Last Friday was the deadline for the 31-day pre-primary campaign finance filing with the New York State Board of Elections. In races that are determined largely by primary results, such as the race for mayor of Buffalo and the race to fill the Buffalo-based 2nd District seat on the Erie County Legislature, this filing is a useful gauge of the traction candidates have found, how hard they’re working, who’s backing them, etc.
Let’s look first at the Democratic primary candidates in the race for mayor of Buffalo. The candidates are the incumbent, Mayor Byron Brown; the city’s comptroller, Mark Schroeder; and Betty Jean Grant, the Erie County legislator who is giving up that 2nd District seat in order to run for mayor, leaving a curious cast of replacement candidates in her wake. But more on that another time.
SCHROEDER WITH A MONTH TO GO
Schroeder has, as of Friday, about $130,000 on hand. He has raised a little over $50,000 in the past two months and spent a little less than $38,000.
Since the beginning of the year, he has raised about $254,000 and spent about $236,000. This puts him well ahead of Brown’s previous challengers: In the same period in 2009, Mickey Kearns had raised about $105,000. (Kearns’s campaign ultimately would benefit from a last-minute infusion of cash from developer Carl Paladino.) In the same period in 2013, Bernie Tolbert had raised $174,000.
Most notable among Schroeder’s donors are unions: Nearly $48,000 of the $254,000 Schroeder has raised since launching his campaign comes from unions, including $14,250 from Buffalo’s police union. That total does not include donations from individual union members or labor lawyers and their firms.
Schroeder has always had a good relationship with area unions, but Brown’s power of incumbency was expected to trump that history. However, in July, the Western New York Area Labor Federation, which combines and directs the political activity of the region’s unions, declined to make an endorsement in the race for Buffalo mayor. This was a surprise: As recently as late May, union leaders expected to endorse Brown, even if individual unions like the PBA and some of the labor trades would pitch in with Schroeder. But, at ALF’s endorsement meeting, the teachers union’s representatives abstained from the vote, making it impossible for Brown’s supporters in the room to get enough votes to endorse the incumbent.
That counts as a win for Schroeder and revealed the first sign of political weakness the mayor has shown in this year’s elections cycle. If the unions provide Schroeder with more money and bodies to do canvassing and to turn out the vote on primary day, their support might make a big difference. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Schroeder overcoming Brown’s advantages as an incumbent without every chance breaking his way. This one broke his way.
Schroeder’s campaign manager, Pat Curry, says that the campaign is husbanding its money carefully so that it will be able to match the mayor’s expected onslaught of TV commercials in the two weeks before the primary. Production for Schroeder’s TV spots, Curry told The Public, is essentially done.
Fun fact: Schroeder’s campaign has spent $12,400 on Facebook promotions, which is why the short videos the candidate made in the spring keep popping up in your feed.
BROWN, STEADY AS SHE GOES
In the same period, Brown has raised $552,000—that’s nearly $60,000 per month—from the usual panoply of interested parties and compulsory supporters: developers, contractors, big law firms, both leaders of and toadies for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and its affiliate groups, national and state offices of unions like CWA and SEIU, elected officials and candidates for office, business owners, and city employees, among others. Brown’s campaign has spent $307,000 since the beginning of the year. He has $582,000 on hand, as of Friday.
In short, there’s little to see here: A well-funded juggernaut of incumbency keeps rolling forward along a well-trodden path.
Fun fact: Earlier this year Brown’s campaign accepted $2,700 from Clough Harbor Associates, now known as CHA, the Albany engineering firm that allegedly made payoffs to Joe Percoco, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s indicted right-hand man, in exchange for state contracts.
WHAT’S BETTY JEAN UP TO?
Betty Jean Grant has not formed a separate campaign committee for her race for mayor. Instead, she seems to be using the committee she has used for her Erie County Legislature races. As of Monday morning, that committee had not yet filed a report in response to Friday’s deadline, but at the July activity report showed a balance of $7,200, expenses on $4,600, and receipts of $6,200 since the beginning of the year. Her single biggest donation, $1,000, came from American Rated Cable Communications, Inc.; another $1,400 came from her own bank account and her family. She got $250 from Buffalo Teachers federations, $500 each from HLM Holding, Inc. and NPTS, Inc., and $250 from Kix Development, Inc. The rest comes from small individual donations.
UPDATE: On Tuesday morning, Grant’s committee filed a report in response to Friday’s deadline, and that report showed a balance of about $12,000, including $6,200 raised since the July filing. Her biggest donations came in $1,000 increments—from American Rated Cable Communications, Inc. and three firms run by frequent donor Hormuz Mansouri; another $1,400 came from her own bank account and her family. Much of the rest comes from small individual donations. She has spent about $700 on campaign literature since July.
So what is Grant doing? How real is her campaign if she has not formed a dedicated committee? Grant insists she’s running to win, but most people who pay attention to such things evaluate her candidacy in terms of its impact on the contest between Schroeder and Brown. Schroeder thinks he can win with maybe 17,000 votes. (That’s basically what Kearns pulled in 2009.) Brown, in past contests, has shown the ability to win 20,000 votes pretty handily. So, to win, Schroeder needs Grant to take lots of votes from Brown’s base and none or not too many from his own. This last month—and particularly the last two weeks—before the primary comprise the most important part of the campaign. So Grant has to two weeks at best to kick her campaign into high gear.
So what is Grant doing? How real is her campaign if she has not formed a dedicated committee and has skipped a campaign finance filing deadline? Grant insists she’s running to win, but most people who pay attention to such things evaluate her candidacy in terms of its impact on the contest between Schroeder and Brown. Schroeder thinks he can win with maybe 17,000 votes. (That’s basically what Kearns pulled in 2009.) Brown, in past contests, has shown the ability to win 20,000 votes pretty handily. So, to win, Schroeder needs Grant to take lots of votes from Brown’s base and none or not too many from his own. This last month—and particularly the last two weeks—before the primary comprise the most important part of the campaign. So Grant has to two weeks at best to kick her campaign into high gear.
Fun fact, unrelated to Betty Jean Grant: The only overt sign of Paladino money in this campaign so far comes from Carl’s son, Billy, who is CEO of the company his father built. Billy Paladino has given $2,000 to Brown’s campaign.