Mayor Byron W. Brown, who presides over a city that recorded 43 firearms-related homicides last year, is refusing to offer his opinion on core provisions of the new gun-control legislation championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
While other mayors like New York’s Michael R. Bloomberg enthusiastically support Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act, the leader of the state’s second-largest city said this week he considers certain controversial aspects of the bill a legislative matter, though he will comment on aspects of the bill he says he favors. Brown’s silence coincides with his expected request for re-election support this spring from the Conservative Party, which staunchly opposes Cuomo’s bill.
“My focus is not on what I don’t like,” he said. “My focus is on doing everything I can to make our city safer.”
The mayor recited a litany of proactive measures the city and its Police Department have enacted over his seven years in office that he says resulted in fewer homicides and a lower crime rate. But the former state senator would not comment on some of the more controversial aspects of the gun control bill that Cuomo signed into law – such as limiting ammunition clips to seven bullets.
He also would not say whether he would have supported the legislation if he was still a member of the State Senate.
“I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals,” he said. “I’m not a senator. I’m the mayor.”
Brown does, however, back less-controversial measures of the bill dealing with additional background checks for detection of mental health problems, extension of “Kendra’s Law” that reviews the record of mental patients before release from treatment, and the “Webster Law” provision that mandates tougher penalties for attacks on safety personnel.
“That’s an important deterrent,” he said.
“There are elements I think are really strong and really good,” he added.
But he would not comment on the bill’s most controversial provisions, such as mandating a maximum of only seven bullets in the magazines of assault-style weapons.
“Just looking at the 50 homicides last year in the City of Buffalo, 43 were committed with handguns, and only one with an assault weapon,” he said. “My job is not to evaluate this legislation, but to do things that make a difference and make the community safer.”
Mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge insisted late Friday that Brown supports the legislation, even though the mayor previously would not discuss some of its provisions.
The mayor’s stand differs markedly from Bloomberg, his New York City counterpart, who has championed tougher gun-control measures for years through an organization he founded called Mayor’s Coalition Against Illegal Guns – which counts Brown as a member.
The legislation is “not everything some people would want, but it’s a big step in the right direction,” Bloomberg said last month after the bill’s passage.
“We have some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and this just strengthens them,” he added.
The mayor of Western New York’s second largest city, Paul A. Dyster of Niagara Falls, also has offered his support for the bill. During his State of the City address on Thursday, he endorsed many aspects of the NY SAFE Act, including removing assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines from the streets.
Representatives of Mayors Thomas S. Richards of Rochester and Mike Spano of Yonkers did not return calls seeking comment on their positions. But Syracuse Mayor Stephanie A. Miner reiterated her support for the legislation in strong terms.
“The NY SAFE Act tightens the definition of an assault rifle, requires background checks for all assault rifle sales outside of immediate family members, restricts the size of an ammunition magazine to seven bullets, and creates mandatory reporting requirements for mental health professionals who suspect a patient may engage in gun violence,” she said immediately after the bill was signed. “As a mayor, I have seen the devastating effects of gun violence on families and communities and sensible reforms like the NY SAFE act go a long way in preventing tragedies.”
Brown, meanwhile, also would not say whether he was asked by Cuomo to support the bill,
“We talk about a whole host of issues, and the governor is very passionate about making New York safer,” he said. “The governor has asked me to be supportive of his agenda. I am supportive of the governor.”
Cuomo’s office did not return a call asking if the governor had asked the mayor to support the bill.
Brown said this week he is proud of several programs his administration had initiated to get guns off the streets. He pointed to a gun buyback program, a mobile response unit in the Police Department that targets guns and drugs, and city participation in a strike force aiming at guns in conjunction with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and State Police.
“All told, since I’ve been in office, we’ve taken 10,000 guns off the streets in the city,” he said. “My focus for seven years has been very active, very aggressive.”
In addition, he pointed to the addition of surveillance cameras around school buildings and appointment of a chief of school security in the Police Department.
The one aspect of the bill he listed as a “concern” was that law enforcement should be exempted from some parts of the bill, adding those concerns have been expressed to him by police officials.
The mayor is expected to announce his candidacy for a third term soon, possibly this month. Though no major opponents have yet surfaced to challenge him, he is expected to again seek Conservative support as a result of the long relationship he built with the party dating to his days as a top aide to former County Executive Dennis T. Gorski.
But he denied that politics hindered him from delving into some of the bill’s most controversial aspects.
“When I think about safety in the City of Buffalo, I never think about politics or endorsements,” he said. “When I go before any of the parties, my focus is on the things I have accomplished and my vision for the future.”
Brown also was asked if he believed the Conservative line was important in overwhelmingly Democratic Buffalo in a year when he is seen as a strong favorite for re-election.
“Any show of support from a party organization and responsible individuals in our community when pursuing office is extremely important,” he said. He added that he did not anticipate that the Conservatives will ask him his stance on key measures of the legislation such as the seven-bullet limit on rifle magazines.
“I don’t anticipate being asked because I’m not in the State Legislature,” he said.
Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo emphasized the party has no “line in the sand” on the gun issue in the manner of state Chairman Michael R. Long on issues like same-sex marriage and late-term abortion. But he reiterated his belief that Cuomo has “clearly” advanced the bill to bolster his presidential ambitions, while noting that other Democrats like Assemblymen Robin L. Schimminger of Kenmore and Michael P. Kearns of Buffalo – who also have Conservative backing – voted against the bill.
“I think the mayor is smart enough to realize where Western New Yorkers are on this,” Lorigo said. “It’s an upstate-downstate issue.
“I think that clearly, the mayor is looking at that as well as his relationship to the Conservative Party,” he added.
Lorigo lauded Brown for avoiding the position taken by Cuomo and Bloomberg after the December mass murder in Newtown, Conn.
“He didn’t take the political position of Andrew Cuomo or the president that turned this tragedy into a politically motivated debate,” he said. “He’s not where I am about gun rights, but I think we can have a good conversation and be in agreement on a lot of things that actually solve the problem.”
Lorigo also said Brown has told him he wants to discuss the issue with him.
“What he said to me is that he wants to talk to me about where his position is,” the chairman said. “He wants a dialogue in terms of what his statement will be.”