The president of the Buffalo Common Council has criticized Mayor Byron W. Brown for trying to tip the balance of power in City Hall.
David A. Franczyk was furious when he learned that Brown had a private meeting Friday with two Council members in what appeared to be a new attempt to block Franczyk from being reappointed president.
The mayor has no business plotting to shape Council leadership, Franczyk asserted.
"I think it's a conspiracy to improperly weaken the powers of the legislative branch," said Franczyk, who represents the Fillmore District. "It's an assault on democracy. This is government -- not a dictatorship."
Brown said he has never initiated any meetings involving Council leadership issues, and he denied accusations that he is trying to expand his influence on the Council. But Brown said that there is nothing wrong with a mayor meeting with lawmakers to discuss a wide range of issues.
Four of nine lawmakers on the Council are allied with Brown. Within the week, they made overtures to Council Member Richard A. Fontana of Lovejoy, hoping he would become their swing vote for a new Council majority.
They offered to make Fontana president if he would vote with them to make Council Member Brian C. Davis of Ellicott the majority leader.
Fontana told the mayor he already committed to a slate that would keep Franczyk as president, make Fontana the majority leader and elect South Council Member Michael P. Kearns as president pro tempore. Five lawmakers signed a nonbinding agreement supporting the slate -- enough votes to elect the leaders in January.
Fontana made it clear after his meeting Friday with Brown and Council President Pro Tempore Bonnie E. Russell, a mayoral ally, that he remained committed to Franczyk.
While Fontana would not elaborate on his discussion with Brown, he said he met with the mayor to assure him that he intended to continue to work cooperatively with the administration.
Brown said he was "very surprised" at Franczyk's remarks, because the two of them have always had a good working relationship.
"And he doesn't hesitate to call any time he wants something for his district," the mayor added.
If anyone is meddling in Council leadership, Brown alleged, it is former Council Majority Leader Marc A. Coppola, who is now director of legislative affairs for the state Division of Parole.
Brown said Coppola, a close ally of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, has been meeting with city lawmakers to help Franczyk forge a new majority.
"And [Coppola] has been doing it on state time at taxpayers' expense," Brown contended.
Coppola said the allegations are untrue. He said he visited City Hall last week because a project with state ties was being reviewed by a city board. He said he occasionally visits Franczyk when he is not on the state payroll, because Franczyk is his mentor in a college class he is taking.
Brown made efforts to gain political clout on the Council in the September primaries when he backed candidates in the Delaware and Niagara districts. Both his candidates lost. Council Member Michael J. LoCurto easily won re-election in the Delaware District, while David A. Rivera won in Niagara.
Rivera and LoCurto are part of the five-member coalition that backs Franczyk for Council president.
The two men are also close to Hoyt, who some political observers say is trying to build a power base in City Hall.