Spend time with U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins and you could mistake him for Buffalo’s official ambassador rather than a congressman.
In his nearly two-decade career in the House of Representatives, the New York Democrat prioritized restoring his beloved hometown to its former standing.
“I didn't come to Washington to change the world. I came to Washington to change my community,” he said in a recent interview in his Capitol Hill office, which has a view of the Capitol dome.
On Friday, his tenure in Congress comes to a close, as he leaves to take on the role as president of Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo.
One of Higgins’ first victories for Buffalo came in 2005, at a time, he says, when the city was suffering from a severe lack of confidence after years of economic decline.
Higgins helped spearhead a settlement with the New York Power Authority, unlocking hundreds of millions of dollars that have since fueled an overhaul of Buffalo’s waterfront.
“We got things done that people were frustrated hadn't been done earlier,” he said. “I think that was an inflection point that helped Buffalo realize that, you know, we had great, great potential.”
As a congressman, Higgins traveled the world with the Foreign Affairs Committee, including visiting hotspots in the Middle East. He helped craft tax policy as a member of the influential Ways and Means Committee.
He did not, however, climb up the Democratic leadership ranks, something he said did not really interest him.
“I think for Buffalo, the job's different,” he said. “Buffalo, Western New York couldn't afford to have somebody that came down here and forgot about the community. It needed someone who was deeply immersed in the community.”
When Higgins announced in November that he would be stepping down from Congress, he offered a stark warning about the state of things in Congress.
“I think we're at the beginning of a bad trend, not the end of one,” he told the press.
Higgins explained that, in his view, a growing number of people in Congress spend their time trying to get attention rather than trying to get things done.
“Members of Congress have learned to weaponize and monetize their place in Congress. They go after people that a large segment of the American population may not like. In doing so, their fundraising goes through the roof,” he said.
Higgins said he now feels he can be more useful back home, where he is set to take on a new job leading the Shea’s Performing Arts Center, a place he has known since his youth.
“I remember seeing Bruce Springsteen in 1978 when he opened the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour in Buffalo at the Shea’s Buffalo,” he said.
In the new role, he says he will work to expand Shea’s reach into Ontario. And he wants to continue to build up Buffalo itself, making the theater district a “destination in and of itself, whether the theater is active or not.”
In bidding goodbye to his D.D. office, he has a word of advice for whoever occupies it next: don’t forget your roots.
“Don't get immersed in this culture. Stay with your community that sent you here,” he said.