From Queens to the Queen City: A Q&A With Byron Brown

From Queens to the Queen City: A Q&A With Byron Brown

From Queens to the Queen City: A Q&A With Byron Brown
May 4, 2015

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown grew up in Hollis, Queens, before he left for Buffalo State College, where his political career—which saw him go from the Common Council to the state Senate to the mayor’s office—began.

The longtime Buffalo pol, now in his third term as mayor, has many fond memories of his home borough and visits often to catch up with family and friends, including former classmates from PS 134, Junior High School 109 and August Martin High School. And he says that support from family and friends is what helps him stay focused on achieving his goals.

Brown spoke with City & State's Justin Sondel about how growing up in Queens influenced his life and career and how he continues to feel close to his old neighborhood.

City & State: What was the dynamic like in your neighborhood? Was it a close-knit community?

Byron Brown: Queens is a wonderful, warm and welcoming community. I remember the feeling of extended family in Queens in the neighborhood I grew up in, where we would go over to each other’s homes in the neighborhood and not only did your parents nurture you, but your friends’ parents nurtured you. We felt a responsibility growing up in Queens to do well and to support each other and to look out for each other and if you did something wrong not only would your parents correct you, but if a friend’s parents saw you doing something wrong in the neighborhood they would correct you.

C&S: What are some of your fondest memories of growing up in Queens?

BB: I remember playing hide-and-seek as a kid in Queens. I remember catching lightning bugs in a jar as a kid in Queens and at the end of the night when you’re ready to go into the house, releasing them so they could fly out. I remember playing stickball on the street in Queens and playing football on the street, playing handball in Queens. It seemed like there were so many more things that kids did back then that they don’t seem to do now.

CS: Was there anything in your upbringing in Queens that inspired you to get into politics, any particular politicians that you admired?

BB: There was the United Block Association in the particular neighborhood that I was in, where members of the community banded together to help to improve their own community, to occasionally reach out to elected officials if they needed something. But for the most part, there didn’t seem to be a lot of calling of elected officials in the neighborhoods that I grew up in because people were active, they were involved in the lives of their children, they were engaged. One of the things I kind of learned out of the experience in Queens growing up was the importance of personal responsibility and the importance of community engagement and civic activity. Those lessons learned I carry with me in the roles that I have been fortunate to have as an elected representative.

CS: Queens and Buffalo have many obvious differences, beginning, of course, with their populations. In what ways are the two communities similar?

BB: The neighborhoods in Buffalo reminded me a lot of some of the residential neighborhoods in Queens, and it kind of made me feel like this was home because there are similarities in the neighborhood fabric and the character of people. Queens has very hardworking people. It was a friendly neighborhood. Here in Buffalo, very hardworking, blue-collar, lower-middle-income people. The people here in Buffalo, generally, are a little friendlier than where I grew up in New York City, but in my neighborhood in Queens there was great camaraderie and great warmth and Buffalo reminded me of that kind of feeling.

CS: Is there anything you feel like you need to do whenever you go back to visit?

BB: One of the things that I have to do when I go back to New York, and sometimes I regret it after I’ve done it, is eat White Castle hamburgers. Love the White Castle hamburgers. When I was a kid I probably used to eat 15 at a time. Now I try to limit that to about four at a time.

Justin Sondel
is a freelance reporter in Buffalo.