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Poloncarz slams Brown on snow cleanup, assumes some city plow workload

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Erie County via YouTube
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Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz with other officials at his snow storm briefing Dec. 28, 2022

Calling the City of Buffalo's efforts to plow streets “embarrassing,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz suggested Wednesday that the county should take over snow removal efforts during severe storms, and for now, has done so from Broadway at the Cheektowaga line, south to downtown.

"The city unfortunately is always the last one to not be open. It's embarrassing, to tell you the truth,” Poloncarz said, adding, “I know the mayor's not thrilled to hear it, but I don't care anymore."

“We took over an entire segment, one third of the City of Buffalo because we know that we could get in there and clean it very quickly. The state is basically doing the same thing with equipment from other areas. I've already had discussions with my staff about what it would take for the county to take over all snow cleaning operations in the future. And I've had that discussion with New York state as well, because I think it's apparent that it's time for it to happen, or at least a discussion on the future,” Poloncarz said.

His criticism of the city’s efforts came in the county’s daily storm media briefing, which was followed immediately by Mayor Bryon Brown’s scheduled briefing, where the criticism became topic number one.

Saying that he had not been aware of the Poloncarz briefing, Brown said, “I don’t know where this is coming from,” and spent much of his time with the media talking about the unprecedented scope of this storm.

“These are some of the worst storm condition they have ever seen concentrated in the city of Buffalo," Brown said.

Brown said 70% of the city streets have been plowed, including 90% of the main arteries in and out of the city.

The city’s online plow tracking does not reflect those numbers, but acknowledging outside help, Nate Marton, Buffalo public works commissioner, said only city trucks are feeding information to that system.

“People have been working around the clock since the beginning of this storm,” Brown said. “Some people have been working around the clock since the beginning of this storm. You know some people handle that pressure a lot differently. Some keep working, some keep trying to help the residents of our community and some break down and lash out so don't really know what the county executive is talking about. I do know that the stone conditions in the city of Buffalo are the most adverse in all of Erie County in all of Western New York. The numbers of snowfall are the numbers for wind gusts. The numbers of sad fatalities, which are very painful."

Brown also said that city plow drivers know the city streets better than outside crews.

And he appeared to question Poloncarz’s motivation, saying, “The county executive and I have talked numerous times on the phone. As tough and as strong as he could be in a news briefing, he didn’t say any of that to me, face-to-face. I want you to just process that for a moment,” Brown said.

“I’m peace and love. I’m calm cool and collected, and I don’t lose my mind in a crisis," he later added.

Part of Poloncarz’s criticism – denied by Brown - said that the city’s participation in coordinated emergency planning has not been robust.

“We have an elected officials call every morning. We had one this morning again, with leadership from all of the municipalities. The city of Buffalo was not on it today. They generally have not been on it," Poloncarz said. "Seriously, I'm telling you the truth. The issues with coordination, there's a reason why the state and the county have come in and taken over operations."

Poloncarz’s comments come after many on social media have been excoriating the city - and other government officials - for bad response to a storm that resulted in deaths.

At least 35 people have died in Erie County, with bodies recovered in in cars, homes and snowbanks. At least 17 of the dead were found outside, seven died from lack of heat, three died from cardiac issues from shoveling, and another died due to a delay in emergency services.

Criticism of Brown, Poloncarz and Gov. Kathy Hochul soared on social media Monday, amongst the city’s various advocates for the poor. Those spiked especially after a Monday news conference that talked about how government officials did as much advance planning as possible.

Advocates say Poloncarz, Hochul and Brown were blaming the victims – and underserved individuals - for not being adequately prepared.

“What's the plan for people who don't have the economic privilege to stay at home and wait it out?" tweeted Tanvier Peart, from the Partnership for Public Good, a think tank that works on social justice issues in greater Buffalo. "Hearing the Erie County Executive pretty much said people should've bought two weeks' worth of groceries before the storm, and we know the food + wealth inequities in this area."

Added Buffalo poet laureate Jillian Hanesworth, also on Twitter, “Telling people in one of the poorest cities in the country that they should’ve stocked up on 2 weeks worth of food and batteries when they are systematically living paycheck to paycheck is beyond me.”

In other blizzard related items, Poloncarz did touch Wednesday on community services and relief efforts:

Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.
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