More than any other aide, Steven M. Casey has been Mayor Byron W. Brown’s right hand.
The guy he relied on to make City Hall run. The guy who got the nasty assignments. The guy who made enemies with union presidents and rival politicians.
And he has been performing that job since Brown first set foot in the mayor’s office nearly a decade ago.
So where does the mayor go now that Casey is leaving?
“We have a strong management team,” Brown said. “I am confident that this government will remain as strong as ever and we will continue our plan and vision to build Buffalo.”
Brown would not say whom he is thinking about for the job, but said he has “very experienced, well-trained commissioners.”
Casey leaves a big hole to fill.
“It’s a tough position that he’s held,” said North Council Member Joseph Golombek. “He’s the person who said ‘no.’ That’s not an easy position to fill.”
Though Casey stayed out of the limelight, he set the tone for Brown’s administration, overseeing everything from hiring to communications strategy to Brown’s campaigns, and was a key player on several economic development projects.
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a political ally of the mayor, called Casey a “good man” but said she hopes that a new chapter will open in City Hall, one with an emphasis on development on the East Side. Peoples-Stokes said she hoped the mayor will select a successor who can make relationships in the community.
“Casey was the inside guy,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but having someone outside will add value to the mayor’s administration.”
Casey was known for his controlling management style, which sparked questions about whether he or Brown was running City Hall.
“Reputation got out that Steve Casey was running the city, not the mayor, and that was because of his style and how he handled things,” said former Council President George K. Arthur, a friend of the mayor. Every mayor has someone who will say “no” when necessary, but Casey seemed to draw more attention than others.
“He should have been more of a diplomat than what he was,” Arthur said.
Brown praised Casey as “extremely talented” and said he is leaving for an “extremely lucrative” position as chief executive officer of S&R Co. of West Seneca LLC, which will take up a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the Seneca Mall and is a subsidiary of Scott R. Congel’s mall and property management company.
Casey’s city salary was $97,853. He notified Brown of his resignation Tuesday, though his exact departure date has not been set.
The men met when they were working for Erie County Executive Dennis T. Gorski in the 1990s, and Casey was on Brown’s staff when Brown became a state senator.
In addition to playing a major role in Brown’s three successful campaigns for mayor, Casey has been first deputy mayor since Brown took office in 2006. He has helped guide the administration’s top priorities, including stabilizing city finances and getting out from under a control board. He also has closely managed City Hall operations, including hiring and firing. While City Hall has some long-tenured department heads, other positions, such as human resources commissioner, have seen high turnover rates. Disagreements with Casey were at the root of some of those departures.
Casey’s style helped City Hall, Brown said.
“To put the City of Buffalo on firm financial footing required focus and discipline, and Steve Casey has helped bring that discipline to city government,” he said.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk sees Casey’s tenure much differently and said Casey was interested in amassing political power to the detriment of the city.
“Our gain is their loss,” he said of Casey’s departure.
Several City Hall employees said that they were happy to see Casey go, as well.
“Maybe it will bring a breath of fresh air into City Hall without this guy scrutinizing everything,” said Thomas Barrett, vice president of Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282. Every time the department needed something, promotions, for instance, the reply they got was that the matter was on Casey’s desk. “Hopefully he’ll be replaced with someone who is not a political animal who can help move the city forward,” Barrett said.
Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto predicted that morale of the city workforce will improve.
“They won’t be worried about Steve Casey looking over their shoulder,” LoCurto said.
Casey’s departure does not come as a surprise to Brown or to many others in City Hall. The rumors that he was leaving were constant in City Hall since Brown began his third term in January, and Casey’s purchase of a house in East Aurora in February only fueled them.
Several other key staff members close to Brown have left City Hall. One of the highest-ranking members of the Law Department, Peter J. Savage III, was appointed to a seat on the Erie County Legislature in April, and Jessica Maglietto-Smith, a former special assistant to Brown and an instrumental member of his campaign team, recently left to work for SUNY Buffalo State.
Brown was thought to be interested in leaving City Hall to run for lieutenant governor this year, though Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo selected former Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul to be his running mate.
“I’m staying put and very happily so,” Brown said.