Mayor Byron W. Brown made some of his strongest statements yet about becoming involved in the Buffalo School District on the eve of his third term Tuesday – and resisted making a formal endorsement of Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.
The superintendent has made clear that she intends to stay in Buffalo, and has rejected a buyout offer of $500,000, pushed by members of the city’s business community.
Asked directly after his swearing-in ceremony if he supports Brown retaining her position as superintendent, the mayor said: “You know, I have worked closely with the superintendent. I continue to work closely with the superintendent, and to do everything I possibly can to support the educational needs of our children in the city of Buffalo.”
During his speech, Brown told a standing-room-only crowd of elected officials and invited guests in the mayor’s office that as the city grows, it must focus on children, “one of our greatest assets.”
“I will advocate even more passionately for the needs of our students and help to find ways to offer all children in all neighborhoods the quality education that they deserve,” he said, to loud applause.
Those comments contrast with ones he has made over the last year. In response to political opponents who criticized the mayor for not taking a leadership role in education, Brown had emphasized that his office has no authority over the district.
And while the mayor’s approval numbers have not appeared to suffer as a result of reports of failing schools and admonishments of the district by the state Education Department, Brown appears ready to become more involved in a what is a complex situation.
Asked to describe what this greater role in the district would look like, the mayor said activities would include attending meetings, visiting schools more frequently and looking at funding opportunities.
“And continuing to meet with and talk to educational stakeholders, whether it is our superintendent or teachers, parents or State Ed or state legislators, trying to bring the stakeholders, the business community, trying to bring stakeholders in alignment to work for the best possible educational outcomes for our children,” he said.
Sources have said he was a liaison between the superintendent and members of the business community who were trying to entice the superintendent to leave. A spokesman did not confirm nor deny that.
Superintendent Brown did not attend Tuesday’s ceremony. A spokeswoman said she had an off-site appointment.
The question of whether Brown will finish all four years of his third term has been hanging ever since news broke that there might be an open lieutenant governor slot on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s ticket in 2014.
Brown said Tuesday that he expects to complete his third term, but that “no one knows what the future holds.”
He said he has not discussed the matter with Cuomo.
The mayor also outlined other new priorities he has, including greater support for arts and culture as a way to attract tourists and film and television productions.
He also said he wants to provide veterans, immigrants and refugees “the support they need to settle and succeed in Buffalo. This will generate new ideas, boost our economy and grow our population.”
Brown’s speech struck an upbeat tone, expressing optimism about the future and confidence in his track record over the last eight years.
“Our efforts have paid off,” he said.
Brown spoke about the city’s financial health, investments made in infrastructure, and $2.2 billion in economic development projects around the city.
“As people are recruited here, we will find ways to get them to live in Buffalo,” he said.
Entrepreneur and historian Mark Goldman, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, was a part of Brown’s selection team for the Webster Block, which resulted in HarborCenter, a hockey-themed development adjacent to First Niagara Center.
“I just think that he reaches out to people and makes an effort to provide a sense of committed leadership,” Goldman said.
State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Troutman, who Brown said is a fellow member of St. John Baptist Church, administered the oath, with Brown’s wife, Michelle, and son, Byron III, standing by his side.
The brief swearing-in ceremony attracted prominent Buffalonians, including Rep. Brian Higgins, developer Howard A. Zemsky, former Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, Assemblymembers Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes and Sean Ryan, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant and city Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder.
Council Members Darius G. Pridgen, David A. Rivera and Christopher P. Scanlon also attended, as well as many of the mayor’s department heads.
Brown had made a pledge not to raise property taxes, and he has been able to cut them over the last eight years. That pledge expires next year, and Tuesday he said he would like to keep the rate level, though he would need to confer with the city’s budget office.