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Brown brings peashooter to poverty war

Brown brings peashooter to poverty war

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The astounding thing is that it took them 15 months to come up with it.

Mayor Byron Brown unveiled Wednesday his long-awaited anti-poverty plan. Even measured against City Hall's historically limbo-low standards, this thing barely has a pulse.

This is not so much an assault on poverty as it is a capitulation to it. For all of the good that doing more of the same will do us -- which, basically, is what the report recommends -- it might as well have come wrapped in a white flag.

The 77-page "Buffalo Poverty Reduction Blueprint" is so devoid of ideas, so lacking in imagination, that its totality of initiatives can be summed up in a sentence: Create a task force.


The bulk of the report restates familiar census data, reidentifies obvious roots of poverty (broken families, poor education, etc.) and describes the cavalcade of existing anti-poverty organizations. Getting people from those agencies to better work together is, basically, the mayor's anti-poverty plan.

"One of the major 'best practices' we identified is collaboration," Brown said in a City Hall news conference.

It is nice that these people will finally be put in the same room. Some activists were actually encouraged by the news, which tells you a lot about how little has been done for all of these years. It is no wonder that in Buffalo's war against poverty, poverty is winning in a landslide.

This is 2009, not 1969. Working the margins and traveling the same deeply rutted road is not going to get us somewhere we have not already been.

The report's maddeningly uninspired scope is summed up in a sentence on Page 50: "This blueprint is intended to be framework for task force discussions and planning for a comprehensive, coordinated initiative to reduce poverty."

In other words, it is a plan to make a plan.

Perhaps never in history has one document assembled such a quantity of eyeball-glazing, business-as-usual bureaucratic catchphrases: Promote small business. Strengthen the family. Encourage youth development. Improve school readiness.

It is as if whoever wrote this thing got paid by the platitude.

We do not need a position paper. We need a plan of attack.

Half of the city's population fled over the last half-century. Buffalo's growth industry is demolishing abandoned houses. Only Detroit and Cleveland have proportionally more poor people.

It is past time to pull out all of the stops: Call in a SWAT team of urban experts from the Brookings Institution. Carpet-bomb services into a targeted neighborhood. Force everybody, from lenders to literacy programs, to set up shop on decimated streets. Slam job-training programs into vacant storefronts. Give away vacant but redeemable houses to anybody willing to restore them. Supply with services the community groups that are waging block-by-block battles.

In the bigger picture, a document such as this begs the question of why this man wants to be mayor.

If this is the best Brown can do, on so huge of an issue, he should step aside for someone who has some ideas. It is as if the house is on fire, and the guy in charge shows up with a bucket of water.

It is not as if Brown parachuted in yesterday. He has been mayor for three years, and was a state senator for five years and a city councilman before that. He has had plenty of time to think about this stuff. Buffalo could use a creative leader. Instead, we have -- as with Brown's low-impact predecessor, Tony Masiello -- a public official who is more adept at politics than he is at policy.

We need an army of ideas and a legion of initiatives. Instead, we get a task force.

What, the blue-ribbon panel was busy?


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