Current 1st Ward Lackawanna Councilman Abdulsalam K. Noman is facing a strong primary challenge for the coveted Democratic line from two familiar faces in the city – George W. Halsey III, a longtime city resident and former 1st Ward Councilman, and community activist John E. Ingram, who regularly attends Council meetings and frequently weighs in on city issues.
While Halsey and Ingram have argued that there’s been too little progress in the 1st Ward, one of the poorest census tracts in Erie County, Noman, 54, said the district has experienced a steady rise in home values since he took office three years and nine months ago.
Noman also pointed to the ward’s newly paved streets and updated playground equipment. If elected, Noman plans to pursue state and county funding to locate a new splash pad in the ward, he said.
Noman is also optimistic about plans for 48 new single-family homes to be built in the 1st Ward by NRP Group, a Cleveland development company that has been awarded state low-income housing loans and tax credits for the project, which is likely to break ground next spring.
“More than 90 people have already applied for those houses. There’s a great need for those houses,” said Noman, who works as an Arabic translator, teacher’s aide and varsity soccer coach in the Lackawanna City School District.
Halsey said he supported new homes in the 1st Ward, but he objected to the rent-to-own plan for the houses that’s proposed by NRP.
“We don’t need a bunch more renters. We need homeowners,” said Halsey, an analyst with NCO Financial. “This is a rent-to-own project that Buffalo kicked out because it doesn’t make sense.”
The city has grown accustomed to accepting “anything in the name of progress. That’s not progress,” he added. “It’s a scenario designed to take advantage of poor people, and I can’t support that.”
Rent-to-own programs don’t secure a brighter future for low-income families, because they’re usually set up for the participants to fail, he said.
“It is not a success. A success is taking somebody from poverty and putting them into home ownership,” said Halsey, who proposed that the NACA loan program be better promoted in Lackawanna to improve homeownership.
Halsey, who served on the council from 1990 to 1994, also painted a different picture of Noman’s tenure.
“There’s been no progress in the ward in a very long time. We can’t keep waiting and waiting and waiting,” he said.
Halsey, 54, said he would work toward forming a community development corporation for the 1st Ward and seek federal designation as a “choice neighborhood,” allowing for a greater flow of federal funds into housing for the ward.
He also wants to pursue a rehabilitation of the former Lincoln School for use as a community center.
Community activist John E. Ingram, who grew up in Lackawanna and moved back to the city in 2009, has not sought public office before, but he is a familiar face at Council meetings, where he frequently weighs in on city issues.
Ingram, who lives in Lackawanna Municipal Housing’s Glover Gardens, said he supported the NRP project as a way for families in municipal housing to achieve homeownership.
“It’s the first time we have 48 brand new houses that are coming into ward one,” he said.
But Ingram said the Council needs to learn more about its residents’ needs and to advocate for them, particularly on transportation issues.
When the NFTA cut bus service to Lackawanna, Council members should have been pushing harder to restore routes.
Ingram, 56, said he wants to give residents more of a say in the governance process.
“What I would bring is building the community with everybody in mind,” said Ingram, who worked in the hospitality industry in Hilton Head, S.C., for many years and is now semiretired due to a disability. “In ward one most of the time when people get information, it’s when something has already been done.”
Ingram said he would conduct meetings at least four times a year with residents across the ward – something that hasn’t happened in many years.
“I would never want a resident to say he or she was not able to get information about what’s going on in Lackawanna,” he said.
Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans in Lackawanna, so the winner of the primary will be considered a huge frontrunner in the general election. The 1st Ward has a large population of Arab-Americans. Noman was the first Arab-American elected to public office in Lackawanna.
Second Ward Councilwoman Annette Iafallo and Third Ward Councilman Joseph L. Jerge are also seeking re-election. Their names are the only ones on the primary ballots. Iafallo has a spot on both the Democratic and Conservative lines; Jerge is listed on the Conservative ballot.