With the mayoral primary less than a month away, Mayor Byron W. Brown holds a comfortable lead over challenger Bernard A. Tolbert, according to a new poll conducted by Siena College and commissioned by The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV.
Sixty-one percent of likely Democratic primary voters in Buffalo who were polled said they would vote for Brown, compared with 32 percent supporting Tolbert.
While Brown’s lead shrunk by five percentage points in the past two months, he still holds a commanding lead.
“He’s not finished, and I’m satisfied with his progress, with his performance over the last eight years,” said Beverly Dove, who lives near Martin Luther King Park, about the mayor.
In the meantime, Tolbert remains unknown to more than two in five Democratic voters, the poll shows.
“The race still appears to be strongly the incumbent’s to lose,” said Siena pollster Steven A. Greenberg.
Siena conducted the poll of 620 likely Democratic city voters between Aug. 11 and 13.
Tolbert picked up support from undecided voters to increase his support from the 26 percent he attracted in a June poll, also commissioned by The News and WGRZ.
The percentage of undecided voters fell from 13 percent to 8 percent in the most recent poll.
The primary takes place Sept. 10, when Democratic voters will choose between Brown, who seeks a third term, and Tolbert, a former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo office and security chief with the National Basketball Association.
Tolbert faces a challenge in persuading the city’s Democratic voters to change course at a time when the poll shows most of them think the city is headed in the right direction.
Nearly two-thirds of the city’s Democratic voters hold a favorable opinion of the mayor, and more than half rate the job he is doing as mayor as excellent or good, according to the poll.
“Clearly the voters are proud of the direction the city is going in,” Brown said.
Brown’s campaign advertising and other activities seem to be working.
“I’ve been working at getting my message out seven days a week for the last four months of this campaign,” Brown told The News.
While likely Democratic voters continue to give Brown positive job performance ratings, their belief that the city is on the right track has wavered somewhat.
Nearly six in 10 in the poll indicated the city is on the right track, down from seven in 10 in June.
More voters also trust Brown would do a better job than Tolbert handling city issues like fighting crime, improving public education, addressing neighborhood concerns, controlling city taxes and creating jobs.
Democratic voters who were surveyed for the poll brought up education, crime and maintaining the city’s momentum as topics important to them in interviews with The Buffalo News.
East Side resident Lurlie Jones credited Brown for installing police surveillance cameras.
“I like what he’s doing,” said Jones, 74, who lives near Hennepin Park.
She said she knows a little about Tolbert, and while he would make a good mayor, she plans to stick with Brown.
When asked in the poll if they would vote to re-elect Brown or if they would prefer someone else, 55 percent of the Democratic voters replied they would re-elect him and 38 percent wanted someone else, the same results as in the June poll.
Dove, 62, said Brown has work left to do, and said she is confident he will do it.
Dove, retired from the University at Buffalo’s Educational Opportunity Center, and said she appreciates the improvements to Martin Luther King Park, near her house.
Dove also cited Brown’s work ethic and said he appeared engaged when she has approached him at events.
“He’s nonstop,” she said. “That’s not just during campaign years.”
Her experience with the city’s 311 line, which addresses non-emergency complaints, has also been positive, she said.
Tolbert is a “gentleman and a credible candidate,” Dove said, but he does not have Brown’s record.
Don Marsh, 46, said the mayor should get some credit for the positive developments happening in the city.
Marsh, a small-business owner who lives near the Larkin District, is impressed with the changes he has seen since he moved in 10 years ago.
“The lack of experience from Tolbert and the Republican candidate are a concern for me,” Marsh said.
West Side resident Cynthia Shelvay identified herself as an undecided voter. She finds the pool of candidates troubling.
“Sometimes I want to vote for my dog,” said the 62-year-old retired FedEx employee.
She points to the problems plaguing city schools as the reason why the city is not headed in the right direction.
Brown is not vocal enough on the issue, but simply prefers photo opportunities reading to children, she said.
“He’s always there for the good things,” she said. “He’s never there to clean things up.”
Tolbert has made some strides since June. The percentage of Democrats who say they do not know him fell from 58 percent to 43 percent.
He also picked up undecided voters, which is typical, Greenberg said.
“As you move closer to the election, the undecideds tend to break to the challenger,” he said. “There’s a reason they’re not with the incumbent.”
Tolbert’s campaign message that he would do a better job fighting crime appears to be somewhat effective.
Forty percent of Democratic voters said Tolbert would do a better job fighting crime, up from 29 percent in June. Brown’s support on this issue stayed about the same, falling from 51 percent to 49 percent.
And while Tolbert increased his favorable rating among Democrats from 30 percent to 37 percent, his unfavorable rating made a slightly larger leap, increasing from 11 percent to 20 percent.
Amy Zeckhauser wishes for a more visible Tolbert campaign.
“I believe he’s a far more intelligent person,” she said. “I just think that he has better qualities to be mayor, to lead the city.”
Zeckhauser, a 93-year-old Delaware District resident, said Brown takes credit for progress she does not believe he had anything to do with, such as growth at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Zeckhauser’s mailbox has been filling up with full-color advertisements for Brown.
“Every day I get something else from the mayor, which goes into File 13 very fast,” she said, using a military euphemism for trash can.
Tolbert fared better among whites than he does with blacks, and he did better among men than women. He won support from 15 percent of black voters who were polled, compared with Brown’s 82 percent, and won the support of 41 percent of white voters, compared with Brown’s 52 percent.
Twenty-nine percent of women and 34 percent of men supported Tolbert, while Brown won support from 62 percent of women and 58 percent of men.
Tolbert declined to be interviewed, but his campaign provided a statement calling the September primary “the only poll that matters.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican candidate Sergio R. Rodriguez, a Marine veteran who ran a Medaille College office that served veterans.
The poll’s pool of likely Democratic voters was 62 percent white and 28 percent black, and 57 percent of respondents were 55 and older.
Tamiko Beckham, 50, said she will probably vote for Brown but remains discouraged by problems in city schools.
“I would have to really see about the other guys, their background,” said Beckham, a homemaker who lives in the Masten District. “When you get in office, are you really going to do what you say? I know we need help.”
News Staff Reporter Mary Pasciak contributed to this report. email: email@example.com