Government Relations: Navigating the Decision-Makers
Managing government relations for Buffalo State College is no easy task. There are myriad issues with which to contend and interaction among multiple layers of government—city, county, state, federal, and the SUNY system. But William Benfanti is up for the challenge.
Much has happened since Benfanti was hired one year ago to the new post of associate vice president for government relations. He immediately became involved in efforts to secure $93 million in state funding for the new science and mathematics complex. He was also instrumental in bringing then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer to campus in January for the first-ever State of Upstate address.
Times have changed. State and federal budgets are experiencing trouble. David Paterson is now the state’s governor. But Benfanti is still as busy as ever.
He continues to press for state funding despite a looming budget crisis. He works daily with city and county government officials to discuss land issues and strengthen partnerships. And he continues to encourage state and SUNY officials to keep Buffalo State College in the forefront of their minds as they make decisions. In recent weeks, he has hosted daylong campus visits for Deborah Glick, a member of the New York State Assembly and chair of the higher education committee, and Elizabeth Clark, director of federal relations for SUNY.
“Our destiny is largely decided by those in Albany,” Benfanti said. “When it comes to the economy and jobs for the region, we need to make the case [to government] that Buffalo State and SUNY are not the problem but the solution.”
Benfanti said that helping to secure funding for the science and mathematics complex is one of his highlights thus far.
“This is more than just a building,” he said. “It represents where we’re taking education. There’s a tremendous amount of faculty planning, collaboration, and interdisciplinary work involved.”
Benfanti also continues to lobby for the future of the proposed athletics stadium and the expansion of the Great Lakes Center. As for how the outcome of the upcoming presidential election might affect efforts, Benfanti said there will be much turnover among the upper levels of Washington no matter who is elected.
Because his position is new, Benfanti currently has no staff directly reporting to him. But he frequently corresponds with SUNY staff as well as Patricia Lynch Associates, a lobbying firm that includes former New York State Assembly Majority Leader and Buffalo State alumnus Paul Tokasz, ’71, among its partners. “I work for everyone on campus,” Benfanti said.
Benfanti thinks it is incredibly energizing to be part of a higher education environment.
“Something’s always happening; there’s progress every day. There are new [community] partnerships all the time,” he said. “The college makes a real impact on people’s lives, and it’s nice for me to be a small part of that.”