Byron Brown, the four-term incumbent mayor of Buffalo, is waging a write-in campaign to keep his job, after he was upset by India Walton in May’s Democratic primary.
Brown, 63, previously served as Chair of the New York Democratic Party and as a member of the New York State Senate. In 2005, he became the first Black mayor in the history of the Queen City.
Brown spoke to The Spectrum over the phone last week to discuss the election and his experience interacting with UB administrators:
Q: What have your interactions been like with UB over the course of your tenure and what partnership has the city of Buffalo had with UB?
A: I've had a lot of interaction with UB during my tenure as mayor. I’ve partnered with [the] college in a variety of different ways. We have partnered on the building of the third campus of the university in downtown Buffalo. The city has been supportive in a variety of different ways with permits, and other support that the city would give to development such as the medical school in downtown Buffalo. This has been a great development and the city has been very supportive of the medical campus. The university has also been a very important piece of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. I attend a lot of events on the campus: basketball games, the annual State of the University address that the President does and today for example, I came to address the football team. So I've had a lot of interactions with the college over the years and with some of the professors.
Q: What is UB’s role in this city and what responsibility does UB have as community partners?
A: I think UB is an important academic center. It is important to educate the young people in the city, the region and beyond. I would certainly like to see more young people from Buffalo enrolled in the university. I would like to see more young people from Buffalo head to various professional schools in the university: the School of Management, the medical school, the dental school and the School of Law. I would like to see more African American students and other students of color in the professional schools of the university, including architecture — certainly something that I have pushed. I think the university is very important to the economy of Buffalo and Erie County and the university is an important institutional leader in the development of culture, the development of business in our community and also the development of jobs.
Q: Is UB fulfilling its role as a community partner?
A: All entities have to constantly evaluate what they're doing. So as mayor, I'm constantly evaluating my work and performance, constantly evaluating the delivery of services that the City of Buffalo offers, always trying to improve the quality of our delivery of services and the provision of city programs, and I think the university also needs to always look at continuous improvement and how it can get better. I think that’s important for every organization to look inwardly at how it can get better and do better for its constituencies.
Q: This race is being talked about across the U.S. as indicative of the current state of the Democratic Party. Would you say that's a fair assessment? How do you feel about the increased attention?
A: I think to a degree it is a fair assessment. This is a national spotlight race and I think folks who carry the banner of socialist or democratic socialists have attacked the Democrats, effective Democrats, people who have long been active in communities across the country, who have done good things in those communities and have unnecessarily attacked people that they should be supporting and working with. I think the extremes in this country are not good and that goes beyond parties. So I think the far left is not good for our country and I think the far right is not good for our country. The whole concept of socialism in my particular race, you have a person that has no relevant experience for this job that The Buffalo News in an editorial just this past weekend said is dangerously inexperienced. The Buffalo Criterion in an editorial this past weekend said that my opponent is the most unqualified person to ever seek high office in the City of Buffalo. It seems like socialists, democratic socialists, are not really concerned about qualifications or accomplishments, or track record, they are concerned about purity tests. And if you don’t call yourself a Democratic socialist, or a progressive, it doesn't matter how progressive you’ve been, or how much you’ve accomplished, you are subject to attack by those who hold that philosophy.
Q: What is your message to younger voters, like UB students, who find that India Walton’s message of socialism resonates with them?
A: Well, I think they have to really very closely listen to what she's saying, because she says a lot with authority that doesn't really add up to much of anything. Then they need to look at the background and track record of candidates. Ms. Walton talks about her being a nurse, but when you look at media reports, it appears that every nursing job she’s had she’s either been terminated from or resigned from. And there were questions about her performance in those jobs. She called herself a successful not-for-profit executive and the goal of the organization that she led was to build 40 affordable homes. During her whole time in that organization she did not build a single house. Two houses were built by Habitat for Humanity, which she is trying to take credit for, but she didn't build them. That is not success. That’s actually a failure. So she has said what she wants to do for the rest of the city, what she did for the Fruit Belt, which was absolutely zero. So I think young people need a look at that. On the other hand, during my time as mayor, there’s been over $8 billion of development. Over 12,000 new jobs were created. Many of the new jobs that have been created during my work — we have young people working in those jobs. We focused on bringing new industries, expanding industries, training people, for the jobs of the future in this community quite successfully, and have managed the city through periods of crisis very successfully. I think young people who are concerned about their futures should be more attracted to my message of success, getting things done and creative ideas for the future that will create more employment opportunities, more home ownership opportunities for young people who are in college and about to graduate from college, and those who have recently graduated from college. The promise of a brighter future rests with my message and does not rest with Ms. Walton’s message.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the Democratic Party going forward?
A: It’s almost like this whole democratic socialist movement in the Democratic Party is almost like the Tea Party movement that happened several years ago in the Republican Party. The Tea Party took the Republican Party into far right extremes that were damaging for the party and didn’t help that party grow. And as a result, the Tea Party has pretty much all but died out. I think, the Democratic socialists you know, who have championed defunding [the] police and other bad ideas that don't resonate with the mainstream in the party and in the country, will see themselves beginning to lose elections. I think at some point, some of that philosophy, if people want to be successful, if people want to bring real change to communities and to our nation, those bad ideas will dry up and go away.
Q: In addition to support from moderates and Democrats, you have also received financial and public support from Republicans and big-business types — not typical of a left-leaning politician. What do you say to people who are concerned about that?
A: I don't think people should be concerned about it at all. I have a 15 and a half year track record as mayor. Before that, I was a member of the New York State Senate and before that I was a member of the city council [Buffalo Common Council]. I think people know that I treat all members of the community with respect and dignity and am supportive of the active participation of all members of the community. So I think business people in Buffalo and Erie County, developers in Buffalo and Erie County supporting my candidacy as people who have built things and created job opportunities that are fueling progress in our city and region, they should be able to have a say in the future of this community and what they think is best for the community. On the other hand, a lot of Ms. Walton’s support comes from people in New York City, people in other cities across the country, people who have a far left leaning philosophy, who know nothing about this community, nothing about what has been accomplished in this community and care more about ideology than they care about the growth and development of the City of Buffalo. So I would take my support from rank and file members of this community, from business people in this community and developers in this community, as opposed to the support that Ms. Walton is getting from many people that don’t live in Buffalo that don't live in Western New York, that really don't have any stake or concern about our community. I will also say that this is a general election, and people of all party backgrounds, who are registered voters, are eligible to participate in the election. And it seems like people are saying in very large numbers that they prefer my candidacy to Ms. Walton’s candidacy. They think I’m better for the future of the city than Miss Walton and regardless of their party affiliation, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, independents or voters who are unaffiliated, they seem more attracted to my candidacy than they are to Miss Walton’s.
Q: Buffalo’s bronze-level Climate Smart Community designation will expire in 2024. How would a Brown administration ensure that this designation remains intact for future funding and development in combating climate change?
A: The Brown administration did the work and implemented the programs to get the bronze designation. We are not satisfied with staying at the bronze level so we don't expect our designation to expire in 2024. We are working to have our designation increase, and that is what my administration is working toward right now.
BB: For every student that is concerned about their future, in the City of Buffalo or their potential future in the county or region, I ask them for their support and vote in the Nov. 2 general election for mayor. This election is about the future of our community and it is a clear choice between proven success, experienced management and ideas for the future, versus someone who The Buffalo News has described as dangerously inexperienced with no relevant qualifications for this position, whose background narrative, in large part, is false.
Jack Porcari is the senior news/features editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Jack Porcari is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum. He is a political science major with a minor in journalism. Aside from writing and editing, he enjoys playing piano, flow arts, reptiles and activism.