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BUFFALO EMBRACES PAPER'S LOVE LETTER TO 'CITY WITH HEART'

Western New York's official boosters couldn't have asked for a better day Tuesday, when the nation's biggest-circulation newspaper featured a warm and fuzzy story on Buffalo as a "City With Heart."

From the mayor and county executive to the Chamber of Commerce, the USA Today story cast Buffalo as a city brimming with pride, civic spirit and generosity. And though a bit of hometown boosterism from area public relations experts may have helped put Buffalo on the USA Today map, nobody was complaining.

"It's nice to see a different spin on who we are as a community," said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. "All these superficial weather stories never tell the true tale of the values, the passion and the compassion of our community."

"What helps sell this area is our quality of life that you don't have in Silicon Valley or Virginia or Boston," added County Executive Joel A. Giambra. "That's going to open doors for us."

USA Today sought entries from around the nation a few weeks ago for its pre-Valentine's Day story. According to reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman, the contest sought a community that prided itself on its people -- what she characterized as the real quality that "makes a city great."

"We were swamped with entries from Buffalo -- by far the biggest vote-getter," Grossman said. "And everyone who wrote told us about how well people treated each other."

Of course, Buffalo had a couple of things going for it.

First, Grossman was born in Buffalo and spent her first seven years here before moving to Florida. But she acknowledged that the city has always held a special place in her family's heart, and that all those old Buffalo stories rang true in the entries.

"I went to my editors and said, 'I don't want you to think Buffalo should win because I was born there, but clearly this is our winning town,' " Grossman said.

Second, the city's public relations apparatus was cranked up big time. Thomas Kucharski, president of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise (an economic development organization), explained that part of his group's job is to respond to inquiries such as USA Today's. About 100 public relations executives from around the area were contacted and asked to submit entries.

"We had a major role in getting the whole thing going," Kucharski said. "We saw it as an opportunity immediately."

"Our whole goal is to raise the public image of our city, and we hit a bull's-eye," added Arthur Page, director of the University at Buffalo News Bureau.

The story proved a huge hit around the city as media picked it up and the locals began devouring a story that not once referred to Buffalo as a "faded industrial center," as often occurs in other national dispatches.

Instead, Grossman's story portrayed a city populated by interesting people involved in interesting lives.

"They managed to be simultaneously proud and humble about their world-class art, architecture and grand urban parks, a great history including two U.S. presidents," she wrote, "and generations of immigrants and their descendants who turn every weekend from May to October into a street festival."

Even the snow blanketing Buffalo since before Thanksgiving got first-class treatment in Tuesday morning's article, transforming the paralyzing blizzard of Nov. 20 into something out of Currier and Ives.

"I love the coldest, snowiest days here because everyone grows closer," the paper quotes Sara Saldi, a UB News Bureau employee who entered the contest. "People come out of their houses, smiling and greeting one another on the street. It feels as safe as Mayberry and as beautiful and sentimental as a holiday greeting card."

None of this was lost on those charged with promoting the area. Kucharski, whose group is trying to generate 50,000 net new jobs in the area over the next few years, said he will make sure copies of the story are mailed to corporate decision-makers around the nation.

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