Here’s the risk of a having a strong No. 2 person on the team: He – or she – can diminish No. 1’s stature simply by dint of an overpowering personality. That, at least in some measure, describes the impact that Steven M. Casey has had on his boss, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.
Casey and Brown have worked together virtually nonstop since the 1990s, when both were on the team of then-County Executive Dennis T. Gorski. Casey joined Brown’s staff when he was a state senator and he’s been Brown’s first deputy mayor since he won that office in 2006. He has also played a large role in managing Brown’s three mayoral campaigns. And he has run the office with such a strong hand that some observers have questioned who really was the mayor.
Anyone who has met Brown knows that he is a man of intellect with a ready grasp of detail. However useful Casey may have been to him – and all political leaders want someone to do the unpleasant work – it must have been frustrating to hear those kinds of rumblings about his performance as mayor of New York’s second-largest city.
Now Casey is leaving the fold. He will become chief executive officer of S&R Co. of West Seneca LLC. The firm is a new subsidiary of developer Scott R. Congel’s mall and property development company, which has proposed a major development on the site of the long-abandoned Seneca Mall. It could potentially include a new football stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
If that represents a new challenge for Casey, it also offers a new opportunity for Brown, who has typically seemed more in his element when not accompanied by – sometimes overshadowed by – Casey. Brown should look to fill Casey’s position in such a way that his own skills and vision are better presented.
The fact is, Brown has been a successful mayor over two-plus terms. The city’s finances are in strong shape – enough that the city control board was content to enter a dormant state. And, on his watch, the city has thrived. Canalside has sprung to life, helped by the HarborCenter project that will put a hotel and hockey rink complex adjacent to First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is seeing explosive growth, Larkinville continues to develop and the project to return cars to Main Street has moved ahead.
Part of Brown’s role in those projects was simply not messing them up, but mayors have been known to do that. When the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority decided finally to sell its waterfront land on the outer harbor, Brown backed away from demands for city control of the parcel and its development. That was key to plans to develop that long-misused acreage.
What role Casey played in any of those decisions we don’t know, but Brown knows what he wants and we hope he’ll take this opportunity to take the reins of government in a more evident way. He says he still wants to remain close with Casey, and that’s fine – just close at a more useful distance.