The new era dawned 14 hours early in Buffalo Common Council chambers Friday, with the lengthy swearing-in of a new Council with seven African-Americans, six women and six newcomers among its 13 members.
"A New City for a New Century" was the theme for the two-hour inauguration, which combined the solemnity of the oaths of office, the spirit of a revival meeting and the folksy manner of the master of ceremonies, Council President James W. Pitts.
"We're gonna bring this to order," a beaming Pitts told the overflow crowd of more than 300 people. "We're gonna get this party on the road."
And a party it was, a big thank-you ceremony that allowed each of the 13 members to grab the microphone and pay tribute to his or her family members, staff and close supporters -- by name. Probably half the crowd stood up to be recognized during the drawn-out affair.
This was not a day for discussing specific issues facing the city. Instead, it was a day for outlining the challenges in broad, sweeping strokes.
And a day for toasting the makeup of the new Council.
"The electorate of the city of Buffalo has launched our new century by giving us something that never would have been imagined 100 years ago," Pitts said before the ceremony, referring to both the African-American majority and the six female members. "We now have women and minorities in positions of authority, leadership and power in the City of Buffalo."
The new makeup of the Council is more than a symbolic development, Pitts said. It also gives the Council a new agenda.
"It's no longer an agenda tied to elitist principles," he said. "It's an agenda tied to people investing in people and growing our city from the bottom up instead of from the top down."
More mention was made of gender than of race during Friday's ceremony.
"As we begin to embark on the new 21st century, we can see that women are finally at the table," Pitts told the crowd.
Historians don't have to go back 100 years to find a Council lacking in female representation.
"I love the women on the Council," Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio said in her brief remarks. "When I started, I was the only woman."
In a rousing 20-minute speech that didn't ignore the problems Buffalo faces on the cusp of the 21st century, Pitts used Buffalo's greatness in the early 20th century as a legacy that will help the city face its current challenges.
One hundred years ago, he said, the city was "brash and perky," a city so powerful that it seemed the good times would never end. It was an elegant city, with its long freighters, the coming Pan-American Exposition, strong ethnic neighborhoods and a City Hall that served as a monument to the city's working people.
Events like the Blizzard of '77, the four Super Bowl losses and an undeserved reputation for backwardness have created a love-hate relationship that we all seem to possess at times, Pitts said.
"Where is our confidence, Buffalo?" he asked. "When we talk about our new city in this new century, where is our confidence?"
Buffalo's strength still lies in celebrating its cross-cultural diversity, in developing the neighborhoods around its ethnic treasures, such as John's Italian Village,GiGi's and the Broadway Market.
"The new century is a place where we can celebrate these things, where we can be an archipelago of distinct, but mutually connected, urban villages," he said.
"I think our new city for the new century is a place where we begin to invest in ourselves, where we believe that the answer is not beyond us, but within us."
But this was a day more for family snapshots and individual thank-yous from the 13 Council members: Pitts; LoTempio; at-large members Beverly Gray and Charley H. Fisher III; and district Council members Alfred T. Coppola, Delaware; Barbara Miller-Williams, Ellicott; Karen R. Ellington, Fillmore; Richard A. Fontana, Lovejoy; Byron W. Brown, Masten; Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr., Niagara; Joseph Golombek Jr., North; Mary M. Martino, South; and Betty Jean Grant, University.
They thanked their 90-year-old mothers, their grandmothers, their sons and daughters, their grandchildren, their legislative aides and the supporters who walked door to door with them on hot summer days.
Pitts kept things loose, setting the stage for a lot of good-natured banter.
At one point, the Council president thanked Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve and Eve's wife, Constance, whom he kiddingly called "Mom."
Connie Eve pointed back at Pitts and quipped, "Not with all that gray hair."
For one moment anyway, Pitts was speechless.