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City's conservative neighborhoods powered Brown's write-in win
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City's conservative neighborhoods powered Brown's write-in win

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Byron Brown (copy)

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown claims victory over India Walton on Tuesday night. Assuming his apparent write-in win stands, he needs to make sure his historic fifth term counts for something big.

This city might be "One Buffalo" on T-shirts, but the mayoral election proved that it is anything but that politically.

Instead, the election proved once again that Buffalo is a city of neighborhoods with vastly different priorities.

The city's most conservative areas – South Buffalo, Lovejoy and the North District – voted overwhelmingly to make Byron Brown the city's first five-term mayor and its first write-in mayor.

Brown also managed to flip the Delaware District, which had voted for India Walton in the June Democratic primary. But he lost in his political home base, the Masten District, as well as in the neighboring Ellicott District, while Walton enjoyed a landslide only in the Niagara District.

But nothing guided the final results quite so much as the South District, where the write-in vote swamped the Walton vote by more than a 5-to-1 margin.

Isolated from the rest of the city by the Buffalo River, South Buffalo has the character of a separate place: A largely white neighborhood filled with police officers and firefighters and other city employees and their families and friends.

To hear Rep. Brian Higgins tell it, it's the sort of place where traditions, like political organizing, are passed down through generations. Higgins, a Democrat and lifelong South Buffalo resident, credited a beneficiary of those traditions – South District Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon – with orchestrating a huge write-in vote to benefit Brown.

"He did a masterful job," Higgins said.

Scanlon organized a team of more than 200 volunteers to knock doors and call and text on behalf of the mayor. As a result, the write-in line got more votes in the South District than it did in any other part of the city.

In other words, Scanlon did for Brown just what his father, John Scanlon, did for four-term Mayor James D. Griffin. 

"I had one heck of a teacher," Scanlon said.

But Brown also had one heck of a message for conservatives: that Walton's call to cut police funding would make the city less safe.

That message resonated not only in South Buffalo, but also in Lovejoy just to the north, as well as the North District, said local Democratic analyst Ken Kruly. Those two districts voted for the write-in line by margins of nearly 2 to 1.

"The voters there tend to be a more conservative group of Democrats," said Kruly, a native of the Lovejoy District, which borders Cheektowaga. "They certainly leaned into that message about the Police Department and what might happen to it if Walton came into office."

That's true as well in the North District, a fast-changing melting pot with large numbers of working-class whites and refugees.

Street crime has been a concern in the neighborhood, said North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.

A relatively new voter – a refugee from Burma – reiterated that point as he approached Golombek at a polling place Tuesday.

"Brown, Brown," that voter said to Golombek, adding: "No police? Bad idea."

And in a much wealthier part of the city – the Delaware District – Brown's criticism of Walton on the police funding issue and others resonated.

One source close to the Walton campaign said the mayor was able to flip the results in the Delaware District through the use of negative ads, drawing to the polls well-off, more conservative voters who wouldn't have voted in the Democratic primary.

Brown did less well, though in Masten and Ellicott, losing two districts with heavily African-American populations. Former Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, a Walton supporter, has a theory as to why.

"Every four years Byron Brown comes out here to the East Side and says what he's going to do, and then people wait for change for four years and don't see any," said Grant, who lives in the Fillmore District, which Brown narrowly won. "People just get sick of waiting."

And so, for the most part, East Side voters stayed home rather than vote for either candidate. Turnout in the five East Side council districts ranged from 30% to 35% – far short of 48% in the South District and 54% in the Delaware District.

The low turnout in Masten and Ellicott limited the impact of Walton's wins there, as did the 39% turnout in the Niagara District, where Walton's campaign performed the strongest.

For her part, Walton enjoyed something of a pyrrhic victory, noting that the base of her support in the general election was exactly the voters she had hoped to help.

"The wealthier a district was, the more likely it was to go for a write-in candidate," she said Wednesday. "The districts with more poor people, more Buffalonians of color, and less affordable rents voted for us."

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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