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Town Hall Meeting: The Arts and More

Kudos to Buffalo’s arts community, specifically Marcus Wise of Gallery 464, Dorreen DeBoth of Artspace and their (so-much-more-than-a) landlord, Susan (Frenchy) Cholewa, for doing what no one has managed to do until now – bring together the 2009 mayoral candidates.

What was billed as a Town Hall Meeting and “meet and greet,” with incumbent Mayor Byron Brown and challenger Councilman Mickey Kearns, turned into talk about more issues when the campaigners fielded questions from the crowd. The candidates answered written questions concerning art and culture’s effect on urban revitalization, and then live questions that came from audience members with raised hands.
Much of what the candidates had to say can be seen on Channel 2’s website, and here on Channel 4, but one of the most surprising aspects of the evening came from Independent Party hopeful, Matthew Ricchiazzi, who was not a scheduled speaker, but who was in attendance and more than ready to address the audience. Though he still waits to have his petition signatures validated, Ricchiazzi is a voice that the Democratic candidates might listen to.  He’s fresh, full of ideas, and as he himself said, “I’m pissed off.”  There’s nothing like the exuberant cocktail of youth, anger and brilliance to breed new ideas, and it wasn’t lost on those listening.
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Mayor Brown was in attendance first, with only a half hour to spare before going to a previous commitment scheduled to start at 6:30.  Though Kearns came in late, after getting caught in traffic behind an accident, he was ready for the Q & A portion of the event. 
To Brown’s credit, not only did he stay well beyond, but he fielded questions with the sort of surety and authority that gave one the impression that whatever political engine has been holding the debate part of this campaign off – it wasn’t due to Brown’s personal wishes.  He appeared ready for a match when Councilmember Kearns lobbed the first missile, accusing the mayor of having done little during his tenure.  
This led Brown to counter with a long list of what he has accomplished during his term, after which he passed the accusation back to Kearns.  Issues that were brought up concerned poverty, crime, zoning and planning, with Kearns and Brown holding opposing views right down to the actual numbers.  When Brown suggested to Kearns that he was negative, Kearns countered, “I’m not negative. I’m honest.”
In their closing remarks, Brown asked for another four years in order to continue the headway his administration has made, while Kearns asked for change.  It was a small but exciting preview of the upcoming debate that will be hosted and televised by Channel 2 on September 11th.
After Brown left, Ricchiazzi was asked to speak, at which point Kearns chose to keep going. Kearns received the first real applause of the evening with his statement that Buffalo has no need for a casino, when Ricchiazzi countered that it could well be a good thing (see Channel 4 video).
Afterward, inside Gallery 464 and Artsphere, people had a chance to speak to Kearns and Ricchiazzi more as they sipped wine and sampled hors d’oeurves.  Over and over, the gallery owners were thanked for helping to bring the candidates together in this long-awaited kick off to a real campaign.
Photos courtesy of Max Willig.
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