The Buffalo Bean Interviews Matthew Ricchiazzi
The Buffalo Bean is pleased to present the following interview with Matthew Ricchiazzi, who is running for Mayor of Buffalo, NY:
THE BUFFALO BEAN: How is your campaign going so far? What kind of response are you getting?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: My campaign is as grassroots as it gets: it’s me, a few volunteers and a few clipboards. The response we’ve been getting so far has been overwhelming positive when we’ve been going door-to-door. Everyone in Buffalo wants change. They don’t want the region’s political discourse to focused on who in City Hall is most likely to be indicted; they’d much rather have a conversation about how we can create jobs and how we can more aggressively pursue economic development.
I want to build a city where you don’t have to move away to find a decent paying job; where your kids don’t have to move away to realize their full potential—anything short of that is failure. But that requires that we start electing political leaders who know where we’re going and how to get us there. This campaign isn’t about money; it’s not about patronage—which is easy, given that I don’t have money or any political connections. This campaign is about ideas. It’s about an Agenda to Change Buffalo, a roadmap for transformational change that be read at changebuffalo.org.
THE BUFFALO BEAN: How is your signature collecting going? How many have you collected so far?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: I am a registered Republican, so initially I was seeking a Republican nomination for Mayor. I ended up falling a few dozen signatures short to get on that primary ballot, so I’m now pursuing an independent nominating petition, which would make me an unaffiliated candidate and requires 1,500 signatures. I have until August 14, and we’ve been averaging between 110 and 140 signatures per day, depending on how many volunteers I can muster on that particular day. We have a little over 900 right now, so I’m fairly confident we’ll meet the requirement with, perhaps, a few days to spare.
THE BUFFALO BEAN: Is the Buffalo Republican Party helping you at all?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: Oh no, not at all. Clearly, the Party likes to play political games—I suppose that’s their role. They’re going to end up giving the Republican nomination to a Democrat, Mickey Kearns, so that he can remain on the ballot even if he loses his primary. I understand that the Republican Party needs to rebuild itself given the current predicament both in the City and nationally, but giving the nomination to a Democrat is a not-so-subtle attempt to play patronage politics on the part of Republican Party personalities that have essentially been shut out.
I take a very different view. We’re not going to be able to rebuild the Republican Party by becoming (and nominating) Democrats. We’ll rebuild the Party with new blood, new ideas, and a very different tone. We need to run aggressively against the institutionalized systems of patronage that plague our governmental institutions. We are victims of a one-party political machine that continues to run our City into the ground, even after decades of decline and hemorrhaging job losses. Now, more than ever, we need a radical new approach. And the approach shouldn’t be to nominate Democrats in exchange for patronage jobs. We certainly need a new Party Chairman that takes this task seriously. Our City is dying here. We’re in crisis mode, and we don’t have any more time to waste with Party hacks—in either Party.
THE BUFFALO BEAN: You’re a young guy, what makes you think you have the experience to be mayor of Buffalo?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: I’m not running on experience, I’m running on skill sets. I have skill sets that Byron Brown and Mickey Kearns don’t have, and that are absolutely critical if we are going to address Buffalo’s extraordinary challenges in a meaningful way. Now, more than ever, we need an MBA Mayor who is also an urban planner—someone who’s worked in legislative affairs in DC, and as a community organizer in New York.
If we had an MBA Mayor, One Sunset would never have happened. We need a Mayor who can identify viable profit making opportunities and constantly link those opportunities with investors; but that requires a Mayor who can speak the language of structured finance and who is fluent in the analytics of firm decision making. There is a whole realm of economic development that isn’t even being engaged, because we need a Mayor who is sophisticated enough to have those conversations.
If we had a Mayor who was an Urban Planner, the concept of an elevated Route 5 would have been laughed out of the room and out of the realm of possibilities. The Wingate Hotel debacle never would have happened. Our new zoning code would certainly have been written by now. We wouldn’t have forgotten to include bike lanes in our reconstruction of Main Street. The fact that we have a Mayor who is neither an MBA nor an Urban Planner is costing us an extraordinary amount of money, time, and potential. We can’t afford to waste any more time with him.
