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Crime, gentrification, cultural awareness top issues at Buffalo mayoral debate

WBFO's Mike Desmond

The old statement in political campaigns is, 'Let's look at the record.' At Thursday night's Buffalo mayoral debate, Incumbent Mayor Byron Brown liked his record and challengers Mark Schroeder and Betty Jean Grant did not.

The mayor said Buffalo has made much progress and will make more if he's re-elected in the Democratic primary September 12. Both Schroeder and Grant said there has not been enough progress against poverty in many neighborhoods and against crime. Asked about violent crime, Grant said she would move police checkpoints to the city line.

"Checkpoints at the border of Cheektowaga and Buffalo, Kenmore and Buffalo, Tonawanda and Buffalo, all those towns and villages that border Buffalo, as well as Lackawanna, so that when we have checkpoints, that they're done not only at the borders, but if they are done in the City of Buffalo, they have to be done all over," Grant said. "So what I would do is make sure that we would have those checkpoints to make sure that they are treated fairly."

Brown said more jobs for young people will do a lot to cut into crime, as will the college education potential of Say Yes to Education, which will make sure more young people go into higher education and can get good jobs.

"We're spending the highest amount of money in the history of the City of Buffalo, putting our youth to work in the summertime, making sure that our youth know what it's like to work, so that they are able to earn an honest day's work in the summer, and that has been very successful in showing our youth alternatives to violence." Brown said.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

Schroeder said Brown's record against violence is not good.

"Mr. Mayor, in all due respect, you have had 12 years to fix these problems and the results are not good enough, right now," Schroeder said. "There were over  550 shootings. There were over 550 shootings in 2016, 46 homicides."

When the question was how to move booming development from downtown to the neighborhoods, Brown said his administration has spent on projects across the city.

"Whether it's South Side, the North Side, the East Side or the West Side, we will continue to make those kinds of investments," Brown said. "We've also taken over $30 million of funds and leveraged that into over $330 million in spending to create over 1,400 units of affordable housing."

Housing was also an issue in the fight over gentrification. Grant said much of the city's new housing is narrowly targeted.

"It is for those who work in the medical corridor. It is for those who will be going to school at UB Medical School. It is for those who will be coming in working for the new Children's Hospital. It is not for the residents," Grant said. "How do I know this? Because the Buffalo News stated, 'New houses on Jefferson Avenue for the Buffalo Medical Corridor.' You're not building for the community. Why are you pretending?"

Brown countered.

"Many numerous affordable housing developments all over the city, Holy Family apartments in South Buffalo, that the city worked on, senior citizens living there, all affordable housing," Brown said. "Just in Fillmore and Best, Parkview Apartments, done by an African American female developer."

Schroeder said he is been going door-to-door to make up for his relatively small campaign treasury and has found citizens who want spending in the city's swath of neighborhoods.

"And they're going to say, 'Mayor, maybe things are wonderful, but they're not so wonderful here,'" Schroeder said. "Buffalonians are very grateful. They are grateful for downtown development and waterfront development, but, quite frankly, the people in the neighborhoods are muttering, 'What about us?'"

Schroeder said there are some good and diverse neighborhoods that should be protected.

"They should stay that way and they should not be pushed out by the developers who are coming in doing whatever it is they want to do," Schroeder said. "Why is it that in the Fruit Belt, there is an organization that has a landbank trust volunteers because they do not trust the City of Buffalo or Erie County? These are people in neighborhoods who are fearful."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

Grant said if she is elected, City Hall will pay more attention to those neighborhoods for a voice in the decisions made, citing a much publicized and fought over project.

"For 98% of the residents of the City of Buffalo, not just the East Side, said that the new train station should be at the Central Terminal," Grant said. "And we had surveys, we had petitions and the 17-member committee that had meetings and heard the people say the Central Terminal, chose an area outside. That is not community friendly. That is not working with the residents."

There were a lot of supporters of all three candidates in the room, often stopping action with their applause. They also shouted from the audience. The candidates also shouted at each other occasionally. This debate was sponsored by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists and was held at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

New Yorkers must register by the end of the day Friday to vote for the Sept. 12 primaries for state and local offices. Mail-in registration forms must be postmarked by midnight.

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