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A wild scramble of potential mayoral candidates ushered in a new political era for Buffalo Friday after Mayor Anthony M. Masiello announced he will not seek a fourth term.

State Sen. Byron W. Brown appeared to be leading the pack, emerging as the front-runner for the crucial Democratic endorsement and already consolidating support. But other high profile names joined in too -- including Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola, Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina and Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo -- as Masiello's decision broke a political logjam and created all kinds of possibilities.

"The landscape has changed dramatically," Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan said late Friday. "Starting tomorrow, we begin the process of selecting our next candidate for mayor. It's a new day."

Masiello started that new day by announcing his intention to leave. In an emotional interview with The Buffalo News, he said that though he wanted to continue in office, political realities dictated his "gut-wrenching" decision to leave the post he has held through three terms.

"Nobody has championed this city more than I have," he said. "But being elected to office is not a lifetime appointment. We are guardians of the public trust."

He said he had no job lined up after leaving City Hall, but said he hoped he could continue working to promote the city in some way.

"Nobody markets this city like I do," he said. "I think I've got to be valuable to somebody."

The process of succession was already well under way before Masiello ended his news conference. Brown worked hard to cement his front-runner position, fielding new offers of political and financial support. With Masiello out of the picture, not only did most sources view Brown as the favorite for the party endorsement, he is expected to soon receive the backing of Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer -- the party's titular head and presumed gubernatorial candidate next year.

That could come as soon as May 16 when the attorney general is slated to visit Erie County, according to several knowledgeable sources.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, whose aborted candidacy makes him especially savvy in mayoral matters, said there is no doubt Brown has assumed a commanding position, following Masiello's exit.

"If Byron Brown wasn't already the front-runner, he clearly becomes the front-runner from this decision," Hoyt said. "I don't consider any other Democratic names mentioned as a viable opponent to Brown, with the exception of Marc Coppola."

Brown in strong position

Indeed, Brown was dealing from a position of strength on Friday after working behind the scenes for two years and officially declaring in February. He said he feels good about receiving the party endorsement -- probably sometime next month.

"I'm continuing on my journey for a new, stronger and safer Buffalo," he said. "And I had significant additional commitments of support today."

Lenihan, meanwhile, did nothing to discourage talk of Brown becoming the party's endorsed candidate.

"Byron has pursued our leadership very vigorously," he said. "He is positioned very well to be given serious consideration."

But the mayor's exit also opened the door to potential new candidates. Coppola, who has quietly been making the rounds over the past few months, said Masiello's departure could present new opportunities for him.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," he said. "Now I'm trying to track down the money; the mayor waiting so long has held me up on that front. My weekend will be dedicated to contacting those people who say they will support me both financially and politically."

Coppola said he raised $30,000 in two hours this morning, while most political observers believe $100,000 is needed to run a viable citywide campaign.

The Council member also said he is very interested in the Democratic nod.

"I'm a loyal Democrat, and I think I deserve the endorsement," he said.

Gaughan sees benefit

Mayoral hopeful Kevin P. Gaughan, an attorney and regionalism advocate, said the race has been "clarified" to his benefit. "The mayor realized this is a new day for our city," he said. "Voters are yearning for someone who understands the need for change."

Other potential candidates were not as strong in their commitment to the race but did not discourage speculation about their candidacies. Most interesting was Diina, who last entered the political arena during an unsuccessful bid for Erie County sheriff in 1997. He said he is often contacted about the private sector and has even discussed with various candidates remaining as police commissioner, but did not rule out running for mayor.

"I've had a number of people call me to encourage me, especially from the business community," Diina said.

And after he said he would not run for mayor this year, SanFilippo was reassessing his position.

"Obviously, people feel he would make a strong candidate and are trying to persuade him to make the run," said spokesman Tony Farina. "He's listened and is looking at it."

Helfer intends to run

While speculation over the commitment of Republican Kevin J. Helfer continued Friday and may have renewed Democrat SanFilippo's interest in running with GOP support, Helfer said he has every intention of running.

"I am very much proceeding," Helfer said. "And in mid to late May, I'll have an announcement to make. Everything is going very well."

Other Democratic candidates could include Steven A. Calvaneso, a downtown businessman who is holding a $1,000 mayoral fund-raiser on Thursday, and Judith Einach, a community activist who has announced her candidacy.


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