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Updated: Toward a Global City: Buffalo County, New York?

In the original article, it was stated that Taste of Buffalo lost an account due to changing demographics brought about by the lack of regionalistic visions. That statement was not verified, and has been stricken from the article. 


Buffalo’s Al Coppola has been striving to create an atmosphere of discussion about the benefits of regionally governed resources since he first introduced the concept to the Buffalo Common Council in 1995. The Buffalo region has twice the government than the City of Las Vegas, and when there’s that much government, there’s less community voice guiding its direction.

Former State Senator and City Council veteran of 17 years, Al Coppola is a learned realist. “Maybe we can’t do it overnight. It takes an executive decision to install a commission and a process that then evolves.” A former businessman, prize fighter, and always at heart a community’s Councilman, Coppola never lets down his fight.

Back in 2007 I organized a community meeting on the subject and invited Al Coppola to talk with us about the possibilities provided by government regionalism. A gentleman from Columbus came to our meeting and commented “Why don’t you do in Buffalo like we did in Columbus 30 years ago—have the City take over the County, or else have the County take over the City—either way, but merge! Until you do that you’re missing out.”

Senator Coppola cited success stories, such as Columbus, where “Money Magazine now ranks Columbus the 8th best large city in the US, and has emerged as a global city. So is Hamilton, Ontario—both very similar to Buffalo. They each merged, and then they each truly emerged. We could do it here.”

Tom, a plumber from Grand Island, commented at the community meeting: “They’re so stupid, why they don’t just regionalize,” he said, adding “it’s clear as day that chopping off half the political jobs would create a better governmental environment. We’ve got more government oversee here than the City of Las Vegas!”  He added that “it’s pretty sad when your highest employer in the area is government.”

Four others in the crowd chimed in with gusto, confirming Tom’s comments. Then I asked Tom: “So would you vote for it?” He said “Hell no!,” with equal fervor to his contempt at politicians unwilling to give it a go, and said “I live in Grand Island—we’ve got great manageable services—we’re okay—and we don’t need Buffalo’s troubles weighting on our backs.”

Right back to the starting line, I guess.

Still, the more the subject is looked at, the more it makes good sense.

Back in 1995 then Councilman Al Coppola submitted a resolution asking Mayor Masiello to appoint a commission to review the feasibility of consolidating the City of Buffalo and Erie County and to seek to create an atmosphere of discussion about the benefits of regionally governed resources.

The Common Council voted 9 out of 13 to back Coppola’s idea. Then the Mayor vetoed it. Questions abound. Coppola questioned the insanity of multiple bases ordering higher priced services when centralization could mean an annual savings beyond our dreams. “Erie County has less than a million citizens—when I tried to centralize 10 years ago our costs of operation were over one billion—now they’re up to two billion.”

Coppola went on to say “The numbers are staggering. Consider the school board budgets, those of police and fire.” Then he cited the health care plans of each and every town, village, and sector of the county-wide area, saying “Imagine if one central umbrella force were to vie for quotes and management of health insurance alone! Wow, that holds a huge savings right there,” adding that “we would realize in no time the best medical coverage at the lowest rate.”

How would Coppola begin the process of regionalism?  “First,” Coppola said, “assemble the commission, engage every town and village to discuss and reach forward. Second, pick one area—health insurance. Then group concerns over buying power, police and fire resources for acquiring vehicles and other needs. Consolidate, and keep the effort up.”

Coppola asked “Why have two water authorities?” He compares Buffalo to other great areas of greater population doing fine with one water authority. The costs of maintaining two of them are enormous doubling of resources and expenditure.

Sewer infrastructure—the Sewer Authority (Squaw Island) and the County’s sewer authority should be consolidated, Coppola said.

I asked Coppola about chopping political heads and doing the whole thing right, right away. “If the Commission were formed, and took hold, who knows how far or how fast they could attain results. But first start the Commission. Even if goals were set, incremental ones, from an 8-10 year overall plan, we’d be ahead. Start with health insurance, connect the water and sewer authorities, grow from the agreeable and logical basics.” Coppola feels the process approach is best, and would lead to a resolve of regionalism and centralized government.

Wasn’t Joel Giambra trying to do just these exact things a while back? Coppola said “Joel was dictating a fervent direction, likely the right one, but should have instead delegated a broad community consensus. People took great umbrage that he seemed to quickly force-feed the notion, and the enemy forces gathered.”

There’s hardly a case where regionalism, once founded, doesn’t work to the benefit of the region. Some politicos lose heads, yes, and yet multiple redundancies sift like sand toward efficiency and balance.

From 1997, until 2001, the City of Hamilton, Ontario saw its values come together as a fully merged region. Hamilton was able to grasp control of its financial solidity, and gain itself a respect as a strong regional entity, one force, and a global region.

Buffalo deserves to be a global region. Do we want to think of ourselves as such? Bruce Fisher and Joel Giambra had a 2004 plan. Somehow we didn’t listen. Maybe Coppola’s right—Giambra’s plan was too quickly dictated, and maybe it requires a commission of consensus. County Executive Poloncarz could call for a Commission now. So could Mayor Byron Brown. It merely takes an executive decision.

Buffalo and Erie County are at the necessary precipice waiting for an Executive Decision to create a Regional Government Commission to gather a consensus for our future.

The success seen in Hamilton is one that Buffalo and Erie County could equally see. The Brookings Institute and Ontario praises the Hamilton model as pursuing a Top Down amalgamation that created a working regional city.

The forces are just too selfish and myopic in the multi-layered levels of an overblown government system. The approach seems that Coppola’s idea of  a Commission may be the first step. Let’s go from a tired and wearily fiscal “buffalo” to a Global BUFFALO.

If we as a community want to accomplish this, we need to cite those who wish us not to do so and effectively throw the bums out.

Written by Bill Zimmermann

Bill Zimmermann

Bill runs Seven Seas Sailing school, and is a staunch waterfront activist. He is also heavily involved with preserving, maintaining, and promoting the South Buffalo Lighthouse. When Bill first started writing for Buffalo Rising, he wrote an article a day for 365 days - each article coincided with a significant historic event that happened in Buffalo on that same day.

View All Articles by Bill Zimmermann
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