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Brown, Kearns trade jabs in debate Candidates focus on crime, jobs, housing

It took Byron W. Brown 54 seconds during Friday's mayoral debate to accuse Democratic primary opponent Michael P. Kearns of "dirty politics."

Kearns retorted that Brown has lost the trust of residents and has failed to find ways to revitalize a "dying" city.

In some observers' eyes, neither candidate scored a knockout punch. But they tried.

Crime, job creation, decaying housing and the One Sunset controversy were among the issues that surfaced in a forum sponsored by WGRZ-TV Channel 2 and moderated by Pete Gallivan.

Brown tried to depict Kearns as a misinformed, do-nothing Common Council member who has resorted to under-handed campaign tactics to mask his lack of substance.

"He's bankrupt in the ideas deparment," Brown said. "He's bankrupt in the creativity department."

Kearns replied by saying, "This administration is bankrupt in moral values," repeatedly mentioning Brown's ties to Leonard Stokes, a restaurateur who received public money for a failed business.

Brown touted his hiring of 126 new police officers, but Kearns said the new hires have barely kept pace with retirements. Kearns also attacked Brown for "squandering an opportunity" to amass a distinguished record as Buffalo's first African-American mayor.

Meanwhile, Brown criticized Kearns for accepting a $1,000 stipend that was created in 2006 when Kearns was appointed chairman of the Council's Claims Committee. Brown called the stipend a "raise," while Kearns retorted that other Council committee chairs received identical stipends.

Brown also defended his administration's track record in creating jobs and promoting development. He talked about visits he paid to many local businesses, and he highlighted efforts to make City Hall more development-friendly.

"If assisting a business who wasted over $120,000 in taxpayers' money during the One Sunset fiasco is business development -- business assistance -- then you can keep it," Kearns said.

Brown said the city's contribution to the ill-fated Delaware Avenue restaurant was actually $110,000 in loans and grants.

"That was one business that went bad, out of $6.9 million in loans that we lent to small businesses," the mayor said.

Brown also cited a net increase in jobs in the city since he took office in 2006 and the relocation of some businesses to Buffalo, efforts to put thousands of young people to work in a summer jobs program, and other job-creation efforts.

"We're very pleased that we have moved in the right direction," the mayor said.

"The mayor tries to take credit for everything probably except the space program," replied Kearns in response to Brown's job-creation claims.

Kearns, who has represented the South District on the Common Council since 2006, tried to depict the incumbent as an insulated leader who favors political friends and ignores the needs of others.

"Byron, you've lost the trust and confidence of the citizens of Buffalo," Kearns told Brown.

Kearns unsuccessfully tried to get the mayor to admit that he personally met with Stokes in 2007 shortly after Stokes was apprehended by police for possessing a stolen handicapped parking tag.

Once again, Brown refused to discuss any such meeting, saying only that Stokes did not receive any special treatment and in fact paid a parking fine for the offense. Stokes was never arrested or booked for the offense, but city officials said neither were any of the 14 other people who were subsequently caught with stolen parking tags.

Brown has accused Kearns' forces of conspiring to "smear" his reputation. The mayor has asked the FBI to investigate what he described earlier in the week as a "conspiracy" to "bring down this administration."

Later in the day, Brown complained to a Buffalo News reporter about "misinformation" that has been reported relating to the Stokes saga. When Brown was challenged to set the record straight and divulge specifics in the case -- including his alleged meeting with Stokes -- the mayor refused to comment for at least the sixth time in the span of a week.

Neighborhood revitalization was another prominent theme in Friday's debate, which was webcast live on WGRZ.com. If elected, Kearns vowed to create "quality-of-life centers" in all nine Council districts, facilities that would house inspectors, planners, community police officers and other city staffers.

Brown said his administration has torn down more blighted buildings than any other Buffalo mayor in history, and has devised plans to rehabilitate some structures.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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