Buffalo's big-money political donors are weighing in on which candidate they would like to see elected president -- and for many, it's former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Through a lavish fundraising effort by local civic leader Anthony H. Gioia, Giuliani raised $385,707 in the Buffalo area in the first half of the year, newly released federal documents show.
In contrast, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the Democratic front-runner, raised $213,040.
And Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who leads the national fundraising race, scored a mere $13,670.
Giuliani's list of local donors reads like a who's who of Buffalo business. Those who gave $2,300 -- the maximum for the primary campaign -- included Reginald B. Newman of Noco Energy Corp. and Christopher C. Collins, the Republican Party candidate for county executive and a Clarence businessman with holdings in a number of companies.
Gioia and Clarence businessman Mark E. Hamister each gave Giuliani $4,600, the maximum for the entire campaign.
Developers Frank Ciminelli, Dennis M. Penman, Carl P. Paladino and Howard A. Zemsky also gave $2,300 each to Giuliani.
Most of that money came from a May 22 fundraiser featuring the candidate that brought in a total of $445,000, including some from contributors outside the Buffalo Niagara region.
"I don't think anybody has ever raised that much on the presidential level in Western New York," said Gioia, who organized the event. "The whole [Giuliani] team was very pleased."
Gioia said the former mayor was particularly appealing to Western New York donors because of his track record in New York City and especially because of his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Former Rep. Jack F. Quinn Jr. agreed, adding that Giuliani is well known to many in Western New York as a result of his brief 2000 campaign for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Clinton.
"I believe he's the best candidate we have, the best-positioned to run nationally and serve in the presidency," said Quinn, who helped Gioia with the Giuliani fundraiser and contributed $2,300.
The Clinton camp expressed neither surprise nor disappointment about Giuliani's raising far more in a region that has always been friendly to the Clintons.
"Giuliani has probably the most significant fundraiser in Western New York working for him," Leonard R. Lenihan, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, said of Gioia.
Last month, Lenihan, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, sponsored a fundraiser featuring Clinton that Lenihan said will be one of several events aimed at bolstering her campaign coffers in Western New York.
"By the time we're done, we'll match or surpass Giuliani," Lenihan predicted.
G. Steven Pigeon, former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party and a major fundraiser for Clinton, also has also been collecting money for the senator in Western New York. Because of her tenure in the Senate, he said he wasn't surprised Clinton had raised far more locally than any other Democrat.
"Her support is broad and deep," Pigeon said.
Big-money donors to Clinton included M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers and strip club owner Richard A. Snowden -- plus Paladino and Zemsky.
"In each of the two parties, they're the best candidates running," said Paladino, who, like Zemsky, said he's not sure whom he would support if Giuliani and Clinton end up running against each other in November 2008. But he wants a New Yorker to be the next president.
"We would like a New Yorker," Zemsky said. "After eight years of George W. Bush and what I would call a very conservative, anti-Northern perspective, we have a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat both running from New York. Either of those candidates would be good for us."
The new financial reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission, show very little local fundraising for any Republican candidate other than Giuliani.
On the Democratic side, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina finished second behind Clinton, raising $124,634.
Edwards, a trial lawyer by trade, raised almost all of that money in the first three months of the year when local lawyers chipped in to help his fledgling campaign.
Since then, the Edwards effort has been eclipsed nationally by Obama, who has raised more money for his campaign this year than any other candidate.
In Western New York, however, the local Obama campaign remains a fledgling effort that has not even held a fundraising event as of yet.
"There's not any real organization, not at this point," said former Common Council President George K. Arthur, one of Obama's top local supporters, who added that fundraising and other organizational efforts are likely to kick off in the fall.
Obama has raised much of his money from small donors on the Internet or from campaign rallies where supporters often give as little as $5. But the candidate has not yet been to Buffalo, and throughout the area, only 29 people have contributed to his campaign.
"Hillary has all of the top Democrats in Western New York lined up with her," Arthur said. For Obama, "It's going to be difficult to raise any kind of big bucks in the area."
News Washington Bureau Assistant Andrew Schafer contributed to this report.