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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
about her fight to just feel respected by our civic leaders.
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.
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.
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.
directed Quality Assurance and Public Relations for POP Radio/Act Media –
another homegrown business that made good nationally.
developed the first in-house TeleResource Department for the Buffalo
Philharmonic achieving, in its first year, a 97% receipt rate on all pledges
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.