Best gadfly: Paul Morgan
Photo by Nancy J. Parisi
As we went to press, Paul Morgan may or may not have been placed (once again) in Facebook jail for his beyond-outspoken musings, usually on national and international politics or controversies, but often on important local issues. Morgan takes no prisoners, but his impassioned, unfiltered rants come from a lifelong commitment to activism and advocacy. If you don’t read him on Facebook, expect to see him at protests addressing issues like gun violence, discrimination, immigrant rights, and more.
Best blogger (independent)
Photo by Stephen Gabris
We already knew that Steve Cichon was an excellent writer, knowledgable historian, and super nice guy, but we did not know how heartfelt, honest, and compelling his writing could be until we read his June 9 post, “A brief memoir in depression and anxiety.” Bravo, Steve, for touching (and probably helping) so many of your readers.
PHOTO BY KC Kratt
When longtime sports columnist Jerry Sullivan was recently shown the door by the Buffalo News, one reason given was that he was bad for business (there was even an online petition calling for his firing). And while it’s true that Sullivan’s commentary about our local teams was often acerbic and even downright skeptical, consider the performance of the teams he had to cover. Fans are by nature an optimistic bunch, but did anyone really expect a real journalist to serve up endless bromides in the face of seemingly endless failure? What Sullivan represented was the vanishing breed of old-school sports reporters who call it as they see it and eschew that “hot take” mentality that’s invaded and cheapened sports journalism. Like commentator Howard Cosell, Jerry spoke his mind and wore his heart on his sleeve. Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, he was always worth reading. And in today’s rapidly evolving world of journalism, that’s become an increasingly rare commodity.
Best reporter (broadcast)
WBFO news team
Awards are a way of life for the men and women who gather news and create stories for WBFO. The station routinely wins multiple honors from the New York State Broadcasters Association, the New York Associated Press, Public Radio News Directors, and other organizations. Our favorite of these awards is Outstanding News Operation. At a time when reporters are beng laid off, local newspapers shut down, and commercial radio becomes more and more devoted to the extremes, WBFO provides consistent, clear-eyed local news. It also maintains special desks for education, the arts, racial equity, and other issues important to Western New Yorkers.
Best reporter (print)
As the reporting staff at the News continues to shrink, Mark Sommer has had to wear an increasing number of hats, but he continues to do his best reporting on preservation efforts and adaptive reuse; in fact, Sommer was the first to report on Spree’s move to its current historic headquarters. But we’ll be reading whatever Sommer bylines; he proves that news reporting and compelling writing need not be mutually exclusive.
Best friend of the arts
With our rich jazz history, there’s always been vibrant local interest in the artform. But absent a local jazz radio station or consistent media coverage, the local jazz community has lacked a center for too long and floundered as a result. Enter Tony Zambito. Returning to the area after a career as a pioneer in digital marketing and customer relationships in Silicon Valley, Zambito—a musician and bandleader himself—set about to fill the void. The result: jazzbuffalo.org. Applying his time and talent, and funding his efforts out-of-pocket, he set about building a professional level email list to publicize area jazz events. Under the jazzbuffalo.org umbrella, he’s produced concerts at a range of venues, including PAUSA, MusicalFare, and, most notably, the out-of-the-gate successful jazz series at the Hotel Henry. The past year has been the best year for live jazz in WNY in decades—due in significant part to Zambito’s efforts—and with a new website and recently established nonprofit status, jazzbuffalo.org promises to usher in even bigger things for jazz in WNY in the coming years.
PHOTO BY KC kratt
Not just one, but three talented curators, each bringing her own unique skills to the group—what could be better than that? Individually, Anna Kaplan, Elisabeth Samuels, and Emily Tucker direct galleries and numerous art events. But together, they are Buffalo’s art-scene Avengers. They forged a partnership with Hotel Henry to create the Corridors Gallery. They showed-up at Trimania, held a Pride Week pop-up for Ryan Arthurs, exhibited Ian de Beer and Craig Sheperd at Big Orbit, featured the Freedom Wall artists at Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, and sponsored a Max Collins Mural project, dovetailing with a Milton Rogovin exhibit. Perhaps most of all, the dynamic trio have endeavored mightily to elevate the commercial status of Buffalo art and artists.
