other projects? We’re here, we’re ready to work.”

Ryan’s $5 million HIRE Buffalo plan, to be paid with “Buffalo Billion” dollars, would set up a poorest-first job agency/database to be used by any tax-subsidized company with a Buffalo footprint. It would backfill for the private employment agencies that fly by the inner city. Because not everybody has a home computer or cellphone, the message would in some neighborhoods be delivered not just with fliers and meetings, but door-to-door. Hundreds of the Solar City jobs are lower-skilled and light-training – the sort anyone with a will can find a way. If they hear about them.

Ryan’s simple stroke of genius was lining up religious leaders. It adds moral clout to a social-justice cause, upping odds of getting traction with the governor. Ryan told me he’s “optimistic” HIRE Buffalo will fly.

On board are plenty of people who work from a pulpit.

“We don’t rise as a region unless everybody benefits,” said Episcopal Bishop William Franklin, who said he and Bishop Malone “stand together.”

More than half the people in some of these neighborhoods juggle bills, need food stamps and ride the bus. And although the city’s blacks are disproportionately poor, this isn’t a race-based deal. It equally touches poor whites living in Riverside, Kaisertown and ZIP codes across one of America’s neediest cities.

The Rev. George Nicholas of the Concerned Clergy Coalition, surrounded by religious brethren at Canisius College last week, held up a communal mirror.

“I’d hate for my grandson, 30 years from now, to read that many people were left out of the city’s economic resurgence and ask, ‘Grandpa, what did you do back then? What did you say?’ ” said Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church. “This is our opportunity to make a difference.”

It’s time to spread opportunity around. If it’s truly One Buffalo, we can’t leave the Chalma Warmleys behind.