When Buffalo Democrats go to the polls a week from Tuesday, they will choose between two competent men running for mayor. Competence, though, is only the entry fee to this primary election, and there the similarities end.
Incumbent Byron W. Brown has produced a strong record – even if some of it is not his doing – while his challenger, Bernard A. Tolbert, former head of Buffalo’s FBI office and a political novice, seems misplaced in this race. Brown deserves the support of voters in the Democratic primary.
The Buffalo News typically does not endorse in primary elections, but in Buffalo, where Democrats dominate, winning the primary is usually tantamount to election. Nevertheless, The News will also make an endorsement in the November general election, when the winner of Tuesday’s election will face Republican Sergio R. Rodriguez.
Buffalo has taken off under Brown’s watch. Some of that is his doing, some not. Where it was, he deserves credit for taking action, and where it wasn’t, he deserves credit for not messing it up. We’re not kidding. Western New York politics can be that deranged. Look at what’s happening today in Niagara Falls, where the City Council’s greed is threatening to crater plans to build a new hotel.
Where Brown definitely gets credit is in the massive project under way on the Webster Block. The city held a competition, received two attractive bids and chose the one with the most potential to benefit the city.
With that decision, Terry Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres are building a combination hotel and double indoor ice rink complex that is expected to draw hockey competitions from hundreds of miles away. Across the street from First Niagara Center, it will be unique in NHL cities and a tremendous boost to downtown and to the entire region.
Brown gets less direct credit for other of Buffalo’s burgeoning waterfront developments, which were mainly made possible by the determination of Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, to wrest funding from the Niagara Power Project during its 2007 relicensing. Nor do Brown’s efforts account for the explosion of construction at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus or at Larkinville.
But the fact is that another mayor could easily have made a mess of those projects. Brown either helped to shepherd them along or at least didn’t trip them up. In those actions, there is a wisdom not always seen in local politics.
Even still, it is possible that Brown could have faced a serious challenge in this primary, but Tolbert isn’t presenting it. Not only is he poorly funded, he lacks the political experience to be entrusted with running an enterprise as large and convoluted as a city the size of Buffalo. We keep wishing he had run for Erie County sheriff, instead.
There is more we’d like to see from Brown in a third term. He should take a stronger role in education, which city taxpayers fund and which is so tattered that it depresses the city’s economy.
Interwoven with education are the enormously difficult problems of crime and poverty. While no mayor can solve those problems with a decree, Buffalo could be even better off four years from now with some creative thinking from the mayor’s office.
Tolbert has an obvious affection for his home city of Buffalo and he plainly has talents that can be useful. We hope he will continue to seek ways to serve its residents. But in this race, he is outgunned by a mayor with a record that few in Buffalo could have imagined. Brown should walk away with this primary vote.