May 14, 1931 – July 2, 2014
Vincent J. Graber Sr., a political power in both Western New York and Albany as a New York State assemblyman and local political leader, died Wednesday in Lower Cape Fear Hospice Center, Wilmington, N.C., following a battle with cancer. He was 83.
Mr. Graber served 10 terms in the Assembly, representing parts of Buffalo and suburban communities including West Seneca, Lancaster, Marilla, Elma and Clarence. He also represented parts of Wyoming County when first elected to the Assembly in November 1974.
Mr. Graber, a Democrat, was remembered for building strong relationships across party lines, and emphasized respect and mutual esteem in his work as an elected official.
“You get more with honey than vinegar,” he would often say.
Recognized for his leadership as chairman of the Assembly’s transportation committee, Mr. Graber was an advocate for vehicle safety, highlighted by the enactment of two laws that were the first of their kind in the nation – the infant car seat law in 1982 and the seat-belt requirement in 1984.
Called “Vinny” by the state’s leaders, Mr. Graber rose to hold two key leadership positions within the Assembly. In 1979, he assumed the chairmanship of the Committee on Transportation, where he helped steer a wide range of legislation, including changing the perception in New York concerning the dangers of drinking and driving – also leading the nation in its approach to DWI penalties and improved traffic safety.
Mr. Graber also became part of the Assembly’s leadership, presiding over the Assembly as speaker pro tempore from 1987 until his retirement in 1994.
He was the prime sponsor of the Buy American Steel Law, which requires the state to give preference to American-made steel in state construction projects in order to preserve American jobs.
Through his Assembly leadership position, he championed state investment in the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. As the Transportation Committee chairman, Mr. Graber was responsible for securing funding for numerous local highway and road/bridge projects. He also was credited with helping to secure $2 million in state funding to transform the Lancaster Opera House in the 1970s.
Born and raised in South Buffalo, Mr. Graber attended South Park High School, where he was a pitcher for the baseball team. An Army veteran, he served, beginning in 1952, as a troop train commander as part of the 8th Traffic Regulating Group in central Germany. He returned home in 1954, eventually settling in West Seneca.
Before his public service, Mr. Graber went to work in 1954 with the former South Buffalo Railway Co., a regional switching line that served Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Lackawanna. He served in managerial capacities before retiring in 1984.
Mr. Graber became active in local politics during the early 1960s as a member of the Democratic committee. He was elected to the West Seneca Town Board in 1969, won re-election in 1973, and went on to unseat then-incumbent Dale M. Volker in a highly contested 148th District Assembly race in 1974. The two would go on to become close friends and colleagues when Mr. Volker became a state senator.
“I was the one who introduced him to his second wife,” Volker said.
“He had a great personality, and even though we had defeated each other, we just fell into each other as good friends,” said Volker.
“My opinion is he was a key cog in the Western New York delegation,” Volker added.
In their separate chambers, the two worked together on legislation concerning the death penalty and transportation initiatives, such as the location of the Amtrak station in Depew.
Mr. Graber also was known as a formidable campaigner. In 1992, despite an 18-year incumbency, he had no problem ringing doorbells and hustling for votes during a Republican challenge from a then-27-year-old lawyer, Timothy J. Greenan, who also was from West Seneca. Though both were opposed to abortion and supported the death penalty, Greenan earned the Conservative Party’s endorsement. Despite winning that race, Mr. Graber decided against another run for the seat in 1994.
After retiring from the Assembly, Mr. Graber continued his work in Albany, representing a variety of clients in the public and private sectors, including Toyota Motors USA and Caterpillar USA. He retired in late 2011, and moved to Wilmington in 2012.
His first wife, the former Grace Brown, died in 1982. A son, James, died in 1996.
Mr. Graber is survived by his wife of 31 years, the former M. Patricia Murray; two daughters, Judy Siwy and Lynn Carrow; seven sons, Vincent Jr., Bobby and Daniel Graber and Peter, Kevin, Chris and Bill Thompson; 15 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is being planned for July 25 in Buffalo.