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MAYORAL RACE APPEARS TO BE HEATING UP EARLY

Buffalo's mayoral election isn't until 2005, but some people think it's being waged this year through surrogates in two races for the State Legislature.

State Sen. Byron W. Brown and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, both all but declared candidates for mayor next year, appear to be facing serious primary contests in September. Each claims the other is behind the challenge.

The races are already heating up and could force the two to spend significant portions of funds they would prefer to save for the real mayoral race next year.

North Common Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. is expected to officially announce this week that he will run against Hoyt, a 12-year incumbent.

And Alfred T. Coppola, a former Delaware District Council member, is targeting Brown. In addition, Emin Egriu has filed his candidacy papers for that State Senate race.

Hoyt already contends that Brown and his chief aide, former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon, are behind the Golombek candidacy.

"I believe this campaign is exclusively about the mayoral race, as evidenced by Pigeon's and Brown's direct involvement," Hoyt said. "All the evidence points to this unholy alliance."

He also cites a growing political chumminess between Pigeon and Republican County Executive Joel A. Giambra, and he claims Giambra, a former Democrat, remains embroiled in the internal politics of his old party.

"It seems to me his focus ought to be on the county's extraordinarily difficult problems instead of trying to unseat a Democratic incumbent in the Assembly who has fought for the city and county," Hoyt said.

Brown said he is reluctantly joining the early fray after asking Hoyt to save the mayoral fireworks for 2005.

Hoyt said Brown staff members were involved in circulating designating petitions for original challenger Kevin Rustowicz, who has since declined to run.

Brown, though, said the assemblyman's staff and political associates were bearers of Coppola's designating petitions.

"I think Sam is involved in it," Brown said. "But I'm not whining about it. If someone wants to run, it's their right to run."

Meanwhile, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello -- undecided about seeking a fourth term -- watches from the sidelines.

Golombek and Coppola dismiss any idea that their campaigns are orchestrated, and both point to Albany's longest budget stalemate in history as reason to demand change.

"The arrogance of these guys, especially in the Assembly, who vote themselves a break when they haven't got their job done," Golombek fumed. "I'm very, very serious because we've got a 12-year incumbent who can't pass a budget on time."

Golombek denies any connection with Brown, Pigeon or Giambra, claiming Hoyt's charges represent conventional politics.

"People who don't have records always fall back on the politics," he said.

Golombek said he is so committed to change in Albany that, should he prevail, he will not support Sheldon Silver for re-election as speaker of the Assembly.

Giambra, meanwhile, said the Hoyt endorsement he expected in his re-election effort of 2003 went to Democrat Daniel J. Ward instead. Aside from that, however, he said he remains disappointed in Hoyt's inability to note progress on top county priorities like Medicaid reform or an early retirement program.

"Beating an incumbent would be a good message to send to taxpayers who are demanding reform in Albany," Giambra said. "If Democratic voters decide they need to make a change, I would welcome that."

Still, he emphasized that he is backing the Republican candidate, David Penna.

Golombek arrives at his candidacy in a roundabout manner, after Rustowicz filed petitions but declined to run.

"It's a sleazy, back-door way of getting his name on the ballot rather than going out and doing the hard work (of gathering petition signatures) himself," Hoyt said.

Golombek countered, saying, "I didn't want to run, but when Kevin Rustowicz decided not to, it piqued my curiosity."

Coppola also denies connections to any other campaign except his own effort to regain the Senate seat that Brown won in 2000. But he claims Brown is running for mayor, too.

"There's no question about it; he's said it in debates," Coppola said. "How can he run for mayor and represent people in Niagara Falls and Grand Island? That's crazy."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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