The Common Council probably will launch an internal probe into allegations that Mayor Byron W. Brown helped restaurateur Leonard Stokes avoid arrest in a police investigation, Council President David A. Franczyk said Tuesday.
If necessary, Franczyk added, lawmakers may subpoena the mayor and others.
"He should just come out and say what happened," Franczyk said of the mayor.
Brown has refused to confirm or deny that police were instructed to bring Stokes directly to the mayor's office after he was apprehended on allegations of possessing a stolen handicapped parking tag. When confronted about the allegation last week, Brown said he needed time to check the facts about the incident, which occurred two years ago.
Tuesday, an uncharacteristically emotional mayor told reporters he "did nothing wrong" in the matter and insisted he has become the target of "dirty politics." Brown also challenged police sources who have told reporters and at least one city official that the mayor meddled in the criminal probe. Stokes never officially was arrested or charged.
"If anyone can say I did something wrong, or anything happened with respect to this, or I got anybody out of jail, or some other nonsense like that, come forward and put it on the record," Brown said.
Franczyk stressed that he's not implying the mayor has done anything wrong, but he said Brown needs to be more specific about the chain of events that reputedly resulted in Stokes being brought to Brown's office. Such an action would not be following normal police protocol, Franczyk said.
"Something happened. What happened? When you're in public office, you live in a fishbowl," he said.
Franczyk said his decision to push for an investigation by the Council's Police Oversight Committee has nothing to do with election-year politics. Franczyk said he has remained neutral in Tuesday's Democratic Party primary, which pits Brown against South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, claiming he works effectively with both men.
Franczyk said he believes he will have the five Council votes needed to trigger the committee investigation. The panel is headed by Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, a Brown ally who helped Stokes snare public money for his failed restaurant, One Sunset. Franczyk said that if Davis tries to block the probe, he will be removed as committee chairman.
Peter K. Cutler, the mayor's chief spokesman, had little to say Tuesday about a potential Council probe.
"The Council president is entitled to do whatever he thinks he needs to do," Cutler said.
Will the administration cooperate?
"We always cooperate with the Council," Cutler claimed.
Franczyk said he also is sending a letter to the FBI encouraging federal officials to investigate the matter. But he acknowledged he has heard that the FBI already is looking into the issue.
Earlier Tuesday, Brown became defensive at an inner harbor news conference when questions about waterfront development were followed by queries about the mayor's possible involvement in the Stokes matter.
The mayor lashed out at "unnamed sources" and criticized his political opponents for trying to smear his reputation.
"I'm sick of talking about this," Brown said. "I'm not going to talk about it any more. It is completely irrelevant."
When a reporter pressed Brown to confirm or deny allegations that police brought Stokes directly to the mayor, he replied, "I don't have to tell you who I meet with."
Back in June, Brown acknowledged that he had met with Stokes to discuss his restaurant. The city's economic development agency, which Brown heads, loaned Stokes $80,000 and provided $30,000 in grants for One Sunset, a Delaware Avenue restaurant that closed last year.
City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo said the loans were ill-advised and circumvented city procedures. Brown has denied taking any extraordinary steps to help Stokes obtain public funding.
Darryl McPherson, the comptroller's chief auditor, told Council members Tuesday that he hopes to release a complete audit of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. within a month or so.
The review, which began nearly three months ago, will provide an "overall picture" of agency lending. It also will examine efforts to collect on loans that have gone into default, McPherson said.