had two pamphlets, one a slick four-color piece replete
with American flags, detailing the groupís reasons for existence.
The second was a program for the eveningís event. On the
back page of this I found the agenda for the evening, which
I found would begin like this:
to the flag
Prayer Ė Rev. Kenneth Munson
the candidates would be introduced, and the organizationís
president would speak, followed by another "closing
Iím not a typical Buffalonian, but I could scarcely believe
my eyes. Sure enough, when things got underway, everybody
stood, faced the flag on the left side of the stage, and
recited the pledge of allegiance. I stood and said nothing,
the same way Iíve been doing since about the fourth grade.
Suddenly I felt like I was back there again.
the real fun started. The white-haired Reverend Munson got
up and leaned way too close to the microphone. His voice
cracked and boomed through the room, sending visible shudders
through the sparse audience. I thought I could handle a
benign "let us work together to save this broke-ass
county" type of prayer, but it was not to be. Instead,
Munson beseeched God to give us "an educational system
which incorporates our moral and spiritual values"óthink
school prayeróand attacked "the culture of death which
was stunned, but I appeared to be the only one. No one on
the stage or in the audience seemed particularly perturbed
by the message, one which clearly echoed the sentiments
of the extreme right wing.
to the grade school feeling I had from the pledge of allegiance,
the MC now implored the audience to read aloud with him
a quote from Thomas Jefferson which was printed on the front
page of both pamphlets, a perfectly sensible paragraph about
how a well-informed populace is the only protection against
bad government. The crowd dutifully read along, in the dull
intonations of a half-interested American history class.
I looked around, nauseous. These people were going to save
Erie County from crony capitalism and corrupt machine politics?
In five minutes, they had changed, in my mind, from fierce
reformers to hapless drones.
candidates were introduced in succession, and each offered
a brief speech about how they were against patronage, taxes,
inefficient government, et cetera. How quickly these words
have lost their meaning and become part of the routine buzzword
lexicon of local politicians. None offered much in the way
of a platform, or even hinted as to what their actual policies
would be if elected. In fact none of them even said which
partyís nomination they would be seeking. This didnít prevent
the crowd from hooting and hollering whenever one would
attack the current status quo of "perks and patronage."
canít evaluate any of the candidates based on their fleeting
statements, but they were almost all well-to-do suburban
businesspeople, and they were obviously chosen with an eye
to electablity: the only black candidate will Challenge
George Holtís seat, while the Buffalo mayoral candidate,
Judy Einach, ran last time on the Green Party ticket. I
wonder what Judy thought of the Reverendís speech.
are Republicans and Democrats," it says on the Primary
Challenge website, "but foremost, we are citizens."
Citizens who open and close their events with a reverend
advocating school prayer and attacking "the culture
had hopes for Primary Challenge, because its stated mission
is a good fight, and addresses a real problem, also detailed
on their website:
are held every two years for the purpose of giving the people
the opportunity to correct these failures by elected representatives,
however because of gerrymandering and the oppressive use
of the Board of Elections as a first line of defense, the
major parties have created a system which denies the citizens
the right to an actual choice.
couldnít have put it better myself. This is the kind of
language which has made Primary Challenge as popular as
it has become. But Iím not buying, because I donít want
some small-government-big-Jesus conservative deciding what
my choice should be. Thatís because Iím not a conservative
Christian or a pro-business Republican. If you are, then
you might be interested in joining Primary Challenge, or
voting for their candidates in your primaries. But if youíre
any kind of Democrat or liberal, youíd be voting for the
far, coverage of the group seems to avoid the issues of
religious politics. The Buffalo News piece on the "Freedom
Rally" contains no mention of the opening and closing
prayers or the pledge of allegiance. Instead, the author
chooses to quote the new candidates as if he is advertising
them, selecting campaign soundbites like "Iím not a
politician" and so on. Nowhere can I find a mention
that Leonard Roberto is a pastor in previous News articles
about the group, or even on the groupís website.
might argue that such information is irrelevant due to the
stated goals of the group, which donít involve any religious
rhetoric. But starting the event out with a message that
could have been penned by Pat Robertson puts the issue front
and center, and it is all too typical for the News
to simply ignore the reality of that in favor of an idealized
presentation which misinforms its readers. I was there.
Anyone who isnít in favor of a religious right agenda knew
they were in the wrong room by the end of that prayer. Primary
Challenge claims a big tent, but apparently itís not big
enough for non-Christians, or even liberal Christians. Frankly,
Iíd rather be ruled over by two-bit mobsters than well-meaning
Christian Coalition members any day. At least Mafiosi know
theyíre doing something wrong when they break the rules.
Religious conservatives think theyíre doing right, because
God said soóand what are rules compared to that?
tried to contact Pastor Roberto, expressing my concerns,
but he never got back to me. Jim Ostrowski was more forthcoming,
but essentially washed his hands of the issue, telling me
he "wasnít in the room" for the prayer, and Iíd
really have to ask Roberto about that. As to his legal work
for the group, Ostrowski said his work as a lawyer had nothing
to do with his work as the head of Free Buffalo, and that
Free Buffalo, which he hopes to turn into a non-profit think
tank, will not endorse specific candidates. But the News
refers to Primary Challenge as Free Buffaloís "sister
organization." So whatís up with that?
Primary Challenge is, as it claims, not a partisan organization,
but one devoted to ensuring a choice in candidates, then
bully for them. But if they want the support of Buffalonians,
who are not, by and large, bible-thumping right-to-life
types, they had better can the sermons and walk it like
they talk it. If corruption and unseating the "political
class" is the message, Pastor, then do what your fellow
Republicans do: stay on message.