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Economic development, policing hot topics at mayoral forum

WBFO's Mike Desmond
(left to right) Mayoral candidates Betty Jean Grant, Taniqua Simmons, Mark Schroeder, Terry Robinson

Four mayoral candidates had at least one thing in common Thursday night: attacking Mayor Byron Brown. They gathered in a mayoral forum at Buffalo's Central Library.

The current mayor had been invited to this debate sponsored by Buffalo Niagara Deaf Events, but did not attend. Republican candidate Mary Carroll and Conservative candidate Anita Howard also were not in attendance.

The basic tenor of the candidates that did presentthe Green Party's Terry Robinson, Democrat Betty Jean Grant, Democrat Mark Schroeder and Libertarian Taniqua Simmonswas that things need to be much better than the current mayor has delivered as he seeks a fourth term.

Grant, an Erie County legislator, said it is time for all sections of the city to benefit from the economic resurgence locally.

"Economic development of all areas of Buffalo. No neighborhood forgotten," Grant said. "The Genesee-Moselle area is just as important as the Hertel Elmwood area and Canalside and the Medical Corridor, but people on the East Side of Buffalo and the Lower West Side and those in parts of South Buffalo do not believe it."

Grant said she spoke as an East Side resident who has run a family business there for many years and watched the area decline as the jobs picture darkened.

Simmons said there has been a lot of money put into the East Side, but it does not show.

"We wouldn't have to have so much legislation if the money that was designated for poverty and blight actually reached the poverty and blight and the problem with that is because of it becoming a funding source, people are misinformed," Simmons said. "We have a lot of meetings, but we don't have any action by our elected officials."

Shouts from the audience suggested term limits as a way to persuade elected officials to change their ways, since they would soon be out there looking for jobs.

Police and criminal justice issues drew a lot of attention and former officer Robinson. He said they are only part of the justice system, but professional standards are needed.

"Professional pay, professional accountability," Robinson said. "And the police force is only one aspect of the justice system. If you have a lawless system in terms of administration, in terms of consequences, in terms of culpability, the police are only one aspect."

Robinson said there is not enough done about white collar crime or those who supply drugs to people who overdose while on opioids, but arrests are made of those in poverty.

Schroeder said it is hard to get better policing when Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and Police Benevolent Association President Kevin Kennedy are not speaking.

"The union president and this commissioner, they can't be in the same building together. I'm not talking about in the same room, I'm talking about in the same building. That's a problem," Schroeder said. "What kind of problem is that? It's a communication problem. They both have responsibilities to their officers. They need to talk to each other."

Asked about the police checkpoints done most weeks and usually on the East Side, Simmons said if elected, she would get rid of them.

"Twelve of the top 50 salaries from the City of Buffalo are checkpoint officers," Simmons said. "Their base salary is $77,000. These officers are taking home $150-200,000 a year. They're not solving homicides."

Simmons said the State Court of Appeals ruled the checkpoints are unconstitutional.

Schroeder said the checkpoints are ordered by Brown and Derenda. He said there were 60 last year, and 52 were on the East Side.

"And they are going to lift up the big door and there's going to be all guns and ammunition in there," Schroeder said. "But guess what? That's not happened one time. What does happen every time is that maybe a young African-American man who's maybe 18-22 gets pulled over and maybe, just maybe, he's got a doobie in his pocket. Guess what? He has just entered into the criminal justice system."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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