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BUFFALO'S POWER BROKERS REVISIT THEIR IMMIGRANT ROOTS

They are the grandchildren of Buffalo's immigrants, movers and shakers sitting atop the community's power pinnacles two generations after their families' arrival.

Their ancestors migrated from Ireland and Italy and Poland and Africa, the latter by way of the Deep South and a route far different from traditional immigrants. But all came to Buffalo for the promise the bustling port city offered to all -- the promise of work.

All the early arrivals shared experiences of poverty, hard work and discrimination. All huddled into the city's ethnic enclaves, helping establish the power bases upon which their grandchildren would rise to political power.

Their stories are individual, yet common. They represent how Buffalo came to be, and how their arrival helped fashion the community we recognize today.

Jack F. Quinn Jr.

The grandson of Irish and German immigrants, the Irish family of the Republican congressman from Hamburg started in Buffalo in either 1907 or 1908. That's when Peter Quinn arrived from County Mayo at age 20.

"He came for opportunity," Quinn said after researching the family history with his father, Jack Sr.

Peter Quinn landed in Jersey City, found his way to Buffalo, and eventually married Margaret Quigley, another Irish immigrant. They worked hard, running a tavern on Van Rensselaer Street, while Peter also toiled on the railroad at Republic Steel -- where he died on the job of a heart attack.

But the elder Quinns firmly established the family in the United States, producing eight children -- including Jack Quinn Sr. He turned down a track scholarship to Michigan State University for steady work as an engineer on the South Buffalo Railway, where he worked for 36 years.

The family of his mother -- the former Norma Ide -- also established themselves as tavernkeepers in Gardenville.

Quinn says the story of his grandparents and parents and their hard work allowed his generation of Quinns to succeed. His father often worked two jobs, providing the means to attend Bishop Timon High School and Siena College.

And their legacy comes in handy politically, too.

"Those big families don't hurt at election time," he quipped.

Nancy A. Naples

The Republican comptroller of Erie County typifies the Italian experience in Buffalo -- but with the twists and turns that make every family history so intriguing.

Her grandparents came from Italy and Sicily somewhere near the turn of the century, with one grandfather first trying his luck in Argentina.

Why Buffalo?

"Buffalo in the early 20th century was such a booming city," she said. "They came here because of the promise of work."

The family of her mother -- the late Lee Vizzi Naples -- came to Buffalo via Massachusetts. All of them brought a strong work ethic and desire to succeed -- passing those qualities to children and grandchildren.

"They instilled that hard work ethic in their children that encouraged them to take advantage of the educational opportunities here," Ms. Naples said, relating how her father -- insurance executive Joseph J. Naples -- sold papers and shined shoes on the West Side before attending Canisius College.

The comptroller said growing up in an ethnic city like Buffalo exposed her to immigrant values. They were important values, she realizes now.

"There was always a strong sense of community; they befriended and took care of each other," she said. "That made for a stronger sense of family."

David A. Franczyk

The outgoing Fillmore representative to the Common Council maintains close ties with the Buffalo community known as Polonia. He has traveled to the family's ancestral village near Krakow, is a student of Polish history and culture, and dabbles in the Polish language 100 years after his grandparents' arrival.

He can vividly recall the stories of his great-aunt Sophie, who came to Buffalo in 1906 via Connecticut.

"She stayed in some cellar there, and would often talk of crying herself to sleep," Franczyk said, recalling the typical immigrant experience of fear and loneliness.

Franczyk explained that his father, Stan, was orphaned at 18, instilling a work ethic that led him through a string of responsible city and state jobs. Meanwhile, his uncle -- Gus -- became a well-known political figure as a member of the Common Council and the Erie County Board of Supervisors, and as parks commissioner in the Makowski administration.

Politics became a way of life for his family -- a way that continues today.

"It's the classic immigrant story," Franczyk says of the family roots planted by his grandfathers, Thomas Franczyk and Sigfried Smolarek. "They were successes. They grew and prospered as the bbbcity grew."

Franczyk encounters daily evidence of the Polish immigrant culture throughout his East Side district. He can still hear Polish spoken in the Broadway Market, while new Polish immigrants often land here to find family.

But that, too, is fading with what is old in Buffalo.

"Ethnicity suffers when the central city dies," he observed. "You need a place for it to survive, like a Little Italy or a Chinatown. We're losing that in Buffalo, and it's unfortunate."

James W. Pitts

There are no stories of the Mayflower or even of Ellis Island for the president of the Buffalo Common Council. His ancestors were forced immigrants who arrived in the New World via the holds of slave ships.

But in a sense, Pitts' grandparents were immigrants, too. They came to Buffalo from Georgia and Alabama -- venturing from the South of their ancestors to write their own destinies in the factories of Buffalo.

His maternal grandmother, Piccolo Williams, was a Cherokee Indian who eventually settled in the steel town of Wierton, W. Va., marrying Clifford Williams -- a baseball player in the Negro Leagues.

"Like Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Cleveland, the steel plants were actually out recruiting workers," Pitts explained. "They came in the big migration, the one that occurred from 1940 to 1960."

Pitts' mother, Grace, eventually left Wierton for Buffalo, where she married and worked as a house cleaner. His father worked at Bethlehem Steel and owned a garage.

"Buffalo in the late '40s and early '50s was beginning to be on the downside, even though we didn't know it," Pitts said. "But it was still a center for employment. And that's why my mother came here -- to look for work. It was typical of the African-American situation."

Pitts grew up in the Fruit Belt that had been home to German families for generations before. Some of those families remain, he observed, in defiance of Buffalo's image as a segregated city.

He laments that kids can't go downtown for jobs anymore, or that graduates can't find the good jobs in the steel plants that drew blacks from the South so many years ago. But he also holds out hope.

"I've seen how the city has evolved," he said, "and a lot of people have left and come back."

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