We were at fund raiser the other night and the discussion turned to the question ďwho is the most influential person in politics in Buffalo?Ē The obvious names were mentioned like Brown, Collins, Casey, Pigeon, Lenihan, but the number one choice hands down was Brian Higgins.
The Congressman from south Buffalo has mastered the art of getting ahead of a popular cause and making it his own. Whether itís the New York Power Authority, Buffalo waterfront or local gas prices, Brian has positioned himself as the instrument of change. If you look at Brianís track record you might decide that Higgins is better at holding a news conference on a topic than fixing it, but he has had some victories.
The cash grab from NYPA a couple years ago has been his master stroke. Higgins bullied the New York Power Authority into allocating a couple million a year to the Buffalo waterfront without any real teeth to his bite, but he got it done. NYPA apparently felt it was easier to quiet Higgins with a few million a year than test his mettle. They are one of the few to take that route.
When Higgins screamed foul on local gas prices he earned headlines for weeks. Looking back, no explanation has ever been given by the Federal Trade Commission on the higher rates, but Higgins accomplished his goal of being the voice of the people.
Higgins has also been a prominent figure at every waterfront announcement, regardless of whether he had anything to do with it. Higgins has brought in some federal funds, but the projects have largely been funded by New York State. Still, Higgins wisely has made himself the face of waterfront development.
Washington insiders may not know Brian Higgins very well, but he has certainly made Buffalo his own. Higgins is almost always front and center when Mayor Byron Brown makes a positive announcement in this town. Thatís because Steve Casey knows Higgins is the hook for white voters and has a very high approval rating.
Higgins reputation for riding in on the white horse to save the day was enhanced by his involvement in Bill Stachowskiís campaign in the fall. After Stachowski found himself trailing in an early poll, it was Brian Higgins who partnered up with him to turn the tide.
Legislator Tim Kennedy is another south Buffalo politician who wisely uses Higgins for clout in any issue facing his district. Kennedy fashions himself as Higginsís mini-me and has plans to ride Brianís coat tails to a higher office.
Nothing is 100% however and Brian Higgins is not a savior to everyone. Chief of Staff Chuck Eaton has inserted himself into several local political fist fights causing ill will. Eaton sees himself as a political force in his own right and has stepped on the toes of other powerful insiders like Casey and Pigeon. For that reason there is a general mis-trust in some circles of Higgins and Eatonís motivations.
At the end of the day, Brian Higgins is the number one dog in local political circles. With a democrat to back him up in the White House, Governor's office and Mayor's office that shouldn't change anytime soon. Some may claim he will never ascend any higher, but the view is not too bad where he stands right now.
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