Five-term Rep. Brian Higgins could have looked at 2013 as a difficult year for someone from South Buffalo. Federal redistricting pushed him into communities he had never before represented, even into Niagara County.
The transition has been exceptionally beneficial to his constituents as well as most Western New Yorkers, no matter where they live or their politics of choice.
Before he was elected to Congress, Higgins was an instructor in the history and economics departments at Buffalo State. That’s quite a hike from the Robert Moses Parkway and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, two entities that were not within his congressional district until the first of this year.
Yet he has shown tremendous flexibility in addressing the future of both as he has spread his political wings across a much larger portion of Western New York.
The new 26th Congressional District of New York consists of most or all of the cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and Tonawanda, the towns of Amherst, Cheektowaga, Grand Island, Tonawanda and West Seneca, and some or all of the villages of Depew, Kenmore, Sloan and Williamsville.
Higgins was once a figure somewhat lost in the shadow of the likes of fellow Democrat Rep. Louise Slaughter and a string of Republicans including former Reps. Jack Quinn and Tom Reynolds. Today, he clearly is the most prominent elected official in our region.
It was Higgins who seized the moment by calling Bass Pro’s bluff about building a destination store at the former site of Memorial Auditorium. He gave the sporting goods retailer an ultimatum that would have made Clint Eastwood blush. Bass Pro sulked out of town without ever so much as ordering a box of nails.
He has also stirred the pot in the debate concerning the future of the Buffalo Skyway.
Higgins has long advocated for the removal of the Skyway, according to his official website. He points out that the State Department of Transportation’s own Skyway Management Study puts the cost of maintaining the structure for another 50 years at upwards of $117 million.
“In a September 2012 letter to the Department of Transportation commissioner, Higgins urged a study of alternatives to the Skyway saying, ‘Spending more than $100 million to rebuild the Buffalo Skyway over the next 20 years would be a transportation and land-use policy disaster,’” he said in a press release.
Eagerly extending his political reach to the north, he recently addressed New York State’s potential plans to erase the Robert Moses Parkway from the landscape. He first kicked off an effort to help the City of Niagara Falls reclaim its waterfront in January – his initial month representing anyone in Niagara County – by laying out an argument for the New York Power Authority to fully fund the effort.
“Niagara Falls is a national treasure, drawing millions of visitors each year, yet the Parkway has created a physical and an economic barrier between Niagara Falls and its extraordinary waterfront. The New York Power
Authority, the body responsible for the creation of the parkway and the current owner of its infrastructure, has the responsibility and capacity to fund its removal,” he said last month.
Citing the effects of sequestration in April, Higgins hit home with thousands of Western New Yorkers who have benefited from Roswell Park by stating, “The only failure in research is when you quit or are forced to quit due to lack of funding.” He added that medical research serves the dual outcome of finding more cost effective treatments and reducing health care costs. No one can argue with that.
While the verdict is still out on the best course of action for the Skyway and the Parkway, Higgins has shown a remarkable ability to build consensus and not shy away from big issues that affect the little guy.
The result of redistricting - giving him additional turf to cover - may have been the best thing to happen in terms of our regional future.