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Brown wins convincing victory over Schroeder, Grant for fourth term

Democratic voters awarded Byron W. Brown a convincing primary victory Tuesday and an all-but-guaranteed fourth term as mayor of Buffalo in November, giving their stamp of approval to the city’s rejuvenation under his leadership and rejecting the challenge of two well known opponents.

Just one of four registered city Democrats turned out for the primary. Brown scored 51 percent, easily dispatching City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder who had 35 percent and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant who had 13 percent. That was with 97 percent of the vote counted.

Though Brown scored an impressive primary victory over two veterans of city politics, Schroeder surprised some observers with an unexpected strong showing.

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Schroeder still has a spot on the November ballot by winning the primary of the obscure Reform Party. But Brown’s Democratic victory in heavily Democratic Buffalo effectively guarantees similar results in the November general election, especially because he faces no Republican candidate.

That means Brown will become only the second chief executive among his 61 predecessors in Buffalo history to win four terms. The only other was the late James D. Griffin, who began a 16-year stint with his first victory in 1977.

Brown greeted supporters at his downtown headquarters shortly after 11 p.m. in an outdoor celebration.

Schroeder’s operation expressed confidence as just a few hours before the polls closed at 9 p.m. His supporters cited relatively strong turnout in the comptroller’s home turf of South Buffalo, as well as low turnout in the mayor’s East Side base. But Schroeder never was able to translate his optimism during the campaign into the votes he needed to unseat a powerful incumbent.

At his Tewksbury Lodge headquarters in the Old First Ward, he told supporters he had given it his best.

“I’m glad we stood up for all of Buffalo,” he said. “We ran on real issues.”

Buffalo mayoral candidate Mark J.F. Schroeder campaigns from the back of a pickup on Niagara Street on Primary Day, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Stephen T. Banko III, a one-time aide to former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and a veteran of several citywide campaigns, said Schroeder may have scored points on his argument that Brown should have retired after three terms.

“The only thing Byron had was an issue of shelf life, even though good things are happening in town,” Banko said of a relatively strong Schroeder showing. “Mark had some really effective commercials, and if people were paying attention, that could account for it.”

Brown’s primary victory Tuesday was not as strong as his three previous primary victories. He won 68 percent of the primary vote against Bernard A. Tolbert in 2013 (though against just one opponent). In 2009 he scored 63 percent against Michael P. Kearns, and in his first primary in 2005, he tallied 61 percent against two opponents — Kevin P. Gaughan and Steven A. Calvaneso.

Throughout the campaign, Brown enjoyed every advantage. A veteran of more than two decades in elective office, he relied on an experienced political machine that once more rallied to his cause.
Besides his huge financial advantage, Brown also earned backing from Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner’s Erie County Democratic organization. He also earned endorsements from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand. Brown, who enjoys a close political relationship with Cuomo, also serves as the governor’s state Democratic chairman.

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Schroeder garnered political support from only one elected official — Legislator Patrick B. Burke, a South Buffalo ally.

Though the 2017 primary never generated much excitement among voters, it sparked a discussion of issues involving three, high-profile Democrats. Schroeder and Grant never denied the city’s rejuvenation downtown, on the waterfront, or at burgeoning areas like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Larkinville.

But they charged Brown and his administration ignored neighborhoods, especially on the East Side, and that Buffalo continues to rank as one of the nation’s poorest cities. Schroeder concentrated much of his campaign in the mayor’s African-American base that he claimed Brown had lost.

Tonya Stewart-Gray celebrates during Mayor Brown's primary night party on Court Street, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The comptroller decried Brown’s long career in politics, and charged the mayor was the subject of investigations because subpoenas connected to his long-time political club — Grassroots — had been served in City Hall. Brown denied those charges.

Schroeder also boasted the best financed campaign of any primary opponent to ever face Brown. The latest campaign finance report showed him spending well over $300,000. But Brown outspent him by about 2 to 1, pushing total expenditures for the three-way campaign over the $1 million mark.

The money Schroeder raised since declaring his candidacy in March allowed him to mount an extensive television and radio campaign and possibly the most professional and high-profile one to ever challenge Brown.

Most observers believed, however, that Schroeder failed to make his case to voters feeling optimistic about the future of the city. And Grant never was able to mount any effort beyond her own African-American base thanks to a paltry campaign treasury.

Mayoral candidate Betty Jean Grant speaks with with supporter Danny Sanders at New Covenant United Church of Christ on Clinton St. on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Throughout the city earlier on Primary Day, voters waiting at polling places seemed to reflect each candidate’s ethnic and geographical base. Outside St. Martin of Tours church in South Buffalo, Molly McCarthy, 43, a human resources manager, said she voted for Mark Schroeder.

“He’s very involved, very down to earth,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s time for a change.”

Terry Coster, 51, said she did not trust Grassroots, which she accused of “a lot of pay to play.”

“And I can’t lie,” Coster said. “I do like that he’s a South Buffalo guy. We’ve been ignored a little too long around here.”

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Outside C District police station at the corner of East Ferry and Fillmore on the city’s East Side, Lynn Quicksey, 52, voted for Byron Brown.

“I voted for the mayor because I like the work he’s doing,” Quicksey said. “The city has been neglected for so long it’s nice to see he’s taking care of all of us.”

But Ronnie Moore, 58, voted for Schroeder, echoing the challenger’s clams that neighborhoods were overlooked under Brown.

“You don’t hear from Byron Brown until election time, and then when he wins the election, he goes back into hiding,” Moore said.

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Outside Lafayette High School on the West Side, Melanie Goulding, who is 22 and works for a software company, said she likes Brown’s revitalization of downtown and Canalside.

“I think the experience he has with Buffalo and the relationship he has with the people, he really knows what he’s doing,” she said.

Louis Watson, 57, retired superintendent for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, also voted for Brown.

“It’s nice to see a lot of changes, especially around here,” Watson said of efforts like the reconstruction of Niagara Street.

Brown will also face opposition in November from Conservative Anita L. Howard, who is not expected to wage an active campaign.

News reporter Jay Rey contributed to this story.

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