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A roadmap for the future: The Black political landscape in Erie County

Disparate Black political groups are working to plan a roadmap for political success for African Americans living in Erie County. But does the roadmap include the Erie County Democratic Committee?

Former County Legislator and City Councilmember Betty Jean Grant says Black political unity in the county has slowly crumbled since she began her political career in the 1990’s.

“I’ve seen this community become less united than it was then,” Grant. “The goal of ours, of those of us who were in politics so many years ago was to have a unified community that spoke with one voice.”

She cites the remarkable organizing that went on in Georgia, ahead of the Presidential election and Senate runoffs, which saw the red state flip to blue, as the power of unification.

“What we’re going to try to do is find out what is the problem,” Grant said. “What the problems are. How can we rectify them, what can we do to where we can maybe have a Stacey Abrams.”

Despite past antagonisms on social media between the older, more established community members and the younger progressive set, all agree that they see unfairness on the part of the Erie County Democratic Committee for its handling of the endorsement process for two African American candidates; Sheriff candidate Myles Carter and District 1 Legislative seat candidate Dominique Calhoun. Cater alleges Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner of laughing off Carter’s candidacy.

In recent Facebook posts, Grant says the EC-DC is treating Black Democrats like they are expendable, despite African Americans in Erie County voting overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats.

In response to Grant, Zellner said one needs to look no further than the county-wide ticket from four years ago to see that the E.C.D.C. has an inclusive mindset in endorsing candidates.

“We recruited and endorsed Vanessa Gulshefski for Erie County Comptroller,” he said. “And we endorsed and supported Bernie Tolbert for Erie County Sheriff. Both of them nearly won. So, I’m proud of what we did, and to say that African Americans or any diverse group is being left out is just absolutely false.”

While admiring Carter’s passion, Zellner said his letter seeking endorsement was delivered too late in the process.

“Mr. Carter’s letter came in at the 11th hour, late last week at best,” he said. “I don’t know the exact times. And it just wouldn’t be fair to the other candidates who went through this vetting process that was extensive.”

It is expected the E.C.D.C. will endorse Brian Gould, the former Cheektowaga Assistant Police Chief on Saturday.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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