The normally unflappable Mayor Byron W. Brown had a lot to say about his critics Thursday.
In a meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board, Brown lashed out at Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, for not making changes to a state development program that Ryan claims the city is misusing.
The mayor called out Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder for allegedly exceeding his authority and accused Schroeder of sour grapes because he lost to Brown in the 2017 Democratic Primary for mayor.
And Brown said he’s not getting the credit he deserves for accomplishments such as the economic development that has occurred since he became mayor in 2006, the jobs created amid the city’s resurgence and for city tax rates that have been lower under his administration than under predecessor Anthony M. Masiello.
Brown took special aim at Schroeder, who has challenged administration spending practices on everything from emergency demolitions to an annual picnic for senior citizens. He said the comptroller is trying to constrain the administration’s ability to make things happen and that Schroeder is hurting the Buffalo “brand” that has been created under the mayor's leadership.
“He is operating out of spite and vindictiveness. He is not operating from a good government perspective. He is operating out of bitterness,” Brown said. “I am not at war with the comptroller, but he lost. The election is over. The voters chose me. I’m the person that from 2006 has led the renaissance of the city, not the comptroller, not any other elected official. I am the CEO.”
Brown said he has made the tough decisions and built a relationship with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that has benefited the city.
“So why is my management being equated with someone who doesn’t have the management authority?” he asked. “We’re not on the same level. He’s not the mayor. We’re not analogous. He is not even a policy maker.”
“The Comptroller is going to continue to do his job, whether the mayor likes it or not,” Patrick J. Curry, Schroeder's spokesman, responded by email. “Apparently he doesn’t like it, because we have heard that the mayor is already out there trying to recruit candidates to run against the comptroller. We welcome the challenge, and look forward to exposing his hand-picked candidate as a puppet for the mayor.”
Brown also objected to what he considered a focus on the negative.
“How about the things we are doing right? How about lifting those things up,” Brown said, adding that other elected officials like County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Rep. Brian Higgins and Ryan “seem to get the benefit of things I don’t get. I don’t know why. I wonder why that is.”
Thursday’s spirited response was out of character for the public Brown, who was visibly angry at times when he talked about the issues that he was concerned with, including what he called “questions of accuracy.” Brown’s push-back focused on four main areas:
Use of the state's "485-a" tax exemption program
In a recent press conference outside One Canalside, which benefited from the program, Ryan complained that developers have abused the law and that it needs reforms. But Brown noted the program was implemented by the state and adopted by the city in 2002, before he became mayor, and that “operating the program doesn’t cost taxpayers... a single thing.” He added that the site generated no tax revenue before the project, but "at the end of the exemption, it will pay full taxes.”
And he pointedly — and repeatedly — questioned why the assemblyman hasn’t tried to reform the state program if he has problems with it.
“If Ryan has a concern with the state program, why doesn’t he introduce the resolution to change it?” Brown said.
An audit of the troubled Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority
Schroeder called for the audit, but Brown chastised him for repeatedly changing his approach to the review. Initially, Schroeder said his office did not have the expertise to do it, Brown said, and wanted the BMHA to pay about $50,000 for an outside firm to do it, but then realized he could not compel the housing authority to pay for it. Ultimately, Schroeder decided last month that his office will start the process but will seek outside help if needed.
“If he believed that he wanted to spend $50,000 to conduct an audit of BMHA… he could have requested to put that $50,000 in the city budget, which he did not. So he’s asking for money to be spent in the city budget… after the budget has already been concluded. How is that good practice?” Brown said, noting that the federal government and other entities already audit the authority.
Mayor Brown's Annual Senior Citizens Barbecue and Pig Roast
Schroeder has criticized Brown for attaching his name to the picnic and argued the event is a political function that perhaps taxpayers should not be paying for. Schroeder has started an audit of the event, which cost about $40,000, but Brown wondered how fiscally responsible it is for Schroeder to spend hours of his auditors’ time on a $40,000 cookout.
“It’s a justifiable program,” Brown said of the event. “Roughly 25 percent of the city population is 62 years of age or older, 16 percent of our seniors live below poverty and 40 percent of our seniors experience some form of social isolation. We’ve made that case to the Council in putting it in the budget.”
He said that if he had wanted to make it political, he would have paid for it out of his campaign funds, but that it’s important that people know what the city is doing and that he came up with the idea and made the event happen.
“I put my name on it because people have a tendency to say, ‘You don’t do anything,’ and I want to make sure they know who did it,” Brown said. “I want to be recognized for the work I do. I want the community to know the work that's being done by this administration.”
Emergency demolition funding
In his 2019 capital budget released two weeks ago, Brown included $1.5 million for emergency demolitions, continuing a practice the city has followed since 2000. But Schroeder said he was not going to sell bonds for demolition and recommended that Brown put the expense in the city’s operating budget, something Brown is against.
“I am the CEO of the city. We’ve got a tight budget, so we use the capital budget so we don’t have to put all of this in the general operating budget of the city,” Brown said, adding that he doesn’t think the comptroller can refuse to sell bonds for something that is in an adopted budget.
“The city comptroller is not a policy maker in that regard. He is trying to usurp authority that is not given to him under the city charter,” the mayor said.
Curry said that despite looming budget issues, Brown "seems to be preoccupied with whining about the comptroller, who is simply doing his job as the city’s fiscal watchdog,” adding that the mayor "has thinner skin than President Trump."
But Brown accused Schroeder of “trying to crash and burn the city” — after he lost mayoral primary — with his repeated challenges to “every creative thing that’s being done.”
“His ability to be a watchdog should not exceed his authority and responsibility. He is operating out of bitterness,” Brown said.