Poloncarz’s opposition to a new Bills stadium will be a problem in November

Mark Poloncarz is the only politician in Western New York willing to publicly disparage supporters of a new Buffalo Bills Stadium -- and he remains one of the project's only obstacles.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz‘s longstanding opposition to a new Buffalo Bills stadium is badly damaging his chances of reelection at the ballot box in November, area political operatives posit.  Critics have lambasted Poloncarz for his lease negotiation in 2013, which included only $95 million from the County for improvements and lacked a long term planning process to ensure that the team will remain in Western New York beyond its ten-year duration.

As a result, they argue, “our fans have the very worst stadium in the league”.

Polling indicates that a new Bills stadium is an issue important enough to mobilize unlikely voters, who do not typically participate in County elections.  That block of voters is easily mobilized with television and radio commercials — both of which come cheap in Erie County.

A market study commissioned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment is expected to be completed late this summer.  That study is likely to recommend a new ‘full-scale’ stadium in Niagara Falls, NY.  That location is a full hour closer to the 12 million people and hundreds of multi-billion dollar corporations that call Southern Ontario home.

Longtime political observers argue that Poloncarz is vulnerable to being ousted from office on the stadium issue alone — particularly considering how much footage exists of the County Executive repeatedly and strenuously emphasizing his opposition.

His opposition to public support for a new stadium began even before he was unexpectedly elected to the County Executive’s office in 2011, when former County Executive Chris Collins similarly antagonized the electorate with cuts to local arts and cultural institutions.  The funding only amounted to $400,000 or so, but it viscerally angered artists across the city, who unceremoniously mobilized against Collins.

There are many times more Buffalo Bills fans — and the fan base is an extraordinarily powerful political force.  It’s an asset that the Pegulas seem reluctant to use.  Or, perhaps its a matter of restraint.

In either event, Poloncarz has been unwavering in his stern opposition, which seems elitist to most observers.  If the cultural institution were artsier and more to his wine-drinking tastes, he’d organize protests in the streets.  But Bills fans are beer drinkers (and more likely Republican, when they vote at all).

His critics say that he isn’t willing to represent each with the same fervor.

Would it be difficult for the County Executive to adopt such a reversal at this late date in the election cycle?  Of course, but it’s not entirely unmanageable.

Lynne Dixon is challenging Poloncarz for the Office of Erie County Executive.  In 2014 she had expressed support for a new stadium and joined Assemblyman Micky Kearns in calling for a broadly participatory and transparent planning process.

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