2008-05-27 08:31:03 UTC
<Note: I suppose there has been a more corrupt, miserable bastard who
served as mayor somewhere in the United States, but I can't think of whom
that might be at the moment.>
James D. Griffin, Feisty Mayor and Political Icon, Dies at 78
Four Terms In Office Were Record For City
FROM: The Buffalo News ~
By Karen Brady and Robert J. McCarthy
Jimmy Griffin - feisty, independent and at times irascible -
finally succumbed in a fight he could not win.
The former mayor, who fought his way through the Korean
War, some nasty city politics and perhaps a couple of street
brawls, died Sunday at Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park,
about a month shy of his 79th birthday.
The 56th and longest-serving Buffalo mayor, James D.
Griffin was as familiar a figure as the city has ever known.
"You don't have to be a genius to be a mayor - or anything
else," he once said, describing himself as "honest and
"I like to think I have a sense of humor - and common sense."
Griffin was elected to four terms as mayor and was given credit
for a resurgence in downtown Buffalo and its waterfront,
especially in the early years of his administration.
Buffalo's Griffin era began Jan. 1, 1978.
"The city was $19 million in debt; the waterfront a wilderness;
downtown deserted; neighborhoods were deteriorating and
residents were leaving; and business and industry had no
confidence in our city," Griffin later recalled.
For 16 years, love him or not, Griffin gave all his efforts to
Buffalo - eradicating the debt and seeing the Buffalo Hilton
(now the Adam's Mark), townhouses and office buildings,
including a new headquarters for Western New York Public
Broadcasting, spring up by the waterfront.
Downtown and the Theater District got the Hyatt Regency,
an eight-screen General Cinema in the Market Arcade, TGI
Friday's and a Rotary Ice Rink - not to mention three bank
office buildings at Fountain Plaza.
Shea's Buffalo was restored. Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park
was cleaned up. New parking ramps and walkways were
built, as were the HSBC Bank Atrium, City Center and the
Elm-Oak high-tech corridor.
A new City Mission and Cornerstone Manor were built.
But the crowning glory was undoubtedly Pilot Field, now
Dunn Tire Park.
Griffin not only rallied community leaders to bring
professional baseball back to Buffalo in 1979, but he
spearheaded construction of downtown's baseball stadium,
one of the finest in the nation.
At the Bisons' season finale in 1993, the baseball club and
its owners, the Rich family, presented Griffin a crystal
buffalo in appreciation for his continuing support.
"This job is a great job," Griffin said earlier that year -
when he decided not to seek a fifth term after polls reported
he would lose badly.
"We are able to help people. We help build homes, create
jobs in the private sector, fill jobs, both permanent and
seasonal, in city government , and also provide summer
work for thousands of kids  so they can earn money for
school and clothes and have a few bucks for some fun
A record in dispute
Griffin also took risks. He went after federal and state funding
with a vengeance. He fought for Buffalo at every turn. But
some critics say his mayoralty produced more failures than
Crime went up. The city's population continued to decline.
Several downtown department stores closed their doors.
Many accused Griffin of under-funding the city's public
schools - while the mayor's own children attended Catholic
schools. The Police Department was politicized, promotions
often depending on whether the individuals were Griffin
Two thousand homes were built and many neighborhood
business districts revitalized, but the East Side
neighborhoods, with notable exceptions, were largely
neglected. There were few minority employees in key city
Taxes were raised an average of only 3.6 percent a year, and
the city's work force was slashed by more than 1,000
employees - leaving, many felt, too few workers to get the
job done right.
And the Griffin administration was not without scandal.
Griffin's parks commissioner, Robert Delano, was jailed after
an FBI investigation of the Parks Department brought five
convictions. The mayor's brother Thomas was convicted of
tax fraud and jailed in Florida.
David May was an assistant city registrar during the Griffin
administration when as much as $746,000 in public funds
Three years after Griffin left office, the federal Department
of Housing and Urban Development asked the city to return
a $400,000 block grant made, despite significant irregularities
in processing, during the Griffin era to a developer for a
project that was never completed.
"Griffin's record is like a long shadow," News columnist
and former political reporter George Borrelli wrote in 1997.
"Try as he may, he just can't run away from it."
