New York 27th District
With its massive 1920s skyscraper City Hall overlooking the Niagara River and Lake Erie, Buffalo declares itself to be a city of substance. But it has gone through some rough times in recent decades. The butt of jokes about the snow that piles up at the eastern end of Lake Erie and that supposedly keeps it immobilized half the year, Buffalo also can claim credit for building a heavy industrial base in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as America’s No. 1 grain milling center and as a major steel producer. Today, the area still benefits from cheap hydroelectric power, but the Lackawanna steel mills are shuttered, and grain milling waned after the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in the 1950s. Buffalo has been eclipsed economically by the bigger Great Lakes industrial cities of Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago, and its architecturally bold downtown skyscrapers are overshadowed by the high-rise horizon of Toronto, not many miles away. Buffalo was the nation’s 15th-largest city in 1950 when it had a population of 580,000. By 2007, it was 69th-largest, with a population reduced by half to 273,000. Surrounding Erie County, once well over 1 million, had 910,000 people in 2008. Right across Buffalo’s Peace Bridge is the richest part of Canada, the golden horseshoe from Niagara Falls through Hamilton to Toronto. But Buffalo’s hopes of becoming Toronto’s back office have faded, and New York taxes are still high enough to leave Buffalo at a serious competitive disadvantage. Local boosters have criticized state capital powerbrokers for lavishing excessive attention on New York City as the state’s economic engine. And, to add insult to injury, the Buffalo Bills franchise in the National Football League has moved some of its home games to Toronto. Still, Buffalo retains some considerable assets: a high-skill labor force and inexpensive real estate, including a gentrified and handsome waterfront on a now-cleaner Lake Erie, and some impressive cultural institutions.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 27th Congressional District of New York consists of the eastern and southern two-thirds of Buffalo, plus most of the Erie County suburbs east and south of the city, from working-class Cheektowaga and Lackawanna to higher-income Hamburg and Orchard Park. The 27th also includes Chautauqua County, which is sufficiently rural to harbor some black bears and also is the famed birthplace of a movement to promote high-minded discourse. It was there that a training camp for Methodist Sunday school teachers was founded in 1874, attracting some 25,000 people to educational talks and inspirational lectures from the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Jennings Bryan. The rounds of summer lectures continue today. Although some Buffalo suburbs are Republican, this district is solidly Democratic. But as Buffalo struggles, it has become politically volatile. In 1992, Buffalo gave third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot 28% of the vote, his best showing in a central city anywhere. In 1994, Democrat Mario Cuomo lost Erie County to Republican George Pataki in the governor’s race. In recent contests for president and statewide offices, Buffalo and Erie County have been solidly Democratic.