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A bucking bull, a herd of table-top buffaloes and a whole army of volunteers, politicians and society folks helped the Roswell Park Cancer Institute pull off a hugely successful charity event Saturday night at the Adam's Mark Hotel.

The Roswell Park Alliance's "All Star Night," a black-tie event with a country-and-western flair, raised an estimated $400,000, making it one of the most successful one-night charity fund-raisers ever held in Western New York.

Among the more than 1,200 guests was state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, making his first public appearance in Buffalo since his Thursday announcement that he plans to run for governor in 2002.

In an interview with The Buffalo News, McCall said he had come to the event to support Roswell Park and its effort to find a cure for cancer -- and not just to press the flesh with potential supporters.

"This is my first public appearance here since I made my announcement, but I believe this is my fifth straight year attending this event," McCall said. "Roswell Park is a very worthy cause, and I support it wholeheartedly."

McCall said he has been following recent news reports about the concerns voiced by the National Cancer Institute over a decline in the quality of scientific research at Roswell Park. If elected as governor, McCall said, one of his priorities would be helping the institution improve its research programs.

"I'll be sitting at a table tonight with the president of Roswell and some of the board members," McCall said. "Whatever they need us to do, we'll do it."

McCall was far from the only person at the fund-raiser to sing the praises of Roswell Park, the nation's oldest cancer center.

Many who came to the $175-a-ticket dinner said they were happy to open their wallets to help an institution that helps thousands of Western New Yorkers fight cancer every year.

"It's a wonderful institution," said James A. Locke of Buffalo, who donates blood platelets at Roswell Park 24 times each year. "My wife, Mary, died of cancer two years ago. The people at Roswell were wonderful to her. There's no cancer treatment like Roswell any closer than Cleveland or New York City. We're so fortunate to have a place like Roswell, right here in Buffalo."

The fund-raiser featured country music bands, a wide range of contests and a bucking "Bungy Bull" that dared donors to see how long they could stay aboard. But the main attraction was an auction of 50 tabletop replicas of the buffaloes featured in last year's wildly successful "Herd About Buffalo" promotion. Some of the buffaloes, including one designed by pop artist Peter Max, went for thousands of dollars.

"The auction of the buffaloes is our secret weapon," said Sally Russell, a Roswell Park Alliance board member who chaired the event. "Everything has gone wonderfully. People know Roswell is a place of hope. People who are donating their money know the money is going to a first-class facility."

In addition to McCall, the roster of well-dressed politicians included Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello; Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra; Erie County Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan; State Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger, D-Kenmore; Erie County Clerk David J. Swarts; and State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda.

Maziarz is a top Western New York point man for Gov. George E. Pataki, the officeholder whom McCall hopes to unseat next year. Maziarz was quick to react to McCall's comments about the Roswell situation.

"Let's remember, Gov. Pataki has been a huge supporter of Roswell," Maziarz said. "The governor has visited Roswell several times, and during his administration, hundreds of millions of dollars has come to Roswell for rebuilding and remodeling projects."

Three individuals were honored at the gala for their work in the fight against cancer. The Katherine Anne Gioia Inspiration Award was given posthumously to Patricia Capstraw Wilkins, a Roswell Park volunteer who was a leader of the "Herd About Buffalo" art project. Her husband, Christopher Wilkins, accepted the award.

The General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Action Award went to Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a tobacco industry whistleblower whose story was chronicled in the movie "The Insider." Dr. Enrico Mihich, former director of pharmacology and therapeutics at Roswell Park, received the Thomas B. Tomasi Achievement Award.

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