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And a ball was had by all . . . Inaugural gala shows diversity commitment

It's not often that Buffalo's nattily attired mayor faces stiff fashion competition.

But that was the case Saturday night as about 1,500 people in black tuxes, opulent evening gowns and sparkling jewelry attended Mayor Byron W. Brown's first Inaugural Ball at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

Guests were greeted by an ice sculpture of a large bison above a banner that proclaimed the new mayor's inaugural theme: "New Vision, New Buffalo."

Brown, along with wife Michelle and 15-year-old son Byron III, ushered in his first term with an eclectic blend of food and entertainment that showcased Buffalo's cultural diversity.

Revelers enjoyed everything from funk music and swing to red hot salsa and big band tunes. Groups ranging from Irish dancers and jazz bands, to performers from the African American Cultural Center, were stationed throughout the hotel's public areas.

Human rights activist Lana Benatovich, among the early arrivals, said the emphasis Buffalo's first African-American mayor has placed on diversity is encouraging. Benatovich, president of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Western New York, added she was impressed with the upbeat tone of the ball.

"It speaks very loudly about what is ahead for our community," she said. "It's a new beginning, and you can feel the vibrancy when you come through the door."

Another early arrival was former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who said he was feeling a lot less pressure than on the evenings when he hosted inaugural balls.

"I'm very relaxed tonight," Masiello said with a laugh. "When you're hosting your own ball, you're always wondering if everyone is enjoying it."

Guests sampled treats from about 20 area restaurants that ranged from popular pizza joints to fine-dining establishments.

Each guest was presented with a commemorative poster created by local artist John Baker.

Brown said he and Baker discussed his vision for the city, and the artist then captured those goals in the windows of City Hall that dominate the poster.

The artistic creation depicts a thriving waterfront, cars on Main Street and a booming economic climate.

In one of the windows is a new Buffalo sports stadium, perhaps for professional football or other major sports events. Brown acknowledged that may not happen in his first four years.

"But we have to be bold in our vision," he said.

Tickets cost $100 per person, or $175 per couple. Dana Bobinchek, a mayoral aide, said about one-third of the money would be used to pay expenses, and the rest will go a new charity. Mayor Brown's Fund to Advance Buffalo will promote youth programs, create 1,000 summer jobs for young people and sponsor scholarships. Officials expected the event to raise about $100,000 for the charity.

Some guests didn't know the new mayor personally but said they wanted to come to show their confidence in him. Connie Butcher is with the Laurel Street Block Club on the East Side. She said she still remembers Brown being one of the few elected leaders to visit her neighborhood in the 1990s when he was a Common Council member.

"He's been reaching out to the community right from the beginning," said Butcher. "I think he's going to be an excellent mayor."


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