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Welcome to the Brown Machine

Last week, our cover story profiled a lawsuit filed by a seasonal worker in Buffalo’s Streets Division, William George, who alleges he was passed over for promotion to a permanent position because he refused to register as a Democrat and did not contribute to Mayor Byron Brown’s campaign committee.

Brown’s primary challenger, Bernie Tolbert, jumped on the story, calling a press conference in front of City Hall on Thursday morning to berate Brown for intimidating and shaking down city employees. Brown was forced to respond at press events that day; he said that George’s lawsuit was without merit and he was confident it would be dismissed.

Well, sure. We said in the article that the lawsuit had its weak points, and that the interesting parts of the lawsuit were the depositions collected by George’s attorney, including Brown’s, in which officials hem and haw about how hiring and promotions work in City Hall. In Brown’s deposition, the mayor comically asserted that no one in his office—including his chief political officer, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and his former campaign treasurer, Dana Bobinchek Floriano—kept track of who donated to his campaigns.

That seems a major oversight for so ruthlessly efficient a political machine, so we decided to step into the breach. We took a quick look at all the donations made by individuals to the Brown for Buffalo campaign committee in 2013, up until last week. We found 952 transactions, not counting unitemized donations.

Of those 952 donations, we conservatively attribute 528 to employees of the city or city agencies. Conservatively, because we didn’t count donations made by family members of city workers unless we were absolutely certain of the relationship, and because our list of City Hall employees does not reflect recent hires.

In all, individual donations to Brown’s campaign this year total $272,637.22. (If you add in corporate and other types of contributions, Brown has taken in $525,706.54 total so far this year.) The 528 donations made by City Hall employees account for $120,660. The reason that more than half the transactions comprise less than half the total dollar amount is that the big individual donors—like Gary Smith of Modern Corporation and defense attorney Joel Daniels, for example—tend to give in bigger amounts than the average city worker. One employee in Management Information Systems gave $150 to Brown for Buffalo this year, $10 at a time, out of each paycheck; other employees, with bigger salaries, were expected to give more, and did.

There’s the executive summary, Mr. Mayor, the breakdown that you said no one in your office has ever done. We’d be happy to send you individual names and addresses if you plan to send thank-you cards.

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