Jimmy Griffin, RIP

26 May

Since I arrived in Buffalo, Griffin had become something of a shadow of his former self – he served briefly on the common council, tried to recall Masiello, and ran for County Executive. He was certainly an icon and a legend.

Consider this an open thread for you to note one thing about him that you remember most.


26 Responses to “Jimmy Griffin, RIP”

  1. Stan P May 26, 2008 at 8:49 pm #

    No one may remember how the political atmosphere in the city was in 1977. Joe Crangle was the democratic party boss, and people were frustrated, just as today with the entrenched politicians and the lack of a voice of the people. There were no jobs, industry was leaving and the politicians seemed to be sucking us dry (sound familar?)

    I was a 20 year old youngtser in South Buffalo who got caught up in the Jimmymania. I still have a shirt from that first Mayoral Campaign that says “Jimmy Griffin – No Strings Attached”. Some may argue that Jimmy created his own strings, but certainly no one ever told him what to do, and he stood up for his convictions and did not look at the papers, or polls. No interest group or union controlled him.

    If we could get politicians with one iota of his honesty and, to borrow a phrase “straight talk” we would be in much better shape, just in terms of knowing what we are voting for.

    I for one, long for the days when our Mayor would punch someone in the nose for talking down about or giving our city a bad name.

  2. Jon Splett May 26, 2008 at 9:41 pm #

    “Stay inside, grab a six-pack and watch a good football game.”

    Words to live by.

  3. Kevin Pritchard May 26, 2008 at 10:29 pm #

    A quick Jimmy story, not that many people don’t have a similar one…

    I caddied for Mayor Griffin at the Country Club of Buffalo in 1987, when he was a guest. I introduced myself, and he asked me if I was related to Frank Pritchard. I said that was my Father, and he told me how he had met him at an NFIDA (a WNY trade association)meeting “a few years ago” (it had probably been at least five years according to my Dad, and he had met him exactly one time).

    Fast forward to two years later, and I am caddying for Rick Vaive of the Sabres at a guest day at Transit Valley CC. I set the bags down on the 10th tee, where Griffin is standing. He sees me and says “Hey, didn’t you caddy for me once?” I said “Yes, Mr.Mayor, I did.” I then extended my hand and said my name is Kev…, and he said, quicker than I could, “Kevin Pritchard.” Then he asked how my Dad was doing.

    Now granted, my Mom’s family was old first ward, so we had a lot to discuss two years prior, but still…

    That’s why he got elected time and time again.

    Best part is, neither my Dad nor I had at that point ever lived in the City of Buffalo. But he knew that didn’t matter.

    To me, Jimmy Griffin WAS Buffalo, and all of Western New York way back then.

  4. STEEL May 26, 2008 at 10:50 pm #

    He was the first who was not willing to sit around and wait for something to happen. Trouble is there have only been one or two since then with the same attitude.

    That is not to say he used the right methods to get things done.

  5. Starbuck May 27, 2008 at 1:25 am #

    Even though the city had the same problems, it just felt different – like someone was trying his best, as accountable as possible every day without hidden agendas.

    Some things I haven’t seen mentioned much in the coverage –

    Essentially it was all Griffin’s initiative to return baseball to Buffalo. He personally organized an ownership group for $1000 each to buy a double-A team and move it here to the long empty Rockpile, years before Bob Rich took ownership, long before anyone seriously mentioned the idea of a new ball field downtown.

    He’d always stay incredibly open to regular people. Lots of stories of citizens going to City Hall without appointments asking to see him about some problem, and he’d find a few minutes to listen and try to help. Frequently went on radio shows taking calls – many times every year. He always had his home number listed in the phone book, all 16 years. I bet it’s not exaggerating to say Griffin in any month had more citizen interaction than one of his successors would have in a year or longer.

    One of the things I’ll always remember was when an armed man in a house surrounded by police asked for the mayor. It wasn’t anyone Griffin had ever met. He not only went to the scene, but walked into the house then came out with him a little later, and said to the media to not speak ill of the guy – that he was having troubled times and needed help. Monday’s Buffalo News page C12 has a picture of them exiting the house that day.

  6. hank May 27, 2008 at 3:52 am #

    Stay inside, grab a six-pack and watch a good football game.”

    That was Griffin’s reply when the plows hadn’t reached them in days after the blizzard, and at least one car with a dead driver sat in the street.

    The days of Jimmy Griffin remind me that all the lifeguards at Riverside Pool in NW Buffalo were from South Buffalo. Plows always got to the 1st ward first.

    Yeah, What a Guy!

  7. Stan P May 27, 2008 at 7:47 am #


    Get your facts straight. Griffin wasn’t Mayor during the blizzard, Makowski was and was a miserable failure and paved the way for Jimmy’s election. As you said, many people were found frozen after the blizzard in thier cars.

    During the snow incident that Jimmy was quoted, not a single person died. In all seriousness, most people die in a storm becasue they are impatient and feel the need to shovel themselves out(heart attack) or drive somewhere (frozen corpse). Staying home with a six pack is probably the best advice he could have given.

