Monday, June 24, 2024

White House adviser highlights impact of federal dollars while touring Buffalo infrastructure projects

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A Buffalo-born White House senior adviser came back home to Western New York Tuesday to tour some of the city’s major infrastructure projects like Cars Sharing Main Street and see the Kensington Expressway that is slated to be partially covered in a visit that highlighted the impact of the Biden administration’s investment of federal dollars in cities like Buffalo.

Thomas Perez, assistant to the president and director of White House intergovernmental affairs, walked along Main Street in downtown Buffalo with Mayor Byron W. Brown and Buffalo architect Steven Carmina, observing not only the street and track work to restore car traffic alongside the Metro Rail trains but also the redevelopment of many prominent buildings that Perez recalled from his days growing up.

“We are very fortunate to have Tom Perez, senior adviser to President Biden, with us today, to look at a number of projects in the city of Buffalo that have been built out with federal funds, and to see the difference that these federal resources have made in our community,” Brown said.

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Buffalo architect Steve Carmina speaks about changes along Main Street in downtown Buffalo, as Tom Perez listens, during a walking tour with Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Brown and Perez touted more than $300 million in infrastructure spending that is coming to all parts of Buffalo, with significant investments in the oft-neglected East Side.

That will include $25 million in streetscape work for Jefferson Avenue, as well as similar spending for Bailey Avenue and other thoroughfares. And it includes support for the Black Achievers Museum, the new Buffalo Urban League headquarters, and a new health and wellness center planned for Jefferson Avenue by Dr. Greg Daniel.

“No area of our city will be left behind,” Brown said.

Perez and Brown also stopped at the edge of MLK Jr. Park, at the corner of Best Street and West Parade Avenue, to see where the Kensington cuts through the African American East Side neighborhood.

That’s where the $1 billion project would begin to restore the grand Humboldt Parkway by burying the highway in a three-quarters-of-a-mile-long tunnel, under a broad swath of new landscaping, trees and cut-throughs to reconnect the community.

Halton-Pope, Perez and Brown at Kensington

Common Councilmember Leah Halton-Pope and Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown stand on either side of White House Senior Adviser and Buffalo native Tom Perez next to the Kensington Expressway, as Perez addresses federal infrastructure spending for projects such as the $1 billion initiative to restore Humboldt Parkway by covering a portion of the highway.

“This project is a really important part of reconnecting communities,” said Perez, who also visited Syracuse earlier in the day. “The story of urban renewal in the early ’60s is an all-too frequently told story of dividing communities, whether it was here in Buffalo or in Syracuse.”

Some members of the community have continued to question the Kensington plan, saying it’s insufficient or would increase pollution from car exhaust fumes at either end of the tunnel. But Perez voiced support for the project.

“We’re going to be able to address all those issues,” he said.

“The reviews have been done and they’ve been comprehensive, and I would argue they’ve been very, very inclusive,” he said. “We’ll continue to listen. I really think this is a project that we’ll look back on with pride, because reconnecting communities is about reconnecting opportunity. That’s what it’s all about.”

Finally, he visited the 5/14 memorial under construction in the parking lot of the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue, where 10 people were killed almost exactly two years ago in a racist shooting that captured national attention.

His visit came four days after a 14-year-old girl was killed and five teenage boys were wounded near East Ferry Street, and a week after four police officers from different agencies were shot and killed serving a warrant in Charlotte, N.C.

Tom Perez paying tribute at Tops memorial

White House Senior Adviser and Buffalo native Tom Perez speaks to Tops Markets Public Relations Manager Kathy Sautter as he visited the Tops memorial to the May 14, 2022, shooting, with Mayor Byron Brown and Common Councilmember Zeneta Everhart.

“To experience yet another shooting near where the massacre took place just breaks my heart, and I know it breaks the president’s heart,” Perez said. “He has a vivid memory of coming to Buffalo after that shooting to console the families. That consoling is happening all too frequently.”

That’s why Biden is still pushing for gun-control legislation, he said, as he ridiculed Tennessee lawmakers for responding to a school shooting there by authorizing teachers to carry weapons. 

“We’ve got to continue our efforts to eliminate the scourge of gun violence,” he said later, during a roundtable discussion at the Beverly Gray Center on East Utica Street, a block from Tops. “I am a person of faith, but I am sick and tired of people offering thoughts and prayers and nothing else.”

Reach Jonathan D. Epstein at (716) 849-4478 or

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