ADVERTISEMENT

The Buffalo Bills made a pivotal move in Western New York’s favor in the appointment of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to the New Stadium Working Group.

Schumer’s presence on the 21-member panel works in huge favor of keeping the team right here. He is not only a U.S. senator, but he is one of the most powerful U.S. senators. Schumer has long been an influential presence in terms of keeping the Bills in Buffalo. He has a close relationship with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a Western New York native.

As he told The News, Buffalo is a small-market team, and there are larger markets available. But Schumer was the one who lobbied on the Bills’ behalf when it came to the revenue-sharing provisions put in place by the NFL.

For someone who doesn’t actually live here, Schumer’s knowledge of Western New York is impressive. He has represented this area since his election in 1998, and during that time he has shown up on the scene too many times to count. He understands that if this team were to leave Buffalo, it would be more than just the economy affected. Doing so would take a lot of heart and identity out of this Rust Belt city.

Schumer said that there is no better way to honor Ralph Wilson’s memory than to make sure that this team stays right where it is. Schumer should know, since he spoke with the team’s only owner at length before he died about his passion to keep the team here. The senator intends on making that wish a reality.

New York State, Erie County and the Bills can each appoint seven members to the board. They have a big job to do. As Erland “Erkie” Kailbourne, the former bank executive who once headed the Business Backs the Bills effort to market the team, said in his praise of Schumer, the group will have to figure out how to pay for a stadium that could cost $800 million or even more than $1 billion.

And then there is the question of where the stadium will be located, not to mention the $130 million in stadium improvements under way. There are other complicating factors, including a 2013 agreement by the state, county and team negotiators on a 10-year lease with a $400 million relocation penalty to keep the Bills in the area.

The agreement allowed for a one-time exception, after the seventh year, when the penalty would be lowered to $28.4 million. It gives the team a single escape clause, and even though team officials said they had no intention of leaving, that clause is the talk of the sports town.

The New Stadium Working Group has important work to do, and it starts right away. Members have the credibility, experience and deep commitment to this area to understand that keeping the Bills in Buffalo is the No. 1 priority and, with Schumer, they have another team player with the clout to smooth the way.