© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: "Red" Budget a Risk to Region

By Gary Earl Ross

Buffalo, NY – It's hard to watch someone or something you love die. Recent news about Western New York's financial twilight zone has left me with the same helplessness I felt seven years ago as I watched my mother die, one day, one organ, one breath at a time.

In a week that began with the Buffalo News describing how city leaders squandered half a billion federal dollars, I attended a public hearing on Joel Giambra's infamous red budget. (Red is my least favorite color these days.) As I listened to testimony from cultural leaders (many of them my friends), I wondered how anyone could decimate libraries, law enforcement, district attorneys, emergency response, cultural groups, and human service agencies and still call himself a public servant.

Walking back to my office, I passed an anti-war demonstration that included other friends. While one sign lamented all the war dead, including U.S. troops and an estimated 100,000 Iraqis, another noted the many ways (teachers, libraries, hospitals) 100 billion war dollars could have been used at home. Outside the library I encountered still another friend, sidelined by disability from traditional employment, who spends much of his day in the library, writing and reading. He noted dryly that renovations to the building would continue even after the library shut its doors.

I can almost hear the life support machinery beeping as the body civic struggles to breathe. However much I want to scream, I know my lungs are too small to perform CPR on the war-mongering, damn-the-soul, let's-mismanage-the-money society we seem to have become. But I must say something. The public schools here educated me. Ray Bradbury's R is for Rocket, the first book I checked out of a library, helped turn me into a writer whose books are now in that same library. I have attended the Philharmonic, volunteered as an usher for Studio Arena, performed onstage for the African-American Cultural Center, written a play for Ujima, and through Just Buffalo been a visiting writer in more Erie County classrooms than I can count.

And my family is Buffalo and Erie County too. My wife has taken classes at Folkloric and performed a one-woman show at Hallwalls. My children have gone from visiting the zoo to working summer jobs there. One of my daughters has studied with the Buffalo City Ballet. One of my sons received excellent emergency treatment at ECMC after a car accident sent him through a windshield. Our stories don't end here but are interwoven with the stories of others, families and friends, neighbors and strangers, all the people who make a successful community the supreme act of secular faith. We are all seated around an ICU bed watching Western New York lurch toward voluntary brain death. If we cannot reverse the de facto suicide of the community we love, we may have no choice but to turn off the lights when we leave town. I'm Gary Earl Ross.

Gary Earl Ross is a writing professor at the UB Educational Opportunity Center. His courtroom thriller "Matter of Intent" will be performed at Ujima Theater in 2005.