(For Blue Dog, 11 October 2001)

Buffalo Niagara Partnership Goes Defensive

by Bruce Jackson

Perhaps you noticed the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s half-page ad on page B-13 of Sunday’s Buffalo News praising Andrew Rudnick.  Andrew Rudnick is president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, né the Chamber of Commerce. Ostensibly, the ad is a response to a September 26 Buffalo News story that said Rudnick’s contract had been extended by three years and he’d gotten a big raise, in spite of some public disappointment with his performance.

The ad, which is made to look like a letter on Buffalo Niagara Partnership stationery and which is dated the same day as the putatively offending article, was signed by eight men who identified themselves as “Current and Past Chairmen, Buffalo Niagara Partnership or Great Buffalo Development Foundation.” Those individuals are Mark E. Hamister (current BNP chairman), Robert T. Brady, Richard Garman, Reg Newman, Bernard Kennedy, Donald Quinlan, Charlie Mitschow, and Robert G. Wilmers.

The ad is addressed to Jerry Goldberg, editor of the Buffalo News editorial page. This is puzzling. Why address a mock letter in an advertisement responding to a news story to the editorial page editor when, as everyone knows, the editorial page editor has nothing to do with the content of news articles? Why not address the mock letter to the paper’s publisher, Stanford Lipsey, or its editor, Margaret Sullivan? Indeed, why pretend that it’s a letter at all, since it’s obviously a paid advertisement?

The advertisement mostly says that the eight signers think Andrew Rudnick is really swell. “This community needs the capability of this man right here, right now,” the signers say. They don’t point to anything the News said that was wrong. Which is to say, there is no clear, specific reason for them to have written this ostensible letter to Jerry Goldberg or anyone else at the News.

“We know that there are those who have been critical of the agenda of the Partnership over the last decade,” the eight signers write. “We ask the critics to keep in mind that the agenda for the Partnership has been shaped over the years by the Partnership’s Directors, and their Executive Committees that have set its priorities.” Which is to say, Rudnick has great vision but the vision he has isn’t really his, it’s ours, and if you’re going to cavil about what Rudnick is doing or saying, or not doing or not saying, be aware that he’s doing what we’re telling him to do and he’s saying what we’re telling him to say, which is why we’ve paid him all that money and why we just jacked up his takehome pay. But then they flip-flop and say that Rudnick “has become the chief architect in designing the solutions, summarized in the initiative we know as ‘Buffalo Niagara Now.”

So first they say ‘You can’t blame Rudnick because he’s just carrying out our orders,’ and then they say ‘We have to praise Rudnick for telling us what we should do.’ How can anyone argue with people who take two sides of an argument at once? It’s like fencing with a shadow.

The things Rudnick accomplished, the letter says, “were achieved within a community that is often more inclined to be divisive than unified. From our experience, we know that the divisiveness is in the community and Rudnick is not the cause.” That is, any problems around town are your fault and my fault and the fault of everybody we know. Rather than them faulting Rudnick or the Partnership for big dues and small performance, you and I should be looking into the mirror and faulting ourselves for not working and playing well with others.

But it’s not all a wasteland..“We are fortunate to have an enlightened County Executive who is willing to engage in collaboration with the Partnership.” the authors of the letter tell us. Only the county executive? Where’s the mayor? Is he out of favor in the BNP executive suite in Main Place Tower? Why? Tony Masiello has a lock on next month’s election and Joel Giambra’s not running this year. Why this snub of Tony Masiello and gratuitous stroking of Joel Giambra?

Why didn’t these eight powerful white guys write a letter to the editor, the way everybody else does when they feel the News has maligned them or gotten some critical fact wrong? Why did they spend ten or fifteen thousand bucks for a 3 ½ column-wide ad instead? Why would Andrew Rudnick’s long-time patron, Robert Wilmers, and these other executives put their names on this smug and contradictory and patronizing document?

I put those questions to one savvy Buffalo executive. He said, “The ad, in my opinion, isn’t about Rudnick at all. It’s about the Partnership itself. No one would argue that they’re effective. Nobody. Rudnick and the Partnership’s executive committee were on the wrong side of the Peace Bridge affair. They were pushing for construction of a steel twin span and they ignored all of Buffalo’s community concerns in that fight and came out looking self-serving and foolish. They spawned and now control the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, which has spent a good deal of money but produced just about nothing. Their letter to the editor isn’t about the Buffalo News. It’s about themselves. It’s not silly. It’s sad.”