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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v9n16 (04/22/2010) » Five Questions With...

George K. Arthur: Political Legend, Photographer

Get to know a Buffalonian...

Buffalo native George K. Arthur has been active on the local political scene for nearly half a century. Notably, he served on the Erie County Board of Supervisors from 1964-1967, as Ellicott District Councilman from 1970-1978, and then as Councilman-at-Large in 1978, eventually serving as Common Council President from 1984 until his retirement in 1996. Along the way, he ran for mayor in 1985 as the unendorsed Democratic candidate, narrowly losing to incumbent Jimmy Griffin. Today, he serves as Secretary of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority. He maintains a lifelong interest in photography, and is planning an exhibit of his work at Studio Hart in Allentown this June.

What’s changed since you got started in politics?

When I was first elected to office there were relationships that existed between the elected officials irrespective of their affiliation. There were no grudges. It was all issues. Today, if people are disagreeing on one issue, and they should be agreeing on another, animosity is carrying over. What we used to do…there was a famous bar at the time called Walsh’s Tile Bar. And it violated about every health code in the world, but the health commissioner went there regularly—you know, that kind of thing. Politicians could go there and sit, and say, “Look, we’ve gotta get this done.” That does not happen today.

What’s it like sitting on the control board?

Everybody says, “Run government like a business.” Well, government is not a business. Government is there to serve the people, and businesses are there to make a profit. We’re not there to ask why the sanitation people get off early, you know? The hardest part has been getting my colleagues to understand that labor unions are not evil. They haven’t caused every problem we have in government. Instead of attacking them, we need to be working with them.

What are your thoughts on the recent announcement that the UB Foundation has signed an agreement to purchase McCarley Gardens?

The Powers That Be seem to be trying to run rough-shod over the residents of McCarley Gardens. The residents need to obtain their own separate counsel, get their own separate advice. Don’t depend upon the church. Don’t depend upon UB, or anyone that’s tied to the university or the church. They need independent advisors to tell them what their rights are, and what can and can’t be done. So, I’m very suspect. I don’t think UB nor the church has been honest with the residents of McCarley Gardens.

What would you like to see happen in the Fruit Belt?

I know what the Fruit Belt was, and I know what it can be. People have to pull together to make the Fruit Belt what it should be. And that means everybody working together, not just one or two.

Are you still an avid photographer?

Yes, and a couple months ago I received a call from a gentleman in California who asked me if I’d gone to Seneca. I told him yes, and he asked me if I knew his grandfather, Henry Shepard. I told him yes, he’d been my photography teacher. He’d never met his grandfather, and wanted to meet people who knew him. We got a group of us together who knew Henry—and this fellow came from California, and brought his parents out to a restaurant on Hertel, and we all shared stories. But the real surprise...there’s a gentleman who went to Seneca named Douglas Kirkland—who is one of the great fashion photographers in the world. He got his claim to fame by photographing Marilyn Monroe. During our luncheon, we got him to call in, and I introduced him and handed him around to Henry’s grandson, just so he could hear what an impact his grandfather had made on Kirkland.

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