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MASIELLO BREEZES TO PRIMARY TRIUMPH, ENSURING THIRD TERM

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello on Tuesday ensured himself a third term in office, beating a primary opponent beset by health problems and cementing his stature as Erie County's top Democrat.

Masiello coasted to victory in one of Buffalo's more anticlimactic mayoral primaries, defeating Common Council Member at Large Beverly A. Gray by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio.

Because he has no opponent in the November general election, Masiello is on his way to another four years as Buffalo's chief executive. Buffalo has no term limits for officeholders.

"Our priority over the next four years is to finish the job," Masiello said Tuesday night. "I think we've established a good foundation, but now it's time to finish the economic-development and job-creation efforts we've started, the reconstruction of our schools, while still holding the line on taxes."

With 97 percent of the vote counted, Masiello had tallied 19,701 votes, or 72 percent, compared with Gray's 7,733 votes, or 28 percent, according to unofficial results from the Erie County Board of Elections.

Masiello's victory marked an end to a atypical campaign for mayor -- a low-key, mild-mannered contest that sparked little interest among voters.

It also was a campaign of contrasts.

Masiello went into the race with a $1 million war chest and a well-oiled political machine. He used slick television ads and direct mail to get across his message that City Hall works better now than when he arrived eight years ago.

He also stressed his good-guy image and his close, bipartisan relationship with top Republicans, most notably County Executive Joel A. Giambra and Gov. George E. Pataki.

As always, his army of supporters, based in City Hall and regarded as one of the biggest and most effective organizations in local politics, mobilized behind him.

Masiello's clout became evident early on when he locked up the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties' nominations, ensuring his re-election to a third term should he prevail in the primaries.

In contrast, Gray, a two-term Council member, raised virtually no money, did little advertising and confined her campaign largely to her base in the African-American community.

Hampered by a bronchial condition, she had to limit her campaign activity and often struggled to breathe and talk. She relied on an oxygen tank and used a portable microphone to amplify her weak voice.

Even Gray acknowledged frustration at not being able to wage the full-scale campaign she and others had planned against Masiello this year.

By 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Gray still had not conceded the race to Masiello.

"She has not made a concession or victory speech," said Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III, a close ally. "She's still looking at the numbers."

Despite her illness, she ran on a platform that stressed neighborhoods and what she calls "institutional racism."

Gray accused Masiello of devoting too much time, money and energy to big downtown projects such as the Adelphia office complex while ignoring the root of the city's problems -- its impoverished neighborhoods.

She also questioned why only one of Masiello's top commissioners is African-American and why success on the East Side should be limited to a small supermarket project.

For Masiello, the primary victory means a certain third term and paves the way for another Masiello re-election campaign in four years.

In Buffalo's history, only one mayor, James D. Griffin, has ever served a full fourth term.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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