Byron W. Brown has 116,660 reasons why his new favorite word is "Democrat."
That's the number of registered Democrats in the City of Buffalo. And since there are 96,525 more of them than Republicans, Brown is now super-emphasizing his appeal to party loyalty in his effort against a combative Republican, Kevin J. Helfer.
"We know if Democrats come out and stay on that line, we will win this election," Brown said Tuesday.
To that end, Brown in recent days has retooled his mayoral campaign to bring home the party faithful who largely stayed away from the polls on primary day. Among his efforts are:
* Campaigning along Elmwood Avenue on Tuesday with a popular and rising state Democratic star, Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, who is expected to be its 2006 gubernatorial nominee.
* Importing other Democratic luminaries such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, scheduled for Oct. 12, and the state Democratic chairman, Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell Jr. of Manhattan, immediately after the Sept. 13 primary.
* Direct mail to Democratic households blaring the title of "Democrat." In South Buffalo, for example, the mailings picture Brown with Rep. Brian M. Higgins and top neighborhood Democrats.
* Linking Helfer to Republicans such as President Bush, Gov. George E. Pataki and especially Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, all of whom have been plummeting in the polls.
The effort has proven so encompassing that Brown seems to have given his opponent a new first name. He rarely refers to him these days without calling him "Republican Kevin Helfer."
"We're reminding people that this is Democrat Byron Brown against a Republican candidate," Brown said, "and when Republicans are in executive positions, there are bad consequences."
Brown adopted a more conciliatory tone Tuesday as he and Spitzer strolled up Elmwood, talking up economic development ideas to shop owners and their patrons. "I have no doubt that Byron is going to win, and it's not just about the technical aspects," Spitzer said as he breezed through Spot Coffee, "but because of the optimism he brings."
Still, there are signs aplenty that emphasizing the Democratic nature of a Democratic town is dominating the Brown campaign. Brown spokesman Steven M. Casey said that the Erie County Democratic Committee is now more integrated into the Brown effort and that a "coordinated campaign" with other Democrats will be directed by County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan.
In addition, the founder and president of Brown's Grassroots political club, Maurice L. Garner, is expected to soon join the campaign full time to carry the message to Brown's African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic base.
"We're going to go back to basics, like being in the churches and knocking on doors and using sound trucks," Casey said. "We have to take care of our East Side base while paying attention to Niagara and South and Delaware and the West Side."
But the strongest weapon of all may be Brown's linking Helfer to Republicans such as Bush and Giambra. Ever since primary day, Brown has consistently linked Giambra to Helfer, who served as Giambra's commissioner of social services. And with that comes other linkages between Helfer and Bush, an approach that has been pushed by Farrell.
"We're going to ask them to remember Bush and Pataki and Giambra and Naples," he said, referring to former County Comptroller Nancy A. Naples. "They've all shown they can't govern."
Not that Republicans aren't revving up their own organization. County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis was expected to discuss the race with State Chairman Stephen J. Minarik III in Syracuse today in the hope of securing money and staff. But while Brown brings in the Spitzers and Clintons of the political world, nobody expects Helfer to import Bush to Democratic Buffalo.
Still, Helfer expresses no reservations about running with a GOP label. The last two administrations in heavily Democratic New York City have been Republican, he pointed out, and success can be noted here, too.
"I was successful three out of four times, and came pretty close in my race for comptroller," said the former Common Council member from the University District. "Voters aren't going to be looking at party affiliation, but at leadership. They want ideas and reform. Mr. Brown has not shown his vision."
Davis calls the new Brown strategy "seriously flawed."
"They're trying to energize their base," he said, "but it's beyond their base that's going to decide this."