Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said Tuesday he will appoint Debra L. Givens -- who has been a Democrat, a Republican, and a Democrat again all within the past year -- to the Buffalo City Court bench, effective Jan. 1.
Givens, a veteran Buffalo attorney who ran unsuccessfully last year for Erie County Family Court, will succeed Judge Shirley Troutman, who was elected to Erie County Court on Nov. 5.
But Givens was appointed after she reregistered as a Democrat on Oct. 11, the last possible day for changing registration, and just a year after she had switched her registration to Republican. Following her jump to the GOP, Givens, 46, was mentioned prominently for an appointment to Family Court. But Gov. George E. Pataki named another African-American -- Kevin L. Carter -- to that position.
She said Tuesday that Masiello did not require the re-affiliation as a condition of her appointment and that she rejoined the Democrats because she wanted to become a judge. She quipped that she is an "equal opportunity" judicial candidate and that because the mayor is a Democrat, she believed she should be of the same party to compete for a City Court appointment.
"I just felt that I was at a point in my life where I didn't want to wait," she said. "Who knows when I would have another opportunity? And I was anxious to get my judicial career going."
Masiello said Tuesday he was unaware that Givens had been a Republican until just a few weeks ago. He said that during recent interviews she had assured him that she was a city resident and a Democrat, and that he was impressed enough by her credentials to make the appointment regardless of party affiliation.
"That was not of paramount importance to me," he said, adding her recent GOP past was "not a deal-breaker."
But the mayor's normally solid relationship with the black community recently has eroded. After Masiello supported a Common Council downsizing plan opposed by many blacks and backed Pataki, a Republican, for re-election instead of H. Carl McCall, the Democratic candidate and first African-American nominee for governor, the appointment served as a peace offering toward the black community, several sources said.
Indeed, the sources confirmed Givens' appointment was championed by Grassroots, an influential black political club.
Last year, Givens placed fifth and out of the running in the Democratic primary for Family Court. This time, she said she brings credentials as a Family Court hearing examiner, practicing attorney and community volunteer.
"My goal is to serve the citizens of the City of Buffalo with distinction, and I'm very excited about that, given the fact that I was born and raised here," she said. "I can't think of a better place to start my judicial career."
Masiello also praised her credentials.
"I was always impressed with her work ethic and her persona," he said. "She brings to the bench a well rounded background and a strong commitment to the legal process."
A graduate of the University at Buffalo and its law school, Givens handled hundreds of Family Court-related proceedings as a private attorney and as one of the court's law guardians representing children -- some as juvenile offenders -- in family legal disputes. She also was active with the Girl Scouts of America and many local charity organizations, and a past director of the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers.
More recently, she has served as a member of the board of directors of the UB Law School Alumni Association, the Food Bank of Western New York and the Humboldt Ferry YMCA.
She and her husband, Kinzy Brown, have a daughter, Kara.