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AREA DEMOCRATS CAME THROUGH FOR CLINTON

It's a strange weekend for Western New York Democrats.

On one hand, they're basking in the afterglow of one of the most successful political days in their history, when President and Mrs. Clinton and Vice President and Mrs. Gore filled Marine Midland Arena with almost 22,000 fans on Wednesday.

But how do you top that?

It's a pleasant problem for this area's Democratic hierarchy, because in the hindsight of a few days' time, what they pulled off was nothing short of remarkable.

With notice of only a week or so, a contingent led by Congressman John LaFalce mobilized the solid Democratic roots of this community to such an extent that without really trying, they filled a cavernous sports arena with the biggest crowd in its history. With nary a dissenter in sight, they fulfilled the assignment laid out by the White House: Find the biggest hall you can, fill it and help us show the world the depth and breadth of Clinton support beyond the Beltway.

"We looked at Buffalo State College, then we looked at Kleinhans, the Niagara Falls Convention Center and then the Buffalo Convention Center," a weary LaFalce said after the president left town. "But they said: 'We want the maximum.'

"I said OK, and we got Marine Midland Arena," he added. "It turned out wonderfully."

There is no question the Clinton/Gore team got exactly what it wanted out of its trip to Buffalo -- television screens across the nation depicting the president cheered in "real" places like Buffalo. And it wasn't a polite crowd assembled in some genteel setting like Kleinhans. It was exactly the raucous crowd the White House ordered in a raucous place where the crowd is used to "expressing its feelings" as hockey fans.

"They were thrilled," LaFalce said of the First Couples, "especially by the warmth of the reception. I don't think they can ever forget that, and that should keep us in good stead for years to come."

That means local Dems got what they wanted out of the visit, too.

While this column regularly delights in pointing out the foibles and foul-ups of the area's politicos, every once in a while we take a deep breath, shudder in horror and hand out some bouquets. In terms of logistics, planning, coordination and conveying the message, the Dems delivered big time.

Even the semi-grizzled press corps of The Buffalo News, while drinking in the sights and sounds of the four-minute standing ovation afforded the president, could not help but realize the magnitude of the moment. It ranked as an important vignette in this area's history.

It all resulted from what LaFalce called a "herculean effort." There were those on his staff like Mary Brennan-Taylor, who helped coordinate the event, while key staffers like Rich Tobe from County Executive Gorski's staff and Peter Cutler, Mayor Masiello's new spokesman, helped pull it together.

"It was an absolute monster," LaFalce said. "We had all these horrendous weather conditions, we didn't get the tickets until late Friday, and then Monday was a holiday."

And, yes, LaFalce acknowledged, there was initial concern on everyone's part that the daunting assignment of filling Marine Midland Arena might prove too daunting.

"I was concerned, to be sure," the congressman said. "But even by Saturday morning, we knew we were going to have a success on our hands.

"I doubt they ever had a better event."

Oh sure, Democratic Headquarters pitched in. So did the area's substantial union network, Deputy Speaker Art Eve's office and maybe 150 community organizations that received and dispersed more than enough tickets -- as it turned out -- to fill the Arena.

And there were some grumblings here and there from groups or officials left off the ticket list. Most of that blame was aimed at Democratic Headquarters, but since Headquarters stayed out of the planners' inner sanctum, the organization can successfully deflect those brickbats.

Maybe LaFalce never had a better day either. He and son Martin accompanied the Clintons aboard Air Force One from Washington to Buffalo. Mrs. LaFalce joined them for their late lunch at Pranzo Ristorante, and it was one of those rare opportunities for the veteran congressman to have the ear of the president of the United States for a long and relaxed period of time.

"It's amazing how capable he is of dealing with all the important public policy issues in the face of impeachment," LaFalce said, admitting he avoided that "compartmentalizing" buzzword now associated with Clinton. "He's not being distracted by this one iota."

It may be that Clinton's success in Buffalo will also prove only a distraction from thehistoric events in Washington. That remains to be seen. But he hopes there will be something lasting; something to put some flesh on the sky-high polls that keep Clinton sustained.

So far as Buffalo is concerned, however, he can't fault this town for not sustaining him on a day he needed it most.

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