HAMILTON: Niagara’s Minorities Are Amiss About County Jobs

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By: Ken Hamilton

If the so-called black leadership of Niagara Falls’ African-American community doesn’t soon come to the realization that in order to properly and successfully “compete” for county jobs, then no amount of asking white politicians to give them to minorities — over their own white friends and relatives – will ever happen, nor should it.

Last week, representing his Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH), the Niagara Falls’ Word of Life Church’s Pastor Jesse Scott spoke into the near-deaf ears of the bulk of the county legislature on the issue of a resolution offered by 4th District Legislator Democrat Owen Steed.

  While likely NOAH wrote Steed’s resolution, it nonetheless said that it wanted the county to study the issue as to why “minority” hiring is so relatively low compared to “majority” hiring. The words “minority” and “majority” are there in the last sentence because they mean something. It’s political affiliation; or more so, it is a measurement of the sensitivities of the county’s residents. And overall, residents are evidently in general contentment with how the county is being run. We will get back to real minority and majority issues in a moment, but let’s first look at the numbers.

Yes, the estimate of Niagara County’s minority population is about 13%, and at about 7%, African-Americans compose a little more than half that. And it is also true that the county’s workforce is more than 96% white. Could race be the issue as to why relatively few blacks work for the county?

It could be, but let’s first look at a clarifying situation that happened back in 1998 when the Democratic Party primary race for the then-138th Assembly District, that included Niagara Falls, was being run by Francine DelMonte, Michael Johnson, James Joyce and then-Legislator Renae Kimble.  The GOP held firmly the State Senate, but the Assembly was firmly in the hands of the DEMS.

With that in mind, a mostly African-American group called the Niagara Ministerial Council (NMC) chose to endorse African-American Kimble over the more experienced DelMonte, who had long-served as chief of staff for the-then Assemblyman Joseph Pillittere.  When I asked why they chose African-American Kimble, the president of the group hemmed and hawed for a moment and then said, “Well, she is the only one that asked.” 

Even though I was then a Republican, I then asked him if I could bring to their next meeting the three Democrats that they didn’t endorse.

Each of the non-endorsed did well; but to what is germane in this discussion is a statement that DelMonte made that flummoxed some of the preachers. As already being the odds-on favorite to win the primaries – despite the snubbing of the NMC — DelMonte’s mind was already on the general election where she would run against Republican Robert Daly, the son of then-former State Senator and then-current Commissioner of Transportation John Daly. 

Now here is where the words “race”, “minority” and “majority” comes in. I sat in on the NMC interviews of the three non-endorsed when DelMonte made a statement that inconsequentially passed by me. Scott was not on the panel, but could perhaps explain this to Steed today. 

 DelMonte rightfully said, “… why should we send a minority to the Assembly …” Her words appalled some of the ministers who didn’t fully understand the nature of politics, and, obviously, how it plays into race. When I became aware of their concerns, I explained to the ministers who didn’t understand what DelMonte meant, and how it is still germane to race and the limited number of minorities working for the county. 

DelMonte knew and understood that whatever party had the “majority” of members in the Senate or the Assembly controlled the money and the jobs that the members and supporter of supporters of each group would get. It was then-true in Senate with Republicans in the “majority” and Democrats in the “minority”; and it was just as true in the Assembly, with Democrats in the “majority” and Republicans in the “minority.”

So then, what does race have to do with the lack of jobs in county employment?

Well, honestly, there’s enough racial blame on both sides, but only one group has the power, if not the will, to change it – and that responsibility falls on the shoulders of African-Americans.

 Given the fact that Niagara County has a committee form of government, whereas the “majority” caucus are Republicans, those Republicans in the county’s legislature largely pick and chooses who and, yes, what gives and gets the jobs. That true factor alone is enough to be the biggest issue. The best way for the county’s “racial minority” to overcoming that issue is as simple as a checkmark on a Voter Registration Application and campaign contributions that leads to jobs.

So then, much as Kimble did and failed to fully follow-up when she was in and DEMS had the power, is it really necessary to set up county legislative committees to investigate the racial disparity of jobs, especially when the county’s African-American voters are still inextricably married to the party that has none? 

We are not even in the competition!


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