Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend
April 20-May 4, 2005 Issue #73
 As Seen on T.V.
Hollywood Egomaniac Threatens Beast Over Alleged "Need for Speed"
On The Campaign Trail with The Democrats
by Matt Taibbi
Primary Challenge Raises Secondary Concerns
by Allan Uthman
The Impossible Physics of Thomas Friedman's Brain
by Matt Taibbi
New Representative Jettisons Principles in Record Time
by Paul Fallon
The BEAST Investigates
A Totally Original Idea

by N. Sorrenti
BEAST Story and Clip on Celebrity Justice


Read Controversial List
Cover Page
Buffalo in Briefs
Separated At Birth
Blind Date Scenario
Kino Corner
Audio Files
NEW! Angry Voicemails
[SIC] - Your Letters
Advertiser Index
The Church of Accountability
Primary Challenge Raises Secondary Concerns
By Allan Uthman
I had high hopes, or at least some hope, for Primary Challengeís "Freedom Rally" at the convention center last Friday afternoon. Erie Countyís fiscal fiasco had finally awakened voter outrage, and Primary Challenge was a manifestation of that outrage, an organization devoted to helping outsider candidates jump through the usually prohibitive hoops of election board requirements. The buzz on the group was good; they were supposedly somehow connected with Jim Ostrowskiís Free Buffalo organization, and Ostrowski had represented them gratis only a day earlier as they rightly sued the county Election Commisioners for grossly overcharging for required copies of voter records. Maybe, I thought, these guys were onto something.

At the convention center, smiling volunteers in bright white t-shirts manned signup tables in the lobby; the atmosphere was that of a cult indoctrination ceremony or a Saturn ownersí convention.

Cruise, not affiliated with Primary Challenge, is still a douchebag
I slid through into the main room, which contained about 200 seats, about a quarter of which would be filled for the event. I took a seat and looked at the literature Iíd been handed as I walked in.

I 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:

Pledge to the flag

Opening Prayer Ė Rev. Kenneth Munson

Then the candidates would be introduced, and the organizationís president would speak, followed by another "closing prayer."

Maybe 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.

Then 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 surrounds us."

I 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.

Adding 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.

The 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."

I 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.

"We 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 of death."

I had hopes for Primary Challenge, because its stated mission is a good fight, and addresses a real problem, also detailed on their website:

Elections 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.

I 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 enemy.

So 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.

You 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?

I 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?

If 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.

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