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Building the Brown brand; The mayor's name appears in hundreds of places, leading some to question the extent -- and the cost -- of his self-promotion

Office entrances. Gateways to city facilities. The shirts of many city lifeguards. Banners near the downtown waterfront. Some crime surveillance cameras. Lobby displays that promote literacy. Even a Zamboni at a city ice rink.

You'll find "Byron W. Brown" on all these -- not to mention a barrage of video programs aired on the government access cable television station.

Folks who live or work in Buffalo or who visit City Hall know this fact to be true: the mayor loves to see his name on things. More so than most previous mayors.

"He has his name on everything except for the City Hall urinals," quipped one former city official.

Here's one example: Thousands of people trek to the second floor of City Hall each year to visit the Citizen Services Division. In the span of about 40 steps, they pass six office doors in a row that bear the mayor's name. It has has been incorporated into the logo that promotes Buffalo's 311 non-emergency calling system. There are about two dozen doors on the second floor. Brown's name is etched on nine of them.

Heading up to the City Hall observation deck?

As the elevator doors open, you'll see an attractive mural with the words: "Welcome to Windows on Buffalo."

Below the greeting? You guessed it. "Hon. Byron W. Brown." And a reminder that it was "made possible" by him.

His name appears on banners that are affixed to many light poles at Erie Basin Marina.

It is emblazoned on signs beneath crime surveillance cameras in the Chippewa Entertainment District.

Amateur hockey fans who attend games at Lafayette Ice Rink on Tacoma Avenue can't miss a new Zamboni that carries the Byron Brown brand.

Visitors entering City Hall see a sign reminding them that it's Byron W. Brown who is championing restoration of the landmark. When they enter the lobby, a display touts Brown's summer reading program. In an 18th-floor hallway that measures barely 200 square feet, the mayor's name is plastered on two walls and two doors. This is the floor where the city's accountability panel meets and the floor where The Buffalo News caught up with Brown late last week to ask him about what some consider the aggressive "product placement" of his name.

The mayor was reluctant to discuss the issue, walking away from a reporter who made the inquiry.

"Mayors' names are always on things," was all Brown would say before he disappeared into a meeting, refusing to stop for even five seconds to talk about the matter.

Many people would give Brown a pass when it comes to trumpeting his name in the building where his office is located. But they draw the line when it comes to other name-touting tactics.

Take the recent flap that erupted when stunned firefighters attended a 9/1 1 memorial and discovered Brown's name emblazoned on eight new firetrucks that were being dedicated.

Thomas P. Barrett, the fire union's vice president, said it was "bad taste" that Brown's name would appear on the rigs. The only names that have graced such apparatus are those of firefighters who died in the line of duty.

"I've been [in the department] for 19 years, and mayors' names have never been on the rigs," Barrett told The News.

The mayor's office decided to remove Brown's name from the six engines and two ladder trucks shortly after unfavorable publicity.

But the mayor's name remains on hundreds of other signs, doors, walls, banners and vehicles. It even jumps out at people in the offices of some commissioners. That's because Brown is accustomed to giving Christmas gifts to his underlings that boldly display his name -- everything from snow globes and picture frames to paper weights.

Plastering one's name om holiday trinkets is one thing, some critics say. But the excessive stencilling or painting of Brown's name in so many spots throughout the city is another story, they insist.

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera said he doesn't recall another mayor engaging in such blatant self-promotion.

"It's really ridiculous," Rivera said. "We should be promoting the city -- not an individual."

Rivera also worries about the dollars and cents of such a heavy promotion effort. Someone has to design and print the moniker or paint or adhere the sign.

"[Elected officials] come and go, but these structures stay here. There's also a cost associated with removing names," Rivera said, adding that he thinks there should be more stringent rules as to where elected city officials can engage in name-placement promotions.

Brown's second term expires in 2013. While he hasn't publicly announced plans to seek re-election, he has privately told some people that he is seriously considering running for a third term.

Granted, Brown isn't the first or only elected official to use his office to build name recognition. For decades, county executives have long displayed their names at the entrances of county parks and other facilities. The late Mayor James D. Griffin still has a plaque that is prominently displayed on Niagara Square. But critics believe Brown has taken the practice to new heights.

"I've not seen anything of this magnitude in Buffalo," said Rivera, who spent nearly 25 years as a city police officer and detective before he was elected to the Council.

In fairness, Brown does not display his name in every office that deals with high customer volume. For example, it is nowhere to be seen as people enter the Parking Violations Bureau to pay fines, the garbage user fee office or the office where property owners go to fight assessments.

Some City Hall workers who have long scoffed at the plastering of Brown's name throughout the building don't think that's by accident.

"They only want his name associated with things that give people a happy feeling," one veteran employee speculated.

email: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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