Expect economic development to run through Mayor Byron W. Brown’s re-election campaign.
The two-term incumbent formally announced Saturday he will seek another four-year term, and he did so while offering up several major projects under way or on the drawing board as proof that he has helped put Buffalo on the right track.
His subdued red, white and blue re-election signs feature, along with Brown’s name, a stylized bison head and a one-word motto: “Progress.”
“I am so proud of the progress we’ve made, and I’m excited about the progress to come,” the mayor told about 400 supporters who cheered his announcement in the gym of the Aloma D. Johnson Fruit Belt Community Charter School on Michigan Avenue. “That’s why I’m running for re-election as mayor of Buffalo.”
The mayor offered up a list of projects, including HarborCenter, the $172 million complex planned by the Buffalo Sabres; Ellicott Development Co.’s $75 million multi-use complex near the Erie Basin Marina; and the Catholic Health System’s decision to build a new headquarters downtown, at a cost of $46 million.
Beyond that, Brown cited the 400 jobs that were brought to the East Side with the opening of the Erie County Medical Center’s nursing home there; $3 million in improvements coming to the Martin Luther King Jr. Park neighborhood on the East Side; and $1.5 million in renovations to Broderick Park on the West Side.
“We’ve improved city services. We’ve offered relief to city taxpayers,” he said. “We’ve restored hope, demolishing blighted buildings and restoring those that can be saved.”
During his nearly eight years as mayor, Brown said, the city has received the highest credit rating in its history, crime rates have gone down, and property taxes have gone down.
Several elected officials were on hand to offer their support for Brown’s candidacy. Among them were Rep. Brian Higgins; Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes; State Sen. Timothy Kennedy; District Attorney Frank Sedita; six of the nine Common Council members, including Majority Leader Demone Smith, who emceed the rally; and four School Board members.
The 54-year-old mayor was joined on stage for the announcement by his wife, Michelle, who works for the Buffalo Public Schools, and his son, Byron II, who is now a student at the University at Buffalo.
In his 13-minute speech at the school on the campus of St. John Baptist Church, where Brown worships, the mayor touched only briefly on one of the most pressing issues in the city: education.
“I have supported Say Yes to Education to help raise high school graduation rates and help pay for our young people to get a college education,” he said.
In a short question-and-answer session with reporters following the campaign kickoff, Brown sought to redirect education-related questions to put the focus back on economic development.
One reporter noted that Republican challenger Sergio R. Rodriguez has indicated he plans to make education a priority in the campaign and asked Brown how he plans to respond.
“Economic development and job creation are our No. 1 issues,” the mayor said. “The children in our city – their parents need to work.”
Another reporter noted the community-wide concern over Buffalo’s graduation rate, which hovers around 50 percent.
In response, the mayor cited his support for and involvement with Say Yes for Education, a nonprofit group working to implement support services for students and provide college scholarships to graduates of Buffalo’s district and charter high schools.
Brown is the only Democrat thus far to have entered the mayoral race. Bernard A. Tolbert, who once ran the FBI’s Buffalo office, is considering a challenge to Brown but has not yet decided whether to run.
On the sidewalk outside the building where Brown announced his re-election, more than 60 Buffalo firefighters picketed, calling for the mayor to settle their contract. The nearly 700 firefighters have been without a contract for almost 12 years.
“Minimum wage has gone up 70 percent since we got our last deal,” one firefighter on the picket line announced over a megaphone. “Gas was $1.79 when we got our last contract.”
Brown told reporters city officials are currently at the negotiating table with the union. The city has offered the union “two good contracts,” in 2007 and in 2008, he said.