BY JOHN DUKE
Q: Tell us something the voters might not know about you? Did you grow up in Buffalo?
A: Yep, I grew up right here in the City.
Q: Then you lived out of town for some time?
A: Yes, I went away for college and then worked for 5 years down In Washington DC.
Q: How about the earlier years? Did you go to school here?
A: Mt St Joseph’s Academy Grammar School and Canisius High School!
Q: Any advanced degrees?
A: Yes, an MBA and Law Degree.
Q: Where did you work in DC?
A: I worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), I worked on an initiative called Resident Management which was a concept to provide residents living in Public Housing with the training to take jobs maintaining their own housing developments and starting up their own businesses.
Q: Why did you move back home to Buffalo?
A: I always knew I would move home at some point because I love Buffalo too much to stay away, but the impetus to move back was that I had been working on an idea to start a charity in Buffalo to help low-income families who wanted to send their children to private grammar schools. In 1994, I moved home and we launched the BISON Scholarship Fund.
Q: Are the Scholarships still available?
A: Yes. BISON is in its 21st year. The year we started we helped raise money for scholarship for 200 children, this school year we will be providing 1,800 scholarships. I don’t run BISON anymore, but I am still on the board.
Q: You also started a real estate company?
A: Yes, a few years after I started BISON. I always loved the beautiful old buildings in our city so I decided to start a company that focused principally on renovating old/vacant buildings downtown. I’ve done a lot in the Theater District which was in rough shape 10 years ago. My buildings are unique spaces and a lot of start-up businesses have gravitated to them as tenants – I’ve loved working with these businesses to help them succeed.
Q: Ok, fast forward. Now you are Erie County Clerk, which by all media accounts you’re doing a great job and could get re-elected for that seat…why run for the Senate?
A: I have loved being Erie County Clerk. I believe we’ve transformed the Clerk’s Office into a modern customer centered operation. More importantly we have shown that a well-run government can be a real force for good.
In evaluating a job decision – whether in the public sector, private, non-profit – I want to look to where I can make the biggest impact in helping this community. At this point in time, I really think I can make the biggest impact in the State Senate. That’s why I’ve decided to run.
Q: What do you think are some of the biggest issues.
A: First, we have to re-instill people’s trust in our government. With all the scandals and corruption, I think it’s a major reason why such a small number of people are voting nowadays.
Albany is clearly broken, it serves its own interests instead of the folks that elect them, we need people to go up to Albany who truly want to make change and not become just another career politician.
Q: Are you’re in favor of term limits for legislators? The President has to leave after 8 years and judges are aged out at 70.
A: Absolutely. One common attribute of the 20 Albany legislators convicted of corruption over the last decade was they had been in office for a very long time. If you just look at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader Dean Skelos—both recently convicted of corruption – between the two of them they were in office for 70 years.
We need more public servants who go up for a period of time and then come back home to live under the laws they passed.
Q: Many folks talk about and prohibiting all outside income as a way to clean things up. Do you agree?
A: I disagree. I think if you do that you will create an entire class of career politicians. If you look at the majority of folks who’ve had conflicts with outside income it’s largely lawyers…so focus on that. But if you prohibit the person who owns a small business from going up to Albany to serve for a period of time this state will lose a critically needed perspective up in Albany.
Q: You layed-out a reform agenda for Albany in your literature and one recommendation was getting rid of legislator stipends.
A: Absolutely. Legislators have found a way to give themselves a backdoor pay raise, they’re called stipends. If you chair a committee or a sub-committee you get a stipend – a pay raise. So many of these committee’s don’t ever meet or do anything and frankly I think chairing a committee should be an honor …not a pay raise. In total, the taxpayer is forking over about $3 million in these stipends every year. It’s ridiculous and I will fight to reform it.
Q: What else.
A; The economy and jobs. We have made such progress over the last few years. I’ve never felt such a positive sense of momentum in this community in my lifetime….but we have to continue to focus on creating a true, long lasting, economic comeback for this community – one that creates careers not just jobs and fosters entrepreneurship. We need the state government to continue to be a partner in this effort – making critical and strategic investments in our infrastructure, our education systems at all levels, and remove barriers to our prosperity.
Finally, we need to continue to re-invest in our water resources. The 60th Senate District has over 40 miles of waterfront – from Grand Island to Brant, probably the most waterfront of any senate district in the state. Our waterfront and waterways were the source of this area’s birth and are also the source of its re-birth. We are finally making the right decisions to increase access, to clean our water and re-invest in our sewers so we no longer have to close beaches in the summer because of raw sewage runing into our water. We need to continue on this path and the State government is an essential partner.
Q: Anything Else.
A: Just that I love this community and I’ll always do anything I can to help its comeback.