When opponents of Erie Community College’s plan to locate a new science-oriented instructional building in Amherst went to the Buffalo Common Council in July for a show of support, they got it.
At the time, Mayor Byron W. Brown did not speak publicly about the issue. But on Thursday, he said he does favor the expanded campus downtown.
Brown’s opponents, Democrat Bernard A. Tolbert and Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez, said that if elected, they would be more vocal advocates for locating the building in the city, where 47 percent of ECC students live.
Rodriguez criticized Brown for “feeling that way and not doing anything about it.”
“We need an involved administration,” Rodriguez said during a mayoral debate Thursday organized by the Parkside Community Association and held in St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.
Bus routes don’t adequately serve city students who want to attend classes on ECC’s North Campus, resulting in “second-class” students, Tolbert said.
“I am not in favor of ECC expanding in the North Campus,” Brown said Thursday. The new building should be built downtown, he added, noting the jobs that will be created on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which would require skills taught at ECC.
“I think it makes all the sense in the world for ECC to build … in Buffalo,” Brown said.
When asked last week in an interview with The Buffalo News about whether he had advocated for the building to be located in the city, Brown said he spoke with ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr. “a number of times” about plans for the building and that the message he received was that the college must compete with Niagara County Community College. Brown said he thought ECC could compete with its northern neighbor without locating in the suburbs.
The college is planning to open a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math School at Main Street and Youngs Road in Amherst in 2017, a decision that has been endorsed by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. City officials do not have authority over the college’s decision.
The question about ECC was just one in an hourlong debate in which organizers prohibited applause after answers, making audience reaction to each candidate’s answers difficult to gauge.
Both challengers had sharp words for Brown, which he returned.
In his closing statement, Tolbert accused Brown of “systematically decimating our city and our people.”
Rodriguez accused Brown’s administration of “exaggerating about everything.”
Brown said his opponents have “no plan, no vision for the future. All they have is the desire to tear down Buffalo.”
Some of the answers the candidates gave were vague, or didn’t answer the question, while others reiterated campaign themes.
On a question about the future of the Scajaquada Expressway, a major issue in Parkside, Rodriguez acknowledged that he didn’t know much about it.
On a question about crime, Tolbert said government’s No. 1 responsibility is public safety and said his endorsement from police officers means they think he will make meaningful changes, but he did not elaborate.
Asked about what the candidates would do to address poverty, Brown said that with the economic-development activity in the city, he expects 5,000 to 11,000 jobs will be created.
Tolbert said that neighborhoods must be fixed and that the residents he speaks with aren’t seeing the benefit from the economic activity. To address the problem of hunger, he suggested opening up more vacant land for urban farming, while Brown talked up new efforts for job training, through the state’s regional economic-development council.
A question about the candidates’ plans for strengthening commercial corridors that aren’t doing well prompted Rodriguez to note the city’s population loss during Brown’s tenure and Tolbert to bring up problems with the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., which led to its demise.
Brown responded, noting that his administration has cut the commercial tax rate by almost 28 percent and has offered small-business loans, and named Francesca’s restaurant in South Buffalo as an example. He noted that population loss has been going on since 1950, and that he is slowing the tide.
Brown and Tolbert face each other in a Sept. 10 primary.
Rodriguez will compete in the general election Nov. 5.