John Washington with Joy McDuffie
John Washington with Joy McDuffie

On the Horizon of Good

by / Jan. 18, 2015 11pm EST

The Partnership for Public Good held its annual agenda roll-out in the auditorium of the East Side’s Frank Merriweather Library with the customary strong emphasis on social and economic justice issues the group has made their mission. Late in every year, PPG members and member-organizations numbering around 180 meet to identify advocacy goals for the next year’s agenda, and then vote on the issues to develop a priority schedule. The member who sponsored the agenda item received the privilege of presenting it in a three to five minute talk.

Friday’s unveiling before a crowd of 150 people began, however, with an homage to the arts; perhaps a symbol of activism in the form of the songwriting of Luis Montijo. Montijo sang a piece off his classical guitar that was musically equal parts spoken word and hard rap and lyrically on the topic of economic justice, slapping on the guitar to provide a beat during the verses and hitting a rock bass riff during the chorus.

A fitting prelude for the serious matters ahead. As Bertolt Brecht wrote: “First the feeding; then, the lesson.”

Number one on the list is a twist on a new-old cause célèbre: the implementation of community-oriented policing of Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority properties. BMHA, and the Buffalo Police now under contract to police BMHA property, is under criticism for employing unconstitutional “stop-and-frisk” searches of individuals on BMHA grounds: writing trespassing violations for residents and guests on site and writing traffic tickets to motorists who dare drive near the city’s housing projects.

Open Buffalo’s Nate Gulley, who presented the BHMA initiative, pointed out that the police officer Corey Krug who was caught on tape body-slamming a man (who was never even arrested) and offering a few licks from his nightstick last November was assigned to the BMHA “beat.” Gulley characterized the arrangement as a “quota” fulfillment wherein Krug had to write a certain number of citations before heading down to Chippewa. (The incident did occur on the night before Thanksgiving, when police overtime in an entertainment district should be expected.)

Joy McDuffie of the WNY Law Center joined by John Washington of PUSH Buffalo made a case for the Common Council to introduce and pass a Responsible Banking Ordinance to address “major disparities in prime home lending.” Home ownership on the east side has plummeted over the decades, and McDuffie called on city officials to look into banking practices that may hinder prospective owner-occupants from recovering properties from absentee landlords, a slow transition that has strengthened other parts of the city. It’s an issue close to Washington’s heart, something he’s been urging the city to do for years with measured success.

A similar tone was struck by Patty Macdonald of Project Slumlord, who revealed that the owner of 65 Grant St. has been in Housing Court over 40 times before and after last spring’s collapse of bricks onto the sidewalk. Another landlord has been in Housing Court over 100 times, costing taxpayers in excess of $25,000 in administrative costs alone. “There’s a huge backlog in Housing Court creating a months long delay before a landlord can even be arraigned” for violations, according to Macdonald.

Lynn Magdol of Citizens for Regional Transit called for a reallocation of existing public monies to help bolster the NFTA’s newest budget shortfall. The agenda calls for a discontinuation of the Erie and Niagara County Industrial Development Agencies’ practice of granting exemptions to the mortgage recording tax. It also advocates for an increase in the mortgage recording tax contribution from 0.25% to 0.5%, the sales tax cut from 0.125% to an even 0.25%, and called on the state to change the algorithm for upstate’s transit authorities that consistently short-changes the state’s largest such entity outside of New York City.

Assemblymember Sean Ryan chimed in on the NFTA problem, implying they fixed an nagging issue in bad management but they remain on “a funding death cycle.”

“We can’t have the new Buffalo we want with our old transit system and old transit philosophy, ” Ryan explained. He characterized the local IDAs practice of allowing private business to avoid the mortgage-recording tax to erect parking ramps antithetical to the idea of public transit a “double-whammy.”

Other items of focus for the coming year included a call to expand early learning opportunities and day care programs for working class families and their children, an improvement of local recycling rates in the city and beyond, continued emphasis on ECC investing in its City Campus, publicly financed elections in the City of Buffalo, language access to government and community resources for newly-settled immigrants, the development of a Community Benefits Agreement between the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and its surrounding neighborhoods, and the development of an action plan to connect lakes Ontario and Erie with a greenway.

The meeting ended with several local Democratic lawmakers pledging their support, each one receiving an enthusiastic applause. Buffalo Councilmember Michael LoCurto quoted Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without demand,” adding, “Thank you for providing that demand.”

Aaron Lowinger is Managing Editor for The Public.