Byron W. Brown appeared headed toward victory in the Democratic primary for mayor of Buffalo late Tuesday, receiving a major injection of momentum into his effort to be elected the city's 58th mayor in November.
With approximately 60 percent of the vote counted, the Democratic state senator was leading chief challenger Kevin P. Gaughan by about 4,000 votes. To nobody's surprise, the heavy favorite in the race seemed to be tapping into his African-American base to provide the bulk of his votes, but with substantial support from other areas of the city as well.
Steven A. Calvaneso, a downtown businessman who withdrew from the race last week, was still listed on Tuesday's ballot and drew 911 votes with approximately one-third counted.
Brown arrived late Tuesday at his headquarters at D'Arcy McGee's pub on Franklin Street and said he was optimistic.
"I feel very comfortable -- we talked about unifying the city and bringing people together and I think voters responded to that," he said. "I talked about creating an economic climate and I think voters are responding to that."
Gaughan was heartened by the numbers but also recognized he was not leading. His underfinanced and undermanned campaign picked up new steam over the past few days after Calvaneso withdrew and the race essentially boiled down to a one-on-one affair. He had hammered home the idea of voting "against the status quo" ever since Calvaneso's departure.
And that's exactly the theme he sounded as more and more Brown numbers came in.
"In the end there were only two people in this race -- myself and the political machine that has taken this city to its knees," Gaughan said. "I am proud that we offered a choice -- we offered specific ideas."
He also couldn't help but note that his campaign had scored better than many observers had expected.
"No matter what happens tonight, the Democratic establishment thought this was [going to be] a cake walk," he said. "And it wasn't."
But another key component of the race remained undecided because many votes were cast as write-ins on the Conservative line for Kevin J. Helfer, the former University Council member who is the endorsed Republican candidate. Though his name was not on the Tuesday ballot, he waged a vigorous write-in campaign to upset Brown, who was endorsed by Conservative leaders.
Those results were incomplete late Tuesday, but Helfer was sounding cautiously optimistic. With one-third of the vote counted, Helfer said his field operations reported 180 votes to Brown's 27.
"We feel very comfortable that we'll be in the 60 percent range if not more," he said. "It tells me the people are independent, and they're sick and tired of party bosses dictating to them, when their philosophy is not close to the philosophy of the party."
In another minor party primary, no results were available late Tuesday in the Independence primary between Brown and Charles J. Flynn, a one-time mayoral candidate on the Conservative line who is also the former Erie County Independence chairman.
Brown was seeking one more ballot line via the Independence vote, giving him the possibility of appearing on four lines in November -- Democrat, Independence, Working Families and possibly Conservative.
Though his name never appeared on any ballot in Tuesday's election, Helfer still held a huge stake in its outcome. A former registered Conservative, Helfer had banked on attracting enough of his former party members to outflank Brown for the line.
He pointed out that many of Brown's positions on social issues did not mesh with Conservative doctrine, and pointed to his relationship with party leaders as the reason behind his endorsement.
Brown, on the other hand, had worked hard in recent years to justify his new coziness with the party. His Conservative rating had increased in measuring his Senate votes, and top Conservative leaders like Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo were convinced of his commitment to the party's tenets of fiscal conservatism.
Nearly every political observer watching this year's mayoral contest agreed that Helfer had to win the Conservative line for him to sustain his effort in heavily Democratic Buffalo. Not only would it provide needed momentum to a campaign that has been outpaced on just about every front by Brown, but it would provide an additional line for Democrats to vote for Helfer without pulling the Republican lever.
But Helfer's effort was also handicapped by the unfamiliarity surrounding the write-in vote. Conservatives are not used to voting in primaries in their party, and were apt to be unfamiliar with the write-in process.