Patronage in Buffalo and Erie County politics is the bread and butter of the Democrats and Republicans as well as the Independence and Conservative Parties, especially the Independence Party, which has been turned into a virtual ATM machine for Chairman Tony Orsini and friends.

The only minor parties that stand above this is the Working Families Party and the Greens.

Both major parties control the election process and it is understood that they will battle for the spoils. The minor parties stand on the sidelines. What happens to the process if Demo-Publicans cut a deal?

Sadly that has often been the case in Erie County. Here the first rule of law is (The Frank Clark statue), “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if no one is around to hear it fall?” A more direct interruption of this is if a (election) law is broken, does it get prosecuted if the judges and district attorney run unopposed? The answer is no! (Except, of course, if you a Dick Kern and are pissing political people off)

Republicans Party This is the first Mayoral election in a generation that the Republicans think they can win.

The Republican Party was divided from the beginning over Joel Giambra. Congressmen Tom (the bagman) Reynolds was at odds with Erie County Republican Chairman Bob Davis, who believed that Giambra would lead the Republican Party to the promised land. Davis was right, Joel did. There was a Republican sheriff, a Republican comptroller and a functioning Republican majority in the county legislature. . However, mainstream Republicans became upset that the majority of the patronage was going to Giambra s’ Demo-republicans. Then the Republican house of cards came down.

Kevin Helfer and Carl Calabrese led the Republican abandonment of Giambra and his clique during the Great Budget Crisis last year. Rumors of a coup coming with Bobbie Davis being replaced by Carl Calabrese, have been rampant for quite some time.

The Republican strategy is racial politics masquerading as reform. They are looking to take a page out of Anthony San Filippo’s campaign for City Comptroller against James Pitts. The strategy is to get a one on one race, white versus black and hope for a low minority voter turn out. But this strategy has bizarre twist, Byron Brown, a black man, who is one of the founding members of an insurgent political club Grassroots, Inc. is to be presented as the status quo. The idea is to get the community to believe that Brown is a continuation of the machine politics of the Masiello administration’s 12 years of corruption and failure. The second element of the strategy is to challenge Byron Brown for the conservative party line in the primary. This would give Helfer a second line for the South Buffalo Democrats to vote their color without voting Republican.

Kevin Helfer First off, Kevin Helfer is not a racist, but he is a Republican. He is a honest person, direct and hard working. On the policy side he is for privatization of services, pro-life, charter schools, school vouchers and mouths the various Republican talking points such as lowering taxes, and my personal favorite, “running government like a business.” His economic platform is traditional boilerplate: small business development and job creation, none of which has worked.

Helfer ran a close race for City Comptroller against Anthony Nanula. He lost the Independence party line because Nanula brought it for $50,000 from the State committee after the Buffalo Independence Party endorsed him. The loss of the Independence line was the margin of defeat.

The dark side of Kevin is that he is part of the system. For five years he was a member of the Joel Giambra regime. He bailed when he saw the ship about to be torpedoed. Kevin then landed an $80,000 a year job as Executive Director of the City’s parking board. Developer Carl Paladino, who is a major contributor to his campaign, controls the parking board. Kevin represents the elite business establishment that is the real status quo. Their political philosophy can be best summarized by Benito Mussolini’s notion of the corporate state.

Democratic Party Democratic Party Chairman Lenny Lenihan has gotten the Democrats rowing in the same direction, which harder to do than herding cats. The question is, will the coalition hold together? Is Buffalo ready for a black Mayor?

Brown’s campaign is the first resurgence of black political power in Buffalo since the great purge of 2002 when four Common Council positions were eliminated, three of which were held by vocal critics of the status quo who also happened to be black: Charley Fisher, the late Beverly Gray and James Pitts were removed.

Bryon Brown has made all the right moves in getting the various endorsements of unions, community organizations and major politicos. He has captured the endorsement of the Independence Party, Conservative Party, and Working Families Party. But Charlie Flynn is challenging Brown for the Independence Party Line as is Helfer on the Conservative Party line. If Brown can hold the Conservative Party line in the primary, he will be difficult to beat.

The Brown campaign’s strategy is to keep the issue of race out of the campaign and to present a straightforward, professional, conventional and competent image. The Brown campaign is following the conventional wisdom of Buffalo politics. This approach has opened Brown to the attack that he is the status quo.

Byron Brown Brown is one of the founding members of Grassroots Inc. He was elected as the Masten District City Council person for three terms. He was part of that brief moment in Buffalo politics where the black community had real political power through a majority on the Common Council. He ran for his present position as State Senator against Al Coppola, defeating Al twice. Brown did well with all voters, both black and white in his district.

