The waning years of the 2010s and the opening weeks of the 2020s have been rife with headlines, editorials, academic articles, lectures, and book titles lamenting a “crisis of democracy”. Among other things, the concerned authors and observers participating in the discourse cite foreign election interference; the global rise of populist authoritarians; the exorbitant financial costs of electoral politics and the attendant subordination of policy to wealth and corporate interests; increasing social and cultural cleavages and polarization; sharply rising inequality; the ongoing erosion of public trust; and a host of other factors as both causes and consequences of the present weakened state of democracy in and beyond the United States.
Not surprisingly, in light of these trends, strengthening democratic institutions and expanding democratic participation are among the highest priorities included in proposals to combat intersecting social, economic, and ecological problems from local gentrification to global climate change. With that in mind, this policy memo highlights two opportunities for the City of Buffalo, New York to answer these urgent calls to deepen democracy. Both opportunities—promoting worker cooperatives and the use of participatory budgeting—have already been experimented with in Buffalo, and have received meaningful resource commitments from the City in the recent past. Earlier progress on those fronts is part of the legacy of former Delaware District Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, who championed both causes through legislation and advocacy. Honoring that legacy means renewing prior commitments to these causes and ensuring that they become lasting fixtures of local governance.