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Buffalo GOP weighs helping Byron Brown's write-in campaign for mayor

Buffalo GOP weighs helping Byron Brown's write-in campaign for mayor

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India Walton Bryron Brown

India Walton, left, and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

With only 14,553 enrolled members and outnumbered 7 to 1 by Democrats, Republicans in the City of Buffalo represent a lonely bunch.

They haven't elected a mayor since Chester Kowal in 1961, have registered little influence in city politics for decades, and didn't even bother to name a challenger to Democratic incumbent Byron W. Brown in 2021.

But after India B. Walton upended the local political world by defeating Brown and gaining the Democratic line in last month's primary election, Buffalo's tiny band of Republicans may exert some influence yet. Though nothing is certain, their chairman says the Buffalo GOP stands ready to motivate a significant faction of voters this fall for Brown's uphill write-in campaign – if he asks for their help.

"I can tell you Republicans will be voting this year," said Buffalo GOP Chairman Andrew Pace. "But how active they will be depends on how the mayor reaches out and gives us a reason."

Noting that Walton's brand of democratic socialism is unlikely to attract many Republicans, Pace said an active GOP campaign for Brown – the former chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee – remains a possibility.

"We live in interesting times," Pace said. "We would consider it."

If Brown and local Republicans cooperate, the mayor's name would still not appear on the GOP line. The arrangement would most likely involve Republican leaders lending their contact lists or possibly raising money to aid the mayor's campaign or support an independent effort.

Seamus Gallivan, Walton's spokesman, did not return a call seeking comment. And Deputy Mayor Betsey Ball, who is overseeing Brown's campaign, noted that any Republican effort would have to operate independently of the mayor. But she did not discourage GOP encouragement for Brown.

"Mayor Brown is a lifelong proud Democrat," she said, "but in November all registered voters in the City of Buffalo will have the opportunity to have their voices heard."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown talks about his future. Read the entire story by Robert J. McCarthy.

Nevertheless, the concept of a Republican candidate for mayor of Buffalo is not without precedent.

Former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, a Democrat all his life, sought and received the GOP line for two of his three campaigns in 1997 and 2001. He received 7,166 Republican votes out of a plurality of 25,684 in 1997 against two minor-party opponents. And in 2001 while running unopposed, he gained 10,085 of the 37,227 votes cast. Masiello also received 1,096 votes on the Conservative line that year.

Those two campaigns led to a sometimes-enforced party rule that denies the Democratic endorsement to most candidates running on the Republican line. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, who initially backed Brown this year but now supports Walton after the primary, believes the mayor would do himself no favors by accepting Republican help.

"If he's looking for ways for Democrats to abandon him in droves," Zellner said, "he's found it by heading down this rabbit hole with the Republicans."

Most political observers believe that after waging virtually no campaign during the primary season, Brown is mobilizing his once-vaunted City Hall machine for an unprecedented write-in effort. Those same observers believe the campaign could generate turnout on the scale of a presidential year when voters show up at the polls in the highest numbers of a four-year cycle.

The idea of most city Republicans turning out and voting for Brown at the urging of party leaders, they add, could prove significant.

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