The latest poll in the race for the city’s highest office shows Mayor Byron W. Brown up by nearly 30 points, but that didn’t stop him from sharply attacking his opponents Tuesday during the candidates’ third debate.
The contentious hourlong event featured attack after attack from Democrat Bernard A. Tolbert, who will face Brown in a Sept. 10 primary, as well as from Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez.
Tolbert and Rodriguez ignored each other, focusing their attacks exclusively on Brown.
Brown returned the barbs, telling the audience that if Tolbert claims he is “married” to the city, as he said at one point, then he is an “absentee husband.”
Questioning Rodriguez’s math, Brown said it was good that his opponent doesn’t teach in the city because “our children wouldn’t be learning a thing.”
Tolbert and Rodriguez tried to distinguish themselves from Brown, with Tolbert stressing his deep roots in the city – Brown is a New York City native – and Rodriguez stressing his military service and nonprofit experience.
Tolbert noted his years as a Buffalo Bills season ticket holder and his longtime involvement with Cradle Beach Camp.
“Buffalo needs a real leader,” Brown said, to Tolbert’s statement that he is more passionate about the city than anyone. “We don’t need someone who’s been sitting on the sidelines.”
While his challengers chided Brown on the crime rate and accused him of being disconnected from the community, Brown reminded the audience that he is the only one on the stage that gets called in the middle of the night when someone is shot, who visits crime victims in the hospital and attends their funerals.
Tolbert attacked Brown, saying he has not been out in the neighborhoods enough, and Brown said he never saw Tolbert out in the community when he was special agent in charge of the FBI in Buffalo.
“It’s very convenient for a guy who just got back here from Atlanta to say what he will do,” Brown said.
While Brown said voters should be proud of the city’s progress, Tolbert said Brown was taking credit for work done by other elected officials.
“The current administration has completely, totally failed our neighborhoods,” Tolbert said, and suggested expanding urban farming.
On a question about soliciting campaign contributions from employees, Brown said, “We don’t go out of our way to ask employees to donate,” but he said he would not prohibit one of his employees from making a donation or participating in a campaign.
Rodriguez questioned the use of uniformed police officers in campaign materials and said a “culture of fear” is funding Brown’s campaign, implying that donations are made by city employees who want to keep their jobs.
Tolbert said he would not solicit donations from employees or businesses that do business with the city.
Rodriguez, who supports full mayoral control over the school district, said if Brown is claiming he has been involved in the district, the results have been poor.
“He does nothing,” Rodriguez said of Brown. “He’s not urgent, he’s not involved.”
The candidates agreed that they do not support a state takeover of city schools.
They also seemed to agree that expanding Metro Rail to Amherst is not a priority, based on their answers to a question about whether they would support such a project.
Brown said he has stood with residents who were facing bus-route cuts by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and he said returning cars to Main Street has been one of his administration’s priorities, but he did not say what he thought about extending Metro Rail.
The city should focus on the transportation needs of city residents before any expansion is done, and the city shouldn’t spend money to extend the rail line, Tolbert said.
Rodriguez said the light rail system would be better used if the city had greater population density but noted that the city is losing residents and that city funds should not be used to expand the system.