Publicly, Darius G. Pridgen is not expressing any desire for higher political office.
But the show of support for the prominent East Side minister as he was unanimously elected president of the Common Council on Thursday indicates that should he decide to run, he will have an army behind him.
The possibility that Pridgen will find himself in the mayor’s office is not that far-fetched, which is something Pridgen knows.
If Mayor Byron W. Brown leaves office before his term is up, something Brown has not ruled out, the City Charter calls for the Council president to take on those duties.
“My hopes are that our mayor fulfills his term,” Pridgen said. “If he does not, I’m fully prepared to do what I need to do by charter.”
Pridgen said his colleagues “voted me in to concentrate on the people’s business as it relates to the Common Council. So that’s where my focus is going to be.”
The Council Chamber, which fits 375 people, was near capacity as Pridgen took the oath of office to become the 65th Council president, and the room had an energy that nearly any politician would envy.
“Some ask how I can serve two masters,” he told the crowd, a reference to True Bethel Baptist Church, the large congregation he leads, and his Council duties.
“I serve only one,” he said, pointing to the ceiling, to loud applause.
The diverse crowd included members of True Bethel, fellow clergy members from the city and suburbs, and also well known political figures, including Rep. Brian Higgins, Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, former Council President James W. Pitts, Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs and Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development. Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and several School Board members also were on hand.
Mayor Byron W. Brown was not in attendance, but Pridgen said they communicated shortly before the meeting began.
“I did not ask him to come to be a part of these proceedings because I recognize it is not customary,” Pridgen said. “This was a moment of the Common Council, and that’s where we kept it.”
Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District, said he believes he has Brown’s support, “but the mayor is not my rubber stamp, nor I his, so I believe he has his job and I have mine.”
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk said even though Pridgen and Brown work closely, Pridgen has the potential to keep the Council independent from the administration.
“If he can re-animate this Council as an independent body, through his own personal strength and charisma, we’ll see how that unfolds,” he said.
Many in attendance lauded Pridgen for building consensus and reaching out to different parties.
“His star continues to rise,” Higgins said, calling him a “dynamic, energetic leader.”
Dyster, who sat next to Niagara Falls Council Chairman Charles A. Walker, said he traveled to Buffalo for the meeting because Pridgen has been a supporter of his, and said an effort is underway to get the cities to work together in a way they have not done before.
Pridgen received a standing ovation after the Council’s nine members cast votes for him. Thursday’s vote marks the first time a president has been unanimously elected since city lawmakers began selecting their own leader in 2004, a change from the citywide election that used to determine the seat.
The first Council meeting Pridgen presides over, on Tuesday, will be broadcast live on government access television, something he has worked on for the last year.
“When we talk about bringing power to the people and transparency in government, we mean it in these chambers,” he said.
The Council also re-elected Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith, who is black, to be majority leader and elected Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, who is Hispanic, as president pro tempore, marking the first time the Council has had an all-minority leadership.
South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon, who was appointed and then elected to the Council in 2012, was made chairman of the Legislation Committee, which handles some of the Council’s most weighty matters, and a member of the board of the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek retained his chairmanship of the Community Development Committee.
University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell was reappointed chairwoman of the Civil Service Committee, though her last Council meeting is Tuesday.
Russell is leaving to take a job with new Family Court Judge Mary G. Carney and the Council will be appointing her replacement.
Past Council President Richard A. Fontana, of Lovejoy, was made chairman of the Finance Committee, taking over for Scanlon.