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In the mayor's race: Big choice, big coverage

Voters in Buffalo -- a place as beloved as it is beleaguered -- will go to the polls in six weeks to elect a new mayor. The outcome of the election will matter hugely to this once-great city that, despite its problems, has such potential for the future.

With longtime incumbent Anthony Masiello not in the running, the race is between two major party candidates, Democrat Byron Brown and Republican Kevin Helfer.

While Brown, a state senator, is the clear favorite in this Democratic city, the race is nevertheless a competitive one. Helfer is a former Common Council member and a businessman who has also served as Erie County Social Services commissioner.

"It's a watershed election because of all that's happened here -- especially the control board and the city's continuing economic malaise," says News Political Reporter Bob McCarthy, who is a key member of a team of reporters who will be working nearly full time on this subject until Election Day.

"People are looking for leadership in the city, and because there's no incumbent mayor running, there's a brand-new opportunity," McCarthy says.

Because the election is so important to the whole region's future, The News is pouring its newsgathering resources into providing thorough coverage between now and Nov. 8.

Here's what News readers can expect in the weeks ahead:

* Profiles of the two major candidates that examine their backgrounds, accomplishments, character and personalities. Those pieces (written by James Heaney and Phil Fairbanks, both of whom are working nearly full time on mayoral stories) are slated to appear in next Sunday's News.

* A public opinion poll, commissioned by The News from the well-known national pollster, John Zogby, to identify the issues voters care about most -- and predict for whom they'll vote. It will appear in about three weeks.

* On the opinion side of the paper, The News will make its endorsement for mayor on Oct. 30 in the Viewpoints section. In the Democratic primary, the paper's editorial board endorsed Brown over Kevin Gaughan and Steve Calvaneso, but that does not necessarily predict a general-election endorsement. (The board includes the paper's publisher, editor, editorial page editor, deputy editorial page editor, and two editorial writers.)

* Also on the opinion side, but not appearing on the editorial page, are pieces by our columnists, particularly Donn Esmonde and Rod Watson, both of whom write frequently on politics. Watson's column last Thursday, for example, criticized a Helfer TV ad for racially insensitive wording about Brown, who is African-American. (Helfer is white.)

* Stories about the importance of voter turnout; the amount and source of the candidates' campaign contributions; the role of race in the campaign; and the major influences on (and advisers to) Brown and Helfer. We'll also get out into city neighborhoods and talk to residents about the issues, the candidates and the city's future.

* An ongoing check on truth in the candidates' advertising. Fairbanks is fact-checking the claims in the ads, and reporting on how much is fact, how much is spin, and whether anything is outright falsehood.

It's a great deal of coverage -- a major use of this paper's reporters and its space for news. We think it's necessary.

"These candidates are the people who say they want the job of turning the city around," says Deputy Managing Editor Stan Evans, who is directing the news-side effort.

"We want to do a first-rate job of informing our readers about them because this is clearly an election that really matters."

* * *

Some readers objected to our headline after the primary that used the word "trounced" to describe Brown's victory over Gaughan. Although he didn't write the headline, Bob McCarthy defends it: "I always use the Borrelli rule (a reference to McCarthy's predecessor as political reporter, George Borrelli). Anything over 10 percent is a landslide." Brown had 59 percent of the vote, compared to Gaughan's (surprisingly strong) 36 percent. By the Borrelli rule, that's more than a landslide, which probably makes "trounced" reasonable enough.

You may respond by e-mail to editor@buffnews.com or by mail to One News Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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