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Sam Magavern: Partnership for the Public Good

Get to know a Buffalonian...

As co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good (, Sam Magavern helps raise community awareness on issues ranging from the economy to the environment, healthcare to the holding center, neighborhood revitalization to campaign finance reform. He’s also an instructor at UB Law School, and a writer with a lucidly elegant style. We asked him to tell us a bit about the issues he’s involved with, and which hats he prefers to wear.

What is a community benefit agreement, and why would one be an important component of waterfront development?

A CBA is a contract between a developer and a coalition of community groups. The coalition seeks guarantees that the community will benefit from the project—through features like green design, locally owned businesses, and local and minority hiring programs. At Canal Side, the public is slated to invest $150 million and turn over some prime waterfront land. We need to make sure that out-of-state corporations like Bass Pro and Benderson Development aren’t the only ones to benefit from that big public investment.

Why is it important to pay workers a living wage?

Full-time work should pay enough to keep a family out of poverty. It doesn’t make sense for the government to hire or subsidize a business that pays inadequate wages, and then have to pay again to provide public assistance for the workers through food stamps, Medicaid, heat assistance, and other programs. Many companies pay living wages, so let’s make sure our government chooses them when awarding contracts and subsidies.

Will conditions improve at the Erie County Holding Center?

Yes, especially if the community continues to insist on it. One important step that may come to a vote this month is for the county to create a community advisory board for the holding center—to create a place, in addition to the courtroom, where problems can be solved.

A recent appellate court ruling emphasizes that the New York state constitution has prohibited giving public money to private entities since 1846. If that ruling is upheld, what might it mean to us locally?

One possibility is that the plan to give Bass Pro giant subsidies will prove to be illegal.

Last summer, you published a well-received book about chemist/writer/Auschwitz-survivor Primo Levi. Which do you enjoy more: the public role of advocating for local causes, or the private role of researching and writing?

I love writing, but it’s nice to get out and work with other people—especially in Buffalo, where there are so many grassroots, neighborhood, and community groups doing innovative work and getting results.

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