After a decade of advocating regionalism and consolidation, attorney Kevin P. Gaughan today launched a mayoral campaign aiming to combine the City of Buffalo with Erie County and end "the age of big local government."
Gaughan declared his candidacy in a morning news conference at Niagara and Tonawanda streets and then bought live television time at 6:59 p.m. He acknowledges that his campaign will prove untraditional in its lack of political and financial support but believes that it will ultimately succeed because of the voters' desire for change.
"I know I'll be the only candidate in this race with a plan and a purpose," he said. "I'm not running just because I'm angry over the present mess. I'm running because I have a clear idea how to fix it."
Gaughan, 51, could represent an important dynamic in the mayoral race, especially if Mayor Anthony M. Masiello decides not to run for a fourth term. So far, Gaughan is the best-known candidate to emerge against State Sen. Byron W. Brown, a Democrat who declared his candidacy in February and is considered the front-runner, though more candidates could still enter.
Gaughan thinks that the Democratic primary election in September will eventually boil down to a two-candidate race featuring him and Brown and that the recent fiscal meltdowns experienced by both city and county governments will translate into support for establishing a new system of regional governance.
"I'm going to create a broad community consensus for change," Gaughan said. "It won't come from business or the politicians. It has to be a community initiative to succeed, and that's why it shall."
Gaughan has emerged as one of Western New York's major community activists in recent years after organizing a series of conferences and "conversations" focusing on how to streamline what he considers excessive layers of government. He said he has spoken to 178 community groups since last July to outline his plan for regional government while gathering more than 5,000 signatures for his online petition for regionalism.
He previously said he will not seek the Democratic Party leadership's endorsement, meaning that he will have to rely on a self-constructed network to circulate designating petitions and qualify for the September primary ballot. He also must raise the $200,000 he says he needs to run a citywide campaign.
Though he has lived and worked primarily in the Town of Hamburg, Gaughan is now registered to vote in the City of Buffalo. The Harvard graduate unsuccessfully ran for Congress against Republican Rep. Bill Paxon in 1990 and in the 1994 Democratic congressional primary.
In a Zogby International poll on January commissioned by The Buffalo News, Gaughan scored only 5 percent behind Brown's 38 percent in a Democratic pool of 278 respondents. But that was before Assemblyman Sam Hoyt declared that he will not run.
Central to his effort will be a plan for a regional government that he says would preserve city and minority representation. That aspect, he said, was overlooked by a commission headed by former University at Buffalo President William R. Greiner that last year recommended a plan for regionalism.
Under Gaughan's proposal, a countywide "mayor" would preside over a legislative entity comprising five "inner ring" districts from the city and its immediate suburbs, as well as five "outer ring" members representing other suburban and rural districts.
An elected deputy mayor, or "urban advocate," would break any 5-5 legislative ties, as an 11th vote, and ensure that all policy matters be viewed from an urban perspective, he said.
"The Greiner plan failed utterly because it did not address this," Gaughan said. "It perpetuated the minority status of the city. This strengthens the city."
The new candidate said skeptical suburban residents must realize that the success or failure of their towns depends on the city. But for now, he believes that he can win over Buffalo residents because, in his view, Brown and other candidates offer no plan for change.
"In any competition, an idea always beats no idea," Gaughan said. "No other candidate has even uttered a syllable for change."
The campaign dynamic facing Gaughan and others hinges largely on Masiello's intention, which he is expected to announce soon. Until today, only Brown and community activist Judith Einach officially announced their plans to run in the Democratic primary.