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Chris Collins: Lay Off PUSH

Last week ABC announced that the Extreme Makeover Home Edition episode shot in Buffalo in November will air on January 24 as a rare two-hour special featuring the massive grassroots mobilization which began the transformation of a drug-riddled, low-income West Side neighborhood, starting with the home of PUSH activist Dolores Powell. The Buffalo episode will be one of only several twohour Extreme Makeover specials this season from among the dozens of episodes of this longtime hit ABC reality TV show which airs in more than countries. This should be a golden moment for Buffalo on the world stage, spotlighting the grit and generosity of our “city of good neighbors.”

Also last week, Erie County Executive Chris Collins vowed to ignore the Erie County Legislature’s override of several of his budget vetos, including $100,000 allocated for PUSH Buffalo to develop and run a countywide plan to redress distressed and abandoned properties, building on the work featured on ABC’s Extreme Makeover program, of which PUSH and Powell herself (a PUSH empoyee) were a part. In the grand scheme of things, $100,000 is a pittance relative to the scale and scope of what needs to be done with Buffalo and Erie County’s decaying neighborhoods, and the money has to be spent one way or another. The question facing Collins early in 2010 is whether to make good on his threat to block the modest $100,000 PUSH contract, after three new Republican legislators take office and can block future overides of Collins’ vetos and other efforts to undermine the will of the people with an anti-city, anti-minority agenda.

If he does so, he shoots himself and all of Western New York in the foot once again, by pulling the rug out from under a Buffalo original at the very moment it is being celebrated on network TV across America and the globe, bringing broad recognition not only to Buffalo but to our region as a whole—including the county that Collins has sworn to represent to the best of his ability.

If he follows through, this epitomizes why Western New York so rarely gets the national respect it deserves—because so often it is represented by people with little or no PR savvy. But Collins’ case is even worse. It is one thing to be clueless about how best to promote Western New York to the nation and to the world; it is yet another not to know when to get out of the way when someone else has already done that and brought the golden spotlight here. As with physicians, the minimum expectation for a politician should be to “do no harm” to his constituency. In fact, the instincts of any politician worth his salt would be to capitalize on this embarrassment of promotional riches by grabbing a piece of that spotlight for himself by echoing his support for the persons or institutions being celebrated—if not by adopting them as his own cause celebre.

Collins’ instincts are the inverse—i.e. cut the legs out from under those bringing the national spotlight to our beleaguered community. This isn’t merely an oversight, it’s downright incompetence. When was the last time that a Buffalo institution was featured in a two-hour special on national television? Good question. When was the last time that a local pol exercised incredibly poor judgement in public bringing shame rather than fame to his/her community ? Unfortunately. we have a long list of those.

The good news is that Collins still has an opportunity to do no harm, by letting the override of his veto of funding for PUSH to stand, so that PUSH can continue helping to rebuild Western New York, house by house and block by block. All of us should send Collins a New Year’s email insisting that he stand down so that we can all savor our two hours in the national limelight on January 24 without waking up with a New Year’s hangover the next morning !

Carl Mrozek

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