On the surface, it seems emblematic of a modern community, enough to prompt a visitor looking at mayoral campaign posters this summer to think, “What a progressive place!”
The Democratic primary in this majority-white city features two big-name African-Americans, while the Republican hoping to face the winner is Hispanic.
It’s a rainbow ballot as incumbent Byron Brown parries former FBI honcho Bernard Tolbert, with the GOP’s Sergio Rodriguez in the wings.
Anyone mindful of our new tourism slogan and the city’s history as among the nation’s most segregated might marvel at so many candidates of color and think, “Buffalo? For real?”
But before we get too carried away patting ourselves on the back, it’s worth asking what it means. Does it really stamp Buffalo as a forward-looking place where race and ethnicity no longer matter?
The answer will come during the campaign, when we see whether these three will go where others facing similar demographics – from President Obama on down – dare not tread: into socioeconomic inequity.
The real measure of racial and ethnic progress in Buffalo is not who’s running; it’s what they’ll run on.
The disparities here are stark.
According to the Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey, the unemployment rate for blacks and Hispanics in Buffalo – 10.2 percent for each – is nearly double the jobless rate for whites.
The same data shows that the average household income for whites – $53,368 – is 61 percent higher than for blacks and nearly double that of Hispanic households. The patterns repeat when looking at per-capita income.
Such data reflects why the Urban Institute last year ranked Buffalo Niagara 98th out of 100 metropolitan areas when it comes to equity between blacks and whites, and 89th out of 100 when comparing whites and Latinos.
The reality is that we have a two-tiered region, separate and unequal, with Buffalo at its core. Those gaps didn’t arise by happenstance and won’t be closed simply by “lifting all boats.”
But which candidate is willing to say that to an electorate that’s still slightly more than 50 percent white? And does that electorate recognize that a city can’t thrive with nearly half its population left behind?
That’s not to dismiss the fact that Buffalo twice elected Brown. That says something.
But it also says something that he was pilloried a few years ago over a Jefferson and Fillmore avenues facade-improvement program that would have been praised in any other part of town.
Being willing to vote for a black or Hispanic candidate who doesn’t talk about blacks or Hispanics is one thing; being willing to vote for a candidate who openly wants to lift blacks and Hispanics to parity is quite another.
All of which makes me wonder how aggressively these candidates will campaign on making Genesee Street look like Hertel Avenue, putting East Side schools on a par with Hutch-Tech, or addressing residents’ complaints of seeing very few blacks and Hispanics on construction sites.
And if they don’t – or feel they can’t – how much progress have we really made, despite the color of the faces in the race?