At one point, Byron Brown and Grassroots, Inc made common cause with the insurgent element of the Erie County Democrats under ousted Erie County Party Chairman, Steve Pigeon. Steve and a number of politicos worked through Brown’s office to set up a sort of Erie County Democratic Committee in exile. They used their money to infleunce and cuts deals with Giambra, Golisano, etc, etc. Brown publicly broke with Pigeon when he began seeking the Democrats’ endorsement for mayor. The question is how real was the split?

At his core, Bryon Brown is a progressive democrat but he seems to be trying to take a page from the former mayor New York City Rudy Giuliani to push quality of life crime, and law enforcement, which is out of character. Brown has a great deal of support from the white liberal and progressive elements of the Democratic Party and he has strong positions on the tradition issues of environmentalism, regionalism housing and economic development.

The dark side of Byron’s campaign is deals, deals and more deals, but that is politics, especially politics in Buffalo. The question again is, can he hold the Democrats together? Members of the present Masiello regime are supporting Byron, but at what cost? The good news is that most of the Buffalo Club elites are backing Helfer. The other major question is the general competence of Grassroots to run the city.

Primary Kevin Gaughan

Who is Kevin Gaughan? Is he the last grand knight of the old Buffalo blue bloods, full of ideas, a visionary on a conquest for the Holy Grail of regionalism? Or is he an old time huckster selling us with flowery words a grand future that will takes us for a ride no where? “I love Buffalo and I want to return it to its former greatness, its place in history.” Is this guy, Western New York’s very own music man of regionalism? The guy hired himself to run for mayor. Where is the money coming from? His record of service is a wonderful fiction. He has never been is public service and his law practice is a mirage. He has brought the issue of regionalism forward into the public eye and in the process left a trail of unpaid bills. His regionalism does not pass the smell test. The cost savings simply are not there. And structurally, his plan is profoundly undemocratic and anti-city. His performance in the debates is great to watch. But who is behind this guy? You got ta love it!

Steve Calvaneso Steve is amateur to local politics, not a bad thing. There is no question of his sincerity. He is a successful businessman with a number of restaurants, a catering service and a clothing store. Steve being a restauranteur - a very difficult business in Buffalo - has had a number of his business transactions come to light, including late payment on property taxes. These amateur mistakes have hurt his credibility. In Buffalo politics, a lot of energy goes into getting the dirty on your opponent.

His economic strategy of restoring historical Buffalo to develop a tourism industry does not work (especially not at $3-4 a gallon for gas) This strategy has not worked around the country. There are hundreds of small town and cities that have restored their downtowns for tourism with little success. Steve should get a lot of credit for having the guts to run, and providing an alternative view, however.

Erie County Independence Party The Erie County Independence Party is a functional argument for political reform. Election law enforcement in Erie County is a joke. Their endorsement process is the closest thing to a political Chinese auction.

Charlie Flynn is running against the endorsed Independence party candidate Bryon Brown. Charlie Flynn has a long history of being a political player. He is a commissioner of the BMHA and is the former chairman of the Erie County Independence Party. Tony Orsini and friends purged him. This is a battle for control of the Independence Party. His positions are very conservative and will draw some water in Buffalo, enough to hurt Helfer, if he wins.

Judy Einach and The Erie County Green Party Judy Einach and the Buffalo Green Party are the Rodney Dangerfield of Buffalo politics. But they keep on coming. They ran the late Grandpapa Munster Al Lewis for governor and a congressional candidate who announced his naked truth platform in the nude. They can’t get no respect.

Einach’s campaign has little organization, and no money. It is alive because of hope. The folks who are longing for real change are hoping Judy can get her campaign together. This is a classic amateur grassroots campaign that is fueled by the desire for real change but the learning curve has been painfully slow - some people would say too slow. Regardless of what Einach’s campaign does, she is a real problem for Helfer ‘s one-on- one, white/black strategy. Helfer’s campaign is going after her hard and challenging her mayoral petitions. If she survives, she will present a bigger threat to the professional political caste system of Erie County. The threat is of speaking truth to power and educating the community as to who really benefits from the political process in this community.

I don’t know if I should cry or laugh, but in my heart I love all these candidates. They represent every one of us who wake up at midnight and stare at the ceiling, thinking to ourselves, “I’ve got to do something to change this stupidity!” By Joe Schmidbauer

The political process in Erie County like all politics in the United States is driven by money, money and more money.

All the candidates in the primary have attempted to present themselves as agents of reform or change. The battle cry of patronage, inefficiency and corruption is echoed over and over. All of it flies in the face of the reality of a political system whose laws are rooted in Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. The political tradition of Buffalo remains ethnically based. (tribal) The cry for reform is at best naive, or at worse disingenuous and cynical.