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  • Grace Brown

Buffalo no longer junior partner in New York government

In the wake of sexual harassment allegations, former Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped down, clearing the way for former Congresswoman and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul to fill his position. Not only will she be the first female to serve as Governor of New York State, but notably, Hochul is a Western New York native.

Born in Springville N.Y., about 35 miles south of Buffalo, Hochul has strong ties to the area and even made her first public speaking debut at the Erie County fair in Hamburg 52 years ago this past August, as reported by WGRZ News.

Accordingly, she is an admittedly huge Buffalo Bills fan and recently attended the season-opener the past weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers (the score of which need not be recounted). Hochul acknowledges the vital role played by the football team in regional culture as well as economic performance, and has stated it is a priority of hers to preserve this aspect of Western New York life.

Due to the rising popularity of the Buffalo Bills in recent years and the antiquated state of the outdated HighMark Stadium, team owners Terry and Kim Pagula have plans to move the team to a larger stadium with newer facilities. The current blueprint places the construction across the street from the current location in Orchard Park, with tentative plans to open for use by 2027.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown initially advocated for the Bills’ return to a downtown stadium like the original War Memorial Stadium built in 1937, according to ESPN interviews. Though this close-to-city location would mirror that of successful cities such as Boston and Pittsburgh and potentially increase the commerce of local businesses, the ensuing traffic would be absolutely nightmarish to navigate on game days.

Consequently the idea has been put to rest despite offering a super hip spot to go catch games during the season. The threat of moving the stadium to a different city has fleetingly arisen over the price tag of $1.4 billion, which Bills fans struggled to swallow after the announcement from Pegula Sports & Entertainment calling for the construction to be completed by "some sort of public-private partnership."

Their idea of a “partnership” turned out to be a 100% taxpayer funded operation, the prospect of which immediately aroused the anger of all Erie County residents alike, Bills fans or not.

As a Bills fan, Hochul was questioned briefly about the topic at a recent WGRZ interview nine days before taking office as governor of the entire state. She appeared cognizant of the crucial retention of the team as well as tax money, much as other Western New York residents are, stating "I am excited about the opportunity to make sure we structure a deal that's good for the taxpayers as well as make sure the Bills stay here."

Though no more progress reports on the stadium’s construction have leaked out, it is generally agreed that the Bills must remain in the city to preserve the vivacity of Bills Mafia culture and indelible spirit of camaraderie between citizens. Evidence of this bond surfaced in 2020 when Buffalo won the AFC East division for the first time since 1995.

Team paraphernalia decorated city hall from top to bottom and fans rallied despite freezing temperatures and pandemic scares to photograph themselves supporting the Bills from home. The obvious significance of the football team to regional culture makes it a political issue as well as athletic.

That being said, Western New Yorkers are looking to the new governor for more than just football games. Sharing a state with the city causes Buffalo to be consistently overshadowed by the laws of sheer demographic dominance; gubernatorial candidates need only to focus their efforts on New York city to gain the votes needed for electoral success.

Once in office politicians routinely care only for the city with the legislative power to keep them employed, whilst forgetting the other 1,500 some cities in the rest of the state all together. Despite being the second most populous city in the state, Buffalo is rendered politically handicapped except on local issues (such as the construction of the new Bills stadium). As a result of this position, many Buffalonians are ecstatic to have one of their own take a significant role in state leadership.

Like so many other Western New Yorkers, Hochul professes a profound love and dedication to the area. In August interviews, she espoused a belief in the strength of the community and seeks to increase this through economic development: "That comes down to making sure we continue the great economic development progress, that we don't let up on all of those initiatives to bring back communities like the East Side of Buffalo."

Her evident interest in promoting the overlooked portions of Buffalo and surrounding cities through socio-economic care and attention provides hope for the political future of Western New York under her administration.

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