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Common Council President James W. Pitts has joined the chorus calling for debates among Buffalo's three mayoral candidates, but he is taking the idea a step further.

He wants a major event before thousands in the shuttered Memorial Auditorium.

"I would reopen the Aud for a 'great debate' -- just like Lincoln and Douglas," he said. "It would be the largest town meeting in the City of Buffalo. And I think Tony (Mayor Masiello) would show up for that."

The idea for the Aud as the debate venue is no coincidence. Pitts is using the Aud as a major campaign theme, railing against Masiello for failing to find a re-use for the facility. Pitts proposes converting the Depression-era sports facility into a children's museum and other uses, even choosing the site to announce his mayoral candidacy back in May.

"The Aud would be great for its symbolism," Pitts said. "The fact that it remains closed is one reason I'm running. It could be re-opened."

Masiello spokesman Stephen T. Banko III said the Masiello campaign is not rejecting out of hand Pitts' call for a major debate event, but injected his own view on the symbolism of the Aud.

"Perhaps we should have the debate in Marine Midland Arena because Jim Pitts and Jim Griffin did everything they could to screw that up," Banko said. "It never happened until Tony Masiello became mayor. He's talking symbolism of the past; we're talking symbolism of the future.

"If he's serious about his proposal," Banko added, "he should convey it to our campaign and let us evaluate it."

Pitts said it should be a free-wheeling affair unfettered by constraints associated with other debates. Though he suggested the League of Women Voters as an appropriate group to set up and moderate the debate, he suggested a less "staid and stodgy" format.

"Let's rap," he said. "That's what we need."

Pitts and former Mayor James D. Griffin have both called for a series of debates, and both have complained of difficulties in obtaining commitments from the Masiello campaign. But Banko said Friday the mayor will accept the offer of the League and Channel 2 News to co-sponsor a televised debate Aug. 23.

Still, he noted that Conservative primary candidate Sharon Caetano has not been invited to participate, raising questions about the "seriousness" of the format.

Griffin said he will participate in any debate "as long as it is fair."

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