Burke's Bold (and Bad) Moves Freshman Legislator Turning Heads By Peter Livingston

In December, I awarded Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke the Lenny Award for “Biggest Surprise No One Saw Coming” for his election after a three-way primary and general election. People are taking notice of the surprises that Legislator Burke continues to provide, now that he is in office. That is not necessarily a good thing. Legislator Burke has shown great temerity when it comes to politics, but reckless disregard when it comes to policy.

Burke made a name for himself with his fellow Democrats in the legislature when he traded his vote for Legislator Betty Jean Grant for leader of the Democrat Caucus in exchange for a job for a person of his choosing. While some feel that Burke sold himself short in his first political power play, others were impressed by his refusal to simply respect party wishes and traditions. Certainly, Burke did not owe the party much after it failed to endorse him. However, this early move showed that he is not yet willing to fall in line with the downtown democratic committee.

Time will tell as to whether these moves are just the beginning of Burke’s new found career in politics, or merely an interesting sideshow in South Buffalo’s resurgence in Buffalo politics.

Time is not needed to evaluate Burke’s policy priorities. They show a lack of understanding of county government, a lack of respect for taxpayers and possibly a lack of understanding of the residents of his district.

Further, Burke wants to re-open the way Erie County shares its sales tax with its cities, towns, villages and school districts. I assume that he feels that Buffalo should get more money. The sharing formula is mostly based on population. As such, Buffalo gets the most money. Fair enough. However, all towns get one share of the proceeds. Because of the way the laws are written, Buffalo get three bites at the sales tax apple. Buffalo gets more per capita than any other municipality.

Currently, five legislators represent districts all or partly in the City of Buffalo. Only three of those districts are mostly in the city. There are eleven members in the legislature. Before re-opening the agreement, Burke may want to consider if there is a better chance that re-opening the agreement will result in more money for the City of Buffalo or less. Re-opening the agreement will not end well for Burke’s South Buffalo base.

Finally, at least for my rant, Burke is choosing to ignore the proposals offered by the County Executive, approved by the legislature and contracts signed to begin work on the much needed academic building on the Erie Community College North Campus. I understand that he would like to consolidate ECC downtown. I respect that point of view, although I do not agree with it.

Given Burke’s district, I do find his position odd.

Many ECC students in South Buffalo prefer the ease of commute to the south campus. A large number of ECC students from Cheektowaga feel the same about the north campus. So why then is Burke so insistent on stopping work on the north campus building, subjecting the county to lawsuits for breach of contract and driving even more students to Niagara County Community College?

Simply, it’s not about the students. It’s about the unions. The union workers get more favorable terms for construction that occurs downtown than they do for suburban projects. That means more campaign cash for Burke with which to finance his career in politics. It’s not about students, taxpayers or smart growth. It’s all about special interests.

Perhaps Legislator Burke needs a bit more on the job training before he blossoms into a responsible and well informed legislator. Hopefully, this learning period will not come at the expense of Erie County taxpayers. I chose Burke for a Lenny Award for 2013. I hope to do so again in 2014. However, I truly hope that it is not "Blunder of the Year."

Comment? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I am also known to make nonsensical comments on Twitter @PRLivingston.

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