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Politics Column: Mark Schroeder's challenging path

Ever since Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder surfaced as a mayoral candidate a few months ago, just about everybody watching the contest could only ask: “Why?”

Nary a “political observer” saw a path for Schroeder, a popular and savvy pol who nonetheless appeared out of his league in a challenge to three-time incumbent Mayor Byron Brown.

Something had to happen to make Schroeder viable.

Maybe last week it did.

County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, popular and savvy in her own right, said she is thinking about running for mayor, too. If she enters the race, Grant could attract much of Buffalo’s significant African-American vote away from Brown. That could provide the opening Schroeder needs, assuming he would garner the white vote in a city known for its ethnic voting patterns.

But nothing is that simple in Buffalo politics. Brown has been around long enough to prove his “crossover” appeal. The black politician with an East Side base has demonstrated through three previous elections his ability to draw white votes in big numbers. Certainly enough to win.

There’s more. The Buffalo News reported last week that a new poll taken by the Brown campaign shows the mayor leading Schroeder among likely Democratic primary voters by a whopping 63 to 18 percent.

“His favorability and overall job approval ratings are at the highest levels in any poll we’ve done for the mayor since 2005,” said a report from the Global Strategy Group. “Buffalo voters also give the mayor a high positive job rating on each specific major issue facing the city.”

The source of the poll should be considered since it was commissioned and paid for by the Brown campaign. It also is based on a relatively small sample of 343 Democratic voters likely to vote in the primary. But it offers basic assumptions.

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Grant may also crimp Schroeder’s efforts to attract his own African-American votes. The comptroller is a regular in black churches these days, attempting to show his interest in East Side affairs. But Grant would almost certainly swipe much of the minuscule gains he could make among Brown opponents there.

Grant insists she is not in cahoots with Schroeder, that there is no grand strategy to divide the black vote to help the Brown challenger.

But there is no question she has never joined the Brown political machine and has always sided with the mayor’s opponents.

There is also no question about where she stands now.

“If at the end of the day Byron and Schroeder are the two candidates,” she said last week, “I will support Schroeder.”

All of this only underscores the games that traditionally surround mayoral politics in Buffalo. The late Jim Griffin scored a record four mayoral victories through much of the same divide and conquer strategy.

And The News has reported that even the county clerk’s race is entering the mayoral mix. Brown ally Janique Curry is expected to soon declare her clerk candidacy. She would “coincidentally” draw East Side voters to the polls while another expected candidate – Assemblyman Mickey Kearns – could attract voters from Schroeder’s South Buffalo turf during the crucial Democratic primary.

Last week, the mayor gathered several hundred of his closest friends to the Erie Community College atrium to announce his bid to match Griffin for a fourth term. It amounted to an impressive show of strength that featured the lieutenant governor and a host of local Dems supporting Brown – who is also the state Democratic chairman.

The mayor is also bolstered by the expected backing of Democratic Headquarters, a healthy campaign treasury with lots more to come, and the general perception of good things happening to the city.

Schroeder will argue otherwise: that Buffalo remains one of the nation’s poorest cities and that its neighborhoods have been ignored.

But Grant’s entry now at least gives him a shot.

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