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Tolbert tapping contacts for cash

Bernie Tolbert continues to play it cool.

The former chief of the Buffalo FBI still won’t say whether he will challenge incumbent Mayor Byron Brown in this year’s Democratic primary.

But even as some question if he will ever make it official, every indication – at least on this April Sunday – points to a September showdown with Brown.

Significantly, Tolbert filed paperwork a few weeks ago with the state Board of Elections that allows him to raise money. Even more significantly, he is now raising money.

“Yes, I am,” he replied last week when asked if he was dialing for the dollars he will need. “There is money in my treasury.”

Barring any last-minute change of heart, Tolbert is in. Sources indicate he again told friends last week that he is running, as he has been for weeks. And you don’t ask your friends for multi-zero checks if you’re not serious.

According to his supporters, Tolbert maintains many contacts in big-money centers like Atlanta and New York, where he held top security posts with Coca-Cola and the National Basketball Association. He also has strong family ties in Buffalo and will count on local donors, though no local events are yet scheduled.

But they will be, including one being planned by his wife. And while the “candidate” remains mum about his early contributors, they will be very publicly listed on July 15 when the next campaign finance reports are due.

All of this becomes part of the deal when challenging a well-heeled incumbent like Brown. At last count, the mayor boasted more than $1.1 million in his campaign treasury, with even more expected to roll in.

Add his incumbency and experienced political machine to the equation, and Tolbert faces a tough assignment requiring every cent he can muster.

Meanwhile, both sides desire the endorsement of Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner and his headquarters operation. Zellner says he expects Brown, in return, to back his endorsed candidates. That translates into Legislators Betty Jean Grant and Tim Hogues, who, coincidentally, are key members of the slim majority that pays his salary as Legislature chief of staff.

Some Tolbert backers say those conditions could force Zellner their way in a “What have I got to lose?” situation.

Comptroller Mark Schroeder, meanwhile, who is also mentioned as a potential candidate this year, is discouraging such talk. Indeed, he is not raising the kind of funds needed for a mayoral run, and is not even discussing it with friends.

“I have no plans to run for mayor,” Schroeder said a few days ago.

Still, the comptroller acknowledges his answer differs from a “I will not run for mayor” declaration, which keeps the door ever-so-slightly ajar for the veteran pol from South Buffalo.


Bert Dunn is having trouble convincing some Erie County Democratic leaders of his commitment to party principles in this fall’s contest for sheriff.

The Sheriff’s Office lieutenant riled up true-blue Dems a few days ago when The Buffalo News reported he texted a group of unintended recipients about his admiration for former President Ronald Reagan. He then added he is no “fan” of President Obama or Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which might just pose a problem when seeking the endorsement of the Erie County Democratic Committee.

Now it appears Dunn’s enrollment history indicates another less-than-wholehearted commitment to the party, since he can be accurately labeled a Democrat-turned-Republican, turned-Democrat, turned-Republican, turned-Democrat. Board of Elections records indicate he registered as a Republican in 1988, as a Democrat in 1999, back to the Repubs in 2005 and then back to the Dems in 2010.

Dunn did not return a phone call seeking comment. But Zellner and company remain satisfied with his deeply embedded political philosophy – as well as his reported commitment to self-finance his campaign.