Recalling a giant who once served the 27th District

Nov 6, 2018

Through a series of redistricting efforts, what is now called New York's 27th Congressional District has changed considerably through the years. Remaining at its core are the so-called GLOW counties--Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming. Representing the district for nearly 20 years in Congress was a native son, Barber Conable. Now, with a spotlight on the legal troubles of the district's current Congressman Chris Collins, Conable's esteemed career merits reflection.


Barber Conable represented Western New York in Congress from 1965 until 1984.

Genesee County writer Bill Kauffman has chronicled Conable on many occasions. Though he was considerably younger than his subject, Kauffman enjoyed a friendship with Conable following his retirement from Congress. 

"It's as if  we sent the finest representative of our area, the embodiment, I think, of the genius of  rural Western New York, to Congress to represent us, " Kauffman said.

Barber Conable grew up on a dairy farm in Wyoming County, went to Cornell, fought at Iwo Jima before becoming a Batavia lawyer. After serving in the state Senate, he spent 20 years in Congress, earning distinction as one of the best Representatives in the House.

As much as Kauffman admires Conable, he holds great disdain for those who have followed.

"Historically, Batavia has been tied to the east in redistricting. So, Mr. Conable's district included the western Rochester suburbs and part of the city," Kauffman explained. 

"After the 1990 redistricting, we were appended to the eastern suburbs of Buffalo, and therein, of course, is one of the problems. Because we've had a series of ethically dubious congressmen rammed down our throats by the Erie County Republican machine."

He rattles off the names. Bill Paxon. Tom Reynolds. Chris Lee, who resigned after a salacious self-photo emerged in social media. Now, of course, Chris Collins has been indicted on charges of insider trading.

With those charges looming, Collins has maintained a low profile throughout his reelection campaign. He's limited his public appearances and media availability. He's refused to participate in a debate.

Kauffman is asked to project Conable's feelings on the matter. He doesn't hesitate.

"I think he'd heartily disapprove. He (Conable) was extremely accessible. He was back in the district, I think, on average 40 times a year," Kauffman recalled.

"Whenever he was back, he'd gather some of his cronies at Genesee Hardware in Batavia over coffee and donuts and chat about things to get a sense of what his hometown, or adopted hometown, thought of things."

Upon his retirement from Congress, Conable was named president of the World Bank. He passed away in 2003.

"Mr. Conable came home to Alexander in southern Genesee County. He lived this fascinating dual life. Even in retirement, he'd go to Washington one day to chair the executive committee of the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents. And, then, the next night he'd be back with the Board of Directors at the Holland Purchase Historical Society (Batavia's history museum)."

"I have great admiration. One of the greatest men I ever knew. "