Opinion: Standing Room Only

by Matt Cole

Read the original article here on Niagara Falls Reporter >

 

I’m 5th generation Niagara Falls. My family has lived here since the city incorporated in the 1800s. But, my work and travels in life have taken me far and wide. I have never been anywhere in the world, in any language, where people did not immediately know Niagara Falls.

When a deeper conversation does develop though – about our once great city – the question is always the same. Always.

“How could that happen? How is that possible?”

That a city with one of the greatest natural resources on Earth, on a major international border, with over 7 million tourists per year, could loose half of its population, become virtually unsafe to live in, financially insolvent, and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy?

How could that happen?

How is that possible?

The short answer – my default – is that a small group of people have profited for decades off of the demise of a city.

The outgoing Administrations did not alone create this problem. But, they damn sure didn’t do anything to fix it either. They came into office 12 years ago with nearly a $7 million a year surplus. I’m not talking about casino money either. I’m talking about the money the city makes conducting its day to day affairs.

Every.

Single.

Penny. Has been squandered. And, we are instead handing the next Administration a multi-million dollar per year deficit.

“The outgoing Administrations did not alone create this problem. But, they damn sure didn’t do anything to fix it either.

We are handing them a sinking ship.

It’s one hell of a mess.

So, what do we do?

One of the people I look up to the most tells me on a regular basis that “everything happens for a reason”. My response is always the same,

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

I’ve been involved in a number of political campaigns. A fact that drives my poor mother completely insane.

Every political season I see the same thing. A bunch of rats – usually with their pockets full – scurrying from a sinking ship.

Red vs blue, black vs white, one religion vs the other… and they’re all just polishing the brass on the Titanic.

The city is dying. We got here because – for decades – corrupt people used the resources of this city purely to secure and maintain their own power. And, while that was happening, good men did nothing.

This is not the doom and gloom you think it is though. This time there is hope.

One guy in this picture isn’t like the others. Truth be told, he’s in this boat on accident. He wasn’t even supposed to be here, right now. Or was he?

Maybe everything happens for a reason.

For 6 months, he has been saying the same thing and shouting it from the rooftops.

Stop. Fighting. Each other.

The ship is sinking.

It doesn’t matter what side you’re on.

It is going to take all of us, from all parties, from all colors, from all faiths, from all neighborhoods and nearby towns to save this city.

These are not my words, I’m just a guy with a pen.

These are the words of Bob Restaino.

I have listened while he has delivered this same message in both black and white communities, in both affluent and poor neighborhoods, to immigrant families and those that have been here 5 generations. His message has not changed.

Unity. We will get out of this mess together. And, I believe he is the one to lead the way.

I’ve been to two of his events, as a guest. Both times they were at the two biggest halls in the city. Both times they were packed wall to wall. Standing room only.

So, I spent time with him and his team to find out why this is.

Unity. We will get out of this mess together.”

The long of the short is he’s a really smart guy. Smart enough to figure us a way out of this mess. But, that’s not the thing of it.

The thing of it is this. The loyalty I’ve seen him receive from the people around him -young and old- is like nothing I’ve experienced before in the political process. Every time I’ve seen the guy, he’s had an army of people with him and they’re all there -by choice- working for free.

Why? What inspires that kind of loyalty?

The more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I have realize this message of unity is real. He’s never wavered on it. Never changed his tune to fit the group he was talking to.

I pushed his team several times to let me buy him lunch to get me some one on one time for my article. In my experience politicians never turn down a free meal. Every time the answer was the same, “he’s out walking door to door”.

Not one to be turned away easily, I finally said “Fine. I’ll work for him for free for the day. I’ll walk with Bob.”

However, this was not the quick ‘show your face in the neighborhood’ that I had expected. Honestly, I’m 20 years younger than him and I went home that night absolutely exhausted, while he went off to another meeting.

I’ve been around plenty of politicians that can really talk. This might be the first time, however, that I walked with one who can really listen. At every door, to every resident, in every neighborhood. He listened.

I’ll say again, his message of unity is real. But I found that being the smartest guy in the room was not the reason for the overwhelming loyalty from his army.

It’s because he’s the hardest working guy in the room. I found that out the hard way.

One – now retired – employee of his perhaps put it best “Working for Bob Restaino is not a free ride. You’ll be expected to work. But, you can plan on him being the first one in and the last one out. He could very well become the greatest Mayor this city has ever had.”

After 30 years of neglect, that’s exactly what this city needs.

Election Day is November 5th. Unity.