EDITORIAL: Frank observations on single-party politics going into Tuesday’s critical elections
I’ve been faithfully attending North Tonawanda’s common council meetings for the past year and half partly because it’s my job as editor of Niagara News Source.
But as an individual, it was also well past time for me to get informed, involved and finally speak up in the city where I was born, raised and will continue to live in. We all share this right and duty. And it’s from this point of view as an individual and observer of the city council that I submit this frank editorial.
I’ve been a reporter for most of my professional life, but in the past I’ve opted out of the political process on the local level for reasons similar to the many others who’ve also done so in North Tonawanda and across Niagara County.
And who could blame us? For a generation now, North Tonawanda’s single-party system of governance has systematically created the resident apathy that’s seen the city sink in so many ways and advance slowly or modestly in others.
Politics — especially in Niagara County — is sleazy and gross no matter if the color is red or blue.
The people *should* be turned off, and I applaud them for this visceral reaction.
Just look at Alderman-At-Large candidate Jeffrey Glatz’s latest mailer that goes out of its way to take credit for other people’s work and say *nothing* positive — and there’s much to be said — about his energetic, youthful opponent who was born and raised here and wants to continue living in North Tonawanda. (At absolute minimum, Tylec has run a clean campaign focusing on his vision, free of smears and misleading statements or unfair characterizations about his opponent.)
Having Tylec on the council might have shined more light on the egregious conflict of interest that took place earlier this year when that body OKed giving $150,000 worth of grant money to fund a restaurant on Webster Street owned by a sitting city councillor.
First off, at this point in Webster Street’s development, should *any* business moving there *need* seed money?
And far more importantly, how can the members of any council vote in good conscience to give that money to one of their colleagues or to ask for it in the first place?
When you’re on the council — and they get *paid* to be on that council — those kinds of opportunities should absolutely be off limits.
So former Alderwoman Catherine Schwandt leaves her seat without finishing her term, allowing Glatz to attain psuedo-incumbent status in this election by being appointed to it. Schwandt takes a job at the New York Power Authority, which is the shadowy entity that brings people of this area some of the highest electricity rates in the country despite living right next to Niagara Falls.
But when you’re part of Niagara County’s and North Tonawanda’s “Friends and Family Plan,” things like conflict of interest, quiet favoritism and casual corruption are part of the narrative.
And we’re to blame for it. This situation has coalesced over the years due to a lack of resident involvement. Apathy. Disengagement.
We let them do it.
It also didn’t help when the Tonawanda News went out of business. And later the North Tonawanda Sun folded. And since January, the Buffalo News — owned by the third-wealthiest person in America — stopped sending reporters to all city council and town board meetings in Niagara County, including North Tonawanda. (Recently, the NT Extra has emerged; however, traditional news media ultimately favors the kind of status quo served up by all the local governments in Niagara County. UPDATE 11/7/17: The Buffalo News is re-launching a “Sun” newspaper for the Tonawandas and Eric Duvall, former editor of the Tonawanda News, will be covering the NT council again.)
Despite these challenges, the political environment in North Tonawanda and across the county could be starting to change for the betterment of everyone.
There’s a new generation of adults entering the political landscape in North Tonawanda and Niagara County. (Social media has had a huge positive impact on this.) And there’s also another generation of older adults coming onto the political scene for the first time. Us folks are the ones that ashamedly fell victim to the debilitating apathy that single-party governance encourages.
That’s when things like the incredible deal for Schwandt take place.
Or allowing the rain gardens at the Manhattan Street parking lot to be ruined due to neglect and mismanagement to the tune of $23,000 in plants and shrubs. (After being informed of the damage and overgrown, actually unsafe nighttime conditions, the council’s response was to keep the landscaping as basic and as low-maintenance as possible despite it being the gateway for people visiting the area and the millions of dollars that have already been invested there.)
Or when the mayor and the council performed a complete political reversal after they announced absolutely no negotiations would take place with the police over the dispatch issue. Then they realized elections were approaching and they didn’t want to see “Bring Back Dispatch” signs all over town next to opponents’ placards.
I doubt that would have happened on a council that wasn’t single-party. There would have been discussion. Debate, frank talk and criticism have their place in government, and those who can’t handle it might want to re-think how they serve their community.
Ultimately, as an individual, I must oppose the current one-party makeup of this council because it is monolithic, fosters a ‘yes-person’ environment discouraging independent thinking and creativity as well as community engagement unless it’s in agreement with the council.
It’s all also completely irrelevant because this council gets their marching orders from the Niagara County Republicans. For a generation starting with George Maziarz, Niagara County politics have flowed out of North Tonawanda and it still flows back.
