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Close races fueled last-minute spending surge in November election

It was about two weeks before the general election of Nov. 7.

Money was flying in Erie County.

Assemblyman Michael "Mickey" Kearns, the Republican Party front-runner in the county clerk's race, kicked his previously low-key campaign into gear as the Democratic Party was pumping cash into his opponent's effort.

The already-pricey Erie County sheriff's race also jumped to a new level, as Timothy B. Howard, the  three-term Republican incumbent appeared worried that his Democratic rival could pull ahead.

And Mayor Byron W. Brown,  running for re-election with only nominal competition in the general election, was suddenly back on television, spending a total of $106,500 in little more than two weeks on ads, campaign literature and a get-out-the-vote effort for himself and his fellow Democrats running for countywide office.

The end-of-campaign financial disclosure reports filed last week with the state Board of Elections show half of the spending in the county clerk and county sheriff campaigns occurred in the last two weeks leading up to the election.

The campaign finance reports also show:

  • Total spending in the county clerk's race reached almost $350,000 – with the loser spending almost twice as much as the winner. The loser spent more in the last weeks of the campaign than the winner spent through the entire race.
  • Spending exceeded $500,000 in the sheriff's race, with the winner outspending his Democratic challenger by more than 2 to 1.
  • Spending in the comptroller's race was a  relatively modest $195,000 – with the losing candidate spending  little more than $50,000.

 

In the mayor's race, Brown spent $1.17 million. About $1 million of that was spent in the Democratic primary against Mark J.F. Schroeder, the city comptroller,  and Betty Jean Grant, an Erie County legislator. Schroeder spent about $440,000 while Grant spent just over $22,000. Local preservationist Terrence A. Robinson spent $900 running as a minor party candidate against Brown in the general election.  Total spending in the mayor's contest came to $1.6 million.

In the end, when all  the spending was done, and votes counted,  little changed. The incumbent mayor, sheriff and comptroller all won re-election, and will be sworn in to new terms next month.

In the open county clerk's seat, a Democrat endorsed by Republicans replaces a Republican.

It's not unusual for campaign spending to ratchet up in the final weeks of a campaign, when candidates tend to buy expensive television ads to sway any still undecided voters.

But this year the late polls indicated Democrats had a shot at taking one and maybe two of the countywide seats, so the late spending took on larger meaning.

Sheriff Howard claims victory with slim lead; GOP wins clerk, comptroller offices

In the county clerk's race,  Democrat Steven Cichon spent less than $8,000 prior to mid-October. Then, over the next four weeks, his campaign went on television and spent $200,000 – most of it during the final two weeks.  Most of that money came from Erie County Democratic Party leaders, who poured cash into Cichon's campaign when late polls indicated the race had tightened, and that Cichon might be within reach of victory.

Kearns, the Republican candidate, who had spent less than $30,000 prior to the last two weeks of the campaign,  ratcheted up his campaign in those last two weeks, spending $93,000 –  almost all for television ads.

 In the sheriff's race, Democrat Bernard A. Tolbert spent less than $10,000 until mid-October. But when polls showed he also had shot at an upset, he began a television campaign that took most of the $160,000 his campaign spent in the final month, with $90,000 of that in the last two weeks.

Howard was the big spender throughout the campaign, but he kicked things up a notch in those final two weeks, when his campaign spent $121,500.

When the race ended,  the total spending by both sheriff candidates was almost $545,000. Tolbert spent about $170,000. Howard spent $375,000, which is about 20 percent more than he spent in his 2013 campaign.

The comptroller's race was the least costly of the three countywide races, coming in at under $200,000 combined.

Incumbent Republican Stefan I. Mychajliw spent about $141,000. His Democratic challenger, Vanessa Glushefski, spent about $50,000.

In the mayor's race, Brown's  $1.17 million was $335,000 less than his campaign spent in 2013 when he was challenged in the Democratic primary by Tolbert and then by Republican Sergio Rodriguez in the general election.

Brown's campaign spending dropped off this year after he beat Schroeder and Grant in the Democratic primary.  The mayor had no Republican opposition in this year's general election, when he faced only minor party candidates.

But Brown's campaign did spend $106,500 in the final two weeks leading up to the general election in what was termed a get-out-the vote effort.

About $30,000 was spent on television ads, and another $7,000 on radio and newspaper advertising. More than $15,000 was spent on mailings, and another almost $25,000 was paid out to more than 100 campaign  fields workers involved in a get-out-the vote effort on election day.

While the efforts undoubtedly brought out Brown supporters, the mayor's campaign said they were also aimed at getting Buffalo Democrats to the polls to vote for the three countywide candidates.

 

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