Best arts administrator
Jen Swan, Arts services initiative
In the stressful world of nonprofits, it’s important to have people who remain consistently cheerful, helpful, and competent. Jen Swan is all of these things in an organization that is essential for pulling together WNY’s diverse world of arts organizations.
The “garbage plate kid living in a chicken wing world” continues to enliven the tweetiverse with his funny and often provocative posts. When you read tweets like “His talk of “grooming” makes me vaguely nauseous,” “May the patron saint of online heckling bless you,” and “Wetting Our Beak with Your Water Since 1949,” you just have to click on the entire conversation to see what it’s all about.
Leave it to artist, impresario, and living perpetual motion machine Mickey Thoren Harmon to revisit—er, reboot—the legacy of one of Buffalo’s native sons in the age of social networking. What began as a series of playful sketches morphed into a 2014 book, and in subsequent years into a lively, quirky, and queer (in every sense of the word) daily feed exploring the city’s current-day triumphs, follies, and local celebs. The persona is no more, but—like his namesake—Grovey’s impact is bound to live on.
Best Instagram account
Photo by kc kratt
Visual artist and designer Montague’s fascination with the bold graphics of mid-century paperback book covers has fueled his multilayered conceptual installations in galleries for years; on IG he shares some of his finds (now including vintage LP art as well) with more than 45,000 enthusiastic followers around the world. In the process, he’s assembling a visual chronicle of a bygone era as sharp, clear-eyed, and optimistic as the artifacts he curates.
Roosevelt Tidwell in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Paul Robeson Theatre had an amazing season, scooping up the most Artie Awards—five—of any theater in town, and another could easily have gone to Roosevelt Tidwell III for his stunning performance as the tragic Levee in the first-written of August Wilson’s Century Cycle plays. Wilson isn’t known for his brevity and it’s only the strongest of actors who can parse that wealth of words to take full command of a character borne of unfortunate circumstance, fueled by hot ambition, short-sighted in his methods, and, most of all, unfailingly human. Tidwell’s portrayal was riveting star power, and, as Robeson heads into next season with its third Century Cycle play—King Hedley II—we can only hope that there’s room for Tidwell.
Priscilla Young-Anker in ‘night, Mother
Though both characters in ‘night, Mother have clear objectives—Jessie wants to kill herself, mother Thelma wants to stop her—it’s Thelma who scrambles throughout the play to mine past, present, and future for any means that might prevent tragedy. And in employing that wide range of tactics, Priscilla Young-Anker puts a full range of authentic emotion on display—there’s no faking it when the actors are so close, the audience can smell the candy they’re eating. It’s a tour-de-force role and Young-Anker was fully up to it, giving us disbelief, hope, fear, anger, terror, helplessness, resignation, and abject grief as if we’d never seen them before.
Verneice Turner in Skeleton Crew
It’s a rare treat to see Verneice Turner on stage. Her last major role may have been From the Mississippi Delta at Road Less Traveled in 2012, and viewers of both will recognize the quiet dignity that Turner brings to any role. It particularly served her in Skeleton Crew, where she played Faye, a homeless employee who needs just one more month on the job at a failing factory to lock in her thirty-year pension—and suffers a crisis of morality in trying to make that happen. Turner’s brand of wisdom and warmth made every moment she was on stage compelling as she anchored this production in humanity and truth.
Best character performance
Eric Rawski in Cinderella
The Cinderella story is so well-known that attempts to make the material fresh are not just welcome but applauded. And nobody got more applause at New Phoenix’s version of the fairy tale than Eric Rawski in the role of the evil stepmother. To say that having the stepmother and stepsisters played by men in drag is all the show needed to liven it up is to completely discount Rawski’s theatrical and comedic chops in making the stepmother the sassy, snarky star of the show. From cutting the rug to cutting one-liners, Rawski kept the audience howling until there was no doubt: this was not their childhood Cinderella.
