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In fund-raising race, Brown swamps rivals Unions, developers and lawyers who do business with city make major contributions to mayoral candidate

The big money behind Byron Brown's campaign for mayor consists largely of unions, developers and lawyers who do business with the city, and downstate politicians, a Buffalo News analysis shows.

And big money there is.

Brown has raised $707,609, more than four times as much as the total for his two Democratic primary opponents -- one of whom dropped out last week. Following an expected primary win Tuesday, Brown will have about $600,000 going into a general election race against Republican Kevin J. Helfer.

While Brown has attracted a large number of small contributors, The News analysis shows 69 percent of his money comes from about 175 donors who gave $1,000 or more. The largest among them are no strangers to City Hall and include the fire and police unions, developers Rocco Termini and Samuel Savarino, and Hormoz Mansouri, who has ingratiated himself to many local politicians through frequent and generous contributions.

Downstate politicians, including African-Americans from New York City, have stepped up to contribute and help raise funds. In contrast, many elders in the city's black political community have not contributed. Politicos in South Buffalo, some anxious to solidify their job prospects in a Brown administration, have.

Put another way: Brown got money from Jimmy Griffin, but not Arthur Eve.

Kevin P. Gaughan, also running in the Democratic primary, characterized Brown's largest donors as "a combination of those who have caused the problem and those who would like to continue benefiting from it."

"Looking at the list, anyone who thinks Byron would change anything is deluding themselves," he said.

Brown disputes the notion that his fund-raising would compromise him as mayor, noting that he's gotten donations from more than 1,200 contributors.

"We have such a diversity of contributors that we are not beholden to anyone," Brown said.

Brown raised $618,124, through Aug. 12, according to records submitted to the Erie County Board of Elections. He has since reported additional contributions of $89,485 not included in The News analysis because disclosure statements were just filed.

A Buffalo News analysis of contributions through Aug. 12 shows:

While small contributors who gave less than $100 make up almost 40 percent of Brown's donor base, or nearly 500 individuals, their donations account for only 3 percent of contributions.

The list of Brown's largest donors -- 21 who gave between $5,000 to $12,900 -- is dominated by city unions, developers and lawyers who do business with the city and big-time politicians from around the state.

Despite a lack of money from many of the corporate executives who usually contribute to local elections, Brown has raised more than $200,000 from the business community.

Unions make up four of his nine largest donors and include Brown's most generous contributor, Buffalo firefighters and their state affiliate, which gave a combined $16,900. Collectively, however, union money accounts for only 13 percent of donations, compared with 33 percent for business.

Fellow politicians have kicked in nearly $50,000, with most coming from downstate. Andrew Cuomo's campaign for attorney general has given $13,000, Brown's second-largest contributor after the firefighters. No fewer than four minority members of Congress have contributed $1,000 apiece.

Gaughan, Brown's primary opponent, and Steven A. Calvaneso, who dropped out of the race Thursday, raised far less.

Gaughan's contributions total $99,155; Calveneso's $64,482, as of Aug. 29.

"It's like the Yankees playing against the Little League World Series champions," Calvaneso said.

> Gifts top expectations

The Brown campaign raised nearly triple the $250,000 it originally anticipated and has wound up raising the kind of money usually reserved for incumbent mayors.

"He's reaching out very effectively to people," said Arnold B. Gardner, one of Brown's fund-raisers. "He's done very well in the city, and he's reached out beyond the city."

Two fund-raisers held in New York City, which raised more than $75,000, were hosted primarily by prominent black elected officials from there.

Locally, Brown has turned to about a dozen people in the business community to help raise money, primarily attorneys and a couple of developers.

Brown takes pride in the number of small contributors his campaign has attracted. Like the $5 dropped off at his campaign headquarters last week by a supporter -- a nun, no less. He displayed the weathered Abe Lincoln as though it was priceless.

"I'm happy with the big donors," he said, "but the ones that put a smile on my face are the 10-, 15- and 20-dollar checks."

> Special interests donate

The five major unions representing city workers have contributed $42,255, including donations from affiliated groups at the regional and state levels.

Firefighters head the list, giving a combined $16,900 through the city union and a state affiliate.

AFSCME locals representing 2,000 city, Board of Education and Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority employees rank third among overall contributors with $12,485.

Bill Travis, head of Council 35 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes three locals, cited his union's good working relationship with Brown.

"He's the only candidate talking about involving every sector of the community to solve problems," Travis said.

The Police Benevolent Association and its political action committees rank ninth with $8,175.

