Bernard A. Tolbert put the best face possible on his latest fundraising effort Tuesday, but new reports to the state Board of Elections show that overcoming incumbent Mayor Byron W. Brown’s huge financial advantage poses a daunting challenge.
Brown enters the final eight weeks before the Democratic primary with more than $1.3 million on hand, while Tolbert can count on only about $200,000.
While Tolbert’s six-figure treasury is considered significant and is enough to mount a respectable campaign, it pales in comparison to Brown’s account.
Add to that, a recent Siena Research Institute poll conducted for The Buffalo News and WGRZ/Channel 2 showing that 58 percent of respondents don’t even recognize Tolbert’s name, and the challenger has much to overcome with few resources in a short period of time.
“He’s going to have to spend a lot of money just to get identity,” said Stephen T. Banko III, who was involved with all of former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello’s campaigns and has experience as far back as Leslie G. Foschio’s unsuccessful effort in 1977.
“And that’s resources and creative energy even before you get to the poverty issue or how you will work with the schools or what to do about housing,” Banko added. “If he doesn’t get to half a million, he’s got a big Sisyphean rock to roll up the hill.”
Still, Tolbert seemed pleased that he qualified for the ballot and raised enough money to make him competitive. He touted reaching the two-thirds mark of his $300,000 fundraising goal and is encouraged about what lies ahead.
“These goals have been exceeded without political backing or party support, solely through the efforts of my family, friends, neighbors and communitywide volunteers,” Tolbert said. “With these numbers verified and reported, there is no doubt that my candidacy presents a strong primary bid.”
But Tolbert’s campaign finance report shows a limited base of support. Almost one-quarter of his total, for example, stems from $45,500 he has personally lent to the campaign.
An additional $9,160 comes from people named Tolbert, and $10,000 was given by Clover Management Co., headed by Michael Joseph.
Contributions of $5,000 came from Rodney Wilkinson of Buffalo and Cara Mitchell of Buffalo; Ronald M. Pirtle of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Arvin L. Jones of Rochester; Robert Maclin of East Amherst; Elizabeth Lenig of Troy; and Dan Dahl of Scottsdale, Ariz.
He also reported a number of corporate contributions – mostly from construction and contracting interests – totaling about $79,000. Businessman Hormoz Mansouri, who had emerged as an enthusiastic Tolbert backer, gave $500.
All of the contributions were reported over the last six months.
Significantly, while candidates often report vast amounts from the campaigns of other politicians, only one other elected official, Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant of Buffalo, gave to his effort. She contributed $50.
The mayor, meanwhile, reported hundreds of contributors – mostly small. One of his largest individual supporters was businessman Howard A. Zemsky, who heads several state programs for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. He gave $5,000.
Some of Brown’s biggest fans are apparently concentrated in the 43x79 political action committee, which so far has given him $12,500. He also benefited from several law firms, engineering companies and contracting interests.
The mayor received $5,000 from the New York State Laborers PAC based in Albany and other donations from several officeholders and political candidates.
Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey said Brown’s strong showing “speaks for itself.”
“Obviously, we take this and every campaign very seriously,” he said, “and we remain focused on doing what we need to be successful.”
Though Brown appears to be holding strong advantages, Banko said Tolbert has time to make a move.
He said that it will be hard for the mayor to spend all his money on the coming campaign and that “overkill” could result in a case of “diminishing returns.”
“At the same time, an underdog can generate a certain amount of enthusiasm because it is a mayoral race and the media and the people are interested,” he said, adding that voters are always looking for “good ideas.”
“Especially in a town with as many problems as Buffalo has,” he said. “These are things you can go after to ‘earn’ the media.”
Republican candidate Sergio R. Rodriguez reported $1,083 on hand after raising about $17,000.