Logic would dictate that any candidate apart from the system that has publicly vowed “GOP dominance to continue” in North Tonawanda and Niagara County, is a win for the people and progress and not the stagnation that’s been inflicted through single-party governance.
Now, I’m not saying that Republicans in Niagara County shouldn’t exert *any* leadership or power in North Tonawanda or Niagara County. Just look at the Democrats in the disaster that’s befalling Niagara Falls for the flip-side version of a single-party-governance horror show.
I’m practical. *Somebody* around here must help clean up that mess — and quickly — because everything I’ve seen points to the Governor being complicit — whether intentional or not — in the city’s failure and impending demise.
But NiCo Republicans willingly, tenaciously run the other one-party system that reigns everywhere else, and it’s still in nobody’s best interest except those on the “Friends and Family Plan,” a relatively small group of people that effectively wield “minority rule” over the rest and reap the benefits.
A one-party system of governance is the perfect environment for wasteful government practices and bloated payrolls. The unfortunate reality is that *lowering* taxes — at least in the short-term — is going to require eliminating municipal positions. Quite simply, the city needs to start cutting property taxes immediately.
A zero-percent increase — made possible by $1 million in the city’s fund balance — is still absolutely unacceptable. Why should a zero-percent increase be unacceptable to NT’s taxpayers? Because it follows years and years of other raises and small increases that have accumulated to a level most people can’t afford except maybe those those in comfortable, currently unsustainable city jobs and their “friends and family” who also benefit from this and who march to the polls faithfully to make it so.
It’s unacceptable because it’s not like there aren’t other places to live with warmer climates and lower taxes and more, better jobs.
President Trump a few months ago said that residents of “failed” places like WNY should pack up, leave — abandon their mortgages even — and move to states like Wisconsin to go work for the Chinese mega factory being built there, subsidized by billions in state subsidies.
Strictly on this one point, I think just about anybody from WNY would say Trump is crazy.
But could he be right? The way events are unfolding in this high-tax, cold-weather state, the way single-party governance flaunts it’s “dominance” in Niagara County, maybe it *is* hopeless here just like President Trump says.
But I simply refuse to subscribe to that.
And people like Alderman-At-Large candidate Austin Tylec— who already won the Independence Party primary against Glatz — are getting involved with verve and fresh ideas for the city. There’s also the outstanding 1st Ward Alderman candidate Sean Polen and mayoral candidate Jim McGinnis as well as others looking to break the Republican’s lock on single-party governance.
Amongst these candidates, there’s a willingness to come together and encourage resident involvement with greater transparency in government and a new approach for the areas requiring it that I just don’t see enough of in the current council. Time has simply run out for some of them.
To have any of these new candidates elected I believe would be a great benefit to this city and all of its residents — not just the ones with connections.
I firmly and steadfastly believe *any* form of one-party governance encourages this form of favoritism in government and is wrong.
And it’s often a mask for the kind of inefficient, poorly-run government that in particular McGinnis says he can fix in North Tonawanda.
Looking around this city — at the graffiti and shabby condition of the boat docks at Gateway Park despite two city employees working there daily during the summer — or the sad condition of so many homes that used to be charming or even gorgeous, it can be a little depressing. And many of these homes — one of the city’s great resources — are within a stone’s throw of City Hall, which itself is finally getting some long overdue refurbishment. (For instance, do curbs need to be virtually non-existent before they are rebuilt, especially in such a high-profile location? Or more importantly, will anybody ever solve the terraced-parking iniquities in this city?)
There are some signs of life on Oliver Street, but the entire effort requires significantly more city involvement and investment. What’s happening there now is due mostly to the efforts of those outside the administration and council.
Meanwhile, millions of dollars flow into Webster Street — including a recent $2.5 million state grant — as the rest of the city gets a collective shrug in terms of new development and services.
Sure, it’s great that Platter’s set up shop in the 3rd Ward’s Wurlitzer Building (leaving Oliver Street to do so) and there are other business developments recently completed and on the horizon.
But these projects *will* continue if there’s different voices and viewpoints on the council or in the mayor’s office. The potential of North Tonawanda isn’t going to evaporate if single-party governance is ended Tuesday.
If that happens we will see more transparency from our city administration. And except those benefitting from the status quo, who wouldn’t want that?
It just makes sense more light will shine on the actions of the city when more than one group is involved.
Because most of all, this city needs to come together despite differences — and after some honest assessments — and despite a system of one-party governance that fosters the opposite. After Tuesday, even after all that’s been said and done, we need to come together.
If this city really wants to move forward, everybody’s participation is required and should be valued.
And continued one-party governance is not going to deliver that ever.