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Well, That Wasn't Close At All

Brown dismantles Kearns in primary, claims mandate

Mickey Kearns throws in the towel at the Buffalo Irish Center on Abbott Road.

If you’d asked me early on Tuesday afternoon how Mickey Kearns was faring in his primary race against Mayor Byron Brown, I’d have said it was close. I’d visited polling places in Ellicott and Masten, where turnout was very high, which boded well for Brown. Turnout in Delaware was high, too, however, and that was supposed to be a good sign for Kearns. And the news coming from South Buffalo was astonishing: Some polling places had already exceeded the 2005 primary numbers, and the after-work rush was still hours away. I’d visited polling places in the University, Fillmore, Niagara, and North Districts, too; turnout seemed comparable to 2005 in all four. Who knows, maybe Niagara would have been more dynamic if Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte had faced a primary from Buffalo School Board President Ralph Hernandez, who was removed from the ballot after his petitions were challenged in court. As the numbers turned out, however, a race in Niagara would not have been enough to turn the tide.

I didn’t make it over to Lovejoy, but I was told the numbers seemed moderately high there.

As evening approached, the numbers in the South District began to climb and climb. The Kearns supporters hovering around the campaign headquarters on Abbott Street and trickling into the Irish Center to await the polls closing seemed nervously optimistic. And when the first few returns came in, they cheered: Kearns took an early lead as the first dozen or so election districts reported their tallies.

And then the deluge: As more districts reported, Brown’s totals quickly overtook his opponent’s, and soon Kearns was drowning. The final outcome: 63.2 percent for Brown, 36.8 percent for Kearns—24,595 votes to 14,319.

A total of 38,914 votes had been cast. That’s 8,608 more votes than were cast in the 2005 mayoral primary, when Byron Brown defeated Kevin Gaughan with 55.8 percent of the vote. That’s 6,026 more votes than were cast in the 2001 mayoral primary, when incumbent Tony Masiello beast off a challenge by Beverly Gray with 63.8 percent of the vote.

Masten alone produced 5,782 votes, of which all but 164 went to Brown, accounting for more than half of the mayor’s aggregate lead over Kearns. Kearns walloped the mayor in the South, won a reasonable, if inadequate, victory in Delaware and edged him out in Niagara and North, but not by the same margins Brown produced in Masten, Ellicott, Fillmore, University and even Lovejoy.

That Brown won the primary is not a surprise; that he won so handily is to most nonpartisan observers. Last week Brown looked rattled by incessant questions about the public financing of the restaurant One Sunset, his relationship with its owner, Leonard Stokes, and his handling of anti-poverty funds, as well as the various investigations into these and other matters by local, state, and federal authorities. The Brown campaign responded to Kearns’ strident criticism with negative ads and flyers, accusing him of voting against capital improvements in certain districts (essentially untrue) and voting to give himself a $1,000 pay raise (a stipend that every councilmember who chairs a committee receives).

Usually, campaigns resort to negative advertising when their polling shows them way behind or uncomfortably close. (That’s certainly why Kearns was so committed to pointing out what he perceived to be Brown’s scandals and failures.) So Brown swinging back at Kearns late last week gave credence to the two polls conducted for Channel 2 News by SurveyUSA, which, though imperfect in many ways, showed a pretty tight race: 48 to 47 percent for Brown a week ago, and 51 to 44 percent for Brown on Sunday, each poll showing five percent undecided with a four-point margin of error. Close to a dead heat.

But those of us who foresaw a close race were dead wrong. Kearns did well, considering his campaign was underfunded and often at sea for most of the six months leading up to primary day. His 14,319 votes would have still lost to Brown in the 2005 primary, but by a hair. His margin of victory in South—77.7 percent—was not a surprise, but the turnout was impressive: 4,189 votes for Kearns. So much for the coattails of US Congressman Brian Higgins, New York State Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, and Erie County Legislator Tim Kennedy. You can’t buck a hometown boy in South Buffalo.

Nor in Masten. Brown may hail from Queens, but he’s solid in Buffalo. The mayor claimed a mandate in his victory speech on Tuesday night, and he’s got one. He has also proven his control of his political territory, which, combined with his million-dollar campaign account, burnishes his credentials for higher office. Whether his ambition leans toward Louise Slaughter’s seat in Congress or the lieutenant governor’s slot on a ticket with Andrew Cuomo, he’s earned a look from the powers-that-be. What they see when they look is up to them: Do they see the FBI and various other investigations, or do they look right past those to political base, the sharp political operation, and the rich campaign fund.

At the Irish Center Tuesday night, shock gave way to resignation and exhaustion pretty quickly. Only in one quarter did the fight linger: Developer Carl Paladino is crying fraud. He points to a court order by Supreme Court Judge John Curran that allowed some East Side polling places to stay open past nine o’clock, an order obtained by political operative Steve Pigeon. As of three o’clock Wednesday afternoon, no request for judicial intervention or supporting documents had been filed to justify Pigeon’s request or Curran’s order.

Paladino has alleged other improprieties as well, and has pledged to investigate. He has said he may ask that certain voting machines from East Side districts be secured and sealed.

geoff kelly

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