To hear James W. Pitts talk, Mayor Masiello is guilty of subterfuge, secrecy and a host of other failings.

Pitts even accused the mayor of holding clandestine meetings with business leaders.

Buffalo's Common Council president is talking a lot like a candidate for mayor.

But is he?

Behind the scenes, Pitts has met with Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon and County Executive Gorski. He even sat down with Republican leaders.

His checklist has included a poll, phone calls to friends and allies, and a fund-raiser in the near future.

"People see the city sinking or swimming over the next four years," Pitts says. "We need to do something different and that's what people are looking for."

Sounds like a campaign speech, but Pitts downplays any suggestion that his criticism of Masiello has been ratcheted up a few notches in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, the potential for a Pitts-Masiello race is Topic A at City Hall.

The speculation is that Pitts views this year as his best chance to become mayor but, in the end, Masiello's organization and campaign war chest will convince him not to run.

He also knows the Democratic endorsement is pretty much guaranteed to Masiello and that both Pigeon and Gorski are backing the mayor.

"The Council president called to have lunch," said Gorski spokesman Scott Brown. "Dennis is always willing to have lunch if someone else is buying. But the county executive has said, he's supporting he mayor."

So why pursue the idea?

Even Pitts acknowledged an interest in the prospect of a three-person race. If Masiello faced a second challenger, particularly a white candidate, the chances of a Pitts victory increase.

Former Mayor James D. Griffin, thanks to a highly visible role as the chief garbage-fee critic, has fueled reports that he may jump into the race.

"If there was a three-person race, the decision could be somewhat easier," Pitts said.

He plays it close to the vest when talking about polling and fund-raising results. But ask Pitts about Masiello's record in office and the gloves come off.

He compared the Masiello administration to the Griffin team and likes to accuse the mayor of not working for a bigger share of the county's sales-tax revenue.

"He's gagged by Gorski," Pitts said. "The mayor should be screaming about the sales tax."

He also thinks the mayor mishandled the water-privatization issue by not bringing city unions into the process.

Pitts' critics view his comments as an attempt to woo the unions into backing his candidacy.

"Jim's silence on (the sales-tax) issue has been deafening," Masiello said. "The only names and voices out there fighting for more sales-tax revenue are Tony Masiello and (Deputy Assembly Speaker) Art Eve."

Critics also note that Pitts voted for the garbage fee, but is now working to repeal it. Last week, he suggested the city eliminate the fee or begin to phase it out.

Pitts has indicated in the past a final decision on whether he runs would come this month but last week refused to speculate on when he may announce his intentions.

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