Call it the Year of Disruption. For better and for worse, 2017 was the year that accepted ideas were cast aside, standards were ignored and confusion reigned.
And it wasn’t just from the White House.
Perhaps the most welcome and significant disruption was the earthquake that opened the ground underneath serial sex abusers. It began with brave women who rang the bell on a former Buffalonian, Harvey Weinstein, in a story broken wide open by the New York Times.
With that, women – and some men – decided they had concealed their abuse long enough and stories began pouring out about the misconduct of powerful men. They went down like bowling pins: Sen. Al Franken; Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, John Conyers, D-Mich., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz.; actors Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck; journalists Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Michael Oreskes; comedian Louis C.K.; and, perhaps most consequentially, Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican who lost his bid for the U.S. Senate after credible reports of child sexual abuse.
And that’s only a partial list of powerful men, including President Trump, who have been publicly accused of gross sexual misconduct. A dam broke in 2017, and while it’s too early to suggest that the ensuing flood will have a long-term impact – power creates the illusion of security – there is at least that possibility.
That disruption extended to Buffalo, where Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and key Western New York representative of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left government service after being accused of paying a woman to conceal their illicit relationship. No one should think stories of sexual misconduct will end along with the year.
Many of the less-wanted disruptions of the year emanated from Washington, via the president’s Twitter account and a Congress that ignored established procedures in considering significant legislation, starting with efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and ending with the poorly vetted tax reform legislation, signed earlier this month by Trump. But the disruptions weren’t all in D.C.
In Western New York, a special prosecutor mishandled an investigation into the death of a jail inmate in Erie County. Although Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Pettit Rieman ruled that the death of Richard A. Metcalf Jr. was preventable and urged “serious” changes at the Holding Center, her investigation was marked by a refusal to interview key witnesses and dragged on past the expiration of the statute of limitations. This, despite a ruling by the Commission of Correction that the death was a homicide, and one that had been covered up by jail workers. It was a disruption of justice.
In Buffalo, there was a different, and useful, kind of disruption. Following years of effort, the city enacted a new master plan for land use, called the Green Code. It’s already controversial, but it establishes new standards for development, designed for different parts of the city. Variances are inevitable – and sometimes desirable – but the city worked hard to produce an important document that can guide Buffalo into the future.
Also in Buffalo, two other welcome disruptions: The new $270 million John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital opened, giving the city another high-tech health care facility. And, hardly a kidney stone’s throw away, the finishing touches were put on the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Classes begin in January.
In Niagara Falls, the school district late in the year expanded its sex education program at the request of students who noted that teen pregnancy rates in the western part of the district are disastrously high – nearly five times the national average. That’s a disruption that should improve lives.
Also in 2017: The airline industry continued its assault on safety rules passed in the aftermath of the 2009 crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence Center, thus far unsuccessfully. Canalside continued its development, as the Explore & More Children’s Museum begins taking shape and planning continues to locate a historic carousel there. The defects in the operation of the Niagara Falls Water Board came into revolting focus with the discharge of black goo into the river below the falls at the height of the summer tourist season.
And, of course, we lost beloved people. In Buffalo, they included M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers; Irv Weinstein, Channel 7 legend; Leonard Silver, founder of the Record Theatre chain; U.S. District Court Judge John T. Curtin; and the Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, 23rd president of Canisius College.
Elsewhere: Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, who could plausibly be credited with inventing rock ‘n’ roll; Tom Petty, who carried on the tradition in creative style; and Jim Nabors, whose singing voice belied his Gomer Pyle persona.
Also: Adam West, Roger Moore, Gregg Allman, Glen Campbell, Jerry Lewis, Stephen Furst (a.k.a. Flounder in “Animal House”), insult king Don Rickles and Mary Tyler Moore, who turned the world on with her smile. And many others.
May they rest in peace, along with the year that closes today. For the rest of us: Onward.