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Analysis: The mayoral debate that won't be

Analysis: The mayoral debate that won't be

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Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown (copy) (copy) (copy)

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown is ducking a debate with Democratic challenger India Walton. 

For just about every local, statewide and national campaign, candidate debates represent a key part of the process.

The presidential affairs featuring Donald Trump and Joe Biden dominated much of 2020. Gov. Andrew Cuomo debated all his Republican challengers through three campaigns (sometimes in Buffalo). And the televised affairs stemming from the WNED studios have become a staple of the local political season.

But don’t count on it this year – at least in the contest for mayor of Buffalo.

No meaningful faceoff will take place in 2021, much to the disappointment of challengers India Walton and LaCandice Durham. As official underdogs, they relished the possibility of posing all kinds of questions to four-term incumbent Byron Brown in anticipation of the June 22 Democratic primary. But the mayor is not interested.

“When I received a late demand from one of the candidates running for mayor,” Brown said last week of Walton, “it really reinforced for me that person’s lack of understanding of the role of mayor.”

Walton’s debate challenge was issued “very, very late – super late,” Brown said, adding it ignored his responsibility to run New York’s second largest city and guide it through Covid-19 recovery.

“Anything less than that focus would be a dereliction of duty,” he said when asked about debates.

“The people of Buffalo know me and know where I stand on the issues,” he added. “The people who are running need to run their own campaigns.”

Brown has been through this drill before. In fact, he’s running for an unprecedented fifth term. From his refusal to debate, it’s fair to say he exudes confidence about his chances in the primary election.

But not everybody is pleased with the mayor’s “I’ve got better things to do” approach. Joan T. Parks, president of the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara, is among them. Her organization has been sponsoring candidate debates for generations. The very name of the League attached to a debate event lends it not only legitimacy, but prestige.

The League will hold a virtual candidate forum for mayoral candidates on June 10. Other sponsors include the Buffalo Jewish Community Relations Council, Buffalo Urban League, National Action Network, NAACP Buffalo Branch, VOICE Buffalo and WNY Peace Center – all respected organizations.

“I am very disappointed because voters deserve to hear from candidates each time there is an election,” she said. “They deserve to hear what they have to say about their questions.”

Walton, meanwhile, calls Brown’s decision “very unfortunate.” For underfinanced, underexposed underdogs like her, debates featuring press coverage often provide the stage they seek. In terms that pretty much define her left wing, fiery candidacy, Walton says Brown’s move “undermines democracy.”

“We look to the GOP as guilty of voter suppression, but this is just an injustice,” she said. “I’m not a career politician and have ideas that vary from what he stands for.”

The forum will go on without the mayor, according to Parks, allowing Democratic voters to also hear Durham, who has so far waged a low-key effort. But Walton has conducted a high-energy campaign with fairly successful fundraising, a press operation and a structured organization.

“I believe the voters really wanted this to happen,” she said.


If you run into Art and Connie Eve this weekend, offer your congrats on their 65th wedding anniversary. According to family “insiders,” the festivities continue this weekend following their actual anniversary on Thursday.

Nobody could summarize their contributions to the community better than columnist Rod Watson in Thursday’s editions of The Buffalo News, who chronicled Art’s Western New York clout in a New York City-dominated Assembly, and Connie’s time as an Erie Community College professor and activist. But we note here that in the annals of power couples, few have better used their influence for the community than the Eves. He is the retired deputy speaker of the Assembly; she founded a program to help troubled women.

Not everybody agrees with their politics. But nobody can quibble about their devotion.

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