At last, a fresh page. It is 2013, Jan. 1, and the year is about as unspoiled as it can get. That, alone, is a relief. If we cannot – should not – shake the dust of 2012 off our collective shoes, we can at least hope that this will be a better year than the dark one past.
It’s not that last year was irredeemably grim. It had its moments, including a glorious summer, an improving national economy and a level of construction activity that Buffalo has not seen in decades. And for individuals, it may have been the best year ever, with marriages, childbirths, promotions and other life-changing events.
Buffalo’s development is especially heartening, offering evidence that persistence and leadership can make a difference even in a city as hard-pressed as Buffalo. Construction is under way on the waterfront, with more projects in the offing. Several blocks north, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is booming. Redevelopments are planned along the stretch between downtown Buffalo and the rejuvenated Larkin District. It’s not just a new year in Buffalo, but a new day.
Still, the year was overshadowed by events that make it difficult to celebrate. Most recent, of course, was the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It left a profound and disturbing mark on memories of 2012. And it was only the worst of several mass shootings last year, which included last week’s cold-hearted murders of two firefighters near Rochester.
The wretched election season also left little to celebrate, beyond the evidence that American democracy can work even when its practice is execrable. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign lacked both seriousness and honesty and President Obama’s was only marginally better. In Western New York, the race between Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, and former Erie County Executive Chris Collins offered a master class in deceit.
But, enough. It’s a new year and while we know it will certainly include more disappointments, there are signs that it could be better. For one, there are no regular state or national elections this year. Fewer people will be lying to us. That’s good.
However, the troubling inability of Congress to cooperate on solutions to the nation’s economic problems continued into the last hours of 2012. We still aren’t sure whether we will start out the year on firmer economic footing or in free fall.
We can also hope that Americans have seen enough to act on the issues that have arisen because of the carnage in Newtown and other American places. First and foremost is to renew the ban on assault weapons. That won’t prevent every nut with a grudge or a hallucination from committing mass murder, but it would be an appropriate and useful start.
Along with that, it would be helpful for the nation finally to put the National Rifle Association in its place. It is a lobby group for manufacturers, not gun owners, and when its loony leader, Wayne LaPierre, suggests arming teachers and putting armed police in every school, he is looking out for the bottom line of the industry, not its rank-and-file members and certainly not parents or children of America.
This will be a critical year for the Buffalo School District. The district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation have until Jan. 17 to hammer out a new teacher evaluation agreement or forfeit a staggering $59 million in state funding.
The auto-destruct relationship between the city and school district created multiple stresses last year – what year hasn’t it? – so there is little reason to believe this year will be any different. But who knows? Despite the usual hyperbole, the union eventually agreed to a 2011 evaluation system. Maybe it will again. We will know soon enough.
In Albany, state officials are facing another challenging budget season. A $1 billion budget deficit loomed even before Hurricane Sandy slammed into the area around New York City. But there are also opportunities. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who recently vetoed an expansion of the state’s historic tax credit, said he would revisit the issue this year, but as part of the budget. That development will be critical to revitalizing old structures like the defunct AM&A’s department store in downtown Buffalo.
And there is plenty more, from the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the problem of climate change, as documented by Hurricane Sandy. In the end, this year will offer what every year does: some mix of opportunity and setback, joy and sorrow, prosperity and difficulty.
In that, it pays to be philosophical but insistent that those who seek the mantle of leadership live up to the role. If Americans insist loudly enough, this could be a much better year than 2012.
In fact, 2013 starts out with a distinct advantage: No Mayans are predicting the end of the world this year. How could it not be a happy new year?