Now that Byron W. Brown has won a fourth term as mayor – something accomplished only once before in Buffalo’s history – he pointed to "bold" initiatives he said have transformed the city and said he will continue in that vein.
That should come as welcome news to some critics and allies alike, who rarely associate that word with the buttoned-down mayor.
But Brown, making no apologies for his style, said he will continue to be fiscally conservative and promote policies that stimulate development while also working to keep communities affordable – a concern being raised increasingly by community groups fearful that gentrification will be a byproduct of the city’s rebirth.
"We will focus on keeping the city affordable for our residents, but part of that focus will be to empower our residents, providing them with support, information and technical assistance to repair their credit, to help people who are renters become pre-qualified for mortgages to be able to purchase property and stay in their communities if they want," Brown said.
But the mayor isn’t the only one already thinking about his fourth term, as he matched the feat of the late James D. Griffin with Tuesday’s huge win. Developers, politicians past and present and community activists have their own ideas about what Buffalo needs over the next four years and the leadership required to make it happen.
Fighting over growth
Ellicott Development CEO William Paladino said Brown should continue on the same path with infrastructure improvements, "like what you see on Ohio Street. You see how people feel safe and secure going over in that area. You see all the people on boats, kayaking and walking."
Brown cites such infrastructure upgrades as a continuing priority, including "parks, public facilities, bicycle lanes."
Paladino particularly pointed to the East Side, where he said getting rid of vacant lots and getting more people living in those communities will open the door for more services to come in.
"Improve the housing on the East Side and enhance development," he said.
"Start to in-fill (the empty lots) and recreate neighborhoods and then get commercial to come back," said Paladino, adding that he understands some residents’ concerns about making sure affordable housing is available and that they’re not priced out of their neighborhoods.
But to "stifle" development is not a good idea, he said, no doubt alluding to "inclusionary zoning" proposals mandating that new housing developments include units for low- and moderate-income residents.
"We have a lot of interest in our city from people looking to do a lot of unique things," like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Canalside, he said. "Larger companies are incubating here. As that happens, there’s got to be a place for everybody. And when we’re talking affordable housing, that will come. It has to be done in a manner that protects developers and low-income."
Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen said he would like to see "a bold strategic plan" or legislation that guarantees that as neighborhoods change for the better, they remain accessible to low-income residents, so minorities are still able to afford to stay in those neighborhoods.
The Brown administration is about to release a comprehensive housing study that will help the city set policy or craft legislation.
Meanwhile, preservationists want the city to enforce the Green Code adopted last year instead of granting so many variances.
"It’s great having it finally passed, but it’s got to be well-enforced," said Tim Tielman, Campaign for Greater Buffalo executive director.
He was referring to projects such as the $12 million Dash’s Markets to be constructed on Hertel Avenue, which was granted nine variances from the Green Code, and Chason Affinity Co.’s $30 million plan to build condominiums and brownstones in Elmwood Village, which got eight variances.
Having "the first projects coming down the pipe get rubber-stamped" is not good, Tielman said.
But Brown said his administration is following the Green Code to the letter.
"The state law allows for developers to apply for variances and in the process, members of the community have the ability to express their support or objection to requested variances," Brown said.
MBEs want in
As development sprouts, the Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York feels minority contractors are being left out of the renaissance.
"We see the rebuilding of the City of Buffalo, and that’s a good sight. But we don’t get the feeling that we have sufficient input," said President Richard Cummings Sr. "We’re not involved in the work."
The city has goals of 25 percent for minority business participation and 5 percent for women-owned companies. Cummings thinks companies that do large construction projects and get tax credits and subsidies should be required to show they have met the goals before getting the jobs.
"I know he has his hands full in terms of being all things to everyone in Buffalo, but we think the black community is being shorted in the process of that work being done," he said.
Cummings said when the Pegulas began their development projects downtown, they met with the Black Chamber and said they had 25 percent minority and 5 percent female participation because it was the right thing to do, not because they had to.
"That discussion needs to be presented to other businesses," Cummings said.
Mandating companies to prove they have the required minority and women participation before tax credits and subsidies are given is almost impossible, the Brown administration said. It would lengthen the process and possibly hold up the start of some projects, while there is only a small pool of minority- and women-owned businesses in the area, officials said.
The city is trying to create a bigger pool through the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center, a one-stop resource center for minority- and women-owned small businesses in the former North Jefferson Library. The center is helping businesses find MWBEs to help meet the city’s goals, Brown said.
His version of ‘bold’
Whether it’s enforcing the Green Code or preventing the displacement of low- and moderate-income residents, the mayor will be looked to for leadership in balancing a range of community concerns, said Aaron Bartley, executive director of People United for Sustainable Housing.
Brown as well as people who live and work in neighborhoods must ask themselves what kind of city they want Buffalo to be, he added.
"Will residents have a real say in what happens on their blocks?" Bartley asked. "Or will developers impose the cookie-cutter, absurdly high rent, out-of-scale buildings we’re seeing crop up with increasing frequency?"
Some would like to see Brown be more passionate and forceful in exercising that leadership and sorting out those issues.
Pridgen, a longtime Brown ally, said constituents sometimes look to the mayor for a bit more emotion.
"Some may feel that they have heard the numbers but not seen the heart of the mayor," said Pridgen. He hasn’t always seen it himself, he added, though "I have witnessed both the numbers and the heart in most circumstances."
David A. Franczyk, the Council’s longest-serving member, credits Brown for being a "hard worker" and admires his tenacity and "success in politics." He thinks Brown is "good on detail" and "great on management."
But Brown has a "robotic, mechanical way that doesn’t engender excitement," said Franczyk, the Fillmore District representative who did not join his colleagues in endorsing Brown during the September primary.
Brown said he will continue to be himself because that’s who he is and it has served him well.
"My style is my style, and I’m going to continue to operate in the style that I’ve operated in because it has been successful," Brown said.
But, he added, his administration will be "much more aggressive in communicating the positive transformation and successes that are taking place in Buffalo" because "perhaps some people have missed them."
"The strategic spending of over $30 million leveraging over $300 million of spending that created over 1,400 units of affordable housing in different areas of the city has been pretty bold. The investment in over $60 million in parks and playgrounds has been pretty bold and transformative. The more than $200 million of investments that’s coming for the East Side of Buffalo in three different areas is bold," Brown said.
Brown’s predecessor, Anthony M. Masiello, said every leader’s style is different and that Brown should stay the course that’s gotten him re-elected time and time again, but he should also be mindful of not getting "stale."
"He got to where he is by being who he is," the former three-term mayor said, "but you don’t want to be stale. You want to continue to bring new ideas to the table. You need to bring new energy for people who work in your government. It’s a continuum of what’s he been doing for the past 12 years. If you try to be all things to all people, you’re going backwards."
"You’ll always have critics, but the fact of the matter is it’s a tough job," Masiello said, "and he’s been able … to move the ball forward."