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Grant mulls mayoral race that could aid Schroeder

The political gods may yet answer the prayers of Buffalo mayoral hopeful Mark J.F. Schroeder.

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, a powerful force in East Side politics, said Tuesday she is considering challenging Schroeder and incumbent Byron W. Brown in the September Democratic primary for mayor. The move could provide a major boost to the underdog candidacy of Schroeder – the city comptroller – with the potential to split the black vote between two popular African-American candidates in a city dominated by ethnic voting patterns.

“He has not focused on the East Side,” Grant said of the mayor, “and I’m a little frustrated.”

Grant’s move surfaces less than 24 hours after Brown announced his candidacy for a fourth term. She emphasized she is only mulling the contest at this early juncture, would not use the word “exploring,” said she is not discussing a run with party leaders, and will not soon arrive at a decision.

But she feels Brown has concentrated too much of his development attention on downtown and the waterfront while ignoring neighborhoods, echoing the core of the Schroeder candidacy slated to become official on March 5.

Schroeder acknowledged Tuesday that a Grant candidacy could help his cause, but emphasized that he has no connection to her.

“I’m doing nothing to promote it,” he said. “I’m just presenting myself in the best possible way to the voters of Buffalo.”

But he noted that Grant is also emphasizing his contention that the Brown administration has done little for struggling neighborhoods like those on the East Side.

“In my view, she’s a loud voice for the East Side and always has been,” he said. “I’m just staying in my lane and running for all the right reasons.

“I know what the community needs and will provide an option,” he added. “This is not a monarchy.”

Grant narrowly lost to Timothy M. Kennedy in the 2012 Democratic primary for State Senate, demonstrating her ability to rally black voters to her candidacy. Kennedy bounced back for a decisive victory in a 2014 rematch, but Grant remains well known with a committed following.

Questions remain, however, about her ability to compete against the mayor’s powerful political machine as well as about raising money. Brown reported about $341,000 in January to the state Board of Elections, and is expected to raise much more. Schroeder also plans to build on the $157,000 he reported.

Though Schroeder backers have long hoped for a second black candidate, Grant said Tuesday that neither the comptroller nor anyone else is behind her potential entry into the race. She noted that 2017 looms as an election year for the County Legislature – another factor that could shape her decision.

“Absolutely not,” she said when asked if Schroeder is urging her potential mayoral candidacy. “It’s nobody but the people in the community. There are no big benefactors or politicians.”

But Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, who plans to endorse Brown this spring, labeled a Grant candidacy “a very divisive action” that will only hinder his recent progress in uniting the usually fractious local party.

“I have a hard time thinking she will run for mayor,” Zellner said. “But if she makes that decision, I’ll have a lot more to say.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think she would have any chance of winning and I would advise against it," he added.

Grant said she will arrive at a decision sometime between March and June.

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