As much as it pains me to admit it, the City of Buffalo's vaunted park system, designed by the one and only Frederick Law Olmstead is inferior to the park system in Minneapolis.
Part of the reason for this is the fact that the voters in the City of Minneapolis would not tolerate the kind of underhanded double-dealing and cronyism that is rampant in Western New York politics.
The photo above was taken by me last night at Lake Harriet, which I gain access to by walking through Lyndale Park, about five blocks from my apartment. It's big enough to accommodate both sailors and fishermen, and the city takes steps to make sure that the lakes in their park system remain pristine.
My Buffalo readers are all old enough to remember the Hoyt Lake debacle under Jimmy Griffin's mayoral administration. I'll give my Minneapolis readers the abridged version of those events. A political crony of Mayor Griffin, one Robert Delano, took it upon himself to "punish" Buffalo's city council, who had ordered an unauthorized and illegal concession stand operated by parks workers shut down.
Delano's way of "punishing" the City Council was reported in the Buffalo News on January 13, 1990.
The Buffalo News reported that parks workers said Mr. Delano had ordered them to dump barrels of an anti-icing compound, calcium chloride, on the ice of Delaware Park Lake during the winter of 1987-88 to ruin it for skating after the Buffalo Common Council closed an unauthorized concession stand operated by parks workers.
The lake disclosure brought new demands for Mr. Delano's resignation from public officials, environmentalists and park lovers concerned about the once-polluted lake, which in 1984 underwent a $7.2 million cleanup.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced it would join the F.B.I.'s investigation of the claim that the lake had been deliberately polluted.
Other accusations made by parks workers in the case include complaints:
* That parks employees had been forced to work on the home of Mr. Delano and others with political connections.
* That a quarter-mile-long trench had been dug through the city's Front Park so the Parks Commissioner could enjoy cable television at a city-owned apartment.
* That the Parks Department had bought 11 tons of powdered chlorine, which is used primarily for home swimming pools. Several pool maintenance specialists said the chemical in that form is impractical for municipal pools.
Some who have questioned the policies of the Parks Department, including parks workers, reporters and elected officials, have found windows in their homes and automobiles smashed. Joseph Thompson, a 74-year-old parks laborer who had clashed with Mr. Delano over a softball league, said he had been told to report to a locked building in freezing weather, waiting for assignments that included cleaning toilets, chipping ice and picking up litter along an expressway in the rain.
There have also been news reports that records showed Mr. Delano is not a high school graduate and a Vietnam veteran, as he claimed. His discharge from the Marine Corps in 1958 was under ''other than honorable'' conditions, a discharge record says. Mr. Delano did end up serving a jail sentence due to his actions, however the punishment most certainly did not fit the crime.
This type of behavior would NOT be tolerated by the voters in Minneapolis. While the Olmstead park system in Buffalo has shown improvement in recent years, it is because of the work of the volunteers of the Olmstead Park Conservancy, NOT the Buffalo Parks Department. If a similar situation were to occur in Minneapolis, Mr. Delano and quite possibly Mayor Griffin would find themselves both still sitting in jail, nearly twenty years later.
I often hear Minneapolis residents complaining about how high their taxes are. When I do, I do not hesitate to point out that while their taxes may be high, they actually see what their tax dollars pay for. It's evident in the condition and upkeep of their parks.
In my opinion, Buffalo's Mayor Byron Brown could do wonders for his image by gutting the Parks Department, hiring the people of the Olmstead Parks Conservancy to replace them and sending a team HERE to learn how they get things done.
Wishful thinking, I know.
Byron Brown is not part of the solution. He's the same old way of doing things, just with an African-American face.
NEXT: PART II