Chris Moss looked and listened and nodded in admiration Tuesday as he toured St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy on Walden Avenue on Buffalo’s East Side, marveling at a program that serves 2,600 families on Thanksgiving Day and hundreds more every other day through volunteer contributions – and without a dime of government funding.
“If we could only get government to operate in the same efficient manner,” the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor mused.
It might seem surprising for a Republican candidate to appear at such a place, in Buffalo’s poorest neighborhood, but it’s nothing unusual for Moss. He said he’s been to Buffalo’s inner city on most of his campaign visits to Western New York, and for a reason.
It all started with his running mate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor.
“One thing that Rob Astorino understands and has really gotten across to me is that Republicans have traditionally done a bad job opening up our party to African-Americans, to Hispanics, to people other than old white guys,” said Moss, the Chemung County sheriff. “What Rob did in Westchester County is let everybody know that government is for all the people. And if Republicans don’t do a better job at that, we’ll continue to become a dying breed in states like New York.”
For his part, Moss came across as a new breed of Republican on Tuesday. Not only did he spend upward of an hour at St. Luke’s, but he also dropped off campaign literature at Mount Hope Church on Broadway, where Pastor Charles H. Walker II promised to deliver it across the neighborhood.
“We’re usually all for Democrats here, but we have to break that mold,” Walker said. “We have to ask: Who is going to do a better job?”
Moss won Walker’s admiration when the candidate spoke at the East Side storefront church a few weeks ago, Walker said. Moss, an African-American, spoke from the heart about how Albany has to pay more attention to inner-city neighborhoods, and he reiterated that message throughout his campaign stops on Tuesday.
That’s a message that Moss has brought to poverty-stricken parts of Rochester, Syracuse and New York City as well as Buffalo, and one that Astorino brought to a heavily Hispanic South Bronx neighborhood on Monday, where he spoke fluent Spanish to a boisterous crowd of more than 100 supporters.
In Buffalo on Tuesday, Moss indicated that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had neglected such poorer neighborhoods.
“On this side of town, there’s no Buffalo Billion,” he said.
Of course, Cuomo’s billion-dollar investment in Western New York, which prompted SolarCity’s commitment to bring 2,900 jobs to Buffalo, might appear to be a difficult topic for Republicans like Moss. But in an interview, he tackled it head-on.
“If we can do a Buffalo Billion, a segment of that money has got to help neighborhoods like that,” Moss said after leaving the East Side. “We can’t just put all our eggs in one basket.”
Saying he supports the state’s investment in Buffalo, Moss argued that it must be sustainable – and that it must be accompanied by other state efforts, ranging from tax cuts to a reduction in regulations to an in-depth analysis of inner-city needs followed by a state program to address them.
Vowing that Astorino would not cut aid to inner cities despite the Republican Party’s history of attempting to do just that, Moss said: “We have a responsibility ... to make sure the residents of New York State are taken care of.”
Not surprisingly, Democrats don’t exactly trust what Astorino and Moss are saying. They read the GOP criticism of the Buffalo Billion as proof that they want to end the state’s largesse in Western New York.
“When Rob Astorino and Chris Moss say they want to strip away the Buffalo Billion, they’re really saying: ‘Drop dead, Buffalo’,” said Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
Shafran also cited a long-standing dispute between Astorino and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over Westchester County’s implementation of a 2009 legal agreement requiring it to force communities to change their zoning rules to make sure they are more amenable to apartment construction.
“As the only county executive in the country being sued by the federal government for racist housing policies, the Astorino/Moss campaign should apologize for Astorino’s discriminatory record before they can claim to represent the interests of inner-city New Yorkers,” Shafran said.
But that Westchester County controversy seemed 380 miles away Tuesday in Buffalo, where Moss received a warm welcome both at Mount Hope Church and at St. Luke’s.
Amy Betros, co-founder and co-director of St. Luke’s, showed off the church’s school and other facilities, and ended the tour with welcome words for any Republican running in the heavily Democratic state of New York.
“We’ll be praying for you, Chris,” Betros said.