The funny thing about experience: you can have decades of all the experience that has been killing us, without having any of the skill sets that we need. I admit that I have no experience sending your kids to other states to find work. Mayor Brown, on the other hand, has decades of experience offering mediocre leadership in dysfunctional governments where he has done nothing of consequence (nine years in the common council, three years in the State Senate, three years as Mayor). Mayor Brown has decades of precisely the experience that we can no longer afford. Only in Buffalo can you fail your way up the hierarchy like that.
THE BUFFALO BEAN: It has been four decades since the city of Buffalo has had a Republican mayor. What makes you think you are the candidate to break the trend?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: I’m a very different kind of Republican. I think that we need to make government cheaper, smaller, and more flexible so that we can afford to be responsive, engaged, and catalytic when it comes to job creation and economic development. I’m a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, pragmatic objectivist. I want to understand our problems simply as they are, without the lens of ideological dogma or Party entrenchment. Progress need not be petty or partisan.
I think that my candidacy, and my Agenda to Change Buffalo, is very attractive to constituencies that aren’t typically Republican: students and young people who want a voice and a future in this City; young professionals who want jobs and opportunity; the LGBT community who wants a freer and more tolerant government; progressives who want competent and high quality urban planning; small business owners who crave a sophisticated approach to development; parents who understand that the quality of public education is the civil rights issue of our time; and homeowners who need us to eliminate the property tax’s investment penalty. My Agenda speaks to these constituencies.
THE BUFFALO BEAN: Between your age and your political party, what is the bigger obstacle to overcome?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: That’s hard to say. Certainly, there exists a great deal of ageism that I’ve encountered going door to door. But there is also a great deal of anti-Republicanism, which I certainly understand given the performance of the National Republican Party over the last eight years. I’m a harsh of critic of the National Republican Party, and I think that President Bush squandered so much potential over his eight years as President. We need leaders like Jack Kemp, who was a policy innovator. He didn’t follow polls, he changed opinions through robust and respectful debate, and he articulated a vision for the Party that was forward-thinking, inclusive, diverse, tolerant, and respectful. Where did that caliber of Republican go?
THE BUFFALO BEAN: How is the media treating your candidacy?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: I’m running, in large part, because my generation is absolutely irate that the current and previous generations of Buffalo Niagara’s leadership have squandered my generation’s future here. It pains me to say that we are a failed community—we cannot regenerate ourselves. If you want to find a decent paying job or to realize your full potential, you have to move someplace else. I love this City—like many people of my generation, we think Buffalo is an extraordinary place and we’d love to make our futures here. But we can’t, because a one party political machine has run this City into the ground for decades. My message is simple: don’t squander our future, don’t mitigate our promise or potential, don’t vote for more of the same. Vote for change.
Why the establishment media (aka, the Buffalo News) hasn’t covered my campaign is a mystery to me, but I’m not worried. The Buffalo News’ target demographic is very different than mine. They’re missing the story.
THE BUFFALO BEAN: What, as mayor, would be the top three things on your agenda?
MATTHEW RICCHIAZZI: First, we need to much more aggressively pursue economic development and job creation. We need to hire a professional economic development staff that markets development incentives to the world’s most promising, most innovative, most cutting edge companies, so that we can cultivate the industries of the future here. We need to establish a venture capital fund that the City can use to rapidly capitalize promising start ups in emerging industries. We need an aggressive land banking operation to correct the extraordinary housing disequilibrium in so many of our neighborhoods.
Second, we need to streamline the size and scope of the City government, so that we can dramatically reduce our operational spending in order to reduce the property tax levy in a meaningful way. We need to devolve some service delivery to not-for-profit intermediaries who don’t have the same union obligations that the City is burdened with. We need to implement automated systems throughout the City government to improve labor productivity and reduce our staffing needs. We need to regionalize some functions of municipal government to county-wide or regional entities that can take a more holistic view while eliminating redundant layers of government. And, because it makes sense for tax payers, we need to privatize our public works operations so that we can enjoy greater flexibility and lower fixed costs for those operations.
Third, we to establish a robust intergovernmental affairs operation in both Albany and Washington, where we need permanent offices and full time lobbyists who are constantly pushing for state and federal investment in our transportation and higher education infrastructure, in addition to securing the changes in State law that are required to build a more flexible and more responsive City government.
This interview was conducted via email July 22, 2009.