Brown effort to gin up support

Text campaign trying to orchestrate backing for write-in campaign. But some leading businessmen express unwillingness to support effort due to Paladino's involvement.

Updated: 5:15 p.m.

Mayor Byron Brown told reporters Friday he has received “an outpouring of support” encouraging him to wage a write-in campaign in November’s general election rather than concede his loss to India Walton in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

According to text messages acquired this weekend by Investigative Post, the mayor plans to repeat that claim on Monday. But the support, rather than being spontaneous, is being orchestrated by his supporters, including associates of Carl Paladino.

According to those texts, at least some of that “outpouring of support” is being solicited and coordinated by top Brown lieutenants in City Hall. The goal: to give Brown a pretext to claim on Monday that “he has heard from hundreds” of supporters over the weekend calling on him to continue the fight.

Meanwhile, a cadre of businessmen on conference calls late last week shared their reluctance to support a write-in campaign because of the involvement of developer and right-wing conservative Carl Paladino.

“They all like Brown,” said a source with direct knowledge of the conversations, “but they don’t want to be associated with anything having to do with Carl Paladino.”

The mayor’s campaign, in response to this story, issued a statement trying to distance Brown from Paladino. The mayor said he will not accept Paladino’s support.

The effort to create the appearance of broad community support for Brown began with a rally last Thursday in front of Sahlen Field, where the mayor threw out the first pitch at a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. To passersby and those attending that evening’s game, the demonstrations appeared to be a spontaneous, community-driven rally. 

In fact, as Investigative Post reported Friday, the crowd of 50 or so included many of the mayor’s top political appointees and other City Hall employees, including his deputy mayor and top political director, Betsey Ball.

The patronage employees we named can be found in that initial report, but we missed a few, according to a former City Hall employee who helped identify more faces in the crowd. 

Also present were:

  • Gladys Herndon-Hill, the human resources commissioner, whose six-year contract is meant to protect her from political pressure. She made $112,953 in 2020.
  • Michael Seaman, the city treasurer, who earned $110,697 last year.
  • Nicole Drye, who earned $95,852 last year working in the mayor’s office and is an officer in Grassroots, the political club that brought Brown to elected office three decades ago.
  • Ka’ron Barnes, the city’s director of urban affairs, with a salary of $46,467.

Combined with those named in Friday’s report, that adds up to more than $1.6 million per year in salaries.

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Seaman was formerly Brown’s appointee to chair the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority’s board of commissioners. He runs the city’s annual tax foreclosure auction.

This weekend, Seaman is at the center of a campaign to collect expressions of support from business owners. The goal, according to text messages soliciting support, was to allow Brown on Monday “to say he has heard from hundreds of concerned Buffalo area residents and business leaders who want him to continue his re-election efforts.”

Investigative Post acquired the text solicitation from three sources. All were worded identically:

Just got a phone call from Mike Seaman who is Treasurer of the City of Buffalo and one of Byron’s key staff. He asked me to get as many people as possible to text the Mayor ASAP and urge him to do a write in campaign. Mike said Byron wants to make an announcement of his intentions on Monday. The Mayor wants to say he has heard from hundreds of concerned Buffalo area residents and business leaders who want him to continue his re-election efforts.

All texts should be sent to the Mayor in care of Mike Seaman’s cell phone:

[PHONE NUMBER REDACTED]

Mike will coordinate all responses and deliver them to the Mayor. Be sure to sign your name and identity [sic] your business.

Thanks.

Sources tell Investigative Post that Seaman was not the only Brown ally asking business owners and community leaders to text support. The effort worked like a telephone tree, one person forwarding the request to another.

One person in the telephone tree was Russ Gugino, a local Republican Party insider and associate of Carl Paladino.

Brown’s campaign, in response to this story, issued a press release that did not dispute the thrust of our story.

“I am grateful for and humbled by the widespread support and encouragement I have received over the past several days from residents across Buffalo,” the press release stated. “However, I want to make it very clear that I did not seek – nor will I accept  –  support in any form should I pursue a write-in campaign, from Carl Paladino.”

Paladino has been vocal since Wednesday in his support for Brown, who remained silent about it until today’s statement. Paladino twice invited business leaders to a meeting last week in an effort to enlist their support, including financial, for a write-in campaign. Both meetings were cancelled after reporters got wind of them, and in one case, staked out the entrances to one of Paladino’s developments at 500 Pearl St., a source told Investigative Post.


Claudine Ewing interviews India Walton on the latest developments


Instead, a group of businessmen spoke via conference calls Thursday and Friday, said a source with direct knowledge of the conversations. Paladino was not invited to participate.

Participants included representatives from Delaware North, but not members of the Jacobs family; the Hamister Group, but not CEO Mark Hamister; developers Douglas Jemal and Paul Kolkmeyer; and Gold Wynn Residential USA, a Toronto-based company that in the past two years has purchased the extensive real estate holdings of Kissling Interests.

The source said most participants expressed satisfaction with Brown’s performance as mayor. But many expressed unease, if not repulsion, at the prospect of Paladino’s involvement in a write-in campaign.


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The source said one participant on one of the conference calls termed Paladino a “racist” and a “bigot.”

“I don’t want to be associated with him.”

Said another: “I’m concerned about my legacy and the last person I want to be associated with is Carl Paladino.”

One participant questioned Brown’s judgment, according to the source, first by underestimating Walton and running a poor campaign, and now by accepting Paladino’s support.

“He turns to Carl? I’ll take my chances negotiating with her [Walton].”

The conversation at one point turned to Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres. One participant dismissed the notion of Pegula’s supporting a write-in campaign, saying the National Football League and National Hockey League would not tolerate one of their owners getting involved with a political campaign that would almost certainly be racially charged and ugly.

The source said the two conference calls left him with the sense most participants regarded a write-in campaign as futile.

“I got the impression they think it’s all over.”