  8. Jamnjazzz May 27, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    How’s these two memories:

    Jimmy used the race card to win his first election as mayor, Arthur Eve was the Democratic nominee, Griffin split that vote with his white, pearly face.

    Anyone remember the pair of cutoff’s his administration had put on the statue of David in Delaware Park??

    Oh yeah, lot’s to be proud of!!!!!

  9. Andrew Kulyk May 27, 2008 at 10:06 am #

    I’ll be the first to hoist a glass at a Bisons game and pay tribute to the Mayor for everything he did to make our downtown ballpark a reality…

    Maybe I’ll celebrate the tribute at one of the Bisons promotion themed nights… No not Irish Festival night… perhaps on N.A.R.A.L. night…. or perhaps on PRIDE night.

  10. Russell May 27, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    Jamn, what are you talking about? Griffin didn’t play the race card just because he ran against and defeat Arthur O. Eve. The person that splits the vote is not the one that wins.

    I’ve never heard anything that attributed the cutoffs on David to the Griffin Administration. I always heard it was a fraternity prank.

  11. Joe Blow May 27, 2008 at 11:00 am #

    Griffin’s people didn’t put pants on the David statue. It was somebody responding the the fact that Griffin DID have a neon “sculpture” featuring dancing penises torn down. It was an attempt to make the point that if the modern-art neon penises needed to be removed, then so did David’s penis.

    Griffin was certainly an enigma. At once a man of the people, who connected with his constituency like no other, but always the most unapologetic master of raw machine politics.

  12. hank May 27, 2008 at 11:17 am #

    Stan P
    I DIDN’T SAY WHICH BLIZZARD. Obviously You assumed 77. I wasn’t referencing that storm. I was in Norfolk when that one hit, and I knew who the mayor was.

    All Griffin did was what Makowski and Sedita did before him.

    And that’s what BB is doing today.

  13. eliz. May 27, 2008 at 11:45 am #

    He called me at home to complain about a Spree piece on heritage tourism where I quoted him as (paraphrasing) scoffing at the thought that people would care about the Sullivan building or ever want to see it. He was civil enough, and pointed out that, regardless, it was under his watch that the building was saved. (Moynihan was the key politician for that rescue op.)

  14. Mr. Pink May 27, 2008 at 1:05 pm #

    With all due respect to JamnJazzz, the white vote was split in the 77 primary between Griffin and the endorsed candidate of Joe Crangle (don’t remember his name, I was in first grade at the time.) That allowed Eve to win the primary. Griffin then crushed him in the general election.

    What I remember most, being a suburban resident, was the excitement of being able to finally vote for Jimmy in 1991 when he ran for County Executive. Gorski easily defeated him, but it was still neat at the time.

  15. CindyK May 27, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    “Consider this an open thread for you to note one thing about him that you remember most.”

    To know him is to love him. For me, you always knew where he stood on issues, and never was he afraid to use his voice, especially when it came to his views on “the snooze”. 😉

    Jimmy Griffin was considered a friend, and he always reminded people that his number’s in the book, and it’s true, he was always just a phone call away. My best memory was having a beer at a legion post talking (non-politically) about South Buffalo.

    Rest in peace Jimmy.

  16. Adam K May 27, 2008 at 1:55 pm #


    What would you consider a change in the statue quo? Because you listed three mayors (Sedita, Griffin, Brown) with three completely different backgrounds (North Buffalo, South Buffalo, Brooklyn), three completely different political organizations backing them (Crangle/ECDC, Crazy people, Grassroots), three different stances on unions (Pro, indifferent, opposed), three different takes on how to change the city (change is bad, build up the waterfront, build anything you can at all), and three different pet constituencies.

    So what’s the same? Is it just the D after their name?

  17. Colin May 27, 2008 at 2:39 pm #

    Remember the time when Jimmy assaulted his wife, er I mean when someone ran into his house and punched his wife in the face?

    Remember the time when Jimmy tried to reclaim the word “gay” for hateful bigots, and insisted that homosexuals should be called “fruits” instead?

    Remember when Jimmy invited the pro-life circus to town?

    Remember when his brother went to jail for corruption?

    Remember the Parks Department scandal, and Bob Delano poisoning Hoyt Lake?

    Remember when Jimmy excused the failure to plow the east side by saying something to the effect of “people there don’t have jobs to go to, anyway?”

    Remember when Jimmy would violently assault people in broad daylight?

    Remember when Buffalo was reeling from deindustrialization, and desperately needed a mayor with the foresight to lead us into the future, and instead we got stuck with a character from the Irish machine politics of the 19th century?

  18. Queen Carlotta May 27, 2008 at 3:46 pm #


    Darling, Byron Brown is from the lovely land of Queens and NOT Brooklyn.

    *hugs and kisses*



    Darling, I don’t understand why there aren’t more people with postings such as yours. Are the people of Buffalo too “fat, drunk and stupid” to recongnize that Jimmy Griffin is one of the top ten unfortunate events that happend to Buffalo?

