As Buffalo Rising readers know from this story, Johnson Park resident and community advocate Marilyn Rodgers is interest in the Ellicott District Buffalo Common Council seat recently vacated by Brian Davis. While a lot of other candidates got a lot of media attention this week, Bethel Baptist Church Reverend Darius Pridgen being top amongst those, Rodgers was passed over for a face-to-face interview with many mainstream news sources. We're ready to fill that gap with a few questions of our own.
BR: Marilyn, Rev. Pridgen, who has done many good things for Buffalo's East Side got attention for walking his application into city hall and then announcing to the press that he would take no money for the council job until he'd walked every street of the district. How many of those streets are you familiar with, and what do you say about the money?
MR: I would have to say that I'm familiar with about 80% of the streets in the Ellicott District. I've worked with many individuals and groups throughout the district on both the West and East Sides and have had the opportunity to enter into discussion with some of our developers and small to mid-sized business owners, as well.
Reverend Pridgen is truly a great pastor and leader to his flock and he's had many successes in his church and on the East Side. I admire him for that. Yes, it's true, he has received a great deal of press before and after his decision and delivery of his packet to City Hall, but I suppose that's the nature of the media beast. Hey, I was on YNN tonight - I'm getting some "face time," as my friend Jolene would call it.
As far as his announcement to take no money and walk every street, well, that's quite a daring commitment, and if he does acquire the appointment, I wish him strength. Me? I'm just an average resident of the district and have to pay my bills, so I would definitely take the paycheck.
However, I will state this strongly - that paycheck will be worth every dollar and more if I am able to work to bring the district together and bring faith and trust to the Ellicott Seat. That's all I can promise - and that's a promise from someone that has fought the good fight throughout the district and other areas of our city for the past decade.
BR: You're a Johnson Park resident, so you live on the West Side and you're within the fringe of the Western business district the Ellicott seat presides over, yet you've already done some reaching across Main Street. Tell us about your recent success in keeping a Mobile Response Unit (MRU) on the East Side.
MR: Back in April of this year I received an anxious phone call from one of the residents living very close to the Medical Campus. This person related a conversation heard by a local corner store that a gang was having some event, whether for initiation or just street-statement, that would be comprised of a murder a night for a week. This person had some basic information including the street name for the possible leader. Now, this is a neighborhood that has to provide information about events such as these in an underground fashion and we operated just like that. We made some calls throughout the area and received more identifying information - friends, family, houses, streets, hang outs, descriptions and other things. The underlying issue, however, was that the Mobile Response Unit (MRU) had been reassigned to another area for quite some time.
So, basically, I made my round of calls and visits to a number of contacts I had and the MRU was back in the area within - I'm trying to remember whether it was hours or a day - but it was quick. I was informed that within five shifts they had made multiple arrests, many with weapons or drugs.
That's what it's all about, Elena. It's nurturing the most natural instinct of survival along with the most challenging levels of humanity - a passion for what is right and good and compassion for so many who live in their neighborhoods that want the same but live in fear. We created a mini-underground in this case. And, we have another one between the Lower West Side and the core area of the East Side, as well. This tunnel, as we sometimes call it, interacts and works well with our most visible advocates - our Housing Court Liaisons and other support activists to them.
BR: You once wrote a story for BR's print edition about "Ms. M" on the East Side. We thought this was an important piece that gave our readers something to think about other than the Elmwood Strip and all the happier stories. Still, it was a happy story. What is the hope a Ms.M supplies to the community?
MR: I think the happiness of that story is Miss M's enduring strength and fortitude and her passion for the way things were in her neighborhood when she was raising her family. God, we need those times back. Just listening to her - she is an inspiration to me - especially when I think my energy has really dropped. All I need to do is think of Miss M.
She talked about the kids, needing to have a place to skip and run just to buy a popsicle and enjoy a summer day. They can't in her neighborhood - and I've met her grandchildren - bright faced, telling Gramma what they did at school and Gramma yelling at them for not looking both ways when they ran to cross the street.
She talked about her fight to just feel respected by our civic leaders.
Every single resident of the district should be able to experience the peace of a good neighborhood - good housing, good maintenance, good sidewalks, good streets, and more than good lighting - so essential. And, of course, good neighbors, even some family on the same street. There's an extreme positive impact when a neighborhood "knits" together. I want to see these folks be able to come above ground in their efforts and connect with others like them. We can surely rebuild the faith that this can be accomplished. And that faith - sorry for the cliche here, but - it really can move mountains.
I'm an organizer, a connector, someone to go to for help or creative solutions like the new lodging house legislation in the City Charter that we launched here in the West Village that has helped not only the neighbors of rooming houses but the tenants, as well.
