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Expect Buffalo’s resurgence, politics to provide headlines in the new year

This will be a watershed year in more than one way as America picks a new president and either learns to cope honorably with the threat of terrorism on our own soil, or continues down the dark road of fear that is the goal of those who prey on innocents. The choice may be revealed in whom the country chooses as its leader 10 months from now.

In Western New York, the most positive development in generations will begin to ramp up as SolarCity starts hiring and putting to work the first of an expected 1,460 employees at the giant solar panel factory at RiverBend. That project, the most significant aspect of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion commitment, will put Buffalo on the cutting edge of a 21st century industry that remains in its infancy.

There could hardly be a more hopeful development in a city that has struggled for decades. The decline is done. Growth is ahead and sprouting in so many places that its durability is plain, even to a city that has earned its skepticism the hard way.

Managing growth

The question is how well we will manage that growth. We need prosperity to spread throughout the city and to help those who may be shunted aside as change makes itself found. Property values and, thus, property taxes may begin to rise. It’s a natural outgrowth of economic resurgence, and while it is what the city needs, it can run down those it leaves behind.

We will also see evidence this year of how well Buffalo balances its growth with the need to make the city ever more friendly to those who already live here, those who may want to come to take part in its economic revival and the increasing numbers of those who come to visit.

Perhaps the most important evidence of that will be how Buffalo matches the opportunity to develop its long-neglected waterfront with the need to preserve the natural environment that makes Buffalo unique. It will be a back-and-forth process, and sometimes a contentious one, but the good news is that the conversation is underway and largely being conducted in a productive and respectful fashion.

Vision for America

Politics is always an issue, especially every leap year, and most especially this one, as Americans decide what vision they hold for themselves – how best to balance the competing demands of security and freedom. That will show up most clearly in the campaign to succeed President Obama, who enters his final year in office exercising his authority boldly, if sometimes controversially, as he seeks to make his imprint and leave a lasting legacy.

But the presidential election marks only one of the important decisions awaiting voters this year. In Buffalo, the direction of the School Board is up for grabs. The school district may finally have found the leader it has needed in Superintendent Kriner Cash, but with some of the board’s reformers up for re-election and a noticeable change coming out of Albany, there is no telling what May’s elections will produce.

The current School Board majority certainly hasn’t accomplished all that reformers might have hoped, but its goals were at least clear and desirable and, in those ways, it has been a far better board for Buffalo than its predecessor was.

And while the State Education Department remains, at least for the moment, devoted to improving education around the state, and especially in Buffalo, that could change as new faces show up on the Board of Regents and as Cuomo tilts, at least somewhat, back toward the teachers unions. It’s a risky year for those who want to see Buffalo’s students achieving at a high level.

In at least one important way, national politics could prove extraordinarily beneficial to Buffalo and the rest of New York State. Should Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., win his re-election campaign, he is all but certain to become at least the Senate minority leader. If Democrats retake control of the Senate – a real possibility, based simply on the seats that are up for election this year – he could become Senate majority leader. Schumer has been a close friend to upstate and especially to Western New York since he was first elected to the Senate in 1998. As majority leader, his influence would be raised dramatically.

Random violence

Terrorism will no doubt be among the issues that drive many decisions, from self-protection to decisions on where in public it is safe to venture. It’s understandable, of course, but timidity also plays into the hands of those for whom random violence is a tool to spread illogical, paralyzing fear that risks undermining what it means to be American. To that, we would offer the words of the late C.S. Lewis, a British novelist, social critic and lay theologian who in 1948, when the Western world was preoccupied with other fears, made this valuable recommendation:

“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

It’s 2016. Let’s get on with living it.