Buffalo Mayoral Debate the Third


By Joe Janiak

There was a third debate Tuesday night between Mayor Byron Brown, his Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert, and his Republican opponent Sergio Rodriguez. I don’t see a full video available online, but the challengers took shots at the sitting Mayor, and Byron gave as good he got – especially against Tolbert. During one exchange, Tolbert said his wife accuses him of being “married” to the city of Buffalo, and Byron retorted that Tolbert must be an “absentee husband”. Rodriguez is energetic and charming – he very effectively gets a one-liner out as his first sentence, and the crowd loves him. (At one point, he echoed President Obama, saying he attributed the successful waterfront to  “Mayor Higgins…I mean Congressman Brian Higgins.” Good stuff). I like that more people get to see him during a prime-time debate that’s been broadcast on TV. 

Brown tried to play an interesting card last night, accusing his opponents of “tearing Buffalo down” when, in fact, they’ve been tearing Mayor Brown down

There were questions about education, with Tolbert and Rodriguez accusing Brown of letting the schools crumble around him, but Brown pointed to a very recent donation of city money to restore music programs as evidence of his engagement. Rodriguez retorted that, with the graduation rate having dropped from 54% to 47%, maybe we don’t need the Mayor’s involvement.  Candidates did not support a “full” state takeover of the schools, but didn’t explain what sort of a partial takeover they’d prefer. Rodriguez pointed to Yonkers and New York City as successful examples of mayoral control of schools. 

Brown’s record on crime was attacked, with Tolbert and Rodriguez pointing out that the numbers don’t really reflect positive change in the crime rate, (see below, e.g.). Brown’s challengers also pointed out the perception of safety and quality of life, insisting that uniformed cops walking a beat in a neighborhood would be a great first step towards actual safety, involved policing, and the perception of safety. Rodriguez noted that the city spent $11 million on police overtime last year, and we could instead hire 200 new cops to walk a beat throughout Buffalo neighborhoods.  

Eileen Buckley brought up an interesting question – how do we stabilize the West and East sides and halt these demolitions of dilapidated properties. I don’t remember anyone asking that question in front of so wide an audience before. Tolbert said cranes are nice on the waterfront and all, but the city is ignoring the neighborhoods. Rodriguez said we need the city to help bridge the gap between neighborhood activists and developers, and we need to fight for women and minorities to get development jobs. Mayor Brown proudly touts the demolition of 4,700 buildings – I guess an urban prarie is better than dilapidated squalor, but God is it really something to be proud of? 23,000 vacant buildings? 

Bob McCarthy asked about the NY SAFE gun control act, and Mayor Brown finally stopped fumfering and said that he backed it. He also went out of his way to tell us how many pages it was, and that he read “every bit of it.” What a waste of time. Rodriguez said he agreed with some of it and not with other parts, but criticized the Mayor’s gun buy-backs. Tolbert echoed Rodriguez’s hit on the gun buybacks – that we need to get guns away from criminals, and not use “stunts”. 

Sergio blew Byron away on the issue of jobs, noting that summer jobs for youth aren’t what anyone’s talking about, and we need real jobs for real families, and Brown can’t say there’s been “progress” when the city’s unemployment rate is at a 20 year high. Brown claimed that donations to his campaign is not a quid pro quo for a City Hall job, but Sergio blew that away, calling it a “cultural fear” that funds his campaign. Tolbert accused the administration of soliciting city employee contributions by taking it directly from their paychecks periodically; he pledged to never solicit donations from developers or employees. 

Lastly, here’s an infographic of Buffalo homicide stats that Redditor SunnyDelish put together, using Buffalo Police Department data: 


  • The fact that Brown is almost certain to win a very comfortable victory suggests to me that Buffalo’s new slogan should be “Meh, as long as we’re not Detroit, we’re good enough.”

  • Thanks Alan for a great synopsis. I think I read it on one of the Preservationist sites that even at the height of Buffalo’s population (550,000 in the mid-60’s) there was housing in the city limits for 615,000. So there’s always been a glut of empty and/or decaying housing.
    Nothing says your city is on life support when you can brag as a Mayor you’ve torn down nearly 5000 dwellings. But if the future of some areas of the City is Urban Prairie, perhaps, JUST perhaps, something SMART could be done with it. I know it’s asking a bit much, but I’d like to see preservationists and urban reformers unite to find ways to re-develop these areas instead of breaking your balls for living in Clarence. Just seems to be a more efficient use of brain power.

  • Twitter user @heyrachaha posted this gem about Brown’s flip flopping over demolitions in Buffalo – http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3vmb0h/

    • Percentage of gun related homicides is an interesting figure but what are the actual total homicides in the city during the past 12 years, not 2. Don’t post a graph with homicides from 2011 and 2012 in the attempt to show an explosive crime problem.

      I’m very anti brown btw but that is a misleading way to talk about crime.

      • Drop Box Link – https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/47366/Buffalo%20Homicide%20Rates.xls

        This has all the data published by BPDNY.org

        Data only goes back to 2007. This is in the public domain, so feel free to dissect it however you want. My goal to make this was because I have a disagreement in the premise that the gun buyback program works. It does not.

        The biggest motivation for me delving into the issue was the fact that opposing camps cited different stats during the first Mayoral Debate. I took it upon myself to find the data and compile it. Why believe in what someone else is saying, when you can dissect it yourself? I encourage you to do the same with the excel sheet I linked to in this post.

  • I am not a Brown apologist, but I have to say that the presentation of some of these graphs related to crime are a bit misleading. For instance, number of homicides in Buffalo looks like it more than doubled in the past year, until you realize that the graph starts at 30. Visually, it paints a skewed picture.

  • Starting graphs at something other than the origin (0) to highlight small differences is a trashy way to try to make a point especially when there is a lack of statistics being used to support the point. You could easily use statistical analysis on this historical data to make the point rather than shady graphic methods

  • Please, for the love of all that is holy, ditch the graphs. They are poorly constructed, repetitive, and misleading infocrappics.

  • Yeah, murders are WAY up since he took office, So up I’d say they are trending down

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