James W. Pitts and his trademark bow tie earned an encore as Common Council President Tuesday, as he sent the Council's second-ranking lawmaker to an early retirement.
Pitts' re-election means the Council, for the first time in 14 years, will begin the new year without Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk.
The victory also cements Pitts' role as City Hall's highest-ranking African American and continues a 25-year tradition of electing a black as Council President, a job second only to the mayor in power and prestige.
With most of the vote counted, the Erie County Board of Elections had Pitts with 20,640 votes, or 61 percent. That compared with Franczyk's 13,149 votes, or 39 percent.
"I've always been positive, and people in Buffalo want a positive message," Pitts said as a crowd of about 50 supporters waited for returns at his Main Street headquarters.
The Council Pitts leads next year will look remarkably different. Democratic Primary voters elected six new faces in what could become the biggest Council turnover in memory, bigger than the Revolt of 1977, when snow and taxes removed five Council members from office.
For Franczyk, the defeat ends a career that began when Jimmy Griffin was mayor, included one unsuccessful run for Congress and culminated this year with his quest to lead the Council into the next millennium.
On Tuesday, the excitement turned sour as a crowd of about 50 Franczyk supporters gathered at his North Buffalo headquarters and watched an early lead dwindle when late results from across the city poured in.
Shortly before 11 p.m., Franczyk acknowledged it was over, and people started offering hugs and condolences.
"It was a lot of fun," Franczyk said. "I have absolutely no regrets."
Franczyk said he has no immediate plans for the future, except to catch up on some reading and consider teaching.
"I will always be involved in politics," he promised.
Until the very end, the campaign featured two of the Council's brightest minds, two lawmakers known for their independence and ambition.
The race also revealed their flaws.
Franczyk, who gave up his district seat to run against Pitts, campaigned on the promise of change and reform and attempted to portray the incumbent as part of the status quo.
He hammered away at the perception that Pitts is arrogant and rules through intimidation and divisiveness.
For his part, Pitts stressed performance, not style, and suggested that, unlike Franczyk, he gets things done.
Pitts went out of his way to focus attention on Franczyk's home district, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, an area devastated by crime, drugs, slumlords and disinvestment.
He often compared Fillmore with Ellicott, the East Side district he represented before becoming president. His former neighborhood prospered in his 18 years as its representative, he said during the race.
The campaign turned ugly in the final weeks leading up the primary with much of the emphasis on race.
At every opportunity, Franczyk linked Pitts with James Harris, Buffalo's controversial school superintendent. Pitts' supporters countered by charging Franczyk with using separate campaign material for whites and blacks 10 years ago.
It also was a race that featured large monetary contributions from Buffalo's business community, including an unusually large $15,000 donation to Franczyk from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Franczyk also received $20,000 from developer Carl Paladino, a frequent Pitts' foe, and $29,000 from a newly formed group of about 15 business people from Buffalo and the suburbs.
Pitts pointed to the contributions and said business interests controlled Franczyk.
From Day One, it was clear that one of things at stake in this campaign was a 25-year tradition of a black serving as Council President.
For some voters, that may have been enough to get them to turn out to vote Tuesday.
"It gives the minority community access to the level of government that is sorely needed," said former Council President George K. Arthur.
Pitts agreed and said the city's growing minority population deserves representation at the highest levels of city government.
"Buffalo is becoming a more diverse city," he said Tuesday night, "and leadership should come from all the diverse sections of the city."
Janice Habuda and T.J. Pignataro contributed to this story.