March 4, 1926 – June 1, 2017
George A. Vossler, a founder of the Erie County Conservative Party and credited with getting Jimmy Griffin elected mayor of Buffalo, died Thursday in his home in North Buffalo. His family said he had Parkinson’s disease for several years. He was 91.
Mr. Vossler helped build the party’s influence and success on the local and state levels. He was a Conservative Party state vice chairman for many years and served seven two-year terms as head of the party in Erie County, from 1972 to 1986.
“If it were not for George A. Vossler and the Erie County Conservative Party, I would not be mayor of Buffalo today,” Griffin declared in 1978 at the state Conservative Party’s 16th annual dinner in New York City.
Buffalo News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy noted that he “was considered one of early pillars of the state’s dominant minor party, helping to establish it as a major force in local and New York politics. He was among those who took advantage of the state’s tolerance for ‘fusion’ politics and established the Conservative Party as a political ‘brake’ on the liberal tendencies of New York Republicans dating to the days of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.”
He helped the fledgling party achieve its election breakthroughs in 1970. James L. Buckley was elected to the U.S. Senate on the Conservative ticket, the first minor party candidate to win a statewide election. Republican Jack Kemp, who Mr. Vossler encouraged to run, scored an upset victory in his first race for the U.S. House of Representatives on the strength of the votes he received on the Conservative line.
A year later, the Conservative Party endorsement led to the election of Edward V. Regan as Erie County Executive, providing the impetus for Republicans to officially support him after the incumbent, B. John Tutuska, suffered a heart attack and dropped out of the race. Conservative votes provided Regan’s margin of victory when he ran for state comptroller in 1978.
Mr. Vossler’s biggest triumph came in 1977, when he and Conservatives adopted Buffalo mayoral candidate James A. Griffin after he narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Arthur O. Eve. Running solely on the Conservative line, Griffin was victorious in the November election.
Mr. Vossler in 1978 was awarded the Charles Edison Memorial Award for his “service to the Conservative Party, the conservative cause and the nation.”
He continued to be a prominent supporter of Regan, backing him for governor in 1982. He helped promote Kemp as a vice presidential candidate in 1988. He also assisted in the election of Gov. George Pataki.
It was Kemp who presented him with the Erie County Conservative of the Year Award at the party’s annual dinner in 1986 after he stepped down as county chairman to accept an appointment by Griffin to the Buffalo Municipal Civil Service Commission. He was elected president of the three-man commission in 1987.
He also served as a part-time committee liaison for Republicans in the state legislature in the 1980s.
Upon his retirement as chairman, then-Buffalo News political reporter George Borrelli wrote: “While Vossler is a dedicated conservative, he will be remembered as probably the most democratic party leader of his era in Erie County.
“For the most part, the mild-mannered, amiable Vossler was content to have important party decisions made by majority vote of his county or executive committees. He was not a table-thumper. Nor did he handpick candidates and steamroller them through the endorsement process, as some political leaders do. ... His even-handed, common-sense and dedicated approach to politics will be missed.”
Born in Buffalo, he attended St. Benedict’s School in Eggertsville and enlisted in the Navy during World War II the day after he graduated from Amherst High School. Serving aboard the destroyer USS Kidd in the Pacific, he was wounded in the eye by shrapnel during a kamikaze attack. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
Returning from service, he earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Kentucky. He worked as a sales representative for seed companies, then in sales for the John Deere Co. in northern Pennsylvania and Ohio.
When Deere proposed to send him overseas, he returned to Buffalo and joined his father in the coal business. A coal broker, in 1972, he founded his own business, Vossler Corp., now run by his son, Thomas G. He retired in 2005.
“Above business and politics, he believed in family and loyalty and helping each other in good times and bad times,” his other son, George A. Jr., said.
In addition to his sons, survivors include his wife of 63 years, the former Joanne Wilson; six daughters, Mary Buckel, Joanna Hourihan, Anne Bresnahan, Dr. Ellen Vossler, Dr. Cathleen Vossler and Caroline Ogiony; and 19 grandchildren.
A memorial Mass will be offered in St. Mark’s Catholic Church, 399 Woodward Ave., at a time to be announced.