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Robert McCarthy: End of summer means attention can turn to politics

If the old adage about voters ignoring campaigns until after Labor Day proves true, expect Tuesday to kick off a week of hyper-politics in Buffalo.

The day after Labor Day will mark one week before the Democratic primary election on Sept. 12, and the sleepy, three-way contest for mayor may suddenly take on some energy.

Maybe. Possibly. Could happen.

Buffalo voters so far seem disengaged from the contest for the big office on City Hall’s second floor. Maybe that’s because most see incumbent Mayor Byron Brown as front-runner against his two opponents – Mark Schroeder and Betty Jean Grant.

Indeed, when the Politics Column makes its way through political lairs each week, it poses the same question: Is there an upset path for either challenger?

So far, the denizens of none of those lairs see it.

But don’t even suggest such negativism to the eternally optimistic Schroeder. The Buffalo comptroller has emerged as the most organized and serious mayoral challenger in many years. He has enough money to wage a real contest, enjoys high name recognition as Buffalo’s only other citywide elected official and injects gravitas into the conversation.

He also lays out his own victory scenario.

“There are 160,000 registered Democrats in this city, and I believe 40,000 of them will vote,” he said. “That’s 40,000 divided by three candidates. That’s why I’m optimistic.”

Schroeder thinks he can attract enough votes from black voters tired of Brown, while Grant will erode the mayor’s base, too. Combine a hoped-for strong turnout in his South Buffalo home turf, and Schroeder sees his path.

The last Democratic primary for mayor drew only 21,000 voters. He thinks his campaign will score better in turnout.

“We can get back up to 40,000 by energizing our voters,” he said.

Grant continues her door-to-door effort (as does Schroeder). She acknowledges she is hampered by a paltry campaign kitty, but will debut radio ads on Tuesday and looks to score points during Wednesday’s televised debate.

Though a major underdog, nobody should underestimate the hardworking county legislator who came within 139 votes of knocking off Sen. Tim Kennedy in 2012.

Brown, however, will roll out every big gun available to a three-term incumbent who is also state Democratic chairman. Watch for Gov. Andrew Cuomo along with Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to offer glowing endorsements – many other Democrats, too.

Campaign sources say the mayor will launch TV commercials on Tuesday expected to reflect the city’s optimism. The ads are sure to prove impressive, produced by East Aurora’s Joe Slade White, a top media consultant who normally toils for national candidates like Joe Biden.

Brown’s people are confident, but not overconfident. Sources indicate his polling remains strong, not far off from last month’s Siena/Spectrum News survey showing him with 51 percent, compared with 24 percent for Schroeder and 13 percent for Grant.

And remember that Brown will enjoy every possible advantage offered by the Democratic Party. He commands the state organization. Erie County Chairman Jeremy Zellner’s operation will be at his service. And most important, the City Hall machine that Brown has assembled during almost 12 years as mayor will swing into action.

Still, the entire campaign’s key event may prove the Wednesday debate featuring all three candidates. It will take place at Channel 17 studios at 7 p.m., and be broadcast live on WBFO-FM, WGRZ-TV and WNED-TV. It will also be live online at, and, as well as Facebook Live.

If the polls are correct and the challengers trail Brown significantly, watch for them to make a splash on Wednesday. The debate ranks as their big chance – maybe their only chance.

Lots of politics on the schedule for Labor Day week. Hey, this might prove interesting after all.

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