After spending more than $1 million, devoting a summer to full-bore campaigning, and staking futures on their visions for Buffalo, the three candidates for mayor now wait for the people’s decision in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Incumbent Byron W. Brown and challengers Mark J.F. Schroeder and Betty Jean Grant on Monday wrapped up a furious few days of last-minute campaigning, each concentrating on their core issues and hoping to turn out the vote in their respective bases. But even the advertising blitz and televised debate of the last week is still not expected to generate a big turnout, with some analysts predicting no more than a quarter of eligible Democrats trekking to the polls.
That means a relatively paltry number of Buffalonians will determine who leads the city for the next four years, since the primary election will all but decide the November general election in heavily Democratic Buffalo.
“I just have not seen the excitement,” said former Common Council President George K. Arthur, a veteran of more than half a century of Buffalo politics and a 1985 mayoral candidate. “I don’t think there will be a big turnout.”
Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy J. Zellner, who is backing Brown in his dual role as Democratic Party chairman, said he does not expect any more voters than the last mayoral primary in 2013, when only 21,000 of the city’s approximately 160,000 Democrats turned out.
“A lot of people think the mayor is going to win the primary,” said Zellner, offering his view on the lack of primary election enthusiasm.
In the meantime, Brown’s own considerable organization was slated to swing into action with additional support from Zellner’s headquarters forces. Brown is attempting to win a fourth term, achieved only once previously, by the late James D. Griffin.
On Monday, all three candidates were concentrating on getting voters to the polls (with many election districts combined for primary voting). And Brown was pointing to the weekend endorsements by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, both popular figures in Democratic Buffalo. Cuomo did not personally appear in Buffalo for his state Democratic Party chairman, but issued a statement and recorded automated phone calls to ring into voters’ homes Monday and Tuesday.
“The turnaround in Western New York is an inspiring success story not only in the Empire State, but across the nation,” Cuomo said in endorsing Brown. “From attracting top companies to the region, to raising the minimum wage to $15 to creating jobs to investing in education."
“Mayor Brown is the right choice to build on the progress we’ve achieved and ensure the bright light of opportunity continues to shine on every corner of Buffalo,” he added. “Mayor Brown is a proven leader and a true partner, and I am proud to endorse him for re-election in the Democratic Primary on Tuesday.”
The governor’s endorsement ranked as yet another advantage of incumbency Brown has used throughout his campaign, helping to make him the primary favorite. As part of his official duties on Monday, he staged a news conference to thank local residents for donating personal care items and school supplies to aid people affected by Hurricane Harvey.
But Schroeder, the city comptroller, and Grant, a county legislator, were also gearing up their own significant organizations. On Monday Schroeder slated a final campaign news conference at the Central Terminal, which he calls a symbol of his focus on the neighborhoods he claims are neglected by City Hall.
He has favored building a new Amtrak station at the former New York Central terminal on the East Side, while Brown headed a siting commission that decided on replacing the current Exchange Street station in basically the same location downtown.
“As mayor, I will bring trains back to the Central Terminal, and a great deal more – including housing, retail, and a train museum,” Schroeder said. “The public, who were ignored throughout the sham process in April, can finally have their voice heard tomorrow."
“It’s time we had a mayor who invested in our neighborhoods, and the $100 million for a new train station in Broadway Fillmore is a good start,” he added. “It’s time we saved this architectural treasure and bring new life to the East Side.”
Schroeder was scheduled to vote at 8 a.m. Tuesday at Salem Lutheran Church at 10 McLellan Circle in South Buffalo and then campaign throughout the city on a flatbed truck with a band featuring his brother-in-law, Terrence Bruce of Rochester, on saxophone. He will receive vote totals at the Tewksbury Lodge on Ohio Street.
Grant, meanwhile, said she will campaign “right up until 9 p.m. Tuesday.” On Monday she appeared on a radio show at SUNY Buffalo State and slated a Monday evening planning session with supporters. Like she has throughout her effort, Grant said late Monday she expects to wind up her campaign “by going up and down streets,” reflecting the low-budget effort she has worn like a badge of honor.
“I will use shoe leather because I can’t rely on big developers in my pocket,” she said.
She was slated to vote at 8 a.m. at Buffalo Neighborhood Housing Services at 995 Kensington Ave. and monitor the returns at her headquarters at 1327 Jefferson Ave.
One possible development to watch on Wednesday will be the course of the Conservative Party, which has nominated attorney Anita L. Howard as a “placeholder” candidate. Should either Schroeder or Grant pull off an upset victory Tuesday, it is expected Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo will then set in motion a process to insert Howard onto a Supreme Court ballot somewhere else in New York State. The minor party would then substitute Schroeder onto its mayoral line for the November general election, and create the potential for a competitive campaign.