Longtime Griffin supporter and close friend
Ronald J. Anthony begged to differ:
"Mayor Griffin always ran on his record, and he won on
his record. Victories in 1977, 1981, 1985 and 1989 proved
that those who count the most, the voters, liked that record,"
Anthony said. "In my eyes, and in the eyes of countless
Western New Yorkers, there will always be only one mayor
- Jim Griffin."
James Donald Griffin was born and grew up in South
Buffalo's Old First Ward in 1929. The Irish conclave both
shaped his thinking and held his heart for life.
That is where as a boy in the Depression era he hauled
potatoes from the old Elk Street Market; where he attended
St. Brigid's Elementary School; and where he first
campaigned for public office in the 1950s, building a loyal
Griffin, whose paternal grandfather hailed from Ireland's
County Clare, dropped out of high school to work in feed
mills and grain elevators on the city's waterfront - but
soon returned, graduating from Our Lady of Victory High
School in Lackawanna in 1948.
He saw action in Korea as a paratrooper and Ranger in the
Army during the Korean War, completing his military
service as a first lieutenant. He received an associate's
degree in metallurgical technology from the Erie County
Technical Institute, now Erie Community College, in 1958.
He was an engineer on the Buffalo Creek Railroad; a
co-partner in the Duffy-Griffin Insurance business; and
owner-operator of Hagen's Tavern for five years before
making his first successful bid for public office, in the early
Griffin served as a Buffalo Common Council member,
representing the Ellicott District, from Jan. 1, 1962, to Dec. 31,
1965. He was a state senator for 11 years before running for
mayor in 1977, on the Conservative line.
He won - the first to do so on the Conservative line alone.
As mayor, Griffin's idols were Harry S. Truman and
Abraham Lincoln. His favorite TV show was "Cheers."
His home number was always listed in the Buffalo phone
When the Blizzard of '85 struck, he told people to grab a
six-pack and stay indoors.
An anti-abortion poster hung in his mayoral office. He
welcomed Randall Terry's Operation Rescue to Buffalo in
1992. He openly ridiculed lesbians and gays, calling them
He was a scrapper. He came out fighting when Buffalo artist
Billie Lawless' neon sculpture "Green Lightning" went up on
Urban Renewal Agency land off the Elm-Oak Arterial in 1984.
The mayor had the sculpture, which was clearly phallic,
dismantled five days after it was unveiled.
And Griffin also fought with his fists - including a
celebrated run-in reported by former Erie County Parks
Commissioner Joseph X. Martin, who said the mayor
sucker-punched him after he said hello outside the
downtown ballpark in 1988.
He also harbored a few longtime grudges, including one
against The Buffalo News and its reporters.
"When I don't like people, they know it!" he said.
Kept re-entering politics
Even after serving four terms as mayor, Griffin re-entered
politics on several occasions. He ran again for mayor in
1997, for the Assembly in 1998 and for one more
successful effort for the South District seat in the Council
He even ran for president against Bill Clinton in New
Hampshire's 1996 Democratic primary.
Griffin spent his last years opposing the city's garbage tax,
playing handball, writing a column for the Metro Community
News - and playing golf all over Buffalo and nearby
Canada with family and friends.
And in 2007, he fired up his campaign organization one last
time to run for county executive, garnering 22 percent of
the Democratic primary vote.
One of the most colorful political figures in the city's
history, Griffin in 1968 married Margaret McMahon, whom
he fondly called "Margie."
The couple had three children - Maureen, Megan and
Thomas. They lived on Dorrance Avenue, at the South
Griffin also owned a condominium in North Miami Beach
and a cottage in Crystal Beach, Ont.
A longtime member of St. Martin Catholic Church, he was
honored as an Outstanding Citizen by The News in the early 1980s.
Survivors besides his wife and three children include brothers
Thomas and Joseph, and a sister, Donna Gasuik.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 1:30 p. m.
Thursday in Our Lady of Victory Basilica, Ridge Road and
South Park Avenue, Lackawanna. Burial will be in Holy
Cross Cemetery, Lackawanna.
 City government jobs either went to somebody named Griffin ... or to
someone who was blowing someone named Griffin.
 *White* kids.
 He was very fond of referring to Black people as 'niggers.' He thought
the best approach to urban renewal ... was to let Buffalo's Black population
kill each other.
 He never passed on the chance to call homosexuals "faggots," "queers,"
"dykes" or "lesbos." He once commented to Erie (PA) mayor Lou Tullio that
AIDS was one of "God's miracles."