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CHANGING OF THE GUARD

The century ends with a political bang today in Erie County, as a historic shift comes to the Buffalo Common Council and a Republican moves into the county executive's chair for the first time in 12 years.

Things change. Those are always words to live by, but as we bid the 1900s goodbye, the changes occurring in our governmental offices seem worth special note, especially in the city where the makeup of the new Council would have been unthinkable as the last century ended.

For the first time in its history, the 13-member Council will have an African-American majority -- the city itself is about 30 percent black -- and nearly half of its members will be women. That change is occurring almost without notice, a healthy sign of how far we have come. It's not always obvious, but things are getting better.

If the change at the county is less momentous, it comes bearing greater expectations simply by reason of the campaign Joel Giambra waged. Focusing on the county's suffering economy, the executive-elect promised a 30 percent tax cut in an effort to spark a badly needed renewal. With erosion in the county's population and tax base, he will be under intense pressure to produce, as will the Democratic-controlled Common Council.

The dawning of a new year always brings a sense of renewal and hope and, purists aside, that feeling is only magnified today by the simultaneous arrivals of a new century and millennium. Time will tell whether the changes in city and county governments live up to those high expectations, but as we look forward to whatever the coming months and years bring, it's hard not to be encouraged by the political change that arrives as we step into the future.

Good luck to our new elected officials, and to us all.

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