Big money insiders have been controlling the game in Buffalo for too long, and the costs are enormous.
According to a 2017 Reuters report, children suffer lead poisoning levels eight times higher than that of Flint, Mich. In 2019, approximately 43.4% of children lived in poverty citywide.
Rent is getting more expensive. Residents of the East Side describe their community as a war zone.
The support for social services has not kept pace with inflation. Community centers are grossly underfunded. Pools remained closed during one of the hottest summers on record. Roads are pockmarked with potholes. Block after block lacks sidewalks. Intersections without crosswalks abound.
These crises are not a fact of nature, but a result of policy choices, all of which lead back to the same root cause: a few big money donors who have controlled policy in Buffalo for too long.
Mayor Byron Brown, who lost his Democratic primary, takes money from real estate developer Nick Sinatra, who recently hosted a $5,000-per-plate fundraiser in Buffalo for the ultra-right wing Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. Public money has gone to Sinatra’s luxury housing projects, while his campaign contributions go to Brown.
Or think about political operators Steve Casey and Steve Pigeon, or developer Lou Ciminelli – all of whom crossed the line and are in prison or under indictment, and all former allies of Brown. The operating system of these men was trading economic development money for campaign support.
Buffalonians have a chance for a new moment in open, honest government. They have a chance for a government that works for the public, and economic development that is based on the public, not big donors.
India Walton represents the opposite of Brown: a registered nurse, connected to community, committed to public investments, with an emphasis on the public.
Her platform of democratic, neighborhood control of public land in the form of community land trusts is the opposite of cronyism.
She is committed to allowing everyday people to have direct input into community-level decisions so that they can achieve the direct benefit.
Brown’s supporters call Walton “risky.” But she is just insisting on governance that is open, fair and equitable.
When Ithaca took a risk 10 years ago with Svante Myrick, then a 24-year-old – far less experienced than Walton – it began a real renaissance, one that lifted all boats, that has been going on for the last decade.
Cronyism isn’t just wrong (and sometimes illegal), it’s wasteful and expensive – and risky. Buffalo can avoid the risk of another Brown term and choose a leader who describes her public service as an act of love for her home.
Zephyr Teachout is a professor at Fordham Law School and the author of "Break 'em Up: Recovering our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money (2020).”