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Buffalo mayor-elect Byron Brown, with his son, Byron III, and wife, Michelle, at his side, thanks his supporters during a victory speech in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)
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Brown wins in landslide
Brown defeats Helfer 64%-27%
Vote signals mandate from city voters


ByROBERT J. McCARTHY
News Political Reporter
11/9/2005

Byron William Brown, the grandson of Caribbean immigrants, swept to a landslide victory Tuesday to be elected Buffalo's 58th - and first African-American - mayor.

Democrat Brown swamped his main opponent, Republican Kevin J. Helfer, 64 to 27 percent. Judith S. Einach of the Green Party captured 5 percent of the vote, while Independence candidate Charles J. Flynn took 4 percent.

After a campaign promising new hope for a beleaguered city, Brown appeared to win a stunning mandate from Buffalo voters.

The 47-year-old state senator, after the most hard-fought general election campaign in a generation, captured 43,682 votes while Helfer registered 18,578 - with all districts reporting. Significantly, Brown's numbers appeared to be strong in all sections of the city.

Brown began his status as "mayor-elect" as he entered a Hyatt Regency Buffalo ballroom at around 10:05 p.m. to claim victory and be greeted by a thunderous roar of approval. Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and son, Byron III, his mother and mother-in-law, he never ventured from his typical cool reserve.

Still, Brown was beaming as he talked about Tuesday's "overwhelming mandate" to a crowd packed with block club leaders, city union presidents, elected officials and many city employees.

And after years of Brown's preparation for a mayoral campaign and this moment, some supporters wore T-shirts that read "Let's make history."

After his victory speech, Brown talked with reporters about his stature as Buffalo's first black mayor-elect.

"Making history is great. But people want a good mayor," he said. "They want me to be the best mayor Buffalo has ever had. That's going to be my goal each and every day."

Brown repeatedly stressed that his administration will be one of inclusion that will work to improve every part of Buffalo.

"Let us put aside any differences and celebrate our shared ideals," he told cheering supporters.

After his speech, Brown addressed concerns that he might feel beholden to unions that provided substantial support to his campaign.

"I will absolutely make a promise that I am not going to be anybody's puppet," he said. "I will absolutely put the interest of the people of Buffalo first."

And Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan noted the historical nature of Brown's election.

"It is no small irony that Byron Brown was elected only days after Rosa Parks was buried," he said, referring to the civil rights pioneer. "Rosa Parks changed this country, and tonight, Byron Brown changes this city."

Helfer, also 47, told his supporters at his Delaware Avenue headquarters at 9:56 p.m. that he had no regrets in attempting to become the city's first Republican mayor in 44 years. Joined by his wife, Mary, their children, his father, and key supporter Carl P. Paladino, Helfer said it was "no fun" to lose, but that he was proud of the effort.

"We talked about reforming city government, believing in city government, we laid out one issue after another, we did what we thought was right," he said, "and I stand behind everything we did."

Then the vanquished candidate pledged his support to the new mayor.

"I really want to congratulate my opponent, Byron Brown, who ran a great race. He deserved to win. He did a very good job. I give him my support tonight," he said. "I know he ran for the same right reasons I ran."

And Helfer hinted he may not be through with politics.

"I don't know where we go from here, but you know it's not the end for me," he said.

.

In interviews at the University Presbyterian Church polling station at Main Street and Niagara Falls Boulevard, in the same neighborhood he once represented in the Common Council,voters voiced their approval of the GOP candidate.

"When he was councilman, he was so effective. I've never had that experience with a politician," said Maryann Quinan, a retired small business owner and Democrat who added it's rare for her to support a Republican.

But it was obvious by the night's results that Brown was attracting enough votes from across the city to win the election. Much of his support came from his African-American base - which constitutes 37 percent of the city's population - and voters like Charisse Clay, interviewed while waiting to vote at Calvary Baptist Church on Genesee Street.

"In a new mayor, I want a change," she said. "I want him to focus on the younger community and providing job opportunities and more community centers in my opinion. Brown speaks for himself. He's positive, and he's stayed focused."

Turnout for the 2005 election was better than the paltry 22 percent recorded in the September Democratic primary, but still was only 42 percent. That compared to 48 percent in the 1993 election, when Anthony M. Masiello was elected mayor and the last election with no incumbent.

Turnout was 37 percent in 1989 and 61 percent in the last hotly contested general election of 1977, when James D. Griffin was elected.

Brown, who was born and raised in Queens, is the first non-Buffalo native to win the city's top job since Frank A. Sedita, who was born in New Orleans in 1907 but lived in Buffalo from the age of 4. He was elected in 1957, 1965 and 1969.


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