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Brown takes office as mayor Inauguration ceremony, City Hall reception highlight diversity

Byron William Brown took the oath of office Saturday as Buffalo's 58th mayor, promising to unite all its communities and seek a "strong city filled with creative, prosperous people."

Before about 2,000 onlookers in the Buffalo Convention Center, Brown swore to uphold the constitutions of the United States and the state as his wife, Michelle, and his son, Byron III, held the Bible. He became the city's first African-American mayor, but never dwelled on that during his brief, 11-minute speech.

Instead, he emphasized the richness of the city's history and diversity, and promised to work collectively with all neighborhoods and sections "toward a new Buffalo."

"That elusive standard, seemingly always within our reach but just beyond our grasp, will be the cornerstone of this administration," the new mayor said.

Brown offered few specifics in his speech before greeting a torrent of well-wishers during a reception in City Hall. But he touched on many of the themes central to his campaign -- creating jobs and providing quality public education, reliable city services, and "tough, smart public safety."

"The Brown administration will not only respond to these obligations, we will meet them," the mayor said. "And today I commit our city and this administration to aggressive adoption of programs and practices that will deliver on that promise."

Other family members, clergy, the entire Common Council and the outgoing mayor and his wife joined Brown on the dais.

"I also want to recognize Mayor Anthony Masiello and his lovely wife, Kate, who gave this city everything they had, including their hearts," Brown said, "and whom today we thank and wish all the best in the future that awaits you."

The relatively short event -- with aspects of solemn ceremony and revival meeting -- may best be remembered for its symbolism and sense of optimism more than any specifics mentioned by Brown.

Prayers were delivered by his pastor, the Rev. Michael Chapman of St. John Baptist Church, as well as by Jewish, Muslim and Catholic representatives. Performances by the Maya Dancers, the Jazz Conception Project of the Buffalo Visual Academy of Performing Arts, the Rince Na Tiarna Irish Dancers and the True Bethel Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir added to the day's diversity.

Still, a sense of history surrounded the proceedings as more than 1,000 visitors trooped across the parquet floor of Brown's new office on City Hall's second floor to congratulate its first black occupant. Many were African-American, and all stopped to convey their best wishes on a historic occasion.

"It's a proud moment," said former Common Council President George K. Arthur, an African-American who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1985. "It's another barrier that's been broken and come down. It gives our youth the opportunity to say, 'I can be mayor too, just like Byron Brown.' "

BuWayna Daniels, an African-American teacher in Buffalo Public Schools, said that "without doubt" she took special notice of Brown's inauguration.

And Bill Johnson, a block club leader, noted that at 73, he was witnessing a first.

"It's not about color or who he is; it's about the job he'll do," Johnson said.

When the Convention Center doors opened at 8:15 a.m., more than 200 people already were in line, and by the official 9 a.m. beginning, a spillover crowd was directed to adjacent rooms to view the proceedings on giant screens. One of the early arrivals was Arlee Daniels Jr., a board member of the Stop the Violence Coalition and coordinator for the Youth Intervention Project at the YMCA.

Daniels says he believes Brown's influence could extend beyond city budgets and delivering basic services.

"I think our new mayor could send messages that encourage better parenting," he said. "Our kids are our future, and so much of it has to with parenting."

Brown's promise to work toward building a "new Buffalo" struck a chord with Daniels and other community activists who attended ceremonies.

"Do you know how many of our kids are living in homes that are below the poverty level?" Daniels asked.

After the inauguration, many people took the short walk through a dusting of snow for the City Hall reception. Some waited in long lines for more than two hours, inching their way from the lobby into the mayor's office to shake Brown's hand.

Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello is convinced Brown recognizes the potential for collaboration between the two cities.

"He understands that we're a regional destination for tourism, and that there's a natural connection between Buffalo and Niagara Falls," said Anello, who worked extensively with Brown during the new mayor's stint as a state senator.

Leaders from most of the city's largest bargaining units attended the inauguration, including the presidents of the fire, blue- and white-collar unions. Brown's campaign received significant support from labor groups.

Frank Luca, a city firefighter and former union first vice president, said Brown's arrival in City Hall will usher in a more cooperative era between labor and the administration.

Lucca said city employees, whose wages have been frozen by a state control board, understand that Brown isn't going to be able to resolve all their issues.

But he said he was convinced the new mayor will approach situations with a more open mind.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com and bmeyer@buffnews.com

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