Bipartisanship, Buffalo-Style

More places in this country need to be like Western New York.

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Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, speaks at a fundraiser in Amherst, N.Y. on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006. Reynolds, a four-term congressman, is involved in a heated re-election race against Democrat Jack Davis. On Tuesday he denied knowing what his top aide, Kirk Fordham, might have done on behalf of disgraced lawmaker Rep. Mark Foley of Florida in the days before Foley resigned following revelations of sexually explicit messages sent to underage male pages.

Former Rep. Tom Reynolds once made it his business, quite literally, to elect Republicans to Congress. Before he retired, the Buffalo-area lawmaker was chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Reynolds shares that loyalty with local GOP power-player Anthony Gioia, who has raised money for such Republican hot-shots as Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Boehner and George H. W. Bush.

So what are we to take away from the fact that Gioia is hosting a December fundraiser for Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of South Buffalo? And that Reynolds and another former GOP congressman, Jack Quinn, are signing on to the event?

The lesson is that more places in this country need to be like Western New York, where politics (like anywhere else) can get personal, but where standing up for the region means a bit more than party ID.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Gioia, according to the Buffalo News, which broke the story, says he isn't making some cynical calculation here. Higgins, who narrowly won the seat when he was first elected in 2004, is now in a pretty safe place, since the lines drawn by the last redistricting plan are pretty friendly to him. Gioia doesn't need to actually help Higgins; he simply could have stayed out of it and not come to the aid of a GOP challenger. But Gioia wants to help, and it's because he's seen Higgins work for the region on utterly nonpartisan issues, such as the renovation of the waterfront and the protection of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, an important area center. Gioia told the News:

When someone does such a good job, we shouldn't care about the stripe of his party; we should just support him. He is so committed to what is right for Western New York. I couldn't ask for anything more from this guy.

This is not all that atypical of the attitude in that part of the country, where people might identify themselves as Western New Yorkers first, then Bills or Sabres fans, then by what parish they are in and then by political party. And political love can be earned, there. Quinn was a Republican in a heavily Democratic district, but he was well-liked by his constituents, including the labor unions there. Sen. Chuck Schumer is a Democrat, but he's the sort of Democrat that normally makes Buffalonians chafe: he is, after all, from Brooklyn, with all its brashness and New York City-centric attitude. Buffalonians are very sensitive to the idea that "the city" as New Yorkers like to call their big burg, is getting the lion's share of money and attention from both Albany and Washington. But Schumer makes frequent trips to Buffalo; he attends the "Taste of Buffalo" celebration, and when there's a big snowstorm, he's up there with a shovel and demanding federal emergency money. They love Schumer, up there.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Unfortunately, so many races for the Senate and House have been nationalized in the past decade and especially in the last few years. In the 2012 campaigns, Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Orrin Hatch of Utah – along with several House members – got more than 60 percent of their individual contributions from out of state. It's not that there's anything wrong with supporting a candidate one thinks will be a good addition to the mix, but it does take away a good deal of local influence in the races.

And if someone from the "other" party is doing his or her job well for the district, does the R or D after someone's name really matter? Not to Gioia, who told the News:

Let any Republican put up the money to the level I have, and then they can criticize me. I don't need to apologize to anyone for my loyalty to the party. Besides, I'm an American first.

Imagine that.

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