"I’m running for mayor and I need your help" — that phrase is gaining strength. It’s starting to make people think of themselves as part of the civics equation.
"I honestly never thought to ask why until I started reading these articles. Why isn’t my neighborhood better? Why isn’t my garbage picked up? Why isn’t there a beautiful fresh market in my neighborhood? When I was in high school, I lived in a decent neighborhood. After school, we could ride our bikes anywhere, walk anywhere, go to the city market and grab some food and kill some time. I’m only 29. What’s happened to my city in such a short span of time? I started to accept that things had to be this way. That it might be part of growing up and maturing. That maybe you just see things in different ways - ways that your childhood eyes didn’t see things. But now I’m starting to think no, things could be much better, and it’s empowering to discover there are other people having these thoughts, too."
That’s about as average a person as you’ll ever meet. His name is Bobby Daniels. Except for three years living in North Carolina, he’s lived in the Falls his whole life. Graduated from Niagara Falls High School. Probably walked every street in the city growing up. One of those people who seems to know everyone in the city, because he gets out and gets around. He is not the mayor, governor or police chief. And in civics he’s more important than all three combined. He’s a tax-paying parent living in a city he didn’t know he loved until he started thinking more about it.
"We have one of the seven wonders of the world. Why aren’t we more prosperous? Why hasn’t anyone figured out a way to make money in this city, and build something here. Or maybe people have found a way to make money from Niagara Falls, and they’re just taking it out of here. It’s not necessarily that the people in power are crooked, but the system seems crooked, if that makes any sense. Clearly, something just doesn’t add up in the Falls."
"There’s nowhere for kids 12-17 years old to go anymore," he added. "The YMCA is closed. Hanging out in any neighborhood just isn’t done anymore. Two kids who could make it to the NBA have had to move to other school districts just to continue their opportunity to grow."
Wow. That’s the essence of all of us are smarter than any of us. Lots of people talk about the closed factories on Buffalo Avenue and lost jobs. But few people bring it as close to home as Bobby when he talks about two kids with world class talent who can’t develop that talent in the city anymore. At so many levels that’s more important than any corporation. Because it’s society, civics - and under our control.
I asked Bobby if he participated or followed the government process.
"I used to go council meetings. Not all the time, but every so often. It wasn’t that nice. Members of the public yell at the council. And one time I witnessed a council member actually tell a resident to sit down and shut up. That’s not OK. So really, I don’t go anymore."
When the city loses 29-year-old tax-paying parents from the discussion it’s an undeniable metric of decline. The city core is not a group of streets. It’s Bobby Daniels, and others like him.
"I keep reading the state is funding this and the state is funding that. We’re not getting casino money anymore so the state will make up the difference. I’m not a genius or anything, but if the state is giving us so much money what are they getting in return? There are no free handouts. Are they so ready to give the city handouts because they’re taking all the money from the power plant? We don’t get cheap electricity, at least I don’t, so is the state so ready to gives us handouts because they’re already taking our resources? I’m smart enough to know there are no free handouts, ever."
Bobby isn’t the only person questioning the state press releases, he’s just doing it because he wants to know.
"What exactly does a mayor do if the state controls so much?," he said. "And who is asking for this money? Does the state just tell us what we’re going to get and we take it, or is someone actually asking for this state money? Who’s really in charge here?"
Apologies for how this might come across in print. Bobby Daniels was so refreshing to talk to because he had zero attitude in his voice. Maybe because he’s 29 and not 79, but he was literally asking questions out of a desire to know more about civics, not in any way to throw stones. That can’t come across in print as it did in person. I didn’t have any answers to many of the questions. If we could put Bobby Daniels and Bill Feder together simultaneously - now that would be a TV show I’d watch! Honest questions and experienced answers.
"It’s frustrating because there’s always some ‘new’ program being created. Why not put money into already existing programs that do essential work? The LaSalle Educational Club has been around for 50 years and provides scholarships. It’s a difference-maker for kids and their families. But funding keeps getting tougher to come by. Why do we see big money announcements for new projects maybe nobody has asked for when long established community organizations with a track record of helping people seem to get choked out of the process?’
The Civics takeaway: talk to each other. Communication is more important than we realize. Bobby Daniels should be able to ask legitimate questions about how his city works and get legitimate answers that add up. If only so that kids with world-class talent don’t have to leave here to pursue their dreams.
The Civics Project is an organization founded to further the education of the public to their civic responsibilities. For further information or to become involved visit www.thecivicsproject.org. Mr. Christy can be reached via email at email@example.com.