If you haven’t heard, Donald Trump is running for President of the United States of America. Too much has happened for me to summarize it here, but it’s been an interesting election cycle. Neither party has a definite winner, with the Republic race particularly divided. For the first time in decades, voters in New York have a meaningful opportunity to support their candidates in the primary election on April 19. This, of course, means that people are paying attention to our state.
Months ago, Ted Cruz criticized “New York values,” and Trump, always good for a sound bite, recently claimed that he is “like the most popular person that’s ever lived, virtually” (CNN, February 21) in Upstate New York. As a lifelong resident and proud Rochesterian, I am confident in saying that he is incorrect. Here are a lot of people who are more popular.
20. Tom Cruise
He might be crazy. He might be in a cult. But he also flew a fighter jet and completed not one, but four impossible missions. And he was born in Syracuse.
19. Cal Ripken, Jr.
On April 18, 19, and finally, June 23, 1981, the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket Red Sox played the longest game in professional baseball, 33 innings at McCoy Stadium in Rhode Island. Cal Ripken, Jr. played every inning of that game, one of his last as a Red Wing before moving up to the Baltimore Orioles for 21 seasons.
18. Doug Flutie
For an athlete, there are few honors greater than appearing on the front of a box of Wheaties cereal. Flutie, in his short career with the Buffalo Bills, had his own cereal, Flutie Flakes.
17. Genesee Bock goat
An annual event doesn’t seem like it should be news, but that doesn’t stop every Rochester outlet from reporting when Genesee Brewery starts selling Genesee Bock each year. Bars across the region proudly display bright green “Bock Is Back” posters, and beer lovers buy cases, stocking up for the months when it is unavailable.
16. Bruce and Armand Schaubroeck
For more than a half-century, Rochester has been home to the Great House of Guitars, founded by these two brothers. Iconic commercials, mostly unchanged since they were created decades ago, are staples of Rochester TV at Christmas and Easter. Even major acts, passing through on tour, hop on down to the House of Guitars before their shows.
15. Lou Gramm
The Gates native became a rock star as the lead singer of Foreigner, but everyone knows that “Cold As Ice” is actually about New York winters.
14. Gary the Happy Pirate
Gary has been a staple of Rochester children’s entertainment for over two decades. Since 1999, he has also been the face of the Pirate Toy Fund, an organization dedicated to distributing toys to hospitalized children and kids facing disaster and family trauma.
12. Marge Simpson
Marge once supplied pretzels to the Meat Packers Union Hall in Batavia.
11. John Walsh
After the abduction and murder of his son, Adam, Auburn native John Walsh became an influencial figure, lobbying for the creation of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. He later hosted America’s Most Wanted, assisting in the capture of well over 1,000 accused criminals.
10. John McTiernan
Die Hard. An Albany native directed Die Hard. Nothing Trump will ever do can match that. Even if he invents time travel and goes back in time to direct Die Hard, it still won’t be as good.
9. Tom Golisano
The founder of Paychex, former owner of the Buffalo Sabres, and attempted buyer of the Buffalo Bills moves a lot of money. He has made significant donations to Our Lady of Mercy and Bishop Kearney high schools, Nazareth College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Hartwick College, Niagara University, The Golisano Neurology and Rehabilitation Center at Unity Hospital as well as University of Rochester’s Golisano Children’s Hospital and the Clinton Foundation.
8. Tom Richards
Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy’s election to Lieutenant Governor meant Deputy Mayor Richards received a promotion. He served seventeen days as Interim Mayor before stepping down, in order to run in the 2011 special election. Personal tragedy caused him to withdraw from his 2013 re-election campaign. Despite endorsing his opponent and not campaigning, Richards still received 39% of votes.
7. Chuck Mangione
The Rochester jazz man with a hit in “Feels So Good,” has toured the country, and brought his famous friends back to Rochester. He also had a recurring guest role on King of the Hill.
6. Spongebob Squarepants
Spongebob has been on TV for over fifteen years, has starred in two feature films, and met David Hasselhoff. His voice, Tom Kenny, is a Syracuse native.
5. Jim Kelly
With the Buffalo Bills, Kelly appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. His son’s struggle with Krabbe disease, and the Hunter’s Hope organization founded in his honor, have cemented Kelly’s place as one of Buffalo’s favorite adopted sons.
4. Steven Page
Though best-known as the Canadian founder of Barenaked Ladies, Page has lived in the Syracuse region for much of the past decade, especially since his split with the band in 2009. As a child, his family made annual trips to Rochester’s Lilac Festival, and his first post-BNL solo album, Page One, included a track titled “Clifton Springs.”
3. Scott Hetsko
When the WROC chief meteorologist stepped away from his green screen in June 2015, the Rochester area had no idea what the weather would be the next day. Revealing later that he received a heart transplant, the top-rated weather man became a spokesperson for organ recovery and donation, encouraging others to become organ donors and share their wishes with their family. Even winter waited for Scott’s return – more snow fell in the two weeks after he returned to TV in February 2016 than in the entire time he was gone.
2. Dave Matthews
Dave Matthews is probably as divisive as Donald Trump, but you’re far less likely to be beaten up at a DMB concert than at a Trump rally. One dumps all over his opponents, in political contests and in strange personal feuds, the other one dumps all over a boat full of people enjoying an evening on the Chicago River. If you find yourself in Saratoga Springs the night of a “Dave” concert, plan on staying for a while.
1. Danny Wegman
Danny Wegman is not only the CEO of Wegmans Food Markets, one of New York’s largest (and most loved) employers, but an advocate for the Rochester/Finger Lakes region. He is co-chair of Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, responsible for securing, and now using, $500 million awarded as part of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative. He also has a signature sandwich at Wegmans sub shops, “Danny’s Favorite.” With Genoa salami, capicola, and spicy ham, it’s a godfather named after ours.
Bonus: The Dearly Departed
4. Teressa Bellissimo (1901-1985)
No one can deny the importance of Mrs. Bellissimo on the culture of Buffalo and western New York. Though their origin story has been told in several ways, each version credits Mrs. Bellissimo as the inventor of the Buffalo wing.
3. Alex and Nick Tahou
Alex Tahou named his restaurant after his son, Nick, and sold a “Hots and Po-tots” dish consisting of fried potatoes, baked beans, hot dogs, onions, mustard, and a spicy meat sauce. Over the next nine decades and three generations, his creation has become the Garbage Plate, the signature dish of Rochester. The ingredients have changed slightly, but it remains a local favorite and has inspired dozens of knock-offs at local burger joints and high-end restaurants alike.
2. Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
A leader for equal rights, women’s suffrage, and the abolition of slavery, Anthony made Rochester her home, and was arrested there in 1872 for voting. Her grave at Mount Hope Cemetery is often decorated by “I Voted” stickers on election day. The first non-fictional woman to be featured on US currency is remembered at the Susan B. Anthony House.
1. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
A former slave settled in Rochester and became a world-recognized writer and statesman. He published The North Star, an abolitionist paper, and wrote several autobiographies while living in the Flour City. Though he moved to Washington, D.C. after his Rochester home was burned, he returned to rest in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Has my Rochester bias left your favorite upstate New Yorker off the list? Mention it in the comments, and be friendly. This isn’t Manhattan.