Best movie theater
Dipson Amherst Theatre
3500 Main St., Buffalo; amherst.834-7655 or dipsontheatres.com
It is the home of Buffalo Film Seminars, the beloved screening/discussion series hosted by Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson. It regularly simulcasts ballet and opera productions, as well important indie releases. And it has comfortable seats and great popcorn. Sign up for the Dipson newsletter to get early word on new films, upcoming simulcasts, and more.
Best activist group
Showing Up for Racial Justice Buffalo
In the wake of Trump’s election, several local branches of nationally known liberal activist groups have formed. None have been more in the public eye than Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). The group has more than 1500 members, and has put itself in harm’s way to fight for social justice in the city of Buffalo. Over the past eighteen months, SURJ members have been arrested and/or detained while protesting events from President Trump’s fundraising to Carl Paladino holding a position on the Buffalo School Board. The group single-handedly shut down a school board meeting in February of 2017, which played a large role in Paladino’s eventual dismissal from the Board. SURJ Buffalo meets monthly and continues to attract new members for its organized events.
Best sports news
THE BILLS END THEIR SEVENTEEN YEAR PLAY-OFF DROUGHT
Seriously. Did you think it could possibly be anything else?
Favorite local sports team
UB BULLS MEN's AND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
Compared to the heydays of local basketball when the Little Four could pack the Aud and the Buffalo Braves (now the LA Clippers) were making NBA playoff runs, the interest in local basketball in sports-centric Buffalo has waned on the surface in recent years. But under the respective leadership of coaches Nate Oates and Felisha Legette-Jack, the UB Bulls men’s and women’s basketball teams made significant runs into their respective NCAA tourneys. As the basketball season unfolded, local hoops fans stepped away from their television screens and flocked to Alumni Arena in growing numbers, ultimately rewarded for their support by the men’s MAC championship and stunning March Madness road upset of Arizona and the women’s run right into the Sweet Sixteen. Expectations are high that the teams will pick up right where they left off (as of this writing, the men’s team is ranked in the top twenty-five in some preseason polls) and further move college basketball back to the forefront of the local sports scene.
Scandal of the year
Buffalo Billion Trials
The Buffalo Billion may not have yet created the jobs the initiative promised (unless you’re a lawyer), but it has been a wellspring for scandal. It all started with “ziti”—the term immortalized in The Sopranos for under-the-table pay-offs—exchanging hands, leading to the conviction on bribery charges of a former top aide to Governor Cuomo. More recently, Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli went to trial as a co-defendant in an alleged scheme to rig bids for $500 million (now that’s a lot of ziti) in construction contracts. One charge has been dropped, but this probably won’t be the last of Buffalo Billion scandals, especially if the Solar City location ends up as the next Super Flea as some skeptics have predicted.
Meanwhile to the north, the fate of the historic Frontier House on Center Street has embroiled the VIllage of Lewiston. Long-rumored to harbor the ghost of a murdered Freemason who threatened to reveal secrets, the long-vacant landmark last was home to a McDonald’s that closed in 2004. A recent proposal for Lewiston to purchase the property set off a firestorm of debate, with Anne C. Welch, a vocal opponent of the deal, winning the recent mayoral race by a mere four votes (yes, every vote does count). While the outcome of the controversy has yet to be decided, one wonders if the ghost stashed away a horde of Big Macs while he had the chance or submitted an absentee ballot.
Best local politician
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz
Mario Cuomo once said, “We campaign in poetry and govern in prose.” No doubt Mark Poloncarz has poetry in his soul, but, as Erie County Executive, he governs in a style that makes the assembly instructions on a box of Legos seem like William Butler Yates. This is an excellent quality in a time when it seems as though most politics is an arm-waving, spittle-flecked, screaming match. Poloncarz runs the county government in an efficient, civil manner. It shouldn’t be high praise to say that a governmental official does his job, but it is, and Poloncarz does.
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