    *hugs and kisses*

  19. Pat Burke May 27, 2008 at 4:08 pm #

    Jimmy Grffin was my friend. The last time I spoke with him he told me it was my turn. I didn’t share all of his values but his character and frankness is something to be admired. It’s stenge to be shocked when a 78 year old man passes away but if you knew him personally you’d understand the energy and vibrancy he had. Last Fall I saw him running down Abbott Rd. in South Buffalo, he was quick for an old-timer.

  20. steve May 27, 2008 at 5:52 pm #

    The body is barely cold and so many are so quick to whiz on the grave.

    Griffin was an imperfect human being and an imperfect politician. He got some results, he did and said some remarkably stupid things, and he ended his political career as something of a caricature. Something made him electable for a long time, though, and it wasn’t just machine politics. People (some) loved him for many of the reasons stated elsewhere, others (again, some) despised him for his real and perceived faults.

    I figure anyone willing to bitch-slap a certain punk reporter couldn’t have been all bad.

  21. Eez May 27, 2008 at 9:11 pm #

    The body was still warm when Esmonde wrote that smear piece for this morning’s News…retribution for many years of acrimony between Griffin and our one newspaper, I suppose. Griffin, like all mayors that have followed, had the toughest job for almost any mayor in the country. How do you sell Buffalo to outsiders (people and companies) and get them to move here? Talk about a tough sell! I love Buffalo. However, i used to travel for work, and everytime I’d tell someone I was from here, they’d say “Oooh, very old there” or “Does it snow in August?” or “How do you afford the taxes?” Until Albany changes the way it does business, any mayor here will be viewed by the populace as someone who did less than they should.

  22. CindyK May 27, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    Colin, the last perfect man was hung on a cross dying for our sins. 😦 Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I don’t think that’s you!

  23. Colin May 28, 2008 at 8:46 am #

    Cindy (and all) —

    I’m not interested in judging Jimmy Griffin as a man. I don’t care whether he was a good man, or a bad man, or imperfect, or whatever. I’ll leave that to people who knew him better.

    However, I am gonna judge him as a mayor. He acted in my name, and his actions have affected me and everyone else in this city. And as a mayor, he was a nightmare. He was the wrong person at the wrong time, and his narrow-minded and anachronistic ways just fed the perception that Buffalo was being left behind by history.

  24. Dan May 28, 2008 at 10:25 am #

    Jimmy was the greatest, and certainly the last honest politician we have seen. Like Obama, JFK, Reagan, Churchill, etc. etc., he had faults. Big deal. The City had a better atmosphere when he was mayor. I saw him debate at St. Joe’s in 1977 against Don Turchiarelli, Arthur O Eve, Les Foschio and John Phelan. Five people on the stage, and yet it was a one man show.

    He did what he thought was right – from pushing for Pilot Field, building housing, or disassembling the dancing penises. (BTW, Byron and Tony combined did not build as much housing in the city as hizzoner – even if you prorate for the number of years)

    There were some who took issue with his “grab a six-pack and watch a game” remark, but there was wisdom in it. Somehow I think if the interview had occured on NPR and he had suggested decanting a fine cabernet and putting in a Will & Grace DVD, he may have gotten through to his critics.

    There was never a politician that cared less about popularity or press, or who was more willing to tell it like it is. he was a hero to many of the common folk, who felt far removed from their government. I am proudly one of them. I don’t think there is any politician that “represents me” currently who I feel cares anything about what I think or who tryuly represents me. When Jimmy Griffin was Mayor, I may not have agreed with everything he did, but I always felt that he would listen to mine or anyone else’s side (provided that person hadn’t betrayed him in the past).

    Every politician we have here is out for himself (at least all that represent me as a city resident). Some are there due to the divine right of kings, “inheriting” their position from uncles, fathers and grandfathers. Jimmy Griffin was a self made man in every sense of the word. He called his own shots and he rebuilt this city. Was he enough to overcome the burdens of a state that all but crushes free enterprise? No. But imagine a downtown without his tenure…there would be nothing but boarded up dollar stores.

    He will always be “The Mayor” to me.

    May he rest in peace.

  25. Colin May 28, 2008 at 5:55 pm #

    1. I don’t care about the “6 pack” comment. That was harmless and isn’t the reason that anyone had a problem with Griffin. I — along with the rest of the modern world — did have a problem with our mayor making overt racist and homophobic remarks while in office. That isn’t “telling it like it is,” and it’s harmful to the city and its people.

    2. Building subsidized housing in a rapidly shrinking city should hardly be considered an accomplishment. It’s generally a bad idea, and was understood to be at the time by people who weren’t stuck in the 1930s.

    3. How “honest” was Griffin when it came to the Parks Department scandal? Or the time when he punched his wife but claimed that someone else broke into his house and did it?

  26. RaChaCha May 28, 2008 at 7:14 pm #

    I got the impression from reading Mark Goldman’s book City On the Lake that Jimmy’s election was in part a reaction to school desegregation. I have no background to judge that by – does anyone have a perspective on that–?

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