This is a skill that has sorely been lacking in the aspect of Chapter C, Article 3 Section 3-12 of the City Charter which states that "Every member of the common council shall have the duty" - let me repeat that - "shall have the duty to consider and address in a timely and thorough manner any concerns of the affairs of the city of Buffalo that are communicated to him or her by residents of or visitors to the city of Buffalo."
It's time we used that section effectively and judiciously to effect the change so needed for the Ellicott District. And, to think about it, it really was Miss M that made me so passionate about going for this seat.
BR: You have some pretty unique skills due to your day job as a grant writer. Can you help residents and businesses in the Ellicott District based on this?
MR: Actually, my day job is in property management although certainly not the head honcho by any means. I still write grants and advise some folks that are looking for grant funding but are not at capacity to acquire that funding yet. In fact, I have to call a young man in about a half hour.
As for your question, having a solid background in funding and funding sources is a real plus especially in our economic condition. There are some items that districts need that, if planned properly and in conjunction with community need and development, can acquire funding. It all depends on the need, budget, partners, and capacity. As well, if I am selected, my staff and I will publish a grant guide for community groups and block clubs and train them to really prepare for the local funding possibilities such as the Mayor's Livable Community Grant. Currently, the Board of Block Cubs gives a training on the form and application process, but we can take it a step further and even use Channel 22 to teach them to write a great proposal. This training could translate into other opportunities for regional and national funding such as Kids Gardens, Crime Initiatives and more.
Additionally, aside from what I have become known for, I also have experience in the corporate sector. I traveled for about six years as a National Auction Representative for Remarketing Services of America - originally a homegrown business that remarketed lease-end and repossessed vehicles for major financial services such as Bank of America, Wachovia, First Union and more. There I also performed travel cost and expense evaluation for budget and schedule recommendations, reviewed and also developed market trend information, new client prospecting and other duties while out on the road about three to four days a week from California to Connecticut and everything in between.
I also directed Quality Assurance and Public Relations for POP Radio/Act Media - another homegrown business that made good nationally.
And, I developed the first in-house TeleResource Department for the Buffalo Philharmonic achieving, in its first year, a 97% receipt rate on all pledges made.
But, my most frustrating yet enjoyable jobs were in radio. I was an announcer and Music Director of WBLK in 1982 & '83 and was Operations Director for 107.7 FM until about 1987.
So, getting back to your point - the experience I have in funding, coupled with the corporate re-engineering and development experience I have been fortunate enough to acquire would work well together for various components and needs throughout the district and to share with fellow council members. If anyone would like to see a copy of my resume, I would be glad to provide one.
BR: Most people who know you would call you fair and equitable. Where does your tolerance and "everyman" ideal come from?
MR: I've had a great many experiences in my life - I've been homeless, a single mom trying to make ends meet, experienced 9/11 upfront and personal in Washington, DC and consider these and all other events in my life blessings to have obtained a strong and intimate understanding of. It has allowed me to see things differently, from the forgotten vet with a cockroach crawling on the front of his shirt during a weekly visit to his space in a local rooming house to fear of what shoe will drop next as helicopters crossed the sky in, of all places, Iwo Jima, VA all night long on 9/11.
I love meeting people and listening to them - family stories, their heritage, the ways things were, their dreams and hopes. I learn from them. My traveling days allowed me to experience a wealth of cultures, and instead of going out to the fancy restaurants the auctions would take their clients to, I preferred to get together with the staff for a pizza or a burger at their favorite after work place - I got to be part of their culture for a brief few hours and we were able to work more effectively for our collective clients.
And I can translate those experiences and my belief in compassion that came from them into this - If you attempt to do everything with a good heart, even if it's putting together a deal with other councilpersons, and you keep the focus of the constituents in your mind and heart, it's a win-win situation.
BR: Since this is going to be a council appointment rather than an election by the people, what can you say to the people who need to feel good about this choice, should you be tagged "it"?
MR: I can only promise you my best. I did well in the corporate environment. I work hard and effect change and teach others in the community environment. My zeal for what is right and the venue for its success is unparalleled. I've been successful without tremendous support and with support here and there. With this seat I could continue and be even more effective for all constituents. I just need the opportunity to share and work.
I have not been endorsed by anyone; neither did I seek an endorsement, and I'm happy to have made that decision. Times have changed as well as people's perceptions, which have allowed them to be acutely aware of old school politics and the mess we've gotten into as a result. I'm not gonna play that.
BR: Will you run for Ellicott District seat in the next election no matter what happens with the interim choice?
MR: In a word, yes.
BR welcomes all current Ellicott District Common Council applicants to participate in a similar Q & A with questions that will be tailored specifically for them. Though the final choice for the seat will be a council decision, constituents of the Ellicott District can submit letters of endorsement for their applicant of choice to Gerald Chwalinski, City Clerk, at 1308 City Hall, Buffalo, NY 14202.