Downtown Buffalo Mark Byrnes

Washington Post political cartoonist reflects on life in his hometown

Tom Toles is a nationally renowned political cartoonist for the Washington Post. Before moving to D.C. in 2002, Toles grew up and built his career in Buffalo, graduating from SUNY at Buffalo and drawing for the now defunct Buffalo Courier-Express as well as the Buffalo News. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1990.

What neighborhood did you live in while in Buffalo? 

I grew up in Hamburg, originally a farming community just South of Buffalo, that came to be a residential suburb of the city. I lived on Central Avenue my whole time there, though in a different house as an adult. It was the classic 1950's American idyll. It was home, and in many ways still is.

How did your time in Buffalo form you as a political cartoonist? 

Buffalo is a complex brew of labor-oriented Democrats of the industrial era, and some strong conservative religious beliefs, not the most inter-mixed of communities, but filled with passionate, lovable, genuine people who you would want to be in a foxhole with. My politics are no doubt spun around my experiences there in a way that would be tricky to untangle.

Was there a local politician you were especially intrigued by?

Mayor Jimmy Griffin was a classic local tough-guy man-of-the-people politician, with many friends and all the attendant mayhem you'd expect.

Is there anything you particularly miss or are happy to be away from since leaving Buffalo? 

I got tired of Buffalo's patented brand of political dysfunction, and was relieved to get away from that until I saw Washington's brand. The city has been hammered by economic changes, but I'm beginning to think it was merely ahead of the curve in terms of the nation's current economic tailspin.

What do you wish there was more of or less of in Buffalo?

Someone once said that Buffalo has everything except money. It could use some more money.  

Is there something about Buffalo that you feel is misunderstood by non-natives? Something that is particularly underrated?

It's not actually super cold. Buffalo does get lots of snow, but it knows how to plow it out of the way and get on with life. Summers are the Elysian Fields. People like to stereotype cities into one or two words, and you say Buffalo and they think 'snow." This captures about as much of the accurate picture as stereotypes usually do, not much. It is gritty and friendly with a nice arts scene, live bar music galore, unbelievable architecture and a hold on the affection of former residents that is not like other cities. Just find an ex-Buffalonian and ask.

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