Hunting for the Buffalo Billion

Hunting for the Buffalo Billion

Buffalo Forum, June 26, 2018

Hunting for the Buffalo Billion -- In the Community

On June 21 Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins, for governor, and Mark Dunlea, for comptroller, toured the eastside, hunting for the Buffalo Billion. The aim was to hear from those in the community about their concerns, if the Buffalo Billion had impacted their community as well as their views as to how to spend the Buffalo Billion. The tour took place as the trial on corruption charges of Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli was underway in Manhattan (see p.1). Ciminelli got the $750 million contract from the Buffalo Billion for construction of SolarCity at the former Republic Steel plant. The tour made clear that very little of the remaining $250 million can be found on the eastside -- and most certainly how to spend it is not being decided by the community.

The tour began at the Freedom Wall at Ferry and Michigan, where 28 portraits of African Americans who fought for equal rights are located. Those pictured all demanded more from society and themselves fought for change in various ways. Hawkins, whose campaign slogan is Demand More, applauded their contributions to the struggle for change and urged people to further advance the fight for rights. Demanding More includes demanding government guarantees for the equal right to housing, education, healthcare and jobs. He spoke about the fact that New York State is one of the wealthiest in the country, yet places like Buffalo and his hometown of Syracuse contend with poverty and inequality. Funding must go to meeting the needs of the people, not to the rich, like Ciminelli and IBM.

Mark Dunlea is running a campaign focused on contending with climate change and specifically to divest New York pension funds from the oil and war monopolies, like Exxon. He also calls for creating a public bank and stopping the rebate to Wall Street of the $16 billion secured from the Stock Transfer Tax.

As Buffalo Forum has brought out, there is a direct relationship between war and climate change. The big push for fracking, pipelines and infrastructure for natural gas, another major polluter of the human and natural environment, serves war. The Pentagon is the single largest polluter in the world, including its massive war games and bombing runs worldwide. Bombing also poisons and destroys the human and natural environment of the many countries impacted. More specifically, the Niagara Air base now has an attack squadron that reportedly serves to refuel the U.S.-provided Saudi bombers now carrying out war crimes in Yemen. Both the country and our neighbors in Lackawanna are being devastated. Issues of war and peace relate directly to defending the rights of the peoples and of Mother Nature. They are election issues, especially when addressing devastation of the natural and human environment.

Another candidate running on the Green Party line has a platform for an Anti-War Government and Peace Economy. In doing door-to-door work he has had positive response to this alternative. People quickly join in having political discussion and appreciate having attention directed to problems like war and peace. There is also interest in having community and house meetings to further develop discussion. People are being called on to join in shaping the platform and bringing forward their own concerns. It is likely that platform hearings for just this purpose will be part of the campaign.

Eastsiders Demand That Public Funding Serves Their Needs

The hunt for the Buffalo Billion focused on the eastside, as one of the areas most in need and most neglected. One stop was at the Dorothy Collier Community Center, which remains empty much of the time because it does not have the funding it needs. The tour also included stops at the Central Terminal, Broadway Market, Colored Musicians Club, Locust Street Art in the Fruit Belt, and Delavan Grider Community Center. At most the Eastside is getting token amounts from the Buffalo Billion and much of that is going to developers, not serving the interests of the people.

Many people called for the Central Terminal to be chosen for the new Amtrak station, with actions including demonstrations and demands to elected officials. Instead a Canalside location was chosen. The Terminal remains a beautiful building in need of repair and the community surrounding it is much in need of jobs and revitalization. But the state has refused the funding required. Hawkins condemned this choice and called for full funding from the Buffalo Billion and to revoke the decision to put the station downtown.

