Mayor Byron W. Brown has appointed former state Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, a longtime political ally, to a top post in his administration.
Thompson started Monday as executive director of the Buffalo Employment and Training Center, a job that pays $79,757.
Since his 2010 loss to Republican Mark J. Grisanti, Thompson, 42, has worked as a real estate agent. He also is president of BlackWNY, a monthly magazine, which this month published an interview with Brown.
Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey said Thompson’s energy, background in the academic and public sectors, and interest in employment issues make him suited for the job.
Asked if Thompson’s hire was a case of political patronage, Casey said, “Absolutely not.”
The Employment and Training Center, which employs about 30 people, is funded with federal and state money, though the city pays for four positions and the executive director is appointed by the mayor.
The city would like the center, at 77 Goodell St., to be more proactive in investigating private-sector opportunities and establishing relationships in the community and with clergy to help people find jobs.
“We just think [Thompson] has the right energy and mix and understanding of the community that we believe is going to connect those job seekers with the opportunities,” Casey said.
The position has been vacant for six months, since former Executive Director Colleen Cummings retired. Thompson’s appointment is Brown’s second notable hire in two weeks. In late November, the mayor announced that he was hiring Ellen E. Grant to be deputy mayor, with a focus on health care and education issues.
The administration continues to look for a replacement for another top post. Janet E. Penksa left as commissioner of administration, finance, policy and urban affairs to become executive director the Jacobs Institute on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Thompson serves at the pleasure of the mayor, who will run for re-election next year. His appointment does not require Common Council approval.
The December issue of Thompson’s magazine, which recently hit newsstands, features a photo of Brown on the cover. Inside, there are more photos and an interview with Brown about his job-creation strategy, with references to his “standout accomplishments in inner-city neighborhoods.”
“From increasing employment for youth to promoting diverse hiring practices, Brown has made even more of an imprint on the city as mayor,” reads the story, which was published without a byline.
What appears to be an advertisement on the back cover features a photo of Brown and his family wishing readers season’s greetings.
The ad does not include information about who paid for it. Brown spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said it was not a gift from the publication but was paid for with Brown’s campaign funds and is similar to those that have run in other publications.
Thompson did not return two messages seeking comment, though he did announce his new job on his public Facebook page.
“I will play a critical role in helping people of Buffalo get jobs!!!!,” he wrote. “I will supervise over 30 employees and support Mayor Brown and the City of Buffalo and other key public, private, faith and community sector leaders in assisting people with job training and placement.”
Thompson and Brown have a long history together.
Thompson worked on Brown’s campaigns and replaced him on the Common Council when Brown was elected to the Senate. When Brown was elected mayor, Thompson was elected to fill his Senate seat.
Despite the overwhelming Democratic enrollment advantage in his Senate district, Thompson’s appeal with voters wore off, as he did not win re-election in 2010.
In spring 2010, The Buffalo News reported that Thompson had used campaign funds to pay for a trip to Jamaica while the Senate was in session, which didn’t go over well with voters. Thompson’s staff said at the time that the purpose of the trip was to research renewable energy.
Just weeks before the election, The News reported that Thompson used taxpayer funds to publish a 102-page book of his Senate accomplishments, which became another source of controversy for his campaign.
Before holding elected office, Thompson was executive director of the University at Buffalo’s Office of Urban Initiatives and was a member of the Council’s staff. In the Senate, he was co-chairman of the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise Task Force. He also was a member of the Workforce Investment Board, which has a relationship with the center.
Thompson’s continued interest in running for office has been widely known since he left the Senate.
In 2011, Thompson considered a run for city comptroller, and he considered challenging Sen. Tim Kennedy this year in a Democratic primary.
Thompson did not run for Senate, and he supported Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant instead, while Brown supported Kennedy.
Differing opinions in the Senate race did not have anything to do with the appointment, Casey said.
Grant, whose differences with the mayor are well-known, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the appointment.
“I think he’s more than qualified for the position,” she said.