Democratic primary foes debate city issues

Aug 20, 2014

Democrats are fighting over State Legislature seats in Buffalo. The candidates debated Tuesday night in the Burchfield Penney Art Center during an event sponsored by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists.

State Senator Tim Kennedy narrowly won the seat two years ago against a low profile and thinly-financed challenge by County Legislator Betty Jean Grant. They are back at it this year, with the incumbent having campaigned hard since his narrow victory.

Tensions were evident during the debate between State Senator Tim Kennedy and Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.
Credit Mike Desmond/wbfo news

Some of that bad feeling showed last night as the two squared off before three questioners and a crowded auditorium.

Asked how much a Democrat can do in a Senate controlled by an alliance of Republicans and Independent Democrats, Kennedy pointed to getting UB 2020 passed.   

"It was passed nearly unanimously. We then sent a letter from the Democratic Conference to our colleagues in the Democratic Assembly saying this was strategically important to the future of the City of Buffalo and Western New York," Kennedy told the audience.

"People would be investing hundreds of millions of dollars in our community because of the piece of legislation before us and we got it passed resoundingly and we got the governor to sign it."

Grant says Kennedy is friendly with the rebel Democrats in the Senate, as he was when the two were in the County Legislature with Kennedy cutting deals with Republican County Executive Chris Collins.

"We have one caucus and that would be the Democratic Caucus which I would be a member of come January 2015," Grant said.

"I want to say too, the woman leading, (Senate Democratic Leader) Andrea Stewart-Cousin, she wants to work with me and I want to work with her."

Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes was all smiles before her debate with Veronica Nichols and Antoine Thompson.
Credit Mike Desmond/wbfo news

The other debate Tuesday night was for the seat now held by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who is being challenged by former Senator Antoine Thompson and community organizer Veronica Nichols.

There was some disagreement among the three about the benefits in the district of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Nichols says the Fruit Belt wants a Community Benefits Agreement and a voice.

"UB came up with the concept of Open Buffalo to do a medical campus Community Benefits Agreement. Well, that issue that came up with us is that you can't have a community benefits agreement without a community. So, we're forcing the issue that we need to be part of that planning process and someone from our community that they choose," Nichols said.

Peoples-Stokes says there is a push to move some residents away from the benefits of the development.

"The Buffalo Billion is about developing jobs. It's about enticing businesses from all over the world to come move their company to Buffalo. and, quite frankly they have been doing that. The thing that's real critical for us The East Side used to be the east side of Main Street and now it's the east side of Fillmore," she said.

Thompson says some of the money should be sliced away from big projects and put into Renaissance Neighborhoods across the city.

"We need to make Empire State Development do on Jefferson and Broadway, Fillmore and Bailey what they do in Niagara Falls. In Niagara Falls, they have a development subsidiary called USA Niagara. And, they provide grants and low-interest loans to Third Street and Main Street in Niagara Falls and we need to push them to do the same thing in Buffalo," Thompson argued.

The primary vote is September 9.