A Sept. 6 debate among three Democratic candidates for mayor may prove crucial for the pair of underdogs taking on incumbent Byron W. Brown.
The mayor and challengers Mark J.F. Schroeder and Betty Jean Grant have agreed to participate in a televised face-off sponsored by WNED/WBFO, WGRZ/Channel 2, and The Buffalo News.
The challengers have significantly less money in their campaign chests, so the debate represents the chance for television exposure for Schroeder and Grant, as well as for the incumbent to underscore his accomplishments.
“It’s an opportunity for the challengers, but unless somebody is hiding something, I don’t see much coming of it,” said Stephen T. Banko III, a veteran of three citywide campaigns with former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. “People are pretty content with the way things are going, and I don’t see a big negative backlash like there was against Washington in the presidential election.”
The event is expected to provide a major platform for all three contestants. Brown will highlight continued downtown development and attempt to piggyback on a sense of optimism guiding the city.
Schroeder and Grant have criticized him over his alleged inattention to poor neighborhoods that continue to land Buffalo on lists of the nation’s poorest cities.
“That will always be an issue,” Banko said, “but how much of that will be an issue in 80 percent of the city?”
The challengers have a “steep uphill climb” because of the perception of progress by most voters, Banko said. That’s why the debate will rank as one of the major events of the 2017 campaign and a chance for Brown’s opponents to emphasize their messages, he said
In the meantime, Schroeder and Grant are criticizing Brown for ducking confrontations with them in other debates and forums around the city. They say he is ignoring or backing off invitations for the other forums, while they attend.
“It’s a little troubling, and hard to run against a monarchy,” Schroeder said. “I don’t believe he understands this is a campaign, that he’s running for re-election, and that he needs to talk about the future.”
Schroeder, the city comptroller, said he regularly accepts an invitation to appear on a radio and cable show hosted by Mary Davis, but the mayor does not. Brown recently skipped a forum hosted by the Buffalo Association for the Deaf, he said, showing “disrespect for the electorate.”
Brown will attend the televised event, Schroeder said, only because it remains in his best interest.
“He only goes to places with big muscle,” he said. “If you have juice, you’re in. If not, you’re out.”
Grant, a county legislator, echoes all of Schroeder’s criticism of the mayor’s debate attendance.
“He refuses to participate in any debates or forums,” she said. “Mark and I are at all of them.”
Brown, along with his challengers, has accepted an invitation to debate before the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists on Aug. 17 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. But the mayor thinks the two events to which he has committed is all his schedule will allow.
“There is no way in the world I would duck anything as mayor of the City of Buffalo,” he said. “But I still have a responsibility to govern, manage the city and deliver programs and resources people are looking for. I have a great responsibility every single day to focus on the work residents expect me to do as mayor.”
His commitment to only two debates or forums means he will not attend an event sponsored by his congregation – St. John Baptist Church – on Aug. 26.
The Sept. 6 televised debate will originate from WNED’s downtown studios and be broadcast live at 7 p.m. on WNED, WGRZ and WBFO-FM, as well as on each sponsor’s website (including The News) and via Facebook Live.