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View from New York: Rich restores Buffalo's reputation

Robert Rich’s sporting philanthropy is single-handedly restoring the good name of Buffalo, NY, writes John Riordan in this week’s column.

Billionaire Robert Rich (right) and his wife Mindy pose following the announcement of a development contract between the New York Mets and Rich's Buffalo Bisons
Billionaire Robert Rich (right) and his wife Mindy pose following the announcement of a development contract between the New York Mets and Rich's Buffalo Bisons
Image: James P. McCoy/AP/Press Association Images

THERE WERE MANY alarming aspects of last November’s mid-term elections that caused me to wonder whether or not I had made the right decision in relocating to New York but Carl Paladino’s controversial run for governor of the Empire State ranked high.

He was a poster boy for blind aggression, riding the Tea Party wave of low taxes and low tolerance as he tried to derail his Democrat opponent Andrew Cuomo’s bid to follow in his father Mario’s footsteps and take up residence at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany.

Although Cuomo may not have been entirely palatable due to his shady links to Manhattan’s rich and powerful – a prerequisite for any successful gubernatorial campaign, let’s be honest – he had the duel advantage of that name and a more than passable level of humanity. Or maybe political opportunism.

The fact is that when commenting on Cuomo’s fairly innocuous decision to bring his teenage daughters to a gay pride parade in early 2010, Paladino described it as “disgusting”: “Is that normal?” he continued in an interview with ABC’s TV show ‘Good Morning America’. “I don’t think it’s proper for them to go there.”

I won’t bore you further with his other rants but after his very public threatening of a reporter, his next most eye-opening moment and a coup de grâce to a madcap campaign was his decision to brandish a baseball bat at his concession speech when the inevitable came to pass: “I’ve always said my baseball bat is a metaphor for the people who want to take their government back,” he said clearly hedging his bets with the true definition of ‘metaphor’.

Buffalo, NY gave the world Carl Paladino so it makes you wonder what the world did Buffalo, NY. Quite a deal as it turns out.

It’s a dilapidated town which, to the naked eye, seems like it was abandoned when its steel industry diminished. It’s easy to criticise but this sad town is a fully paid-up member of the rust belt, chicken wings or no chicken wings.

But New Yorkers were given a different slant on the possibilities of Buffalo when the front page of yesterday’s Times picked up on a story previously highlighted in the Guardian, a quirky page one tale of sporting philanthropy courtesy of Paladino’s antithesis, Robert Rich.

Mr Rich is the marvellously named owner of the Buffalo Bisons, a Minor League baseball team who play at a tidy little ballpark which you can see from the I-190 expressway as you hasten past the city en route to Niagara Falls.

The longer, better version of the story is well worth a read but to sum up, Mr Rich (difficult to type that with a straight face) was given a bargain basement gift of a peerage for his birthday by his wife and when the new Lord of Bedlington (northeast of England, close to the Scottish border) noticed that the local football team, the semi-professional Bedlington Terriers, could do with a bit of sponsorship, he weighed in with cash as well as marketing expertise.

“There were a lot of similarities to Buffalo,” Mr Rich, 70, told the Times. “They had lost their mining and we had lost our steel milling.

“We want to help them help themselves. We can’t get into an arms race, but we can help them improve amenities and help them with their field so a guy won’t turn his ankle in a mud patch and help them so they’re not scrapping to make a payroll.”

Buffalo has its problems and Bob Rich is in the fortunate position of being a super rich heir to yesterday’s industrial possibilities but if the mean-spirited world view of Carl Paladino ever pops up in conversation again, Lord Bedlington’s selfless guardianship of the Bisons and the Terriers will be cited in favour of New York’s forgotten town.

John Riordan writes a column for the Irish Examiner. He works as a freelance journalist in New York; check out his blog here.

Read his weekly pieces  for TheScore here.

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