Share this article

print logo


Francis J. Pordum lives in Derby now, but as he spoke to a crowd of retired steel workers in his hometown of Lackawanna, it sounded as if he had never left home.

"One thing I've always done is fight for working families," he said in the same flat blue-collar dialect shared by all those retirees. "With your help, I will be one darned good congressman in Washington. I never forgot where I came from. I'll do a darned good job for you."

Pordum speaks the voice of this old steel town in more ways than one. The former teacher and football coach is the kind of Democrat this city has always produced: a blunt-spoken, hard-working believer in the good government can do.

No doubt about it: Voters in the 30th Congressional District have a very stark choice in the upcoming election.

Pordum is nothing at all like Rep. Jack F. Quinn, the golden-tongued, compromise-minded suburban Republican who has represented this largely Democratic district for four years.

In contrast, Pordum looks like a retired fullback and talks like an old-fashioned ward heeler. Pordum said he will be a congressman who, unlike Quinn, will side with the interests of his constituents rather than with the interests of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"I'd be looking to see what we could do to help working families, to eliminate corporate welfare, to keep education affordable, to maintain health care for all," Pordum said.

Out on the campaign trail, he keeps repeating one figure -- "89 percent" -- as if it were his mantra. That's the percentage of votes in which Quinn sided with the spectacularly unpopular Gingrich, and the centerpiece of the Pordum campaign.

"Jack has made a lot of bad votes," said Pordum, especially noting that the Republican budget blueprints that Quinn favored would have cut the future growth of Medicare and reduced funding for education and social programs. "This is all based on his record."

Pordum has a record, too, though he's hardly stressing it in his campaign. He's an old-fashioned moderate Democrat.

Proof of that can be found in his record as an assemblyman for the past 14 years. He loyally supported liberal budget plans put forth by former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, but broke with his party on a handful issues that either he or his constituents deemed important.

For example, Pordum has been a loyal opponent of gun control, earning him the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. And he has been one of the rare Albany Democrats to stress welfare reform, pushing a program that allows counties to fingerprint welfare recipients.

"He's a moderate Democrat," said former Assembly Speaker Mel Miller, a close friend. "Politics in Albany tends to the extreme left and right, but there is this center core of people who have very balanced views, and Fran was always a voice of moderation."

Legislatively, Pordum has concentrated on boosting economic development and the environment.

For years, Pordum has been concerned that local industrial development agencies use government tax breaks to move jobs from one community to another with little real economic benefit.

But the State Legislature has been reluctant to crack down on those moves. Instead, at Pordum's insistence, it passed a series of modest reforms that require development agencies to file reports with local governments and the state comptroller, which then can keep an eye on what those agencies are doing.

Pordum's efforts to boost the environment appear to have been much more fruitful. Most notably, he was at the forefront of the push in Albany for developing Sturgeon Point Marina and Woodlawn Beach.

"Fran Pordum has consistently fought for tougher environmental laws to protect Western New York," said David Hahn-Baker, a board member of the New York League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed Pordum.

Assemblyman Paul Tokasz, Pordum's Democratic neighbor from Cheektowaga, said Pordum is a hard-working legislator who would represent his largely Democratic congressional district far better than Quinn.

Asked if Pordum had any weaknesses, Tokasz said: "It's not a personal weakness, but one we all have: that we have so much on our plate sometimes that we lose focus."

Like Quinn, Pordum wants to become a power on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. That panel is a giant treasure trove of federal highway money, as former Rep. Henry J. Nowak, D-Buffalo, proved during his 18 years on the panel.

Quinn prodded Congress to reprogram $20.2 million in aid for the redevelopment of the area near Marine Midland Arena and is pushing hard for a four-lane Route 219. Nevertheless, Pordum said he would be better at bringing home the bacon.

On the stump, Pordum comes across as far more intense than the jovial Quinn, rarely cracking a joke and never missing an opportunity to attack his opponent.

Tokasz, though, has come to know a very different Pordum -- a sports freak who obsesses over the performance of his two rotisserie baseball teams and a "jovial, congenial guy" who gets along exceptionally well with his colleagues.

For now, though, Pordum couldn't be more serious.

"I've always wanted to be a congressman," he said. "My father always wanted one of his sons to go to Congress. He died two months before I was born, but Congress has always been in the back of my mind. This is just the ideal time to run."

There are no comments - be the first to comment