Last month, the digital tabloid founded by the late publisher Joe Illuzzi, circulated a rumor that Congressman Brian Higgins (D-South Buffalo) is considering retirement. The current publisher of that ‘scandal sheet,’ as it is often referred, is Michael Caputo, a local political operative with a “public relations” contract at the Erie County Water Authority.
Caputo came to local prominence after his high-profile mismanagement of Carl Paladino’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, and as a fill in talk radio personality on WBEN. In recent months he parlayed that into the water authority contract. Observers say that, given the politically driven culture at the authority, such a contract would require the blessing of local GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy.
The authority had been criticized in recent years for exorbitant spending on public relations firms. Rate payers are stuck in a monopoly and face a significant rate increase this month. Many question why the authority would need to hire a public relations firm, arguing that public relations functions for a government entity should be kept in house for the purpose of cost control.
Caputo went so far as to allege that Higgins was preparing to take a position as Dean of D’Youville College. The next day the publication retracted it’s claim, citing the Congressman’s local staffer, Chuck Eaton.
Now, critics are questioning the propriety of Caputo’s contract.
As one critic explains, “it looks like Langworthy is using public resources for political purposes, essentially paying Caputo to rumor monger and — as he did last month — to scandalize a Democratic congressman.”
The rumors about an eminent retirement keep swirling and political operatives have postulated various retirement scenarios for a congressman with many options. Sources close to Higgins say that he is tired of the demanding position, and continues to consider his retirement options despite his staffers’ instance to the contrary.
Undoubtedly, he could make much more money doing other things, while living a slower paced and less high pressure lifestyle. Observers have discussed a number of potential opportunities for the Congressman.
1. Defense contractor lobbyist ($450,000 to $800,000)
It’s an open secret that Higgins is bankrolled by the defense contracting industry. He has a vast network of contacts among their lawyers and lobbyists, and with his relationships on the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committees, he would be a valuable addition to Honeywell’s government relations team.
2. President of the University at Buffalo ($500,000 to $650,000)
It’s been long rumored that Higgins’ dream job would be to takeover as President of the University at Buffalo — and observers say that his network of relationships in Washington and Albany could make him an effective leader of the institution, which relies heavily on federal and state support. Administrators have long lusted for a massive $6 billion buildout of the North, South, and Medical campuses. If our goal is to turn Buffalo into Berkeley — the flagship research university of the state’s system — then Higgins could be an effective lobbyist to shepherd that cause.
3. M&T Bank’s top lobbyist ($250,000 to $450,000)
Kathy Hochul’s old job was enviable. As one of the state’s largest commercial banks and Western New York’s largest employer, the position comes with clout, perhaps even prestige. The bank’s growth plans are unclear. After complications with regulators that took years to resolve, the bank’s merger with a New York City based bank was allowed to proceed. Continued expansion plans would demand a robust public affairs office.
4. United States Ambassador to Ireland ($135,000 to $179,700)
Higgins is known to covet the Presidential appointment, a relatively commonplace reward bestowed on loyal supporters in the final year of a lame duck presidency. Commentators say that Higgins could use the position to build trade relationships between the emerald island and Buffalo while spending the last year of the Obama presidency traveling in Ireland before he lands the big prize at UB. A sudden vacancy could lead to a special election — which would almost certainly spark a frenzied battle for the coveted seat inside the Democratic party.