Obfuscation from the Brown camp

Our reporter's exchange with the mayor's evasive spokesman raises questions as to whether city employees, including the deputy mayor, are politicking for Brown on the public's dime.

Tuesday, The Buffalo News reported the departure of Byron Brown’s campaign manager, Conor Hurley, earlier this month. Hurley told The News that Brown’s deputy mayor, Betsey Ball — who ran the mayor’s primary campaign — would “carry the mayor across the finish line” as next Tuesday’s vote drew closer.

Ball was blamed by many — Brown donor Carl Paladino, among them — for Brown’s primary loss in June.

We decided we’d better find out if Ball was taking time off from her job at City Hall to call the shots on the campaign.

So, we reached out to the mayor’s spokesperson, Mike DeGeorge.

As a rule, we’ve been reluctant to ask DeGeorge election-related questions, since he draws a paycheck from the City of Buffalo, not from Brown’s campaign. But lately Investigative Post can’t get an answer from the Brown campaign about anything. The campaign’s spokesperson, Sofia Quintanar, appears to have preceded Hurley in leaving her post, according to her Twitter bio. Efforts to confirm her status with the campaign have been met with silence.

So, DeGeorge — paid $110,750 last year — was the only choice.

Shortly before noon on Wednesday, I texted him:

Kelly: Hey Mike, is Sofia Quintanar still campaign communications director? If not, who is? No one is responding from the campaign. Also, is Betsey Ball on leave of absence to run the campaign? Has anyone else taken time off to work on the campaign?

An hour and a half later, I followed up:

Kelly: Can I get a response by close of day, please? 3 city employees are currently working the TR Inaugural site. Please get me a list of everyone taking time off for campaign purposes. .. and please answer my questions about campaign communications staff.

The city three employees observed working the early polling site at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site on Delaware Avenue were Donna Estrich, the city’s finance commissioner, whose salary this year is $145,175; William Sunderlin, the city’s purchasing director ($96,759); and Robert Kreutinger, the 311 call center manager, ($97,409).

Other high-placed city officials have been observed working early voting sites, too. This isn’t the first time city bureaucrats have campaigned for the boss.

They held a rally outside the downtown baseball stadium after the primary to encourage Brown to launch a write-in campaign. They solicited what were meant to look like spontaneous expressions of support for the mayor to continue running. They then passed petitions to try to get his name on the ballot as a candidate for the newly formed “Buffalo Party.”

DeGeorge responded to my continuing texts with an evasion, followed by a delaying tactic:

DeGeorge: Geoff, obviously any city employee who is volunteering their time on the campaign is using their personal time.

Kelly: That’s not obvious unless you give me a list. Show me they’ve been given time off. There is a record of that; please provide it. And please answer my questions about campaign staff.

DeGeorge: Geoff, you are welcome to foil the information

A Freedom of Information Law request — or “FOIL” — comes with a built-in delay of at least a month given the city’s track record. A suggestion “to foil the information” is stonewalling. In any case, I can’t FOIL the name and contact information of the Brown campaign’s spokesperson. The Brown campaign is not a public entity.

We’ll file a FOIL request about city personnel taking time to work on the campaign. But I figured I’d better move on:

Kelly: Okay, that’s your response to one question. Campaign communications staff?

Or am I talking to you now on campaign matters?

Now, here comes a confusing part: 

DeGeorge: Geoff, the responses come from Brown for Buffalo.

But the responses didn’t come from the Brown campaign; they came from DeGeorge. 

As he was texting me, was DeGeorge working for the city or for the campaign? If there’s a campaign spokesperson besides DeGeorge, why wouldn’t he tell me who that person is?

At this point, I tried to call DeGeorge, rather than continue to hash things out via text. He didn’t pick up.

So I texted again:

Kelly: Please answer the questions I have asked you. Who handles communications for the campaign. Give me a name and a contact. If it’s you, are you on leave?

I told him I’d file a story based on this exchange at 4 p.m. — an hour’s time. I told him exactly what I’d write if he didn’t simply answer my questions.

He did not reply. And an hour passed.