As snow blanketed Western New York Wednesday, so were politicians blanketing the airwaves.
At his “command bunker” in Cheektowaga, County Executive Mark Poloncarz appeared before the cameras with regular updates – clad in the obligatory pullover and ready to grab a snow shovel.
Mayor Byron Brown – in unfamiliar casual garb – informed the media from the Broadway barns, surrounded by payloaders and snow plows in action.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined the fun, too, declaring a state of emergency in a swath of counties through Central and Western New York.
Even County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw allowed the citizenry to sleep sounder that night after issuing a “statement on the blizzard.”
Call it the politics of snow.
It all ranks as an important skill around this part of the world. Political careers are often made or broken on the ability of a chief executive to remove snow from the roads quickly and efficiently. Requirements include ensuring that business functions, traffic moves and safety is maintained.
And the moment any upstate politician takes for granted the politics of snow, it can translate into disaster.
Maybe Stan Makowski understood that better than anyone. If the former mayor of Buffalo were alive today, he might tell you that the politicians of 2014 “get it,” that maintaining even a perception of action and preparation assumes paramount importance in the information age.
But Makowski learned the hard way. As mayor during the Blizzard of ’77, he absorbed the brunt of criticism for the mountain of snow that inundated the city in that winter of all winters.
George Borrelli, the retired political reporter for The Buffalo News whose Politics Column appeared in this space for many years, recalls that Makowski was always considered a competent mayor in many ways, only to be outdone by the politics of snow.
“I don’t care who the mayor was,” Borrelli said a few days ago, “it was such a catastrophic event – really an act of God – that I don’t think any mayor could have done any better.”
But he pointed out that many city residents found themselves trapped in their homes for days, unable to get to work or even the grocery store.
“They made Makowski the target of their anger,” Borrelli observed, so much so that then-Erie County Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle recognized the futility of another campaign for him that year and endorsed Corporation Counsel Les Foschio instead.
But even that caused problems. State Sen. Jim Griffin elevated snow into a key element of his Conservative campaign for mayor – just as voters were still thawing out. Borrelli said Griffin continually linked Foschio to Makowski’s administration in an ultimate application of the politics of snow.
“He became a victim as much as did Makowski,” Borrelli said of Foschio.
Since then, mayors, county executives and governors have learned. And if that means spending money on snow plow armadas and monster piles of road salt – so be it.
It remains ironic, however, that Griffin rode the Blizzard of ’77 into office while his most enduring quote summarized his own snow fighting strategy during the Blizzard of ’85: “Stay inside, grab a six-pack, and watch a good football game.”
The band is getting back together at Gorski for Town Justice Headquarters in Cheektowaga.
The former county executive launched his campaign for the post now held by former Buffalo Detective Dennis Delano on Thursday with a $99 per head party chaired by his brother Jerry, a former Appellate Division justice.
A host of other Gorski Gang names also form his fundraising committee, including Robert Ciesielski, Joseph Cipolla, Frank Clark, Ann Evanko, Robert Fine, Maurice Garner, Sheila Kee, Thomas Kobus, Daniel Kohane, Sam Maislin, Hormoz Mansouri, Frank McGuire, Steven Pigeon, Jim Sorrentino and Paul Tokasz.
Just in case you were wondering.