Mayoral challenger Bernard Tolbert launched his first television commercial Sunday – a 30-second spot that implies he would do better than incumbent Byron W. Brown on the vexing issues of crime, poverty, ailing neighborhoods and Buffalo’s lackluster school system.
In the ad, seen first by viewers of the Buffalo Bills preseason game, Tolbert continues to portray Buffalo’s two-term mayor as out of touch with the major drags on the quality of life in New York’s second-largest city.
But while the commercial highlights big issues, it does little to inform viewers about the strategies that a Mayor Tolbert would employ.
“I’m not sure how many people know him. And I don’t know that you are going to know him after watching this ad,” Michael V. Haselswerdt, a Canisius College political science professor, said of Tolbert after The News asked him to watch the spot on Sunday.
“A message should say something about why you should vote for me,” Haselswerdt said. “And I think that is what you don’t see in there.”
For example, the ad reminds voters of the relentless grip of poverty in Buffalo. With roughly three of every 10 residents living at or below the poverty line, the city consistently ranks in the top 10 percent of the nation’s poorest big cities.
But the commercial mentions no economic development efforts or jobs programs or any ideas that Tolbert would champion to help people climb toward financial success.
Tolbert’s commercial reminds viewers of the FBI statistics which last year gave Buffalo the 11th highest violent crime rate among cities with more than 200,000 people.
But again, the retired FBI agent and graduate of the FBI academy has nothing specific to say about what he would do.
The ad plays up the brutal graduation rate across Buffalo’s high schools, where 53 percent of the students failed to graduate on time in 2011-12.
While Brown has been absent from any public discussion about how to fix the city school system, Tolbert says only that he “will not stand by” should the state try to take over the schools.
Said Haselswerdt: “That’s pretty empty.”
“I think in terms of identifying issues on which Brown should be vulnerable, I think it does that,” Haselswerdt said of the commercial. “In terms of telling you why you should vote for Tolbert, I’m not sure it makes a convincing case.”
A spokeswoman said Tolbert will roll out his solutions to Buffalo’s foremost issues in speeches, on his website and during debates ahead of primary day, Sept. 10. That’s when Democratic voters will select the Democrat who runs in November. The Democrat will run against Republican candidate Sergio Rodriguez, a long shot because of the overwhelming number of Democrats in Buffalo.
Asked for specifics about Tolbert’s platform, especially in regard to education, spokeswoman Christina Abt said Tolbert disagrees with Brown’s “laissez-faire philosophy” toward the city school system. She said that as mayor, Tolbert would establish a liaison between his administration and the Board of Education; propose mentoring programs for teachers and students; and advance broad-based health and anti-crime initiatives because of the correlation between nutrition and performance, and crime and dropout rates.
The Tolbert campaign said the first television ad sets the tone for others to come. In a statement, Tolbert said “it’s time to take off the gloves and start fighting against the crime and violence, the failing schools and the overwhelming poverty that define Byron Brown’s Buffalo.”
The Brown campaign, which is way ahead in fundraising and the other trappings of incumbency, saw Tolbert’s first ad as a negative shot, proving that he is a “desperate candidate without any real ideas or solutions.”
“Buffalo continues to make tremendous progress under Mayor Brown, and Tolbert’s attack on the city and its growth shows how desperate he is,” the Brown campaign said in a prepared statement.