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A long line of pols will parade into the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon at the Buffalo Irish Center on Friday to unofficially kick off the political season.

Since the late Dick Keane and the late Tom Blake founded the event in the early 1970s, the certified good time has morphed into an event in which anybody who's running for anything attends to show he or she is in the hunt.

Democrat Kathy Hochul, for example, essentially declared her congressional candidacy for a 2011 special election at the Irish Center, going on to win in May. Hochul realized Western New York politics revolves around corned beef and cabbage on that day.

Potential mayoral candidate Bernie Tolbert will most likely join the parade of pols on Friday, too. Indeed, the former head of the Buffalo FBI has popped up at practically every other gathering of two or more people throughout the city for the last year. It's part of what you do when you think about running for mayor.

While every indication points to an eventual Tolbert candidacy, any official declaration at the Irish Center would rank as a major surprise. Tolbert continues to play it cool, even though The Buffalo News last week reported that he is telling friends and associates that he will challenge Mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary.

There's a reason for all this. According to some people familiar with his thinking, Tolbert benefits from the air of uncertainty. As long as he remains officially on the sidelines, so does everyone else.

“The longer he stays on the back burner, the longer someone else does not run up the middle,” said one Tolbert pal.

In a city where ethnic politics still reigns supreme, that translates into recognition that a white candidate could then view an opening and “run up the middle” against two blacks.

So playing a political strategy game here, who would that candidate be? Most observers look to the only other citywide official – Comptroller Mark Schroeder.

A City Hall denizen for just over a year, Schroeder says he has no intention of running for mayor this year. But he answers the question about running in the time-honored way that pols don't answer such questions.

“I really haven't given any serious thought about running for mayor in 2013,” Schroeder said.

Anybody recognize an opening there?

The comptroller notes that Brown forces recently inserted his name in a poll (that showed the incumbent faring extremely well, as a Brown-financed poll might). As a result, Buffalonians by the bushel are quizzing him. So the former rogue assemblyman who often challenged the speaker took the opportunity to point out his own attributes.

“If I'm not afraid of Shelly Silver, there's nobody in City Hall – including the mayor – I'm afraid of,” said Schroeder, who has significantly sparred with Brown in recent weeks.

So further moving across the chess board, let's say Tolbert declares, followed by Schroeder. You have to believe the savvy pols on City Hall's second floor have planned their next move, too – like another white candidate (and Brown loyalist) to weaken the “run up the middle” strategy.

All of this is a long way off. Maybe Schroeder does remain in the Comptroller's Office, and maybe he really doesn't have plans this year. But maybe the predictions for quiet politics in Buffalo this year get left by the wayside, too.

Tolbert all alone presents an interesting enough scenario for this year, as does the candidacy of Republican Sergio Rodriguez, so far the only announced candidate.

So the Irish Center will buzz with the usual speculation on Friday. The ebb and flow of Buffalo politics continues no matter what – especially over corned beef and cabbage.

Still, Schroeder recognizes what an eventual Tolbert declaration could mean this mayoral election year.

“If Tolbert announces, I think the phone will be ringing a lot,” he said. “It will be a pretty juicy year.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com