BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, and it was observed in most parts of Erie County this year, but several locations in the county didn't take part in the holiday.
Erie County Democratic Chair Jeremy Zellner says it's time for all of the municipalities in the county to come on board and observe Juneteenth to the fullest extent.
"What I did is to ask our mayor to properly observe the holiday this past Monday by closing the city," Zellner says.
Zellner says Mayor John White of the City of Tonawanda put a release out explaining the reason to not close the city for Juneteenth.
"He put out a press release on Saturday saying he's been working on this all year and then yesterday said we are going to start to work on this right away," Zellner says.
Zellner, born and raised in the City of Tonawanda, believes this was a missed opportunity by his hometown to be more welcoming and inclusive.
"I was born and raised in the City of Tonawanda my whole life we're not the most diverse city in the world," he says. "So I think it's a critical time to put our best foot forward, and we should've had a plan to properly observe Juneteenth."
Mayor John White of the City of Tonawanda explains why this year's Juneteenth wasn't observed.
"We could've done a better job. I just came in as mayor, and I'm not saying that as an excuse, though. I'm saying that we need to do a better job educating people moving forward, and I will put this in as my first thing for the 2023 contract in negotiation moving forward," Mayor White says. "But it's not just something I would just throw in the table and say hey tomorrow we're dropping it, and we will all be off. It's not the way it should be done."
Mayor White even apologizes, saying this doesn't reflect what the City of Tonawanda is about.
"I'm sorry it happened that way. I apologize to Juneteenth and the city, but it's not what it's meant to be," he says. "I'm sure by their end of it, but that's what happened, and it made us look bad in the city, but we're not. We're good people."