What could be more symbolic: In a series all about leadership, the mayor of Buffalo chose to be a no-show.
Byron W. Brown, whose worst grades in a Buffalo News community survey were for “transparency” and “accessibility,” lived down to his billing. He refused to be available to shed light on his philosophy of governing, where he wants to lead the city, or anything else.
Even Philip Rumore, the Buffalo Teachers Federation president who scored at the very bottom of the list, talked about his role in the community and how he feels the union is fighting for students. Love him or not, at least he gave the public something to chew on when assessing the BTF.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz scored about the same as Brown but didn’t hide in his office. He was praised for his knowledge but pilloried for aloofness. His response was a spirited defense of intellect, principle and facts – over schmoozing and backslapping – that the personality-challenged can all rally around. More important, he shared with citizens his approach to government.
But Brown? Who knows what he thinks? The best taxpayers can do is try to decipher his backers’ “lead from behind” defense of his executive style.
Buffalonians deserve better.
But putting citizens aside, as Brown does often in stiffing the media, the curious thing is why any political leader would think he looks better by hiding.
“I can’t think of very many examples where it would be wise to not say anything,” said Ann R. Carden, associate professor of communication at Fredonia State College, a member of the Buffalo Niagara Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and a “fellow” in the national PRSA. Speaking generally, she said that – legal or privacy matters aside – it’s better to tell your side.
Granted, some politicians may see social media as way to do an end run around the press. But Carden said social media are an adjunct, not a replacement. “The media are still very important because the media reach a lot of people,” she said. “I really don’t think any organization or person should shy away from the media.”
Besides, politicians’ websites will become as tainted as male-enhancement ads as the public comes to realize the value of the context and perspective that journalists bring to a subject.
Nor can politicians be dumb enough to think that clamming up will squelch a story. Eve’s “no comment” when asked about the apple didn’t stop the story from being told. My guess is that the politicians think they are somehow hurting the reporters, when the real punishment would be making them write down every boring thing they have to say.
But in reality, this isn’t about the press or a politician. It’s about the public.
Brown owes the citizens who pay his salary an explanation of what he’s doing or not doing, how he views the critiques of those he has to work with to move Buffalo forward, and whether he has any ability to analyze criticism and learn from it when it’s valid.
Those are hallmarks of leadership the public should be able to assess, but can’t when the mayor is in hiding.
Reporters could put his face on a milk carton, or stalk him at the next ribbon-cutting. But it would be a lot easier, and better for residents and the mayor, if he’d just answer the phone.