Buffalo's hardest-fought primary battle showed no signs of faltering Saturday as the two contenders for Common Council president slugged it out over behind-the-scenes backers and their influence on City Hall.
The day's controversy started with an op-ed piece in The Buffalo News authored by developer Carl P. Paladino, a key backer of challenger David A. Franczyk and an avowed foe of incumbent James W. Pitts. Paladino, who has contributed $20,000 to Franczyk through his various development corporations, wrote that Pitts played the "race card" in last spring's controversy over the performance of School Superintendent James Harris.
He also claimed that among other failings, Pitts was responsible for Council "gridlock" because of his "intimidating and vindictive leadership."
But the Council president shot back, countering that Paladino is emerging as his real opponent in the race. In fact, he charged that his longtime nemesis is attempting to "control" the Council with his lavish contributions.
"The issue is that Carl Paladino is literally trying to take control of the Common Council," Pitts said. "It's not only the amount of money he has given through his corporations, but he's also responsible for organizing support from the suburban businessmen and the (Buffalo Niagara) Partnership."
Pitts said he, too, enjoys business support. But it involves taking the city in the right direction, he said, rather than control.
"Since back when George Arthur ran against Jimmy Griffin (for mayor), this is the first time big guns like Bob Wilmers and Andy Rudnick have tried to take control of city government," said Pitts, referring to major business leaders. "Carl is exercising a vendetta."
He also denied that his adversarial relationship with Paladino led to his recent blockage of Paladino's potential participation in the redevelopment of the former L.L. Berger building downtown. He said Paladino has abandoned Rite Aid buildings, while failing to placate residents of a Swan Street home who continually complain about overhanging limbs from Paladino's adjoining lot.
"The issue is this: if we can designate Mr. Paladino as developer for a prime downtown location, then he can clean up his Rite Aids and cut the tree," Pitts said.
And he blamed Paladino for injecting race into the contest.
"He's trying to make an association with Harris because he is African-American and I am African-American," Pitts said. "I was working behind the scenes during that controversy to try and quiet the storm."
But Franczyk said the issue is not Paladino or his involvement, but Pitts' inability to work with people.
"His personal animus with Carl is part of the problem," Franczyk said.
The challenger, the current Fillmore Council member, said Paladino is participating in his campaign with the promise of nothing in return.
"Carl gets only what everybody gets -- a fair hearing, which they can't get from Pitts," he said.