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Friends seek to rally support for Buffalo’s ‘sidewalk pundit’

Mark McCarthy sells hot dogs at the corner of Franklin and West Eagle streets. But he is known around downtown as the “sidewalk pundit.”

Politicians, judges, lawyers and government workers go to his stand in the heart of downtown to get their hot dogs, the latest gossip and his often unvarnished, heartfelt opinions.

He’s also known as an advocate for the gay community and for helping others who are less fortunate.

Now McCarthy needs a helping hand.

And his friends are reaching out on his behalf to the Buffalo community to raise money so that he can continue his recovery at home after suffering a stroke.

McCarthy, 56, underwent brain surgery to halt the bleeding and is now at the Delaware Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where he says he is making progress and hopes to return home next month.

“I’ve been here over 60 days and I’m going crazy,” McCarthy said in halting speech Thursday during a phone interview. “I’m working on walking, talking and using my hands. Please tell everyone I’m planning on returning to my corner and working. I miss all my customers, friends and neighbors. I just can’t wait to go home and see my cat.”

But in order to keep his South Buffalo home, renovate it to accommodate him and pay for medical expenses, including a health care aide, it is going to take money McCarthy does not have.

A circular featuring a photograph of McCarthy wearing a campaign T-shirt endorsing Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and standing next to Poloncarz, states:

“Mark has never asked for help and currently is not. We, his friends, are asking for the help. Mark would never ask anyone. We, his friends and family, do not want him to suffer or worry about his recovery. Anything you have to give would be appreciated. Thank you in advance for your generosity.”

Unafraid to take political sides, McCarthy has not only endorsed Poloncarz, but has offered support for many others running for political office over the years. He also has criticized candidates he does not believe would make good public servants.

For 30 years at the busy intersection, he has conversed with some of the community’s most influential leaders, ranging from now-Lt. Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul to Rep. Chris Collins when he was county executive.

“I’ve been called the mayor of downtown, and I know everybody and I know where everything is,” McCarthy said, demonstrating he still has plenty of fire in him.

He also has a gentle, kind side that has not been diminished. For years, he has championed the organization he started, the Imperial Court of Buffalo, which raises money for community charities and other organizations such as Benedict House, AIDS Family Services and the Western New York Pride Center.

In his absence, a temporary hot dog vendor is serving at McCarthy’s corner, but it is just not the same.

Attorney Robert N. Convissar, a longtime customer of McCarthy’s, says it will be a glorious day when and if McCarthy is able to resume holding court at his portable hot dog stand.

“It’s a horrific tragedy that cut down a vibrant man who was really so full of life. Mark always had a smile and a good word for his customers,” Convissar said. “His corner at Franklin and West Eagle was the center of the political and legal universe. He was the source of more political and legal information and it was invariably true. He knew who was in and who was out.”

In supporting the online GoFundMe drive for McCarthy, Convissar said everyone he knows is rooting for McCarthy to make a comeback.

“It will be a great day for the hot dog universe when he returns,” Convissar said.

A goal of $25,000 has been set for the fund and so far $2,400 has been raised.