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Bloomberg's swipe raises Buffalo's hackles

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems to have come down with a case of Manhattan Myopia.

The condition periodically afflicts residents of the city, especially mayors, causing them to make obnoxious remarks about any place north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

From Ed Koch's suggestion that living in Albany would be a "fate worse than death," to Big Apple transplant Michael Bennett's infamous suggestion that committing suicide in his hometown of Buffalo would be "redundant," New Yorkers often look down on upstate.

Wednesday, Bloomberg fueled another firestorm when he took what many viewed as a swipe at Buffalo.

In a forum on housing and neighborhood development, he said the problems facing his city are "problems of success." He referred to a shortage of classrooms, roads and housing. Bloomberg went on to say that other cities don't have these issues, but he didn't stop there.

"There's an awful lot of free space in Buffalo, N.Y., if you want to go there. I don't think you do," he said.

"Buffalo would love to have our problems, and one of the challenges in this country is how we help a city like Buffalo," Bloomberg said.

The comments were caught on New York City television.

An aide to Bloomberg later implied that the comments were taken out of context, insisting the mayor was speaking specifically to housing developers who want to build in growing areas. Bloomberg pointed to Buffalo's population decline.

If you're a housing developer, explained Bloomberg press secretary Stu Loeser, you "want to build where there are more people than housing -- instead of the other way around." Bloomberg "meant no disrespect," Loeser added.

But Mayor Byron W. Brown said Bloomberg owes local residents an apology. "When I heard those comments, I was pissed. It was a cheap shot. Thinking about those comments, listening to them two hours later, I'm still pissed off. Buffalo is a great city with great people."

Brown noted that he grew up in Queens. "I made the very clear decision to live in Buffalo, because Buffalo is a great place to live, to work and to raise a family," he said.

Will Brown call Bloomberg to discuss the remarks?

"I am not going to call him. I don't think he would want to hear from me right now, to be very honest with you. But Mayor Bloomberg does owe the people of this great city an apology," Brown said.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, also jumped to the defense of the city, praising its architectural treasures, educated work force and solid work ethic.

"I always love coming down to New York City and we'd love to have Mayor Bloomberg up in Buffalo. In fact," she chided, "when he comes up, we'll have him meet with the real experts on snow removal so he'll be ready to handle it next time."

Buffalo Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo, who left his city post Wednesday to become a deputy state comptroller, called the Bloomberg remarks a "gratuitous swipe" at Buffalo.

"The comments attributed to Mayor Bloomberg are disappointing and ill-conceived," he said. SanFilippo stressed that he was speaking as Buffalo's outgoing comptroller, adding that remarks like the ones that Bloomberg made only play into the city's unjustified negative image.

"Buffalo has long been the butt of jabs. It's an easy target for cheap shots. The truth simply is that we are the gem on Lake Erie," SanFilippo said.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said he spoke with Bloomberg on Wednesday.

"He assured me that he misspoke and that he meant no disrespect to the City of Buffalo," Hoyt said. "I had the chance to remind the mayor about all that is great about the state's second-largest city."

Hoyt added that Bloomberg accepted an invitation to visit Buffalo in the future.

Common Council President David A. Franczyk branded Bloomberg's slam "mind-numbing parochialism."

"How can a man who is so educated, so worldly, so wealthy be so parochial?" Franczyk said. "It's sad. It's shocking, really."

If Bloomberg harbored any thoughts of running for president, Franczyk said, he can write off that possibility now, noting that most other cities face the same issues that Buffalo is confronting. Franczyk, who lived in Brooklyn for two years as a college graduate student, said he has great admiration for New York City. But he said Bloomberg's comments about Buffalo were misguided.

The head of one of the region's largest business advocacy groups said Bloomberg's remarks might actually help to promote Buffalo's affordability to companies that are looking to expand. "I think it's going to make our sell easier," said Andrew J. Rudnick, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. "You can point out with a smile on your face what New York City has that we don't have -- high costs, congestion, overcrowding, etc., etc." Rudnick told The Buffalo News.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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