I am already actively proving that I am more than capable of being Buffalo’s Chief Fiscal Officer. So, when a gaggle of men step in to say they, instead, deserve the seat, I feel as if they are saying, “Step aside little lady.” I will not step aside. I am standing up for every woman who has ever been passed over and fighting for the job I am already capably doing daily.
The office of City Comptroller has been the source of some speculation lately, while the office faces an unexpected leadership transition. Mark Schroeder, who has served Buffalo as City Comptroller for the last seven years, resigned Sunday, having received an appointment to serve as the Commissioner of the DMV in Albany.
Following this resignation, the Buffalo Common Council must advertise the vacancy for no less than five days and has a total of ninety days to make a formal appointment. Because of the election cycle, the interim comptroller would then need to earn the confidence of voters for this year’s election cycle.
Vanessa Glushefski, a Certified Public Accountant and an attorney currently serving as Acting City Comptroller, announces her intentions to seek the office today. She has been serving as Deputy Comptroller since the beginning of the year.
“This morning, I hand delivered my letter to the city clerk to let them know that we can maintain a skilled workforce in the Comptroller’s Office under my leadership and direction,” states Glushefski. “Buffalo is currently experiencing a resurgence and skilled leadership is needed to increase our momentum.”
Of the many other names that have been floated since Schroeder’s resignation was announced, Vanessa shared, “It’s exciting to see so many people interested in supporting Buffalo’s financial health. However, an office that requires this level of technical skill, handling issues like audits, investments, and bond issuance should be led by someone who can truly understand its functions. While many of these individuals do excellent work in their current governance roles, none of them have my unique credentials or the skill set that make me an ideal candidate to manage the $1.4 billion budget of our municipal government. Buffalo deserves skilled leadership.”
Vanessa Glushefski is best-known locally for her underdog race for Erie County Comptroller, in which she won the support of about 100,000 voters against a well-known incumbent. She is a Certified Public Accountant with experience in tax accounting and international tax policy research. Also an attorney, she ran a low-cost law clinic for several years before joining Monica P. Wallace as her legislative director. In that role, she reviewed New York State budget documents and made policy recommendations.
Yesterday, I was honored to speak to the GLOW Women March in Batavia, NY. Despite the snow, an enthusiastic crowd of women and supporters joined in for the event. I thought I’d take a moment to share my speech with you.
One summer, during law school, I interned at Neighborhood Legal Services, where we represented people facing eviction and, ultimately, homelessness. Our clients were almost all women, most of them single mothers, living paycheck to paycheck. One woman didn’t have $50 to pay her share of the rent, reminding me of the days when I was a young single mother without fifty dollars to my name. Another woman was facing eviction, because her bus driving job had laid her off for the summer and she had some unexpected car trouble that month.
The reason for these struggles is varied. For instance, the NYC Comptroller’s office recently found that Latina women in the area were paid only 49 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. We know, too, that lack of access to education and work opportunities play a significant role. Furthermore, the UN reports that structural constraints limit the opportunities for rural women to reduce poverty.
One factor, though, that doesn’t get enough mention is the lack of access to safe, affordable childcare. Having childcare can mean the difference between gaining skills and experience needed to enjoy a career, or working a low-wage job with few future prospects. It is the difference between building generational wealth or continuing the cycle of poverty.
Yet for so many women, it is unattainable. Childcare costs more than college tuition in most states, and the WNY Women’s Foundation reports that, even with childcare subsidies provided for some, hundreds more families don’t get the childcare they need, because the funding simply isn’t there.
Even highly skilled women find themselves choosing between their careers and their children. And while I applaud those women who make an informed choice to stay home out of a passion to do so, no one should be sidelined in their career because the cost of child care and absurdly short family leave policies.
That simply isn’t acceptable. If we want to make a more equitable world, we must recognize that childcare and family leave are undeniably economic issues, with serious effects for women and their families.
I want to invite you to dream with me: Dream about a world where the issues that keep women on the sidelines are addressed, not as fringe issues, but as serious issues that affect, not only the net worth of families, and the potential of young children, but the GDP of the entire nation. Not only would there be fewer single mothers facing eviction, or choosing between medication and diapers, but we would be a nation of increased talent, creativity, and productivity.
That is the world we can build! But we can only do that when we stop placing women-centric issues on the backburner. We need to stop pretending that the workforce model developed to support a male workforce during the Industrial Revolution still works today.
But there is hope. Every time we enter the voting booth, we have the chance to push our issues to center stage.
And make no mistake, every single election, whether it’s for dog catcher or for Congress, is a chance to fight for the issues that matter to women and families, by propelling skilled, principled women into leadership.
A government by the people for the people can’t happen without true representation and inclusion. And that’s ours to create locally. So, let’s do it!!
Today, Erie County Legislature Majority Leader, April Baskin, held a press conference calling on Acting Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, to commence an investigation into the death of India Cummings. This comes after the Commission of Corrections reported in July of this year that India’s death was a homicide. It takes a lot of guts to take on an issue like this, and, as someone who has done a fair amount of research and work in the area of prisoners’ rights, I applaud the Majority Leader’s call for justice. Well done, April!
Keep reading for a refresher on the India Cummings case and an analysis of the Commission on Corrections’ report.
When I ran for office last year, one of my platform issues was auditing the Sheriff’s department. I felt this was absolutely critical, as this department faces scrutiny from state and national officials due to its extremely high number of deaths since Sheriff Howard took office. It seemed vital to me that we avoid subjecting members of our population to unacceptable, inhumane treatment. It goes without saying that treating our community members with the proper protocols would also avoid the litigation costs that inevitably occur as a result of such treatment.
The case of India Cummings clearly underscores why this was worth focusing on, and why Erie County’s current Comptroller should strongly consider following through with this recommendation.
The Commission of Corrections issued its final report on the completed investigation of India Cummings’ death this past week. For those that may not know, India Cummings died in February 2016 while in the custody of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department after being brought to the hospital for a medical emergency. The report concluded that her death should be ruled a homicide as she was found to have died of medical neglect of the injuries that ultimately led to her demise. In other words, India’s death was totally preventable.
I read the report, which can be found in this article. It was clear from the moment that the Lackawanna police got the call that India Cummings was exhibiting signs of serious mental distress. According to the report, she was not appropriately evaluated for mental health problems for the entire 16 days that she was in custody, despite clear signs that something was not right. Instead, she was placed in solitary confinement, had the water shut off to her cell, and was left to sit in squalor as she urinated on herself and ripped up her bedding.
You may be wondering what an audit from the Comptroller’s office could have done. A procedural audit could have uncovered what the Commission of Corrections did with one investigation, namely that Sheriff Howard did not have the proper policies to ensure that India Cummings had the care she needed. Indeed, the Sheriff’s office didn’t have the proper policies in place to assess whether a mentally distressed woman should be placed in solitary confinement—such policies are mandated by New York State Corrections law.
The investigation also uncovered that the County’s medical and mental health staff responsible for those in the holding center failed to do their jobs. Again, this is something that may have been uncovered, had the Comptroller’s office conducted a meaningful audit of the sheriff’s policies. Instead of having a system that is regularly audited to ensure compliance with these important policies, we have a system that has caused the death of twenty-four people, with no indication that there will be a review of whether the Sheriff’s office (or Erie County’s medical staff) will comply with the recommendations set forth in the report.
Stephan asked Erie County to elect him to another term as Erie County Comptroller, and they decided to do so. Therefore, I strongly recommend he use his procedural audit power to ensure that the County is employing the proper protocols necessary for law enforcement to appropriately interact with our mentally ill population, so that we can avoid further costs of the County’s failure to do so.