It's the Sunday before Christmas, and most folks in this town would rather be out wassailing (what is wassailing, anyway?) than speculating on the contest for mayor of Buffalo.
But when the calendar flips to 2013 in a few days, make no mistake about it – a mayoral election campaign will be under way.
Indeed, politicians are always in election mode, and Mayor Byron Brown proves no exception. Some time in February he will officially declare his candidacy for a third term, according to reliable sources, even though the campaign has been gearing up for months. Make that years, especially after the mayor stocked his treasury with more than $1 million throughout his second term.
That huge pot of cash represents a crucial aspect of Brown' precampaign strategy. Potential opponents recognize that anyone even considering a challenge will require at least $250,000 on Jan. 15, when the next campaign finance report is due.
Barring an independently wealthy candidate with the ability to self-finance, and since the Politics Column is unaware of any mayoral fundraisers around these parts, Brown sure starts from a commanding position.
Part of the early process involves polling by the Brown forces. The early process also makes sure potential opponents know the results – especially if the numbers look good. And according to those same reliable sources, the numbers look very good indeed for the incumbent mayor of Buffalo.
According to Brown's internal polls, an impressive 61 percent of the 400 Buffalo Democrats polled by a respected firm think the city is on the right track – the highest percentage of the mayor's seven years in City Hall. In addition, the new poll shows 72 percent approve of Brown's performance, and only 26 percent disapprove. Seventy-four percent view him favorably; 22 percent unfavorably.
At least one potential opponent to Brown in 2013 is lurking along the campaign trail. His name is Bernie Tolbert, and he is the former special-agent-in-charge of the Buffalo FBI who also served as head of security for the National Basketball Association. A Buffalo native who has returned home, Tolbert is quietly making the rounds through the community, and just as quietly discussing a mayoral candidacy.
No doubt he talks about the City Hall scandals that have appeared on the pages of this newspaper. No doubt he emphasizes the plans or different approaches he would adopt as mayor of Buffalo, even though he is not exactly shouting from the rooftops at this early juncture.
But that's exactly why poll results like these find their way into the public conversation. They are designed to scare away the Bernie Tolberts of the world, especially when they show Brown pounding him by a 70 percent to 15 percent tally.
And when pollsters throw in Comptroller Mark Schroeder just for the heck of it, they report Brown with 60 percent, Schroeder with 15 percent and Tolbert with 12 percent.
Before anyone gets too fired up about numbers stemming from Brown's campaign, remember they are just that – from Brown's campaign. That's why The Buffalo News and other news organizations conduct their own polls – to assure their readers of impartiality.
But there is no reason to believe the Brown polls are not in the ballpark, especially after Republican pollster Barry Zeplowitz independently reported similar numbers last May.
“He's in pretty darn good shape,” Zeplowitz said then.
What about a Republican? New city GOP Chairman Bill Nowakowski may very well come up with a candidate. But no Republican has been elected mayor since Chester Kowal in 1961, and Kevin Helfer's credible effort in 2005 went nowhere.
In the meantime, we looked up wassailing. It means to “go from house to house singing carols.” If you see Mayor Brown on the wassail trail tonight, he's probably singing “Joy to the World.”