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Brown questioned on campaign trail Reporters focus on Stokes; mayor talks about crime

Mayor Byron W. Brown was working the campaign trail once again Wednesday, touting all the accomplishments of his term as mayor and what he sees for the future.

At Santa Maria Towers on Connecticut Street, Brown told seniors about progress in fighting crime, hiring more police officers and working with state legislators to obtain funds for senior services.

It's the kind of campaign fodder he likes to talk about.

But this Democratic primary faceoff against South Common Council Member Michael P. Kearns has forced conversations that the mayor would rather avoid.

After joining other officials to kick off a new vacant-housing demolition program in the University District, Brown was less than eager to discuss the controversy surrounding his association with Leonard Stokes, a former basketball star whom some accuse of receiving favorable treatment from the mayor. He dodged a slew of questions from reporters about claims that he helped Stokes avoid arrest for possessing a stolen handicapped parking permit in 2007.

Then again, during a long day of campaigning for a second term, only reporters were asking him about the most recent controversy.

"I feel like I'm being treated unfairly," he told The Buffalo News during a break. "Efforts I made to look into problems and help people are being criminalized by others. I know, for a fact, that I have done nothing wrong."

The mayor's now-familiar mantra has become standard campaign fare in the dwindling days of his Democratic primary campaign against Kearns. He would rather talk about his accomplishments and his vision for the future.

Instead, he has regularly faced a phalanx of reporters seeking answers about Stokes, who also received substantial city-backed loans for his One Sunset restaurant venture that city auditors eventually pronounced doomed from the start.

"We think this is an attempt to take just one issue and deflect attention from all the things we've accomplished," he said. "And it hurts to have your personal integrity questioned. It hurts to have people campaign for investigations and try to smear you and tarnish your name. I don't deserve that."

Despite the reporters, Brown seems dedicated to the ultimate goal of politicians in the heat of battle -- staying "on message."

Earlier in the day, his crews conducted a "sweep" of the neighborhood around Santa Maria Towers -- the 74th such event of his administration. He takes special satisfaction from efforts to address neighborhood problems like weed-covered lots and litter.

All of this is nothing new for Brown. At 50, he is a veteran of both behind-the-scenes and front-line politics. Normally unflappable, he lost his cool when asked about the Stokes affair Tuesday and admitted as much Wednesday.

But he did not apologize, referring once again to the "dirty politics" he is facing, implying that his political enemies on the Common Council are behind reports based on unnamed sources. He seemed to feel more at home in the activities room of Santa Maria Towers, which was decked out in red, white and blue bunting for the mayor's visit.

Here he was peppered with questions, but they were the kind he could handle -- about crime and sewer problems and plowing the streets.

"I know crime has been a problem for us," Brown said. "But we've taken almost 6,000 guns off the street. We've got a new Mobile Response
Unit in the Police Department, and that unit has gotten assistance from the New York State Police . . . to crack down on gangs and drugs."

An Erie County Sheriff's Office helicopter now patrols Buffalo neighborhoods with special equipment operated by trained officers, he said, while $10 million in police overtime has been authorized, "because we don't want to scrimp and save on your safety."

Brown seemed to be a hit among the elderly and low-income residents at Santa Maria. Mary Campbell, seated at a table with several other residents, said she had never heard of Kearns. But she knew all about the mayor, who has run Buffalo for almost four years. Now, his hefty campaign treasury is saturating the airwaves with positive ads in the last days before Tuesday's primary.

What about the new controversy about Stokes and his One Sunset restaurant?

"I'm not interested in it," Campbell said.

"It's wrong," added Lucy Kemps. "Just because he's running, they try to slam him."

As he talked with a reporter on the Santa Maria patio, Brown displayed a string of text messages he received in recent days expressing support for his embattled candidacy. He said he is greeted by honking horns and "thumbs-up" signs wherever he goes, and he urges everyone he meets to view his administration's record in its entirety.

"When I am out in the community, the reaction I get is very positive," he said. "They know the work we do and what we've accomplished, as well as our vision for the future. The city is definitely better off than it was four years ago."

A steady stream of Santa Maria residents approached Brown as he sat on the patio after his speech. One asked for help with a friend's sewer problem; another recalled his daughter's photograph taken with the mayor.

Still another complained that the television in Santa Maria's community room was broken and asked if there was anything he could do about it. Brown said he would ask.

As he was leaving, Brown brought the television matter to the attention of manager Kathy Sheldon. "You guys sent us $1,500 for a new TV," she replied.

A smile finally crossed Brown's face. At least one problem faced by the mayor of Buffalo was solved.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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