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The Iraq War ‘spinmeister’ and high-powered lobbyists behind Pegula’s stadium shakedown

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Ralph Wilson Stadium, now called Highmark Stadium, after publicly-funded renovations in 2016 (by Adam Moss, via Flickr)

When Terry and Kim Pegula, the owners of a minor fracking company who became billionaires by flipping drilling rights to Royal Dutch Shell, bought the Buffalo Bills in 2014, loyal fans across Western New York breathed a sigh of relief. The threat of an out-of-touch owner moving the floundering team to a larger and richer media market, which had loomed large for years and which had become all the more dire after the death of original Bills owner Ralph Wilson, seemed gone for good.

“Now, God bless Terry Pegula,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a Western New York campaign event. “Start making the statue of Terry Pegula right now. And make it big.”

Seven years after he was hailed as a local hero for his promise to Buffalo that the Bills and the Sabres NHL franchise (which Pegula also owns) were “here to stay,” Pegula is now using strong-arm tactics to try to extract $1.4 billion in public money from the people of Western New York. On August 1, Pegula floated a proposal for the public to fund 100% of the cost of a new stadium. This proposal was quickly followed by threats to move the team unless the people of New York State paid up.

“Right now the City of Buffalo and the State are going to have to decide if they want a team,” Pegula Sports and Entertainment spokesman Jim Wilkinson told WIVB News.

Wilkson – a former member of the White House public relations team that pushed the United States into invading Iraq in 2003 – is one piece in the Pegula family’s political influence operation, which also includes high-powered Albany lobbyists with deep ties to the halls of power and large donations to New York politicians and pressure groups.

An internal Pegula Sports and Entertainment flowchart leaked to the Athletic’s Tim Graham listed named the family’s lifestyle – which includes a mansion in Boca Raton, an estate in the Buffalo suburb of East Aurora, as well as a $75 million “superyacht” – as a chief goal of the business.

Below we profile some of the people and firms working to advance the Pegulas’ agenda by using Western New Yorkers’ devotion to the Buffalo Bills to wring out as much taxpayer subsidy as they can possibly get.

Jim Wilkinson is leading Pegula Sports and Entertainment’s public relations effort to build a new football stadium in Orchard Park, reportedly with the demand that the people of New York State pay 100% of the estimated $1.4 billion cost.

After both the Buffalo Bills and public officials denied reports that the Pegulas were intimating they would move the team if their demands were not met, Wilkinson articulated a clear, if thinly-veiled, threat in an interview to Buffalo’s CBS affiliate. “Right now the City of Buffalo and the State are going to have to decide if they want a team,” Wilkinson told WIVB’s Marlee Tusks.

Wilkinson is the chairman and CEO of TrailRunner International, a public relations firm headquartered in Southlake, Texas........

© Eyes on the Ties

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