Mike Baggerman

Mayor Brown Delivers State of the City Address

"I am proud to report to you today that the state of our city is strong."

February 15, 2019 - 5:17 pm

BUFFALO (WBEN - Brendan Keany) - Mayor Byron Brown delivered his 13th "State of the City" Address on Friday afternoon in front of approximately 1,900 people at the Buffalo Convention Center.

"I am proud to report to you that the state of our city is strong," said Brown.

The theme of the program was how Buffalonians treat each other during major snow storms and using that same mentality of compassion and helpfulness in other aspects of community living.

"We demonstrated once again a compassion and a capacity to help each other that distinguishes us from other communities - classic Buffalo," he said. "It is imperative that we hold on to that storm-fighter mentality in the year that lies ahead, that we answer the call to make a difference."

During the hour-long speech, Brown touched on numerous topics, but he mainly focused on economic development, public safety and public health.

Hear Brown's full speech below:

Economic Development

A large potion of the speech was dedicated to Buffalo's economic growth, and there were two major announcements made Friday, both surrounding the investments made by Douglas Jemal.

"In our talks about development in the city, and particularly development around One Seneca Tower, [Jemal> made a tremendous offer to the city to advance $10 million so that we could accelerate the car-sharing Main St. project," said Brown.

Jemal was there to speak after the speech, and he explained why the investment was made.

"Streets open - very important," Jemal said. "Like it was when the streets were packed, they were open with cars and that's been closed, and that's been a tremendous impediment to downtown."

As for a timeline, Jemal says there's no time like the present.

"I'm ready, willing and able, I mean we have to meet with the Department of Transportation and obviously go through some engineering stuff, but I'm ready to go," he said. "Why should it be a couple years? We could open it today. What we have to do is open it."

In news from earlier in the day, Jemal purchased the former police headquarters building, and he discussed his reasoning for that investment while speaking at the State of the City Address.

"I believe in a living downtown, and I think that building lends itself to be a great downtown residential building," said Jemal.

Other economic notes of worth:

  • Rene Jones, Chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, bringing 1,000 new tech jobs to the City of Buffalo
  • David Egner, President and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, is helping transform LaSalle Park into the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park through a $100 million gift, which was the largest philanthropic gift to the city in its history
  • Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash and the members of the School Board for their Education Bargain with students and parents that is working to increase graduation rates to a new high of 65% and double the number of schools in good standing

Public Safety

Marijuana legalization has been a major topic of discussion for years, and although it may not take place this year, it doesn't appear New York State is too far away from legalizing recreational use of the drug. Brown spoke on that, and he says he would like to see the stoppage of low-level marijuana possession law enforcement.

"We're concerned about criminalizing people, potentially, ahead of a process that will decriminalize marijuana," said Brown.

Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo was present for the speech, and was asked about the mayor's stance on marijuana and how the police department is working in conjunction with the administration to figure it out.

"We've looked at the numbers over the course of the last few years, and where solely the possession of marijuana, there was less than 200 arrests out of tens of thousands of arrests a year," said Rinaldo. "Of the majority of those arrests, it was based on 311 complaints, so whether it was business owners or homeowners who would call and make a complaint that people were outside of their property smoking marijuana."

He said that people are often charged with marijuana possession if their were other charges involved during the incident. For instance, if someone was caught stealing a car and the police arrested them, the police may also find marijuana on the person, and they would be charged with possession at that time.

"It has not been a priority for the department for the enforcement of simply smoking or possessing marijuana in a public place," he said. "So, as the mayor said, we've met internally and we will continue to meet internally to look at other solutions to addressing this problem."

Other public safety notes of worth:

  • The promotion of the Buffalo Fire Department's first black female to Lieutenant, Shelby Thompson, who joined the force in 2000
  • A $760,000 investment for a new Rescue 1 that will help modernize the Fire Fleet
  • The relocation of the Buffalo Police and Fire Department's headquarters to the Michael J. Dillon Courthouse last year
  • The purchase and deployment of of body cams to police patrol officers

Public Health

Lead pipes have been an issue in Buffalo for a long time, and Brown identified a pair of initiatives that he hopes will help mitigate some of those problems and concerns. The first initiative is Replace Old Lead Lines (ROLL).

"We've secured nearly $1 million in funding, so that when a waterline breaks or fails, it will be fully replaced, leaving no lead behind," said Brown. "This is modeled after a successful Pittsburgh program. This will be our standard practice, but we will need more help."

The other initiative is called the Help Eliminate Lead Pipes (HELP) program, which allows residents to round up their Fall water bill payment in order to contribute to a fund that will assist those dealing with lead pipes.

Other public health notes of worth:

  • A coordinator for the Buffalo Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team has been appointed and will be tasked with improving interaction outcomes for individuals suffering from mental health issues

Hear more from Brown, Jemal, and Rinaldo as they took questions from the media following the event:

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