In their fast-paced back-and-forth at the WNED-TV studios on Wednesday, Mayor Byron W. Brown and challengers Betty Jean Grant and Mark J.F. Schroeder lost track of some rhetorical details.
Here's how The Buffalo News assessed the truth of some of their statements:
- Schroeder, the Buffalo city comptroller, at a few points in the debate stated or implied that the mayor is the focus of "seven probes" that could lead to "possible indictments" for "doing business the wrong way." He said he based his assertion on an article in The Buffalo News. But The News reported only that City Hall in July received a single subpoena asking for documents, including copies of contracts, regarding seven firms that have done business with the city during the Brown administration. The subpoena is believed to be an outgrowth of the federal government investigation into political operative G. Steven Pigeon, who is under indictment on corruption charges. The focus of the City Hall subpoena is not known. No official has said publicly that Brown is a focus of any investigation.
- Schroeder, in a question about ethics and honesty in government, said he served in the state Assembly when then-Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer was led in handcuffs from the building. In truth, Spitzer was never led in a so-called "perp walk" of the type that has become common with state elected officials. Spitzer appeared publicly at a news conference soon after his involvement as a client of a prostitution ring became news in March 2008. He resigned from office before he was formally charged.
- Grant, an Erie County legislator, in a question about poverty in the City of Buffalo, said it has gone up during Brown's tenure. That is a true statement. The overall poverty rate went from 26.9 percent in 2005 to 33 percent in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available from the U.S. Census Bureau. The rate did not go to 37 percent, as Grant wrongly said. The rate for children living in poverty, meanwhile, went up 16.4 percent.
- Grant, referring to lead levels in water, said Buffalo schools had a level of 15 parts per billion, the point at which officials must take action. The contamination is not as wide as Grant implied. In November, the Buffalo school district reported that in water tests at 18 schools, lead levels exceeded 15 ppb in 68 water sources out of more than 2,300. Just five of the water sources were drinking fountains.
Brown has said in the past that his administration has imposed lead testing standards more strict than those recommended by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. However, that change came after the website Investigative Post revealed Buffalo's testing program did not target the minority neighborhoods where the lead poisoning problem is concentrated. Instead, the city focused testing in the predominantly white neighborhoods of North and South Buffalo that report few, if any, lead poisoning cases.
- Brown said he knows the experience of Buffalo's East Side because he owns a home on Buffalo's East Side. This statement needs elaboration. Brown lives on Blaine Avenue, in the shadow of Canisius College, a largely middle-class street. While it is east of Main Street, it is a significant departure from the high-crime and disadvantaged pockets of Buffalo found east of Route 33.