Incumbent Byron W. Brown still holds a commanding lead over his two Democratic primary challengers as he seeks a fourth term as Buffalo mayor, according to a new survey by the Siena College Research Institute and Spectrum News.
Forty-nine percent of the 512 likely Democratic voters contacted last week told Siena researchers they support Brown. While City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder chipped away at Brown's lead over the past month, he remains far behind the mayor at 26 percent. Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant trails both with 11 percent, slightly less than the 13 percent support she tallied in an August survey.
Brown's lead isn't likely to change much before Tuesday's primary, said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.
“As we approach primary day, voters appear locked in with their candidate," he said. "Eighty-four percent of Grant voters, 90 percent of Brown voters and 93 percent of Schroeder voters say they are absolutely or fairly certain that they will not change their minds before Tuesday."
The survey was conducted over three days last week, including Wednesday, when Schroeder went after the mayor on a range of issues during a debate televised on WNED.
Schroeder, who feels he won the debate, places little faith in Siena's findings.
"I've been walking door-to-door since April, and I have talked to more than 8,000 voters, with volunteers talking to thousands more," Schroeder said Sunday. " I can assure you, our polling numbers are much different than Siena's. Ultimately, the only poll that matters is the one on Tuesday."
Grant, who also took part in the debate, was similarly skeptical.
"For me, I'm campaigning until Tuesday," she said, stressing that she thinks she has only picked up support in the last month. "I think that the numbers they are showing are way off."
While Brown's lead dipped by 2 percentage points since August, according to Siena, he appears within striking distance of gathering 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race. His last chance to accomplish that feat came in 2005, during his first run for mayor. Brown grabbed 55 percent of the vote in that primary against Kevin P. Gaughan and Steven A. Calvaneso.
Brown won the city's Masten District by a huge margin in 2005, but Gaughan trounced him in the more white Delaware district – yet another indication that race and ethnicity play roles in voters' decisions. This year, Brown is running roughly even with Schroeder among white voters – 43 percent for Brown, 42 percent for Schroeder, according to the Siena College Research Institute. But Schroeder has triumphed merely by pulling even with Brown among white voters in this late stage of the race. Last month, he trailed Brown 50 percent to 33 percent among whites.
Just 5 percent of white voters said they support Grant. And while she may have eaten into Brown's support among black voters, 56 percent of the black voters surveyed said they favor the mayor. That's a 4 percentage point gain for him since August. Grant inched upward as well, and she is now favored by 24 percent of the black voters surveyed. Both gains came at Schroeder's expense. Just 5 percent of black voters now indicate a likelihood to vote for him.
Grant and Schroeder criticize Brown for, among other things, not focusing on all neighborhoods as intently as he focuses on downtown Buffalo, Canalside and Larkinville. The issue strikes a chord. Nearly half of both Schroeder and Grant voters say the most important issue swaying their vote is the need to treat all neighborhoods fairly. Still, 73 percent of the likely Democratic voters said Buffalo is on the right track, and 70 percent said they view the mayor favorably.
A Brown victory Tuesday all but guarantees he will be able to remain Buffalo mayor until January 2022. Schroeder might still be able to challenge him in the November general election, but as a minor-party candidate for the conservative-leaning Reform Party.
The Reform Party line is a tiny toehold for a Buffalo mayor's race. Further, a new wrinkle has emerged in Schroeder's effort to win the line in Tuesday's Reform Party primary, which is open to Reform Party members and any voter not enrolled in a political party.
The Reform Party endorsed Schroeder and some Republican candidates for countywide office, such as Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw and Mickey Kearns, a Democratic state assemblyman running for county clerk with GOP backing.
However, a recent mailer that urges eligible voters to support the Republican candidates also asks that they support the Reform Party's Ashleigh Somers for mayor, not Schroeder. The Schroeder camp has cried foul, calling it another example of Republican collusion with Buffalo's Democratic mayor.
It also might be a strategic gambit. Erie County's Republican Party rarely fields a Buffalo mayoral candidate. By avoiding a general election contest in the mayor's race, the GOP tamps down Democratic turnout in the city and protects Republican candidates for countywide office.
Schroeder and his aides theorize that the GOP wants Somers, 23, to snatch the Reform Party line from Schroeder and then go dormant as a candidate, suppressing interest in the mayor's race going into November.
“I guess the Republicans do have a candidate in the mayoral race," Schroeder said in a prepared statement. "She is running against me in the Reform Party Primary to help Byron Brown.”