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Antoine Thompson? Really?
by Jim Heaney, InvestigativePost.org
We’ve got 37,900 unemployed residents and this obvious patronage hire is the best Byron Brown can do to help them?
Antoine Thompson couldn’t find a job when voters fired him from his State Senate job two years ago. So, of course, Mayor Byron Brown has now hired Thompson to help the county’s 37,900 unemployed find jobs.
This is about as blatant—and shameless—as patronage hiring gets.
First, consider that Thompson and Brown have been joined at the hip, politically speaking, for most of their careers, dating back to their days together in Grassroots, the political club that helped spawn both of their careers.
Thompson worked as a legislative aide to Brown when he served on the Common Council, then succeeded him when Brown won election to the State Senate. Brown vacated that seat when he was elected mayor and Thompson eventually assumed it.
There has been talk of a political estrangement of sorts between the two since Thompson lost his Senate seat in 2010, which brings me to my second point: Hiring Thompson helps Brown in very narrow political terms.
The mayor has been catching heat for his failure to hire many blacks to ranking administrative posts in his administration. The Buffalo News reported over the summer that African Americans held only one of 12 commissioner posts. News columnist Rod Watson declared the makeup of Brown’s cabinet “appalling for any mayor, but is especially grating considering the hopes and expectations of change that came with Brown’s election.” Many in the black community agreed.
By recently hiring Ellen Grant as deputy mayor (good luck to Grant co-existing with Steve Casey) and now Thompson, Brown can tell his base he’s finally getting around to adding people of color to the upper ranks of his administration. He also removes Thompson as a potential backer of of former Buffalo FBI head Bernard Tolbert, who is mulling a race for mayor next year.
A far-fetched possibility? Perhaps. Then again, Thompson and Brown backed different horses in the recent Senate race pitting Betty Jean Grant against Tim Kennedy. Brown’s candidate, Kennedy, won—barely.
But, of course, politics has nothing to do with the Thompson hire. Or so insists Thompson, Brown, and Casey. No, the mayor told WGRZ that it’s all about Thompson’s extensive government experience and his terrific research and writing skills.
Thompson was held in about as low a regard by folks in governmental circles as any elected official I’ve covered. He was widely regarded as an ego-tripper with few real accomplishments who is—how can I put this diplomatically?—not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
And who can forget about his 2010 junket to Jamaica, which I wrote about for the News:
Thompson left the country without explaining his absence to his colleagues in the Senate and ordered his staff not to disclose his whereabouts.
Monday, however, Mark J. Boyd, his chief of staff, acknowledged that he and Thompson were in Jamaica on something akin to a trade mission. They were in a travel party of about 15 people staying at an oceanfront resort whose price tag, including air fare, was $1,500 a person for the week.
Or his history of financial problems, which I wrote about for the News in 2006:
Creditors have taken legal action five times to recover debts owed by Antoine M. Thompson, a Common Council member and Mayor Byron W. Brown’s choice to succeed him in the State Senate.
The legal actions involved $5,757 in debt. Two involved unpaid credit card balances, another a debt he shared with Common Council Member Brian C. Davis for production of campaign commercials. The remainder involved legal fees and telephone bills.
Thompson, when I interviewed him Monday, cited a number of positions he’s held that are employment-related. But the vast majority involved “show up for the occasional board meeting” positions or seats on Senate or Common Council committees related to the economy. None required any real experience or expertise.
Nor does Thompson have any experience running a large agency such as the employment and training center, with its 30 workers.
Thompson told me Brown approached him about the job, begging the question, did the mayor put any real effort into finding a qualified job candidate? Ron Plants of WGRZ asked the mayor about the search process and how many other candidates were interviewed. The mayor gave Plants his Jackie Gleason imitation. You know: “humunah, humunah.”
I won’t pretend to speak for Governor Andrew Cuomo and the folks at the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. (Heck, few of them are even talking to me after our report last week on the shaky finances of the company in line to benefit from the first infusion of state aid under the mostly sound Billion for Buffalo program.) But I’ve got to believe they are shaking their heads at the Thompson appointment.
Just last week Cuomo and Co. announced a blueprint for spending $1 billion in state aid to rebuild the local economy and workforce development was listed as one of six priorities. Its inclusion was a tacit acknowledgement that the current agencies tasked with the job simply aren’t getting it done.
Yet, just a week later, the mayor has turned his workforce development agency over to a patronage hire who could do no better than landing a job selling real estate when he went looking for work after losing his Senate seat. Yes, he also launched a monthly magazine and companion website, but it looks like a decidedly part-time gig.
At an annual salary of $79,900, Thompson said he’ll focus on his new job. Let’s just hope he has gotten better at heavy lifting than he was in his younger years.
> BY jim heaney, investigative post
Jim Heaney is editor of Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative reporting center focused on issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York. Visit investigativepost.org daily for investigations, analyses, blog posts, and the latest from Tom Toles.blog comments powered by Disqus
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