Kevin Gaughan's entry into the world of politics was short-lived. He let it be known that he was interested in becoming mayor of Buffalo, but after firing his opening salvo, he faced the realities of pragmatic politics. He shelved his ambitions when the Erie County Republican Committee joined the Democrats in endorsing incumbent Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's re-election bid.
But Gaughan isn't giving up his political ambitions. He's marking time now, and if his past record of perseverance in pursuit of his goals is any indication, we'll be reading much more about him in the near future.
It's a plus for all of us in Erie County that the Hamburg attorney who made a name for himself in putting together several important conferences in the face of seemingly impossible odds is now making himself available for elected office or appointment to a public position.
He is now a Buffalo resident, having rented a Delaware Avenue apartment in the city to meet residency requirements that would have come into play had his mayoral aspirations come to fruition. He intends to maintain that residence, and that leads to a proposal that I believe makes eminent good sense.
Gaughan is intelligent, dedicated to regional approaches to civic problems and highly motivated to improve government. He's proven his ability to work with individuals, corporations and foundations to secure financing for ventures that most said never would get off the ground. I was one of those skeptics back in 1997 when he talked to me about his ambitious plan for a conference on regionalism at Chautauqua Institution.
When he started his quest for funding the conference, he heard the word "no" time after time, but he never gave up and finally convinced Michael Lipsky, program director for the Ford Foundation, that regional governance was an issue worthy of full exploration. The foundation agreed to financially support the Chautauqua effort, and this led to additional support from the Baird Foundation, the Mark IV Foundation, the Paul Koessler Foundation and the Gebbie Foundation of Jamestown, among others.
Given this record and his fine relationship with and respect for Masiello, I would suggest that the mayor ask Gaughan to join his administration in a policy planning and execution role. The mayor has been criticized for some of his staff appointments, and bringing in someone of Gaughan's stature would show his determination to improve governance. Gaughan would be a fine liaison with the Giambra administration in furtherance of regional approaches and could contribute ideas in other areas, bringing a fresh perspective to city government.
Given the mayor's strong feeling about the need for waterfront development, Gaughan could be a major contributor to that effort. It was Gaughan who put together the September 2000 Canal Conversation that resulted in broad support for restoration of the canal's western terminus.
A Masiello appointment of Gaughan would be a good move politically for the mayor, indicating he has no animus for the man who had been seeking Republican endorsement to oppose him in his mayoral run. Gaughan, incidentally, has been a lifelong Democrat, like his illustrious attorney father, the late Vincent Gaughan. He sought the Republican endorsement for mayor, knowing that the Democrats would not desert their incumbent.
Gaughan believes that Americans today are much more interested in results from government officials than in party loyalty, and that collaboration between parties is important for progress. He does, however, continue to profess his support for Democratic Party ideology.
Gaughan believes that the central urban district is emerging as the vital element in America. He points to the recent census showing population growth in some cities. He says that ultimately, three or four U.S. cities will emerge as major forces and, ever the optimist, he believes Buffalo can be one of those if all elements in the community work together to "overcome some sentiments."
His agenda for attaining this goal includes strengthening our schools, completing development of the waterfront, governmental reforms in City Hall and restoration of parks. Attracting young families to settle in the city is vital for future progress, he emphasizes, and his agenda is directed toward making that happen.
Reducing fragmented government and restoring a shared community across social, racial and geographic lines continue to be concerns of Gaughan's. Local planning decisions, he says, must consider regional purpose and "smart growth" principles.
Kevin Gaughan fired, and then fell back, in his latest political venture. But his record of persistence indicates that he'll continue to reach out to attain his new goal of political recognition. It's a path that will be interesting to watch.
MURRAY B. LIGHT is the former editor of The Buffalo News.