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CITY COMPTROLLER Robert Whelan's withdrawal as a candidate for mayor of Buffalo tightens the mayoral contest and puts pressure on other contenders for the Democratic nomination to consider similar action in the name of party unity.

One of those contenders, State Sen. Anthony Masiello, is already expected to withdraw shortly, and that would leave two candidates -- State Assemblyman William Hoyt and former Chief City Judge Wilbur Trammell -- to vie with Mayor Griffin for the Democratic nomination.

Griffin, though technically a Democrat, is nevertheless close to the Republican Party and is virtually assured of its mayoral support, along with that of the Right to Life Party. He has already been endorsed by the Conservative Party.

Hoyt and Trammell are both able, well-qualified candidates, but the Democratic organization hopes to persuade Trammell to drop out in favor of Hoyt, its endorsed candidate, so that the party can confront Griffin "one on one" in the primary.

One problem for the Democratic leaders is that, in a three-way primary, it is not inconceivable that Griffin himself could emerge the winner, and thus, with his Republican and Conservative backing, be assured of a fourth term.

Trammell could well argue, of course, that he can win a three-way primary, and then go on to victory in November. But Hoyt, who is likely to be the Liberal Party nominee in any case, has the advantage of having won the endorsement of the Democratic Executive Committee.

As for Whelan, he has served well as city comptroller and could bring strong credentials to the mayor's office. But his mayoral campaign did not attract wide support, and he no doubt made a wise decision in withdrawing in an effort to foster party unity and defeat Griffin.

Although the mayor has unquestioned achievements to his credit, his abrasive personality has created strife and divisions that could make him vulnerable after 12 years in office -- unless, that is, his opponents fail to achieve a unified campaign.

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