There is a lot of political chatter lately about the Buffalo mayor’s race, so much so that you might think the contest is on tap for this November.
It is not.
But that hasn’t stopped speculation, fueled by activities of the city comptroller as well as a prominent pastor.
For the record, no one has yet announced he or she is running for mayor in 2017 – not the current mayor, not the comptroller, not the pastor, nor anyone else.
But City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder is appearing at events throughout Buffalo, making donations to organizations including the Gaelic American Athletic Association, the Grease Poll Festival and the Juneteenth Parade.
And the Rev. Michael Chapman, pastor of St. John Baptist Church, acknowledged he is exploring the idea of running for mayor – “a period of discernment,” he calls it – as he contemplates the best way for him to serve the city of Buffalo.
“I’m 64 years old and looking at what would fulfill my life,” said Chapman, who added that as St. John Baptist pastor, he’s also been involved in urban development projects.
“We are thinking we could be helpful to the city, and looking at how to be of best use to the city and community,” he said. “Possibly the mayor’s office would be the best place to do that.”
Byron Brown, 57, in the third year of his third four-year term, isn’t saying anything about his plans.
Not about whether he plans to seek re-election.
Not about whether he would take a job in Washington should Hillary Clinton win the presidential race in November.
Not about whether he has any interest in running for higher office.
“I am focused on my job as mayor and working hard to improve this great city, every section of this city,” Brown said when asked about his political plans.
There are various political scenarios being floated about how Brown’s political fortunes could be affected if Clinton wins the White House.
Brown is chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, tasked with making sure Erie County and New York State come out for Clinton. The Buffalo mayor also was an early Clinton supporter in her failed 2008 presidential primary against then-senator and now President Barack Obama.
Perhaps a cabinet post for Brown, some speculate.
Or maybe a congressional or Senate seat?
That scenario calls for Clinton to pluck a sitting U.S. senator from New York State or a House member from Buffalo to serve in her cabinet, thus opening up the Senate or House seat.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner said Brown previously told him he’s planning to seek re-election in 2017. And Brown currently has almost $400,000 in his “Brown for Buffalo” political campaign fund.
Still, Zellner said of Brown: “I can’t speak for him, but I think he would look for any opportunity to showcase the city of Buffalo. So if she would offer a position to use his talents to help the City of Buffalo, and help Erie County, and New York and the United States, I think he would consider it.”
Speculation is that Schroeder, 60, a former Assemblyman who has been city comptroller since 2012, is gearing up to run for mayor in 2017 regardless of who else is – or isn’t – in the game.
The Democratic comptroller, like the Democratic mayor, isn’t talking about 2017.
“As the city’s fiscal watchdog, the comptroller is focused on protecting Buffalo’s finances and informing citizens on how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Patrick J. Curry, Schroeder’s spokesman.
But Schroeder’s recent campaign filings indicate he has something in mind. He raised $51,000 and spent $25,000 over the past six months, and still has $117,000 in his campaign chest – the most he’s recorded at any time since becoming comptroller.
“... The comptroller has always felt that one of the best ways to inform residents is talking with them face-to-face,” Curry said, explaining all the spending and activities detailed in Schroeder’s most recent financial disclosure reports.
Much of the other speculation takes into account presidential politics, and whether Brown will walk out of City Hall on Jan. 20 to join a Clinton administration.
If that occurs, Council President Darius G. Pridgen, the Ellicott District member, is immediately elevated to mayor through Dec. 31, 2017 – the end of Brown’s current term. Pridgen, 51, isn’t speculating on what presidential politics could mean for Buffalo, but the Council president made it clear he won’t challenge Brown for the mayor’s seat.
“I have no intention of running for mayor of Buffalo at this time,” Pridgen said. “At this point, I am happy to be Council president and Ellicott District Council member.”
Would he be interested in running for mayor if Brown does not seek re-election?
“I would not speculate at this time,” responded Pridgen who, in addition to his Council job, is pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church.
Chapman cites his experience as a manager and developer when talking about his interest in being mayor.
As pastor of St. John Baptist, Chapman runs a church-sponsored development agency that, over the years has brought community and health centers as well as subsidized and low-income housing to the Fruit Belt neighborhood where the church is located.
Chapman said he’s considering Brown’s political fortunes while contemplating his own possible mayoral run. But Chapman also said he has not ruled out challenging Brown – who is a member of Chapman’s church – if the mayor seeks re-election.
“There is a lot of speculation over whether the current mayor is going to run again, or possibly, given the Democratic landscape and the possibility of a Clinton win, Mayor Brown could be offered something,” Chapman said.
Given that, Chapman said, he wants to be in a position to make an early decision on whether to run for office should Brown no longer be mayor.
But Chapman said, ultimately, his decision is about himself – not about Brown or any other political leaders. So it’s too early, he said, to say whether or not he would run for mayor if Brown runs for re-election. It’s something, Chapman said, he would discuss at some point with Brown.
Similarly, Chapman said, his decision whether to run will not be influenced by whether Pridgen runs for mayor.
“I have a great deal of respect for Council President Pridgen,” Chapman said. “He has done a great job.”
Chapman – unlike Brown, Schroeder and Pridgen – is not a registered Democrat at this time. He is registered to vote, but with no political affiliation. Chapman said he doesn’t know at this point what political party he would seek to run on.