Thursday, January 6, 2011

Out of the mouth of babes

From the 10 January 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

On his day off during the World Juniors hockey tournament, Emerson Etem of Team USA posted the following on Twitter: "Buffalo is a ghost town. The worst city ever!"

Consequently, the young man was ripped apart by residents of the host city. Etem removed the Tweet and apologized profusely.

He really shouldn’t have. His original assessment was correct. Buffalo is a ghost town. As the saying goes, “out of the mouth of babes…”

No doubt Etem’s comment is a thought that many a tournament attendee wanted to share. Most people though, not so young and impetuous, probably left their filters on and didn’t unleash their innermost feelings. And, despite the large number of overly sensitive local residents who got their feathers ruffled over the Tweet, it’s probably a belief that most of them - even the most ardent hometown boosters - share.

Ask yourself, how many of your loved ones have moved out of the state because Buffalo and its surrounding communities are ghost towns? How many times have you pondered doing the same? Those are not the actions and thoughts one might expect for a vibrant, thriving region. Frankly, how can anyone in the right mind drive along the Niagara River corridor and not be turned off by what we are? Only a lunatic would see all of the shuttered factories and grain elevators, expansive brownfields and the social and economic ruins of Buffalo and Niagara Falls and think that we’re doing fine.

Etem was only stating the obvious. So don’t kill the messenger; goodness knows a lot of folks wanted to (figuratively, not literally). His words motivated plenty of people to get fired-up at, maybe even hate, him. He became talk show fodder and the subject of numerous water cooler conversations, not to mention the brunt of trash talk from Buffalo residents attending the games at HSBC Arena.

Get real, people. It’s useless to take it out on a kid. Instead, get mad about the things that really matter, get mad at who and what made this region a ghost town. Think about the ghost towns of the old west. They came about when the gold and silver mines ran dry. Simply put, no opportunity equaled no people. The same thing has happened – and is happening – here. The jobs are gone. The people have left. Many more are leaving. That’s because opportunity just isn’t here, our potential has been taken away.

Numerous factors are responsible for this malaise. Unfathomable school taxes. Excessive property taxes. Mammoth public pension legacy costs. Burdensome electrical rates. Massive amounts of waste from a broken Medicaid system. Huge corporate giveaways that enable the very few at the cost of the many. Hidden taxes and fees in everything we do or buy.

The people and the jobs won’t come back until the common denominator for all of those problems (a completely useless state government) is addressed. For far too long Western New Yorkers have just sat back and taken it, electing the same people and the same principles while never actually clamoring for change.

So, take that emotional energy, that civic pride, that was wasted on young Mr. Etem and spend it wisely on bringing life back to Buffalo. Educate yourself about the issues affecting us. Engage your elected officials. Motivate them – no, force them - to make a better tomorrow for you and your loved ones.

And, while you’re at it, thank Emerson Etem. He’s done everyone a favor by making public the feelings of other teenagers: If a visitor is repulsed by this place as much as he was, what about the youngsters who actually live here? It’s no wonder that they want to leave after college!

It’s time we did something about that. Let’s make Western New York a place where people want to visit and, better yet, live.

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