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Who gets the jobs and development at issue in Buffalo mayoral race

Bellamy Commons at 1490 Jefferson Ave. in Buffalo
Avery Schneider
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown often points to 1490 Jefferson Ave. as a sign of East Side progress, but developer Herb Bellamy Jr. is the longtime chair of the Buffalo Sewer Authority and son of the late Herb Bellamy Sr, who served as a councilmember at large in Buffalo.

Business provides property taxes, housing, retail sales, construction and all kinds of jobs. Where they are and where they expand can also be the symbol of a neighborhood doing well or declining. Those jobs and that development are also big issues in the mayoral race.

Mayor Byron Brown has long talked up how the city has improved economically and in population during his four terms. Endorsed Democrat India Walton criticizes a lot of that development as too favorable to the developers and wants more affordable housing and more targeted development, like along Jefferson Avenue, a symbol of Buffalo's Black community.

In recent years, Elmwood Avenue has continued as a strong business strip, with Hertel Avenue developing and Grant and Chandler streets rising out of nowhere.

Walton was asked why and she immediately cites redlining as the reason.

"There are certain neighborhoods who have been deemed unworthy. I will point you to Island Mix on Jefferson or Sunshine Vegan Eats. There are some great businesses that are flourishing on Jefferson Avenue. And as mayor I look forward to continuing to foster and help build the capacity of those of those businesses," Walton said.

She also argued that the financial institutions have to be told they need to step in and loan to Black businesses.

Brown said Jefferson Avenue is showing major signs of turning around, using brick and mortar examples like 1490 Enterprise's housing and Black Achievers Museum.

"There is a facility now on Jefferson Avenue that serves the needs of people with developmental disabilities. That was a new development on Jefferson Avenue. There is a new Northwest Savings Bank on Jefferson Avenue now that did not exist before I got elected. M&T Bank has maintained its presence on Jefferson Avenue. There are two new housing developments from People Incorporated," Brown said.

The mayor said the street will soon get major streetscape investments.

For both candidates, the goal is to get people jobs. For generations, Black residents of Buffalo have complained they would go by major construction projects and not see anyone who looked like them. Brown said the city now has a deal with the building trades to provide apprenticeship opportunities. He said his administration has pushed hard for women and minority business enterprises.

"The city of Buffalo has one of the strongest goals for minority business participation, female business participation, minority and female worker participation in the region," he said.

Walton said her administration will make sure the rules are followed on hiring and apprenticeships. She said City Hall will also change the way it awards contracts.

"There's very little compliance with the MWBE and apprenticeship requirements. So, as mayor, our administration is going to enforce those requirements to make sure that minority- and women-owned contractors are getting city contracts and that the apprenticeship requirement is being upheld," she said.

Walton went on to say there will be big changes in awarding of city contracts.

"We're going to prioritize the lowest responsible bidder, not just the lowest bidder, right? And by responsible, that means that you're going to prioritize first source hiring, so that you're going to be hiring folks from the neighborhood and creating opportunities for people who actually live around the project," Walton said.

Brown also cited the need to make sure apprenticeship requirements are met. He sees more minority businesses and more minority and women workers as a key to this larger cut of the pie.

"When I came into office, initially, unfortunately, sadly, at that time, there were no minority development firms. Now we have minority development firms that have grown up in the City of Buffalo. So I think as more people are trained at places like Northland, you know, which is training people in advanced manufacturing, we've entered into an agreement with the Buffalo Building Trades to provide apprentice opportunities," Brown said.

Election Day is Tuesday.

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.