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Helfer has a steep fund-raising hill to climb

Byron W. Brown began the general election campaign for mayor with one huge advantage over Kevin J. Helfer -- a 33-to-1 edge in money.

Six days into the race, Democrat Brown had $528,106 in his campaign chest. Republican Helfer had $15,790.

The huge disparity in money, evident in the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Erie County Board of Elections, is just one of the hurdles Helfer must overcome if he wants to wage a serious challenge.

"I'm an underdog, and I knew that from the beginning," Helfer said. "I'll never raise the type of money he'll raise, and that's OK."

The Brown campaign, eager to discredit Helfer, characterized the disparity in fund raising as a deadly blow to his underdog campaign.

"Sixteen thousand dollars for mayor isn't going to get it done," said Brown campaign manager Steven M. Casey. "At this late stage of the game, raising the funds to get your message out is crucial."

The money raised by Brown is indicative of his wide base of support, Casey said, while Helfer's poor showing is a sign that his negative television advertising is not working.

"Obviously, people are not believing his message," Casey said. "They don't like Helfer's negative attacks. They want to see a positive campaign that talks about the issues."

Helfer said it's far too early to declare his campaign dead and, without mentioning amounts, suggested the big contributions are now arriving.

"I know I can't run this race without money," he said. "I can also tell you the money started to flow last week."

Despite the contrast in cash on hand, Helfer raised about $35,000, almost as much as Brown, in the days immediately before and after the Sept. 13 primary elections.

Most of that money, which he later spent, came from five supporters who donated $5,000 apiece.

The five big donors were Statler Towers owner Gerald A. Buchheit Jr.; Luke T. Jacobs, a Buffalo lawyer and member of the prominent Jacobs family; longtime supporter Enrico Debate of Grand Island; Concept Construction of Elma; and Ellicott Maintenance of Buffalo, a general contractor.

Over the same period, Brown raised about $39,000, much of it from local unions and City Hall officials eager to protect their job prospects in the event Brown becomes Buffalo's next mayor.

By far the single biggest contribution to Brown, $10,000, came from the International Association of Fire Fighters. That's on top of the $16,900 previously given by Buffalo's unionized firefighters and their state affiliate.

Money also poured in from the local AFL-CIO and the unions representing Buffalo's blue-collar workers and school engineers.

In the days directly before and after the primaries, organized labor gave Brown an additional $12,450.

"Pure status quo," Helfer said of Brown's supporters. "There are a lot of people out there who don't want change. That's no surprise."

Prominent members of the Masiello administration showed their preference for Brown over Helfer with a second round of contributions and a fund-raising event at the Bijou Grille downtown.

Among those who donated again are Corporation Counsel Michael B. Risman, who has given Brown a total of $749, and City Treasurer Michael A. Seaman, who has contributed more than $1,000.

Since Brown's Democratic primary victory, more and more elected Democrats have been donating generously to his campaign. The most notable addition is Rep. Brian M. Higgins of Buffalo, who gave Brown $1,700 in the days before and after the primary.

Higgins is just one in a long string of South Buffalo Democrats who continue to back Brown's candidacy. Brown received a second round of contributions from former Erie County Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins, former Deputy County Executive James P. Keane and former Elections Commissioner Edward J. Mahoney.

Brown's contributions also include a second donation from Goin South, a political club headed by Raymond K. McGurn, a top administrator when James D. Griffin was mayor who now serves as inspections and permits commissioner for Masiello.

So far, Goin South has given $450 to Brown's campaign.

Brown also received money from companies that have done business with the city in the past or hope to in the future.

Among the biggest contributors are TVGA Consultants, an Elma engineering firm, which gave $3,290; Mark Cerrone Inc., a local construction contractor, which gave $2,149; and Nussbaumer & Clarke engineers and surveyors, which gave $1,000.

Jeremy M. Jacobs, one of Western New York's most prominent businessmen, also jumped on the Brown bandwagon, donating $300 to the campaign.

"At the end of the day," Casey said, "people are believing in Byron's plan and vision for the future."

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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