The story of Brian Higgins's life is a uniquely American story. A child of immigrant and first-generation American parents, he watched his family achieve the middle-class American dream through hard work and perseverance.
Born to working class parents in South Buffalo, New York, Brian Higgins was raised by his father Dan, a skilled tradesman, labor leader and later an elected and appointed official, and his mother Mary (Breen), a former schoolteacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Buffalo's Old First Ward. Together, the Higgins family - older sister Trish, brothers Mark, Tim, Brian and Danny, along with Mary's youngest brother Mike Breen - came of age on South Buffalo's Milford Street. Brian's grandparents came to America from counties Mayo and Kerry in Ireland, and his paternal grandfather was the first of a long line of Higgins family bricklayers.
"My grandfather came here from Ireland as an orphan in the hull of a ship," Brian says, "eager to escape the poverty and persecution his people faced in their homeland and full of anticipation for the life that he could build in America."
As a youngster, Brian and his brothers worked as laborers for his father and uncles on weekend side jobs they took on to help make ends meet. On those side jobs, his father and uncles were paid by the job, and Brian remembers carrying many bricks in the dusk hours, and even by the light of his father's car headlights. While he learned the value of hard work, Brian also learned the lesson of working a job completely, from start to finish, and has employed that lesson as he has shepherded public projects from the drawing board to their eventual completion.
Brian tells the story like this: "My father and uncle would never teach us how to lay brick; if we learned the trade, they figured, they would lose their laborers. But we were there for another reason: my dad and his brothers wanted us to see how hard they worked, and to know that with hard work and a good education we had limitless potential that would provide us an opportunity to give something back to the community that gave us so much."
"There were simple lessons in their actions that served us so well; by example, they taught us that by working hard, being honest, loving your family and giving something back to your community, our opportunities were limitless."
Brian's father and uncles also demonstrated the value of union membership and solidarity. During the 1950s, Brian's uncle Jack Higgins was the President of the Buffalo Federation of Labor (BFL) and oversaw the merger that resulted in the Buffalo AFL-CIO. In addition, Brian's uncle Jim Higgins served as President of the Bricklayers Local 45. Brian's father Dan Higgins was active in the local as well. Dan Higgins later served as a member of the Buffalo Common Council, and later was appointed by New York Governor Hugh Carey as a Commissioner of the New York State Workers Compensation Board, where his appointment was one traditionally reserved for a representative of Organized Labor.
Brian Higgins was elected in his own right to the Buffalo Common Council in 1987. As Councilman, Brian was rated the best Buffalo lawmaker in a 1993 Buffalo News survey of 350 Western New York business and community leaders. Brian was rated number one in fourteen of eighteen categories, with highest individual marks were for "intelligence," "honesty," "hard work," and "effectiveness."
In January 1995, Brian was admitted to Harvard University and awarded the inaugural Western New York Harvard Graduate fellowship, and in June 1996 received a Master of Arts degree in Public Policy and Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Also an alumnus of Buffalo State College, Brian completed graduate and undergraduate studies in history and political science, respectively. Brian also served as a lecturer in the History and Economics departments at Buffalo State College, instructing undergraduates in courses on state and local government, as well as on the economic history of Buffalo and Western New York. Brian also serves as Historian for the Irish-American Legislators Society of New York, an organization of state legislators, past and present, of Irish-American descent.
Brian Higgins was elected to the New York State Assembly for the 145th District in November 1998. As Assemblyman, Brian made economic development and job creation a key focus of his service. Brian believes that the revitalization of the dilapidated Buffalo waterfront is a critical step toward a successful effort. Working with governmental partners on the federal, state and local levels - Democrats and Republicans alike - Brian has secured nearly $20 million in state funding to revitalize lands then controlled by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), including the area commonly known as "Gallagher Beach." Brian led the effort to create a new state park along the Outer Harbor on the beach site - a proposal endorsed by the governor in 2002 and included in his 2003-04 proposed state budget.
In November of 2004 Brian was first elected to serve as the Congressman representing New York's 27th District which includes a portion of Erie County and all of Chautauqua County.
Brian is a recipient of the Judge John D. Hillary Scholarship Award recognizing his commitment to education and community, and was a member of the inaugural Business First "Forty Under Forty" class, recognizing his professional success and community involvement at an early age.
Brian and his wife Mary Jane -- a special education teacher in the Buffalo Public School system -- are the proud parents of two young children, John and Maeve. They are parishioners at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in South Buffalo.