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Masiello offers advice to mayoral candidates

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello has some advice for candidates vying to succeed him: talk specifics, don't trivialize problems and avoid mudslinging.

Masiello, who is not seeking a fourth term, said he was disappointed that mayoral candidates in the Democratic primary gave vague, simplistic and unrealistic responses when pressed to explain how they would run the city.

And he's concerned about the tenor of the upcoming election that pits Democrat Byron W. Brown against Republican Kevin J. Helfer. The recent focus has been on a television ad by Helfer accusing Brown of being someone who "runs with a bad crowd." Brown, an African-American, has hinted that Helfer's inferences are racially tinged, a notion that Helfer's campaign denies.

What is clear, however, is that each candidate is trying to paint his opponent as being more closely tied to County Executive Joel A. Giambra, whose popularity has plummeted due to the county's fiscal crisis.

Masiello is urging the candidates to stick with the issues that matter most to voters, including creating jobs, shoring up the city's tax base and providing key services.

"The mayor sets the tone and the direction for the city," he said. "There are real issues that have to be addressed, issues that are more important than race and more important than Giambra." Masiello, whose political career spans 23 victories and no defeats, said none of his mayoral campaigns were mired in mudslinging.

"You diminish your city and your position when you get into negative campaigning," he said.

Masiello has yet to make an endorsement, nor have candidates sought his backing. But he said he has talked with Brown and Helfer in recent weeks and has offered to be a "resource" to whichever candidate becomes mayor Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, he's encouraging candidates to focus on key issues in what he views as a competitive race.

"My challenge to them is to be as specific and as real as possible," said Masiello.

For example, he said in his first run for mayor in 1993, he released blueprints for revamping many city services. Twelve years later, administration officials cite consolidations in police and fire services, and changes in garbage collection that have won national recognition.

Buffalo's next mayor owes it to voters to address many issues, he said, including:

How the city can continue to pare costs while providing key services.

How to deal with a shrinking tax base in a city where about 40 percent of the properties are exempt from paying taxes.

Whether the new mayor will fight to receive a larger share of the county sales tax, and if not, what revenues would be pursued to strengthen the city's fragile finances.

Masiello claimed voters' interests aren't served when candidates squabble over which special interests are contributing to campaigns.

"These kind of things are irrelevant when you're managing a city," he claimed. "Special interests are derailed by all the checks and balances."

But Helfer spokesman Christopher M. Grant insisted campaign contributions are an issue when Brown has accepted money from city unions and other forces that Grant says want to protect the status quo. "The reform of city government is a critical issue in this campaign," he said. "Byron Brown has to answer to his ties to special interests."

Brown's campaign spokesman blamed Helfer for setting the tone by making an "early desperate attempt" to try to discredit Brown.

"Kevin Helfer is the one who started out of the gate with this [negativity], not Byron Brown," said Steven M. Casey.

Both campaign spokesmen disagreed with Masiello that candidates have yet to address key issues. They noted there have been discussions on issues ranging from public housing to how much compensation Buffalo should receive from the New York Power Authority for federal relicensing of its Niagara Power Project.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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