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Walton campaign accuses Brown over campaign fundraising

Walton campaign accuses Brown over campaign fundraising

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As incumbent Byron Brown regrouped after losing the Democratic primary for mayor, Buffalo's tiny Republican Party offered him a sliver of encouragement.

If the mayor asked for help in motivating the city's 14,553 Republicans, said Buffalo Republican Chairman Andrew Pace in August, his organization just might aid Brown's write-in campaign against primary winner India Walton.

"We would consider it," Pace said then, noting Walton's brand of democratic socialism was unlikely to attract many votes from the GOP.

Since then, as Walton ramped up criticism of Brown's alleged Republican cooperation, Pace has gone silent and does not return phone calls. But Republicans have proven more than active on Brown's behalf, according to the Walton campaign.

The Walton campaign says its analysis of campaign contribution records matched against party registration rolls shows one-third of Brown's donations from individuals in Erie County stem from Republicans and Conservatives.

The Walton campaign said the mayor took in about $194,000 from Republicans and Conservatives after the June primary, compared with only about $40,000 before.

Read the full story from News Staff Reporter Robert J. McCarthy

Conor Hurley, Brown's campaign manager, did not reply to a request for comment. In August, however, Deputy Mayor Betsey Ball noted that Brown remained "a lifelong proud Democrat."

"But in November all registered voters in the City of Buffalo will have the opportunity to have their voices heard," she said then.

Walton campaign spokesman Jesse Myerson paints the contributions as significant.

"The Democratic Party has dutifully supported Byron Brown for decades," Myerson said. "He was state chairman. Now he goes outside the Democratic Party to run against the Democratic nominee – and with the support of Trump Republicans whom the Democrats fought very hard to defeat just last year."

In a city where Democrats hold a 7 to 1 advantage, Myerson emphasizes Brown's Republican support. The Walton campaign, meanwhile, consistently labels her "the Democratic nominee for mayor" or "winner of the Democratic primary." Walton even questioned why Brown was participating when they met in a Sept. 9 debate.

Myerson said the Walton analysis shows the mayor gaining significant contributions from 13 local donors who also gave at least $1,000 to former President Donald J. Trump's campaign in 2020. 

Myerson said he does not know if fundraising among Republicans is organized, but calls the post-primary results "extremely impressive."

Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo acknowledged that Brown sought help from Conservative volunteers in an unsuccessful attempt to form a new minor party line over the summer, even though only about 1,300 Conservatives vote in the city.

"I am definitely here to help," Lorigo said. "I said I will notify Conservatives in the City of Buffalo that [Brown] is the right choice; that we can't lay back and allow a declared socialist to become mayor of the City of Buffalo. I believe she creates a negative precedent for the County of Erie and State of New York."

Indeed, until Brown assumed the state Democratic chairmanship, Lorigo's Conservatives often backed him through his career. Conservatives did not offer support this year, but Lorigo said he still approves of much of the mayor's performance.

"In my opinion he's been a good executive for the City of Buffalo," he said. "I see a renaissance in the City of Buffalo that we have not seen for the past several decades."

Other signs of Republican assistance have surfaced. The Investigative Post website in August identified several prominent Republicans who circulated nominating petitions for Brown's ill-fated Buffalo Party, including Jesse Prieto, executive director of the Erie County Republican Committee.

Prieto said Wednesday he and the other GOP members were happy to pass the petitions, even if the effort did not succeed.

"As a taxpayer in the City of Buffalo, I am against socialism at all levels of government," Prieto said. "I was more than willing to help."

He would not address, however, whether the mayor asked for help from the Republican organization.

Even in heavily Democratic Buffalo, running with GOP assistance is not unique. Former Mayor Anthony Masiello, a Democrat all his life, sought and received the Republican line for two of his three campaigns in 1997 and 2001. He received 7,166 Republican votes out of a plurality of 25,684 against two minor party opponents in 1997. And in 2001 while running unopposed, he gained 10,085 Republican votes of the 37,227 votes cast. Masiello also received 1,096 votes on the Conservative line that year.

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