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Fireworks late in campaign ignite Brown's base to trigger a landslide

Maybe Byron W. Brown would have cruised to victory anyway -- without the galvanizing effect of critical news reports and enhanced interest in the Buffalo mayoral contest.

Maybe.

But in the aftermath of his overwhelming Democratic primary victory over South Council Member Michael P. Kearns on Tuesday, one aspect seems certain: The wave of controversy dominating the campaign's last weeks energized the mayor's African-American base and brought home another four years in City Hall.

"One thing we know how to do is get out the vote," said State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, D-Buffalo, a key Brown supporter. "Once . . . some of these guys really went after the mayor, it made our get-out-the-vote job all that much easier."

An analysis of Tuesday's primary vote -- which essentially decided the election because Brown now has no opponent in November -- shows the mayor rolling to victory on the strength of black voters. In addition, even though Kearns won four of the city's primarily white Common Council districts, Brown scored well enough there to win by a landslide, 63 to 37 percent.

Even more significantly, the relatively strong turnout among black voters sealed the deal for Brown. Thompson said Wednesday that combined with what some perceived as racially motivated attacks on President Obama, African-American voters reacted with passion.

Few, he said, viewed as "fair" reports in The Buffalo News and other media regarding his dealings with Leonard Stokes, a former basketball star who obtained city loans to open a restaurant that subsequent audits declared doomed from the start.

And none reacted kindly to the Kearns media campaign partly funded by downtown developer Carl P. Paladino in the campaign's last days.

"It was really a raw deal by some mainstream media and Carl," Thompson said. "With the attacks on Obama nationally and the severe personal attacks on the mayor -- even when he had done a good job -- people looked at it as a direct attack on empowerment.

"You couldn't have a better Bull Connor to get people out," he added, referring to the legendary police commissioner in Birmingham, Ala., who suppressed civil rights protesters in the early 1960s.

Thompson also said Paladino cannot name "one black elected official he likes in Western New York, and that's heartbreaking." He said he will soon ask officials of the Erie County Democratic Committee to move party headquarters from Ellicott Square, the downtown landmark owned by Paladino.

Paladino reacted Wednesday by expressing frustration over African-American solidarity for a mayor he said ignores the needs of the "downtrodden and poor."

"To be dragged out of their homes to vote almost unanimously, . . . think about it," he said. "What is wrong with these people?"

He also acknowledged that his actions may very well have contributed to the Brown landslide.

"It would never stop me from doing it again," he said.

Still, a clear racial divide was evident among Buffalo voters, according to statistics supplied by the Erie County Board of Elections. The data shows that the mayor's big victory resulted from several factors:

Brown won overwhelmingly in the largely black districts of Ellicott, Fillmore, Lovejoy, Masten and University.

Kearns won big time -- 78 to 22 percent -- on his home turf, the South District.

Though Kearns also prevailed in Delaware, Niagara (barely) and North, it was nowhere near enough to offset the mayor's overall strength. In addition, turnout proved especially low in swing districts such as Niagara and North, where Kearns' margins fell far short of what he needed to make inroads against Brown overall.

More than 11,000 additional voters came out to pull the lever in 2009 than in the 2005 primary, also won by Brown. Part of that increase stemmed from the South District, where 1,393 more voters turned out for the contest involving native son Kearns.

The real story occurred in the mayor's inner-city base, districts such as Masten. That's where Brown piled up his huge plurality. He won Masten, 5,618 to 164, or 97 percent to 3 percent. And while only 4,065 turned out there in 2005, 5,782 went to the polls in 2009 -- a 37 percent turnout.

In the North District -- won by Kearns -- turnout was only 21 percent.

Jeremy C. Toth, a Kearns supporter and close associate of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, who also backed Kearns, agreed with Thompson's assessment of a racial divide. But he said the downside for Brown stems from returns in sections such as the Elmwood Avenue corridor that show far less support than what the mayor experienced in his 2005 victory.

"It means he has not expanded his influence or popularity," Toth said. "In fact, he's more isolated than before. Most candidates like to build on their base. It appears he did just the opposite."

Thompson did not take issue with that view. He said Brown fell short in some areas of the city heavily populated by liberal voters and union workers, which he blamed on reaction against decisions by the city's state-appointed financial control board.

"We've got to re-evaluate that," Thompson said.

But the senator said he also agreed with Kearns' assertion during his Tuesday night concession speech that the hard-fought primary was a healthy exercise for all -- including Brown.

"I agree with Mickey on that," Thompson said. "It will make the mayor a better person."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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