Share this article

print logo

LOCAL AUTHOR PENS TALES OF ALL BUFFALO MAYORS

The winner of this year's mayoral race in Buffalo might want to take a little extra care in crafting a victory speech.

It could be headed straight for the history books.

Turning a self-admitted "obsession" into a public service, local amateur historian Michael F. Rizzo has turned out a 400-page manuscript cataloging the lives and thoughts of the city's 54 mayors.

The pages range from famed future presidents to mayors too obscure to rate even a street name in modern Buffalo. But each gets his say in text that draws heavily on remarks from their own speeches.

Rizzo has embarked on a still-unsuccessful campaign to find a publisher, but his work already is accessible. Five of the short biographies are posted on the Internet, reachable as the "Through the Eyes of the Mayor" page in Mayor Masiello's section of the City of Buffalo web site.

"It's been tough," Rizzo said of his crusade to put his years of work between the pasteboard covers of a book. "It just became an obsession, to complete it."

"This was definitely a labor of love. I spent over two years putting the words to paper and have been working for about three trying to get it published."

While histories have been written about some city departments, there is no overall look at the office of the mayor. Hindering Rizzo's quest is the size of his text, a need for time-consuming formatting and editing, and a limited market for what would likely be an expensive printing.

Rizzo is nibbling away at the problem. In addition to the computer web page -- a possible precursor to a CD-ROM edition of the entire work -- he provided a brief reading about former Mayor Elbridge Spaulding when a restored painting of Spaulding was returned to the portrait gallery of mayors in City Hall earlier this year.

Spaulding is among the more illustrious members of the former mayors club. He won national fame as "Father of the Greenback," instituting paper currency to fund the Union war effort while serving in Congress during the Civil War.

Grover Cleveland did a stint as mayor, too, on his way to the White House. The office also once was held by William Fargo of Wells, Fargo & Co. and American Express fame, and by Buffalo Harbor builder Samuel Wilkeson.

There also are brick-makers and lawyers, butchers and grocers, physicians and businessmen -- even, although it hasn't done Rizzo much good, printers including Holling Press
founder Thomas Holling (mayor from 1938 to 1941).

The book runs from Ebenezer Johnson, elected by the Common Council in 1832, to Anthony M. Masiello, now serving the city's 73rd mayoral term and running for re-election this year against former Mayor Jimmy Griffin, Common Council President Jim Pitts -- trying to become the city's first African-American mayor -- and Conservative Party candidate Sharon Caetano, campaigning to become the first woman to hold the office.

Rizzo said he has "hundreds" of hours invested in his project, including major chunks of time during a period of unemployment that now has ended.

"I was working on it almost daily, for a year," he said. "Griffin was still in office when I was working on it -- he went through it, and he just changed a couple of words and that was it."

Asked to pick a favorite, Rizzo settles on perhaps the most colorful mayor Buffalo ever has produced -- and compares him to its longest-tenured, 16-year chief executive.

"I kind of like (Frank X.) Schwab," he says of the beer salesman who led Buffalo during Prohibition. "He was very similar to Griffin."

Rizzo's text seeks to avoid controversy, but does contain both personal biographies and reviews of both the mayor's deeds and the city's problems in each period. He has strung together facts and quotes from annual mayoral addresses to the Council, newspaper accounts, biographies and profiles scattered throughout older histories in collections at public and university libraries.

"I'm not proclaiming to be any great scholar or historian either," said the author who contributed a short history of Buffalo's Hispanic community to the city's "165th Birthday Bash" this year.

"My main goal is to get it published, not to get rich off it."

There are no comments - be the first to comment