After Siena College pollsters sifted through their latest survey measuring the primary contest for mayor of Buffalo, they acknowledge that some of the results leave them baffled.
Incumbent Byron W. Brown’s performance registers abysmally in key categories like education and job creation, noted Steven A. Greenberg of the Siena Research Institute.
But Brown emerges as the overwhelming favorite in his Democratic primary contest against Bernard Tolbert.
Greenberg calls the discrepancy “stunning.”
“Voters can be a little schizophrenic,” the political observer said, “but this is as big a disconnect as I have ever seen.”
In a poll conducted June 23-27 for The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV, Siena pollsters found that only 11 percent of Buffalo Democrats considered city public schools to be excellent or good, while 80 percent see them as fair or poor. The poll scientifically selected 696 registered Democrats likely to vote in the primary.
And only 15 percent of city Democrats said local government had excellent or good ability to obtain suitable employment for residents.
Despite those negatives, 66 percent of Democratic voters have a favorable impression of Brown.
“Voters like the mayor; they are inclined to re-elect him,” Greenberg said. “But in jobs, schools and infrastructure, the voters don’t think things are very good.”
Those surveyed in the Siena poll point to education and lack of jobs as their top issues.
They say improving schools is a major need if the city is to regain lost population.
The “school situation has to get straightened out,” said Robert Love, a retired Ford Motor Co. employee. “If our young people are not properly educated, they will be left behind. Education is paramount.”
And while the Board of Education and superintendent exercise more influence over the system than does the mayor, Love said he believes Brown bears some responsibly.
“I believe it’s in his hands,” he said.
Barbara Howard, who worked in government affairs for Roswell Park Cancer Institute before retiring, sees education and job creation as closely linked.
“How our children go, so goes Buffalo,” she said. “It’s a core need.
“And I think a lot of kids who do make it through the school system see nothing here,” she added. “One thing follows another.”
Still, Greenberg said the appearance of construction cranes near the Buffalo waterfront and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus fuels an optimistic perception and could explain why many voters harbor a generally positive outlook about the city and its mayor – despite the problems.
“Absolutely, that plays into it,” Greenberg said. “They haven’t seen jobs yet, but perhaps they feel that at long last they’re seeing some development going on here in Buffalo and Western New York.”
And while those surveyed assigned high marks to the condition of city parks and recreational facilities, they were not so keen on streets and sidewalks.
Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey, the mayor’s political point man, acknowledged much work needs to be done in Buffalo.
While some criticism is merited, he said, projects like returning traffic to Main Street mark major progress, as does continuing demolition of vacant housing. Further, he believes most voters do not hold the mayor responsible for city services over which he has little control – like the schools.
Casey said he believes when voters are asked more specific questions about education, they understand “the mayor is not wearing that.”
Many voters understand the city’s support of summer reading programs and recognize the effort, he said.
“But clearly, we are concerned,” Casey said.
He added that if public perception about the city is positive, it’s because development is leading to new jobs and opportunities.
“Can we get better? Sure,” he said. “But all this is not pie in the sky. There are real jobs.”
Tolbert said he questions many of the poll’s results based on the responses he receives on the campaign trail.
“It’s not what people tell me,” he said.
He believes, however, that any dissatisfaction with issues like education stems not so much from the mayor’s involvement, but with his failure to rally response to the problem.
“The office should serve as a bully pulpit to say eduction is something I should be concerned about, and I will work hard until we get it fixed,” Tolbert said. “I would be a strong vocal advocate.”
And Tolbert agrees with the concern of those polled over the inability of many city residents to find jobs, even when they view the city as moving in a positive direction.
“Right now, a lot of jobs are created by public money,” he said. “I want to do a better job of getting private enterprise.”
Tolbert is also expected to concentrate much of his primary attack on crime, which he says remains a major concern of those he meets in the neighborhoods.
But the survey shows a healthy satisfaction with police performance: 55 percent rate it good or excellent; 44 percent fair or poor.
Casey said that results from the city’s emphasis on technology like surveillance cameras in neighborhoods, 225 new officers in the department and a push for visibility.
“I believe it may not stop crime, but it makes people feel better,” he said.