Forgotten Buffalo salutes James D. Griffin, tavern owner, railroad engineer, scooper, feisty mayor and political icon, who died at age 78 in 2008
“Stay inside, grab a six-pack and watch a good football game,” The Mayor during the Blizzard of 1985.
Buffalo's Blizzard Mayor at his home in South Buffalo
Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin — feisty, independent and at times irascible. He fought his way through the Korean War, some nasty city politics and perhaps a couple of street brawls. The 56th and longest-serving Buffalo mayor, James D. Griffin was as familiar a figure as the city has ever known. 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 times.”