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Tolbert Campaign Begins

Tolbert addresses the media at Johnson Park.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bernie Tolbert’s campaign for mayor launched its first offensive, announcing that he was starting a web page called “Byron Brown’s Buffalo,” where citizens can post pictures and video of problems in their neighborhoods that the Brown administration had failed to address. (The site is; you can also upload material

“It appears that the mayor is unaware of what’s going on in the city,” Tolbert said, as he described his recent visits with residents who were dissatisfied with city services: some folks in Lovejoy who boarded up a house and tore down a derelict barn themselves because they could get no help from the city; a Chippewa Street business owner who complained that the city would not respond to an offer to pay for tree plantings on the street; a Tracy Street homeowner who lives next to a decrepit nine-unit apartment building that is falling into her driveway, and who can’t get a response from City Hall.

Though he announced his candidacy for mayor of Buffalo in May, Tolbert’s campaign seemed invisible until two weeks ago, when Tolbert finally earned some free press with criticism of incumbent Byron Brown’s record on crime prevention at a community forum, followed quickly by his first major endorsement, from the Police Benevolent Association.

That week, Tolbert allowed that he had made some changes in his campaign staff, hoping to take a “more aggressive” tack in the six weeks before the primary. And, sure enough, the once-quiet campaign has been trying to make itself heard ever since.

It hasn’t been easy: At the press conference on Tuesday, the only media outlets in attendance were, Artvoice, and the Buffalo News. No radio, no TV stations, though the press conference took place nearby to two of the four TV news outfits in town: at the west end of Johnson Park, where it meets Carolina Street. Behind Tolbert was the empty shell of a corner grocery that once displayed behind the counter a bounced check from Brian C. Davis, the former Ellicott District councilman. Across the street, Tolbert said, was the first house he’d ever owned. The bodega attracted drinkers and loiterers, he said, and there was a soup kitchen at the other corner. Both made it difficult for him when it came time to sell the house.

Tolbert said that, if elected mayor in the fall, he would see to it that every issue posted on the “Byron Brown’s Buffalo” web page would be addressed within his first 100 days in office. Meantime, he continues what he is calling his “Takin’ It to the Streets” tour, talking to residents about their problems, especially about crime. On Wednesday’s schedule: Ellicott District community activist Ronnie Hemphill and former Fillmore District Democratic Party committee member Larry Burt.

“Violent neighborhoods and crime infested streets define this city, as evidenced by the shooting of two people just last night on Fillmore and A Streets,” Tolbert said in a statement announcing his visit with Hemphill and Burt. “We can no longer accept Mayor Brown’s empty claims that Buffalo is a safe city. National and state statistics tell us that we are living in one of the most violent and dangerous cities in America and it’s time to fight back against Byron Brown’s Buffalo. It’s time to come together and honor the lifetime of community work that people like Ronnie and Larry have given; time to build a better Buffalo.”

Meantime, Brown’s re-election campaign continues to coast along, flush with money and reassuring poll numbers. The morning of Tolbert’s press conference, the three mayoral campaigns were scheduled to meet to discuss the terms of a televised debate, hosted by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists, on August 14. Tolbert and his staff showed up for the meeting; so did Republican challenger Sergio Rodriguez. The mayor sent no one.

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