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Buffalo mayoral hopeful Bernard Tolbert today will take the first step toward running in this year’s Democratic primary against incumbent Byron W. Brown when he establishes a campaign finance committee with the state Board of Elections.

A source familiar with Tolbert’s plans who asked not to be identified said the former head of the Buffalo FBI office will file required papers in a step just short of a formal declaration of his candidacy. The move will allow Tolbert to begin raising funds for a campaign that has zero dollars in the bank at this point, compared with at least $1.1 million already on hand for Brown.

The move also is expected to free several top financial allies of Tolbert, who will now be able to actively raise funds for the campaign.

Tolbert, 64, is a Buffalo native and an FBI veteran who also held top security positions with the Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta and the National Basketball Association in New York City. Since his retirement from the NBA, he has returned to Buffalo to buy a home in the city and begin actively exploring a candidacy.

So far, that effort has included his frequent presence at community events around the city and behind-the-scenes recruitment of potential backers, especially financial supporters. He has remained mostly mum about his plans and potential platform, but that could change in coming days as he appears to move toward an official campaign kickoff.

Brown, however, remains a heavy favorite as he seeks a third term in City Hall. Besides his seven-figure campaign treasury, he has also built an efficient political machine over the last seven years and can rely on all the advantages of incumbency.

He officially declared his candidacy March 23.

Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez has also entered the race, though he is seen as facing an especially difficult challenge in a city where Democrats hold a 7-to-1 advantage in registration.

Political observers will now be on the lookout for the possible entry of other candidates into the race, especially with two black candidates in a city where voting is traditionally guided by ethnic voting patterns. One possible white contender is City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, who has not hinted at a campaign but also has not discouraged speculation about his possible entry.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com