Similarly the nearby Broadway Market and area surrounding it used to be thriving. Now the market is often largely empty as are many buildings in the area. Speaking to a long-time vendor at the market, Hawkins and Dunlea heard about his desire for improvements to the sidewalks and streets; for rehabbing or tearing down vacant buildings that are rat-infested; and for contending with the impoverishment of the people in the area. A lively exchange took place about the need for public funds to be used for the public, and that hoping the existing politicians will solve problems will not bring change. Voting Green is one means to give expression to the demands of the people and their dissatisfaction with the existing political setup where they are excluded.

Colored Muscians Club and Fruit Belt

Next on the tour was the Colored Musicians Club, a major contributor to the arts and culture of the city, especially for jazz. Historically the Club provided space for African American musicians, local and those on tour -- like Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday -- to jam together at a time when segregation blocked them, though they were the main force for the development of jazz. It also was home to the Colored Musicians Union, Buffalo Local 533, at a time the unions were also segregated. It is today known for its Sunday night jam sessions and its jazz festival, this year from July 23-28. A brief tour of the club provided insight into the contributions of many of the musicians in the struggle for change.

The Club, like the rest of the Michigan Street African American Historical Corridor requires far more funding to fully meet the needs of the city, including longer hours, more events, tours for children, upgrades to buildings and more. The massive government funding for the medical corridor, with its new buildings going up not far up Michigan Avenue, served as a sharp contrast to the lack of funding for the Corridor. Hawkins and Dunlea also stopped across the street at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, a main stop on the underground railway and home to the Niagara Movement and other struggles for equal rights.

The tour proceeded to the Fruit Belt area, which is also being negatively impacted by the huge public funding for expansion of the medical corridor while funding for housing and jobs remain absent. Discussion brought out that the Fruit Belt was specifically targeted by the City, in service to the medical and pharmaceutical monopolies benefiting from the medical corridor expansion. In 2005 the City instituted a policy to foreclose on homes where owners were behind in their garbage and water fees. The Fruit Belt was a main target, an area with a high concentration of African American homeowners. Homes worth tens of thousands were confiscated for the few thousand or less owed in fees. This theft continues today. It is also the case that the City then sells the homes at auction, often below market value, with those developers connected with the medical corridor often purchasing them. Then when they are sold, the City fails to pay the former homeowners, as they are required to do, and instead keeps these funds.

Dunlea brought out that as comptroller he would address this issue, both the fees and foreclosures and help ensure the rights of homeowners in the area are respected. Both candidates spoke to the need for far more funding for the Fruit Belt to meet the rights of the people for housing, for recreation, for fresh produce and supermarkets. Apart from the Tops on Jefferson, the Fruit Belt is largely considered a food desert.

Speaking with organizers at Locust Street Art, the candidates learned that it has served the community for almost sixty years and many of the children now attending had their parents and grandparents also attend. It is a cultural fixture in the Fruit Belt, yet constantly in need of funding. A great effort is made to provide a variety of classes for all ages, including painting, animation, photography and ceramics, free or at low cost. The organizers spoke to families being forced out because the medical corridor is serving to drive up property taxes. Locust Street Art is also in need of far more funding to expand its work with the community and in the public schools.

The last stop was at the Delavan Grider Center, where the candidates were able to speak to seniors and those running the center. Like the Dorothy Collier Center it too has not seen the Buffalo Billion and needs more funding so as to better serve the needs of the people. Discussion was also had about the corruption of the existing political setup and the need for the public to play a greater role.

The Importance of Aims for Electoral Campaigns

After the tour a community meeting was held at the Merriweather Library, with various issues discussed. These included strengthening organizing efforts in the city, what is needed for a new direction for the economy and political affairs, the possibility of having platform hearings and positive experience with that in Syracuse, and issues of war and peace, such as use of the Niagara Air Base for refueling bombers attacking Yemen and opposing the bomb trains with highly flammable fracked gas. The need for aims for electoral campaigns that are focused on uniting people and advancing the struggle for rights, strengthening the organized resistance of the people was spoken to. This included the need to advance the aim of an Anti-War Government and Peace Economy!

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