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Expats to Repats: After traveling the state, lobbyist Jack O'Donnell finds Buffalo is home

Last June, Jack O’Donnell and his wife, Marina, couldn’t wait for the state legislature to wrap up the year’s business.

“We were in Albany for the end of the session,” O’Donnell said. “When they adjourned, my wife and I and two kids piled into the car and drove home. We’ve been trying to get this great old house up and running ever since.”

O’Donnell, a Buffalo native who graduated from St Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, Canisius College and later UB Law School, moved back to Buffalo with his family after his career had taken him across the state, from New York City to Albany, in an effort to help high-profile candidates win elections statewide.

“Politics in Buffalo are interesting,” O’Donnell said. “But a lot of decisions are made outside of here. I grew up during a time when people weren’t optimistic about Buffalo. People left to follow jobs. While I didn’t want to leave, I realized that if you ever want to influence or change the system, you can’t just do it from here.”

In 1996, he worked on former President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign. Clinton was favored to win, both nationally and in New York, but there was concern here because a former Buffalonian, Jack Kemp, was the Republican vice presidential candidate. Typically a Democratic region, upstate New York sometimes leaned Republican, as it did during the 1994 election of former Gov. George Pataki. O’Donnell later worked on Senate campaigns for Charles Schumer in 1998 and Hillary Clinton in 2000.

•••

Name: Jack O’Donnell, 42

Family: Wife, Marina; son Thomas, 2; daughter Elsie, 3 months

Education: St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, class of 1992; Canisius College, history major 1996; University at Buffalo Law School

Best thing about Buffalo: “The idea that we can sit in our yard with both our kids and have friends and family over to cook on the grill and spend time together.”

Miss about New York City: “New York City is exciting. There’s no place like it in the world. It’s easy to get around with public transportation and the diversity is wonderful and fun to experience. I miss some of that excitement.”

•••

“My job was to help a candidate understand what was going on in Buffalo was different from Rochester or Syracuse or Binghamton or Elmira. There was more to New York State than midtown Manhattan. Yes, a lot of votes come from New York City, but we had to have a statewide strategy and navigate the rest of the state to win.”

“Jack sold Team Hillary on the region,” said Peter Kauffmann, the press secretary for Clinton’s 2000 Senate race. “Jack convinced us that Buffalo has more in common with Hillary’s hometown of Chicago than it does with New York City. He’s been a forceful advocate for Buffalo since I’ve known him.”

In New York City, O’Donnell met his future wife, Marina, a Los Angeles native who attended college in the east. After years of skipping around the state, the O’Donnells agreed to settle in Buffalo to raise their children, Thomas, 2 1/2, and Elsie, 3 months.

The O'Donnell's son, Thomas, with a buffalo on Elmwood Avenue. (Contributed photo)

For 10 years, O’Donnell has been a partner at Bolton St. John’s, a statewide lobbying firm. Local clients include the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, People Inc., Delaware North and New Era Cap Co.

When Elsie was born, O’Donnell felt doubly grateful. His daughter’s birthday marked the 10-year anniversary of his successful liver transplant. O’Donnell is on the board of directors for Upstate New York Transplant Services. His friends and family run Transplant Miracles Foundation to raise money for research and to support transplant patients.

“There is nowhere with a stronger sense of community than Buffalo,” O’Donnell said. “In our apartment on 31 Street in New York City, there were probably 5,000 people in that building. Here, new neighbors know us and ask if we need any help. They’ve embraced us with open arms.

"Maybe there’s some of that sentiment all over the world, but I don’t think there’s anywhere that does it better than Buffalo.”

 

If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email  JeffSchober@hotmail.com.
Jeff Schober is the author of "Bike Path Rapist," "Growing Up Gronk" and a series of crime novels set in Buffalo in the 1980s. His most recent book, "Faces and Fingertips," is available now. Visit his website at www.jeffschober.com.

 

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