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Buffalo mayoral contest could top $1 million – again

Get ready for what is expected to be a $1 million-plus Buffalo mayoral race.

So far, only three-term Mayor Byron W. Brown has announced he's running, but City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder has said he will formally announce this Sunday.

And Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant says she is considering getting into the fray, as is Terrence A. Robinson, a member of the city Preservation Board.

A review of financial-disclosure reports filed with the state Board of Elections indicates that Grant has not been gearing up for a race; she has about $5,665 in her campaign fund. And Robinson hasn't even set up a campaign fund.

But it seems clear from the financial reports that a Democratic primary between City Hall's top two elected officials already is underway.

Brown raised $106,850 and spent $142,886 in campaign funds from mid-July 2016 to mid-January 2017. He had $340,619 remaining in his campaign fund as of mid-January, according to the most recent reports filed with the Board of Elections.

Schroeder raised $37,737 and spent $22,072 during those six months, and he also lent his campaign an additional $25,000 in mid-January. He had $157,060 in his political account, reports show.

So at this starting point in the showdown, Brown has more than twice as much money to spend as Schroeder.

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Neither Brown nor Schroeder are yet talking publicly about their fundraising strategies. But if past elections are any indication, the money gap between the two is likely to remain, if not grow wider, as both candidates ramp up their fundraising apparatus in the coming weeks and months.

And by the time this 2017 race is over, it is likely that the candidates will have spent more than $1 million to determine who will be Buffalo's mayor for the next four years.

In fact, it could be significantly more than $1 million.

During the last mayoral race of 2013, when Brown had primary and general election challengers, $1.76 million was spent. Brown spent the lion's share – $1.5 million – with most of that spent before and during the primary campaign.

That wasn't unusual. While serving as mayor, Brown has raised about $3.7 million in campaign funds, and spent about $3.3 million over the last 10 years.

Schroeder, first as an assemblyman and then as city comptroller, raised $721,048 and spent $564,947 over that period.

Here's a look at the money Brown and Schroeder raised and spent over the recent six-month period:

Mayor Byron W. Brown. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Brown fundraising

Brown's $106,850 in campaign contributions from mid-July 2016 to mid-January 2017 include money from city employees and other elected officials, as well as developers, attorneys and vendors – some of whom benefit from city contracts.

The biggest contributors during the period included:

  • B.R. Guest Ltd., a subsidiary of Rich Products, $5,000
  • SI Technologies, an Albany security services firm, $3,000.
  • Anthony J. Colucci III,  Buffalo attorney: $3,000. Colucci's firm, Colucci & Gallaher, did $48,545 in work for the city in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to city records.
  • Nussbaumer & Clarke, a Blasdell engineering and survey firm, $3,000. The firm has done almost $1 million in work for the city in the past two years, much of it related to the Water Board, records show.
  • Robert V. Butterworth, Cazenovia, Madison County, $3,000. He works with GHD, an environmental engineering firm, also in Cazenovia, that has received $1.3 million in city contracts over the last two years, city records show. (Brown received another $2,000 contribution from a political action committee, Lighthouse PAC, with the same Cazenovia address as GHD.)

Brown spending

Brown's almost $143,000 in spending over the six months included money given to other politicians, as well as community events.

He gave $10,000 to John J. Flynn Jr. in his successful campaign for Erie County district attorney; $2,500 to Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, and $1,000 to Amber A. Small's unsuccessful campaign for the State Senate in the 60th District. Another $5,000 went to the state Democratic Campaign Committee and $2,000 to the Grassroots political organization.

Brown also bought and handed out gifts and turkey dinners for the needy over the holidays. More than $12,500 was spent at Tops Markets in November on turkeys and other groceries for the Thanksgiving dinner giveaways in his office. Almost $1,000 was spent at Target in December on holidays gifts for a toy drive.

He also spent campaign funds supporting community events, many – but far from all – in the minority community. There was $1,100 for an anniversary gala at First Shiloh Baptist Church; $1,055 to sponsor a Minority Bar Association scholarship; and $1,600 for tickets and an advertisement for the Black Achievers awards dinner. Another $1,000 went to help sponsor a Roswell Park Alliance Foundation fundraiser, $750 to an ECMC Foundation gala and $660 for a Hispanics United gala.

And he spent money on fundraising. In fact, Brown's biggest campaign expense was $14,500 for a fundraiser at the Bridgewater Country Club in Fort Erie, Ont.

Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder. (News file photo)

Schroeder fundraising

The almost $38,000 that Schroeder raised between mid-July 2016 and mid-January 2017 (which excludes the money that he lent to his campaign) included contributions from local attorneys and politicians, as well as city employees and city unions.

His biggest contributors included:

  • First Niagara Leasing, a Lockport financial group, $2,000.
  • Harter Secrest & Emery, a Rochester law firm, $1,500. The firm did about $7,000 in work for the city in recent years.
  • Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, $1,000.
  • Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association, Local 282, $1,000.
  • Buffalo Building & Construction Trades Council, $1,000.

Police and fire unions as well as the construction trades union said their contributions were given to support Schroeder as city comptroller, and were made prior to any talk of Schroeder running for mayor.

Union officials said no decisions have yet been made on who they will endorse in the coming mayoral race.

Schroeder spending

The more than $22,500 Schroeder spent included the cost of his fundraisers: $1,884 to the Place restaurant in December; $1,250 to DiTondo's in September; and $3,366 to SB Marketing, a Buffalo printing and design company, for fundraising-related expenses in the second half of 2016.

Schroeder also gave $1,100 to the Erie County Democratic Committee, as well as $500 to the Unity Coalition, a political group headed by Arthur O. "Champ" Eve Jr.; $250 to the Real Conservatives; and $100 to the Erie County Republican Committee.

Other smaller expenses reflect events the comptroller has been attending across the city, including: $260 for two events at Zion Missionary Baptist Church; $200 to the House of Mercy on William Street and $100 each to the Buffalo City Hoops, the International Institute of Buffalo and the Foundation for Deaf Education.

Schroeder also gave $300 to Flynn's district attorney campaign, $99 to County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, $100 to Common Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon and $100 to County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca.

The next campaign filing reports are due in mid-July. Those reports will detail money raised and spent since mid-January, giving a better picture of the financial support that the candidates have – and how their money is being spent – going into the Sept. 12 primary election.

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