Byron W. Brown had money in the bank, the advantages of incumbency and a practiced political operation as he prepared to campaign for a third term as Buffalo mayor.
But perhaps surprisingly to some, he had something else that in other races proved elusive: the support of many of his fellow elected officials, even those from warring camps of the Erie County Democratic establishment.
“I was surprised that so many different factions of the party seemed to coalesce around the mayor,” said Common Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, of the Delaware District, one of only two city lawmakers who did not endorse Brown.
Brown even scored an enthusiastic endorsement from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who avoided wading into primary contests in Rochester, Syracuse and New York City.
To voters, such endorsements might not mean much. Despite mailers heralding support from Cuomo, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, Rep. Brian Higgins, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, turnout in the primary was just 20 percent. Brown won 68 percent of the vote against Democratic primary challenger Bernard A. Tolbert.
The motivation for those endorsements varies.
In some cases, political deals were made, so self-interest by those making the endorsements comes into play.
In others, an air of inevitability of Brown’s campaign drew support – the assumption that Brown, with a favorability rating of 70 percent and a lot of campaign money, can’t lose.
Other observers noted that with so many economic-development projects under construction in the city, there is not a lot of time for political squabbles.
“I personally think it’s very difficult to fight against momentum,” said Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, a Brown supporter. “There’s so much that’s moving in a positive direction, it becomes difficult to fight the present administration, or have a leg to stand on.”
Brown’s first deputy mayor, Steven M. Casey, has worked against the county Democratic establishment plenty of times, and indeed, this year, Brown’s political organization, Grassroots, opposed party-endorsed candidates.
But Brown said he has learned the importance of collaboration over the last eight years, and he noted his relationships with Poloncarz and other officials.
“Those kinds of partnerships help you to get things accomplished much more quickly,” Brown said in an interview last month.
Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, a key Brown ally, said that development doesn’t happen in silos and that people in government realize that.
“Their focus is on getting something done, as opposed to the politics and personalities,” she said. “I think the mayor focused on that, and his campaign was structured around that. It worked policywise and politically. It made sense to do that.”
Brown had supported another candidate for county Democratic chairman, but an alliance of sorts has formed with Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, even if their respective organizations supported different candidates.
Their relationship began the week Zellner was elected last September and culminated in the party’s endorsement of Brown, over the objections of some of the party’s biggest players.
Brown “committed to supporting me for next year,” Zellner said, referring to his run for re-election as chairman. “Given that, and our conversations, I felt comfortable supporting him.”
But Zellner acknowledges that it wasn’t easy. His day job is in the County Legislature, whose chairwoman is Betty Jean Grant, a Brown foe who supported Tolbert.
Some observers say the party appears as fractious as it has ever been, given recent campaign activities by the Western New York Progressive Caucus, a political action committee funded by high-profile party members who oppose the party’s endorsed slate. But Brown appears to be above the fray, at least for now.
Early on, Brown neutralized forces that could have worked against him.
He announced with great fanfare at his State of the City address that Ellicott Development, whose chairman is Carl P. Paladino, would develop a prime piece of waterfront property.
Paladino, a Republican who ran for governor in 2010, had poured money into the campaign of Brown’s 2009 opponent, Michael P. Kearns, then the South Council member, as he had done for Brown’s opponent in 2005, Kevin J. Helfer, the former Council member from the University District who is now city parking commissioner.
Brown has the support of seven of the nine Council members, winning backing this year from Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, who had not previously been in the mayor’s camp.
Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, a Brown ally from the Masten District, said the majority didn’t try to punish members of the Council minority, such as Rivera, which made it easier for Brown to forge relationships.
“I have seen within the last year on the Council and across the community, a much more cooperative spirit,” Pridgen said, acknowledging that not everyone is unified. “In the past, it was no secret of the divisions that were part of the Council and part of the party.”
The Council is independently elected, and any coziness between the executive and legislative branches of government makes some observers uneasy.
“It’s supposed to be … a check and balance on the mayor, its own branch of government,” LoCurto said of the Council. “You want to see some independence there. I guess you could make the argument that an endorsement doesn’t mean you’re going to be supportive of every single thing.”
City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, who is not shy about speaking about problems in the administration, even endorsed Brown, though it came the day before the primary.
The administration also settled a contract with city firefighters, who had been showing up to Brown events, making their unhappiness known. The firefighters union sat out this race, as it did in 2009, but could have allocated resources and organizational skills to make life difficult for Brown.
Sergio R. Rodriguez, Brown’s Republican opponent in the election, was not impressed by Brown’s endorsements from his fellow Democrats. He said the fact that Brown doesn’t have support from all nine Council members is telling.
“Talk to me when a Republican steps out of his platform to endorse the mayor,” Rodriguez said.