Jul 5


Political gains for foes of Kensington Expressway project

A slate of progressive challengers won seats on the Erie County Democratic Committee. All support restoring Humboldt Parkway rather than covering a portion of the expressway.
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

Nine newcomers won Democratic Party committee seats in Buffalo in the June 25 primary elections. 

A few of them beat big names in local politics, including former Common Council President Darius Pridgen, Assemblyman Jon Rivera and former state Sen. Marc Panepinto. All of them beat party insiders.

That’s not all they have in common. 

Six of the winners in those races are united by their opposition to the state Department of Transportation’s $1 billion plan to tunnelize a stretch of the Kensington Expressway.

Matt Dearing, Jeff Carballada, Michael Gainer, Taj Richardson, Chris Hawley and Greg Olma — all winners of committee races — instead support an alternative plan for the city-splitting highway advanced by the East Side Parkways Coalition.

The coalition favors removing the highway entirely and restoring Humboldt Parkway, thereby reconnecting Martin Luther King, Jr. Park to Delaware Park, per Frederick Law Olmsted’s plan for an interconnected parks system.

The group formed last summer and quickly uncovered a deep vein of community opposition to the DOT’s plan.

The DOT — always almost concerned with maintaining traffic capacity — wants to keep the highway intact, shunting three-quarters of a mile of it underground. On top they’d build a replica of the old Humboldt Parkway, but it wouldn’t connect the parks. The Kensington would continue to split the city in two. Car exhaust would continue to pollute the neighborhoods through which it runs.

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The DOT’s tunnel has the support of a host of powerful elected officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Rep. Tim Kennedy, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Mayor Byron Brown.

Peoples-Stokes has been especially dismissive of the coalition, basically calling them johnny-come-latelies who don’t speak for the East Side.

(If you’d like to step into the wayback machine, I wrote about this issue 15 years ago. But of course much has changed since then.)

The coalition and its members filed a raft of lawsuits last month seeking to stop the tunnel. 

Another lawsuit challenging the project filed in December failed. The plaintiff in that case — Terry Robinson, who lives on Humboldt Parkway — decided to mount a primary challenge to Peoples-Stokes. The only plank in his platform was removal of the expressway and restoration of the parkway. 

But Peoples-Stokes challenged the validity of Robinson’s nominating petition and the county elections board ruled that he didn’t have enough good signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

If he had, Peoples-Stokes would have had to campaign to get her voters to the polls. Some of those committee races might have turned out differently as a result, as her voters likely would have supported party stalwarts rather than newcomers.

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Instead, there were no primary challenges in the city last week — not for Peoples-Stokes or Rivera or any other incumbent — and the newcomers seeking party committee seats prevailed. 

Party committee members don’t make government policy. Their primary role is to vote for party officers, which they will do in January.

They do have a say in who the party endorses for elected office, however. And now, for the first time, a candidate who opposes the DOT’s $1 billion tunnel, as Robinson did, will find allies within a party dominated by elected officials who support it.

Investigative Post

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