Private-sector unions contributed another $35,000, most notably $8,500 from Service Employees International Union Local 1199, the powerful union of public health workers headed by Dennis Rivera. The union's headquarters served as the site of one of Brown's major fund-raisers in New York City.

Largely absent from the contributor list are the business elites. There are a few big names among the donor list, including semiretired printing executive Paul J. Koessler ($4,000), Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano ($2,000), and M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers ($1,125).

But many typical contributors, especially those involved in the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, have not opened their checkbooks to Brown. It's no surprise, given that the Partnership tried without success to field an alternative candidate.

Partnership President Andrew J. Rudnick acknowledged that many business leaders remain cool to Brown's candidacy.

"His platform is not yet compelling enough on issues of interest and concern to the business community," Rudnick said.

Many who have contributed do business with the city, in particular developers, contractors and lawyers. Developers head the list.

Savarino and his company donated $10,500. Rocco Termini and several of his companies, which have been awarded a number of city contracts in recent years, gave $9,000. Norstar Development, which has redeveloped several public housing properties in the city, donated $6,225 through its national and New York State corporations.

Other developers who have contributed include First Amherst Development Group and Benjamin N. Obletz, who is involved in the company ($3,050); related Uniland Corp. companies ($2,000); Benderson Development and Delta Sonic Car Wash ($1,250); Louis P. Ciminelli ($1,000); and Dennis Penman ($500).

Brown said these businesses are contributing, in part, because he has promised "an open and competitive development process." But many of the large contributors are developers selected by City Hall in recent years to do projects, which has promoted allegations of favoritism.

Numerous law firms and individual lawyers have also ponied up. Phillips Lytle donated $6,500, Hiscock & Barclay $4,800 and Kavinoky & Cook, $3,000. Numerous individual lawyers have contributed as well, led by Philipp L. Rimmler, of Paul Beltz's firm, who gave $5,000.

> Downstate money

Most contributions from fellow politicians have come from downstate.

In addition to $13,000 from the Cuomo campaign, State Senate Minority Leader David Paterson gave $10,000 from his campaign account, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer wrote a personal check for $5,000.

A number of local politicians contributed smaller amounts, including Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz, who gave $1,600, and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, who gave $330.

County Executive Joel Giambra contributed $500.

Common Council members who have contributed include Brown's successor in the Masten District, Antoine Thompson, and Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr., Joseph Golombek Jr. and Marc A. Coppola. Council Chief of Staff Paul Wolf donated more than any of them, $500.

Other City Hall contributors include Corporation Counsel Michael B. Risman ($497) and city Treasurer and Budget Director Michael A. Seaman ($350).

> Ironic dynamics

Although he is poised to become Buffalo's first black mayor, campaign reports show Brown has not received money from big-name political elders in the city's African-American community, such as Arthur Eve, the Assembly's former deputy speaker, and former Common Council presidents George K. Arthur and James W. Pitts. Norstar Development, where Pitts works as executive director, has been a major contributor, however.

That lack of financial support may be traced to Brown's involvement in Grassroots Inc., which challenged and eventually supplanted much of the black community's political old guard over the past decade.

Others in the black community have stepped forward, however.

Appellate Judge Samuel L. Green is prohibited by law from contributing, but his wife, Ernestine, a former NFTA commissioner, gave $5,600. Dr. Wesley Hicks contributed $2,000. The Rev. Michael Chapman of St. John Baptist Church gave $1,500.

Some notable downstate black political figures have contributed as well, led by New York City Comptroller William Thompson, whose campaign treasury gave $3,000. Four minority members of Congress, three from New York City and one from Los Angeles, gave $1,000 each from their campaign coffers.

While they haven't contributed big bucks, South Buffalo's political establishment -- past and present -- donated en masse.

Former Mayor James D. Griffin is one of Brown's smallest contributors, at just $20, and many of Griffin's former political lieutenants donated somewhat more, typically $100, including John P. Scanlon, Stan A. Buczkowski, David P. Comerford, James W. Comerford Jr. and Joseph V. Schollard.

Other South Buffalo contributors, none of whom gave more than $500, and usually much less, include U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, former Erie County Sherriff Thomas Higgins, former Deputy County Executive James P. Keane and former Elections Commissioner Edward J. Mahoney.

The contributor list also includes numerous members of Goin' South, a political club headed by Ray McGurn, an administrator under Griffin who now serves as inspections and permits chief for Mayor Anthony Masiello.

"People thought [Brown] was the best candidate and had the best chance of winning," McGurn said. "You can't get into elections and expect to lose."

e-mail: jheaney@buffnews.com

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