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Byron Brown launches write-in campaign for mayor as others eye the race

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Byron Brown

Mayor Byron Brown surrounded by his wife, Michelle, and supporters, announces his write-in candidacy for re-election at a press conference at the Statler on Monday, June 28, 2021.

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A new and fiery Byron W. Brown sought to revive his failed mayoral campaign Monday with a whole new persona.

Gone was the aloof incumbent seemingly self-assured of an unprecedented fifth term leading Buffalo. Instead, Brown launched a "do over" candidacy, passionately announcing in the Statler Terrace Room a write-in campaign for the Nov. 2 general election to reclaim the office he preliminarily lost to newcomer India B. Walton on June 22.

"I say not yet," he said with about two dozen cheering supporters gathered behind him, "because Nov. 2 is Election Day, and we are going on to the general election as a candidate for mayor. Write down Byron Brown."

Even though he continued not mentioning Walton's name, the mayor took a new approach to the former nurse and community organizer who shocked the city and state's political establishment with her decisive primary victory. Instead of ignoring her as he did throughout the primary, Brown on Monday continually applied labels of "radical socialist," "inexperienced," and incapable of leading New York's second largest city. He apologized for the failures of his Democratic primary effort that never seemed to shift into campaign mode, adding that the urgings of "thousands" of supporters now spurs him to mount a serious write-in effort never before experienced in Buffalo.

"I won't let you down," he said. "I will never abandon you, and we will keep moving forward together.

"People are fearful for the future of the city, people are fearful for the future of their families, people are fearful for the future of their children," he added.

The mayor started the next portion of his campaign with the promise of an "all star team" that will "knock on every door" in the city, raise enough money to compete and even engage in the debates he refused during the primary. And in a sign of the divisive campaign that may lie ahead, he was joined on the stage by three Council members – Christopher P. Scanlon of South, Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. of Masten and Joseph Golombek Jr. of North. Former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello also stood with Brown.

Still, the mayor starts his effort with opposition from his own Democratic Party, as Erie County Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner again made it clear the organization will back Walton.

"Mayor Brown is well within his rights to pursue a write-in candidacy, and we are grateful for his many years of service to this community," Zellner said in a Monday statement. "But the Democratic Party listens to the will of Democratic voters, and today India Walton is our candidate for mayor of the city of Buffalo."

In her own statement, Walton hinted at the course she may navigate in coming weeks.

"We urge Brown to accept the will of the voters, end this futile campaign, and help us work towards a seamless transition," she said. "It would be a shame for Brown to ruin his legacy by partnering with right-wing real estate developers in this pointless effort. The people of Buffalo deserve so much better than this.”

New challenges may also complicate Brown's effort. Former County Executive Joel A. Giambra and Delaware Council Member Joel P. Feroleto have indicated that they may also join the fray. Giambra said Monday that he is "seriously considering" a write-in race, while Feroleto confirmed from his honeymoon in Italy that he is also pondering a campaign.

"It's terrible we have a Democratic candidate for mayor and only 20,000 people had the chance to opine on her candidacy," Giambra said of the paltry turnout that resulted in Walton's win. "There are 120,000 voters in Buffalo who I believe deserve that opportunity."

Meanwhile, sources close to Feroleto say he may enlist the financial and organizational support of former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whom he supported during the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. They say Bloomberg could soon or is already polling Buffalo voters on the feasibility of a write-in campaign for mayor, which has never before been seriously attempted in Buffalo.

One source said Walton's initial barbs aimed at the Common Council could portend challenges in 2023 from similar socialist candidates, and that Feroleto and possibly other Council members may be concerned.

Giambra, a Republican who won several elections in Buffalo for Council and comptroller as a Democrat, said Walton and Brown are not addressing key policy issues such as the city's financial outlook, especially in the years after the expected influx of federal funds.

"When the stimulus money runs out, what do we do to deal with it?" he asked. "Nobody is talking about it and there is a need for that discussion."

The former county executive noted he retains about $400,000 in his campaign account, though he would also try to raise the significant money most observers say will be necessary to counter the other candidates.

"But I don't think money will be the determining factor in this race," he said. "It will be message. Who has a plan and who will deal with these issues?"

He said a write-in effort would prove unnecessary had his Republican Party in Buffalo been prepared with its own candidate.

"Unfortunately, the Republican Party continues to use an old playbook that failed them miserably," he said.

Since leaving the Rath County Office Building at the end of 2006, Giambra has worked as a lobbyist and real estate developer. Included among his properties, he said, is a Columbus Parkway home purchased by him and his son, Nicholas, which serves as his voting address (though he currently lives in the Town of Tonawanda).

In recent months, he has also been talking about seeking the GOP nomination for governor in 2022. He has discussed the need for a more "moderate" candidate to challenge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo,  but has not seen much success among more conservative party leaders.

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