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Here's hoping Brown gets his 'Better Day'

They were dressed in their Sunday best on Saturday morning, with three-quarter-length fur coats and leather gloves and smart hats. The two older African-American women stepped carefully through the icy parking lot near the Buffalo Convention Center, through chill and lightly falling snow. It would have been easier to stay home, but the city's first African-American mayor was being sworn in.

"There is no way," Rowena Adams Jones said, "that I was going to stay in bed."

She is a retired UB administrator. Her friend Allie Freeman is a retired mental health official. They got up early and drove downtown to be part of history. They drove downtown because a change at City Hall always brings hope -- and the chance for better days.

"A Better Day" was the title of new mayor Byron Brown's inaugural song, belted out by the True Bethel Baptist Church chorus. The hundreds of eyes upon him were more than part of a celebration. The eyes were a reminder that people expect a lot, that the pressure is on, that Brown's days of judgment are upon him. The career backbencher is now the boss, the state lawmaker is now a leader. Being the boss means there is no place to hide. Brown is sincere, quick and determined, but he is a mainstream politician with a lot to prove coming into a staggering city.

Just ask the women.

"We need economic opportunity," Allie Freeman said. "Buffalo was once a city of millionaires."

"We need to give people hope," Rowena Adams Jones said, "that there can be a brighter future here."

The problem with depending on politicians is that most of them are better at getting elected than at leading. They have advanced degrees in hitting up folks for money, protecting their political flanks from challengers and forming a base of power. All of which gets them re-elected.

Initiative, imagination, understanding issues and making enemies in fighting for change -- because you don't change anything without making enemies -- are not usually on the radar screen.

Brown has shown he can raise $1 million, get his party's backing, line up union support, run a lockdown campaign and annihilate a Republican opponent. None of it has much to do with being a decent mayor.

"It was easy to get elected," said Nellie King, the former Lackawanna school superintendent. "Now he has to accomplish something."

Every mayor is measured against who came before. It is Brown's good fortune to follow an affable but weak mayor under whom the city meandered for 12 years. There was little initiative, accountability or sense of direction under Tony Masiello. But Masiello got a free media pass for most of his tenure, simply because his congeniality was such a relief after Jimmy Griffin's surliness.

Similarly, Brown will earn points for even modest shows of leadership, direction and sense of purpose. The bar is set low, to Brown's advantage.

His early hires have been OK, if predictable. He kept many of Masiello's better people, and signed on Rich Tobe. The ex-county official is a bright guy who injects competence and is a huge improvement over some of the political hacks the ex-mayor inflicted upon us.

It is encouraging that Brown trumpets CitiStat, a watchdog program to shape up City Hall that needs a strong mayor to make it work. When it points its finger at one of his appointees, Brown's reaction -- whether he brings down the hammer or, Masiello-like, looks the other way -- will tell us a lot about the next four years.

Right now, folks have their fingers crossed.

"I hope," Rowena Adams Jones said, "that he can change things."

It is what we all hope.


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