Republican Kevin J. Helfer's newest ad claims his Democratic opponent for mayor "runs with the wrong crowd."
Now Byron W. Brown's campaign is hinting as strongly as possible that Helfer's implications are racially tinged.
"One of my questions is: Is it racial?" Brown spokesman Steven M. Casey said Thursday. "Where's the bad crowd?
"I hope it's not a racial comment," he added. "But what's he trying to say here?"
It is the first time the issue of race has entered the general election campaign. Helfer is white; Brown is African-American.
With the general election campaign just days old, Buffalo voters are already experiencing some of the roughest mayoral campaigning in a generation. Both sides say their television advertising is right on the mark, that all their claims are backed by facts and figures, and that they should be highlighted to inform the electorate.
But so far, the ads mostly focus on who is closest to County Executive Joel A. Giambra, at the bottom of public opinion polls following Erie County's financial crisis. And that's right where the thrust of Thursday's political action went as Casey of the Brown campaign claimed the Helfer ads were "desperate" and "negative."
"We're talking about jobs, education and the future of Buffalo," Casey said. "This guy is going negative right out of the gate."
Helfer spokesman Christopher M. Grant said the ads have "nothing to do with race," accusing Brown of using the issue to deflect from his own failures as a state senator. He said the reference to a "bad crowd" links him to special interests that have contributed the most to his campaign.
"Sen. Brown says he owes nobody anything," he said. "We believe it's the complete opposite because he has taken money from everybody."
He said the ads "simply lay out the facts," and that they show a connection between Brown and special interests, as well as Brown and Giambra.
"If he accuses us of ties to Joel Giambra, then he has the same ties," Grant said.