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Paladino was dreadful for Buffalo’s reputation

Now, more than ever, I think Buffalo needs my help. I’m a self-appointed advocate for Buffalo and have been for years. It’s volunteer work and there is no heavy lifting involved, but I consider it to be essential. The role I play is defensive, since there are so many ill-informed loudmouths who belittle Buffalo because of its shrinking population, its Rust Belt reputation and its weather.

Of course, weather provides the most ammunition for smart-aleck critics, people I’ve encountered wherever I’ve traveled. But there are other issues, too.

A few years ago I had some dealings with an executive who took a high-paying job here with a major employer. A New Yorker, he moved to Buffalo from New Jersey and bragged about how he sold his smaller house there, bought a much bigger and fancier place in East Amherst and had considerable money left over to put in the bank. He should have been happy, right?

Well, what I remember most about this jerk is the day he told me how, as he prepared to depart for Buffalo, his old friends in New Jersey told him he would have no trouble adjusting as long as he had a snow shovel, a Bills cap and a six-pack of beer. "And you know what?" he added. "They were right."

Oh, I remember what I told him in response, but I cannot insert it here. The printable version: You don’t know what you are talking about; you should be happy to have a good job and a big house, and don’t talk that way in my presence again. (The amazing thing is that he continued to give me business opportunities even after that outburst.)

I mention it now in the wake of the ugly gubernatorial campaign. I realize there are many who are proud that a Western New Yorker was the Republican candidate. Though he was rejected elsewhere, Carl Paladino won Erie County.

His campaign was dreadful for Buffalo’s reputation, however, comparable to the Blizzard of ’77. That was more than a generation ago, but its impact is still being felt by anyone who travels or has dealings with businesses that are considering a location for a new operation. Like Rochester, Buffalo has other travails, but that storm did lasting damage.

Paladino’s impact has been different, more devastating than bad weather. This was a real person, who, through an astonishing series of events, was suddenly on the national stage, playing with the big boys. The networks and 24/7 cable news channels quickly assessed him and decided they had better grab him because he provided good theater. They love it when they can find a guest who is argumentative and makes outrageous claims that will make headlines the following morning.

Paladino certainly succeeded in doing that when he threatened to "take out" the Albany correspondent of the New York Post. For those who don’t go to the movies often, that phrase is a synonym for murder, uttered by tough guys like the fictional Tony Soprano. He also identified Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, as a criminal, causing gasps even from a sophisticated audience of New York City business leaders.

Historians who review his campaign will emphasize the bluster, the mistakes he made, the groups he offended, the holes that he dug for himself, the individuals he insulted, the memorable rhetoric he employed. What he was able to accomplish in a few short weeks was to become the living personification of the caricature of the typical Buffalonian that is in the minds of know-nothings all around New York and elsewhere.

Especially in metropolitan New York City, Paladino’s statements had jaw-dropping impact. Some seemed to enjoy the whole series of events. Others were aghast. Paladino’s behavior and bombast did not offer any surprises to those who have followed his career in his home area. He was described as a loose cannon during the campaign, and I’ve heard that description before. Yet he became prosperous as he built a successful business as a landlord and developer, emerging as a benefactor for many non-profit groups. He has always been willing to express his opinions on matters of public concern, even when nobody asked.

Now, in the wake of his snarling campaign, those who live in Buffalo will have to do their best to counteract the view that the Paladino style is typical. The image he created will be difficult to erase.

A Buffalo resident, Dick Hirsch is a frequent contributor to the Opinion page.

11/5/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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