Brown goes on the attack

In announcing his intention to run as a write-in candidate, the mayor disparaged primary winner India Walton and savaged critical press coverage. We're in for an ugly campaign, folks.
Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

Byron Brown announced Monday he’s staying in the race for mayor as a write-in candidate, and the manner in which he did so indicates we’re in for an ugly, divisive campaign.

Without mentioning her by name, he repeatedly denounced India Walton as a “radical socialist,” unfit to succeed him.

“People are fearful about the future of the city,” he said at a late afternoon press conference. “They do not want a radical socialist occupying the mayor’s office.”

Brown gave a powerful speech, polished and delivered with zeal, far from the halting, monotone addresses we’re used to. I guess it took losing the primary to light a fire under him.

He was joined on stage by about 25 people, including his wife, former mayor Anthony Masiello and three members of the Common Council: South District’s Chris Scanlon, Masten District’s Ulysees Wingo and North District’s Joseph Golombek

Not exactly a distinguished crew. 

Masiello nearly bankrupted the city when he was mayor, prompting the institution of a control board to manage city finances. 

I can’t think of a single piece of major legislation Golombek has sponsored during his 22 years on the Council; he’s mostly been a reliable yes vote for Brown. 

Wingo is best known for bringing a weapon into a city high school. 

Scanlon was recently quoted as saying Walton lacks the experience to serve in government. This coming from a guy whose last job before getting elected to the Council was bartender. Unlike Golombek, he doesn’t lack for accomplishments, however: after getting elected, he got his wife a job as a city bingo inspector. 


Heaney discusses the campaign on The Capitol Pressroom


I can’t say I recognized everyone on the stage with Brown, but I didn’t see any other prominent politicians, no big-time business people, few if any prominent community leaders. Just a lot of people cheering and clapping, as if on cue, when the mayor delivered his zingers.

Carl Paladino, who has loudly encouraged Brown to stay in the race, wasn’t there, although you know he was with the mayor in spirit. Nor was developer Doug Jemal, in whose Statler City the mayor held his press conference. One can probably safely assume that Jemal is also in Brown’s corner, given that he allowed the mayor to make use of his building. Talk about a guy with a history.

Brown insisted he is running by popular demand.

“There has been an incredible reaction in the community,” the mayor said.

Thousands of city residents have contacted his office since Tuesday’s primary loss, he said.

“They want me to continue my campaign.”

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Investigative Post reported Sunday that the mayor’s team spent the weekend trying to gin up expressions of support that Brown would cite when announcing his write-in campaign. That followed our story Friday that detailed the many City Hall bureaucrats who populated a mini-rally in front of the downtown ballpark in support of the mayor.

Given our reporting, which the mayor’s team has not disputed, I asked Brown at the press conference for documentation to back up his claim that thousands of city residents have asked him to continue his campaign. 

He refused to answer, instead attacking me and Investigative Post, saying we’re guilty of “systemic racism.” He went on and on, in an unhinged kind of way.

I haven’t been chewed out like that since my father lit into me for coming from college with long hair and a Fu Manchu.

It’s clear our reporting has gotten under the mayor’s skin. Back in my Buffalo News days, Patrick Lakamp and I broke the One Sunset scandal. Investigative Post has reported extensively on police brutality against the city’s black residents and Brown’s tepid efforts to reform the police department, as well as his administration’s slowness in addressing lead poisoning in Buffalo’s inner-city that afflicts hundreds of children every year.

I pointed out to the mayor at Monday’s press conference, as he tried to shout me down, that Investigative Post has published investigations on plenty of white politicians and political players. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Louis P. Ciminelli and Carl Paladino, to name a few. 

Carl was so mad at me for my coverage of him during his run for governor that he later took out a billboard along the Thruway that denounced me by name, along with U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, former Council President James Pitts and others. Has-beens, Paladino said.

Words are cheap, Mr. Mayor. If you want to be taken seriously, spring for a billboard. Maybe I’ll pose in front of it to help raise funds for my nonprofit newsroom. 

In fact, why wait? You can make a donation, right here, right now

Walton issued a statement in reaction to Brown’s press conference. 

“Byron Brown’s decision to run a write-in campaign supported by Carl Paladino and the PBA [Police Benevolent Association] is deeply disappointing. Brown can attempt to distance himself from Paladino all he wants, but it is clear who is really behind this campaign. We urge Brown to accept the will of the voters, end this futile campaign, and help us work towards a seamless transition. It would be a shame for Brown to ruin his legacy by partnering with right-wing real estate developers in this pointless effort. The people of Buffalo deserve so much better than this.” 

Walton is not the ideal candidate. She lacks governmental experience and, if the rumor mill is to be believed, she carries some baggage. (Brown sounded a dog whistle for political operative to pry into her past.) But Walton did win the primary, by outworking and outsmarting the mayor. She was the more competent candidate.

One could make an argument for either candidate, and I’m sure many people will be in the coming four months. I don’t know who will prevail in November, although Brown faces long odds. Write-in candidates rarely win, although the mayor cited a few during his press conference.

If Brown and Paladino’s rhetoric is any indication, this campaign will likely be ugly. I think a lot of business owners will keep their companies out of it: what’s to be gained from getting caught in the crossfire of a political food fight? 

Others will join in, many of them white (let’s face it, there aren’t many prominent black business executives in this town) and siding with the mayor, helping to cast the election in nasty racial overtones. 

Walton’s side will summon a multi-cultural progressive coalition drawn from around both the city and country. Expect to see Bernie, AOC and a whole lot of money and foot soldiers. 

Buffalo may become the biggest political battleground in the entire nation this election season as the forces of the left and right fight it out. That makes it likely that whoever wins in November will inherit a fractured city.

That’s the risk Brown is willing to take to hang onto power.