The Tolbert Factor in the Race for Buffalo Mayor

8:10 PM, May 9, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY - He has not officially announced his candidacy yet, but Bernard Tolbert, the former director of the Buffalo office of the FBI, is expected to formally launch his bid to become the Queen City's next Mayor at a news conference on Saturday.

Incumbent Mayor Byron Brown is a formidable candidate for re-election in the eyes of many experts, with the power of the incumbency, an effective political organization, and more than one million dollars in his campaign war chest.

Still, Canisius College political science professor Michael Haselswerdt says Tolbert's challenge to Brown in September's Democratic primary (the winner of which is expected to coast to victory in November's general election in the Democrat dominated city) could create an interesting dynamic.

"The Mayor is going to really have to campaign now," Haselswerdt said.

And while Brown's advantages may be large, they are not insurmountable according to Bruce Fisher, a political science professor at Buffalo State College and former Deputy Erie County Executive.

"The Mayor is vulnerable if the challenger can make the mayor respond," Fisher told WGRZ-TV. " If the Mayor has to respond on crime, if the Mayor has to respond on poverty, then the mayor has a fight on his hands," he said.

"Buffalo tends to vote ethnically and racially, and there's a lot of loyalty among groups to their candidates," noted Haselswerdt.

Tolbert, like Brown, is African American, and some believe his candidacy could split Brown's traditional power base among black voters.

Someone who knows more than a bit about running for office, and running for mayor specifically, says that could bring about another scenario possibly involving a third candidate.

"You could have others out there saying, 'gee...if there are two guys in the race, maybe I'm going to jump in the race because I have my own constituencies and my own platforms'," said Anthony Masiello, who served three terms as Mayor of Buffalo.

The most talked about name under that scenario, is City Comptroller Mark Schroeder...although when Channel 2 News contacted him on Thursday, Schroeder maintained he has no plans to run for mayor.

However, Schroeder did not declaratively state that would not seek the city's top elective post.

A notable example of being able to emerge victorious as an underdog in a crowded field came in the late 1970's when James Griffin won the first of his record four terms as mayor.

"Could that happen here? Absolutely," said Fisher. "Is it likely? No. It takes a long time to put a campaign together... you just don't undertake a political campaign of this dimension at the last minute, it just doesn't work that way.

On that note, Masiello and Haselswerdt also agree.

"Especially now (mid May) when you're starting this late," said Masiello. Added Haselswerdt: "You certainly wouldn't have time to time to put things together, raise money, and build your support base at a leisurely schedule."

Fisher believes Tolbert has been gearing up to run for Mayor for well over a year, and may have waited until now to formally announce his candidacy to purposely keep a third candidate from entering the race at this relatively late stage.

Sergio Rodriguez is running for Mayor as a Republican. He served as a marine, and most recently was Medaille College's Coordinator of the Office of Veterans and Military Affairs.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 on Your Side reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bob Mancuso. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2


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