The allegations are egregious: that Mayor Byron W. Brown — the city’s first Black mayor — refused to allow the construction of 50 privately funded affordable housing units on the East Side unless his friend and political backer, Rev. Richard Stenhouse, received an $80,000 consulting contract from the developer.
This week, affidavit testimony by former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey was made public. The mayor, along with about a dozen senior staffers, city officials, and political operatives will likely be deposed between now and the September primary. Even the Mayor’s supporters realize that his political career is over and a trial is imminent.
Brown is likely to forgo a reelection effort. The election calendar and his trial calendar make a reelection campaign largely implausible.
Casey asserts that Brown insisted that Rev. Richard Stenhouse be hired to serve as ‘the face’ of a 50-unit affordable housing project in the Cold Springs neighborhood developed by Cleveland-based NRP Properties. Stenhouse, a prominent African American minister, has paid a settlement in the case but admitted no wrongdoing.
Casey asserts that Brown became irritated when he questioned the need for Stenhouse to serve as the face of the $12 million project. NRP Properties claims that Brown demanded that Stenhouse receive an $80,000 consulting fee on the project. When that was not forthcoming, the project was denied approval.
In the affidavit, Casey calls the Mayor inconsistent. Brown claims that he ended up opposing NRP’s project because of its ‘scattered site’ design. At the same time, he supported a different but similar ‘scattered site’ development elsewhere in the city.
“I questioned whether there was any need for Rev. Stenhouse to have a role on the project,” the affidavit reads. “At that point, Mayor Brown became irritated and his position pivoted from requiring a role for Rev. Stenhouse to Mayor Brown expressing disapproval of the project because it was scattered site and rent to own.”
“His concerns about scattered site and rent to own had never been expressed to me before,” Casey testified. “When I challenged Mayor Brown about this inconsistency, he dismissed my concern.”
Casey confirms that Brown instructed him to kill the development.
NRP Properties is calling the testimony “further evidence of the wrongful conduct the mayor engaged in.”
The city’s new defense team — hired after spending more than $600,000 thus far on the city’s taxpayer funded defense — filed a motion to kill the lawsuit. The motion claims the Mayor is protected by ‘legislative immunity.’ NRP’s lawyers say that the argument was a delaying tactic to avoid further depositions.
Casey is known to be cooperating with the FBI.
Those realizations this week are causing many individuals on the political scene to actively consider a mayoral run. Among the contenders rumored to be considering the contest are the city’s most influential politicians.
County Legislator Betty Jean Grant is ‘seriously considering’ a mayoral run. She has impressively mobilized the African American community, independent of the campaign contributions on which most politicians rely. Her supporters say that her integrity is unparalleled in East Side politics. She will turn out the vote in the University, Masten, Fillmore, and Ellicott Districts.
Council President Darius Pridgen is raising speculation that he plans to run for Mayor. In recent weeks, Pridgen has been at a social justice conference in San Diego, CA and has been posting Facebook videos in which he promises to offer the community bold leadership upon his return. He has built an impressive ministry, has a strong East Side political following, and has close relationships with the business community.
Comptroller Mark Schroeder practically announced his mayoral campaign, but following Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid, he has been much less vocal about his ambitions. He continues to actively consider the race and will run if Brown is indisposed. He is expected to perform strongly in Kaisertown and Lovejoy.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan is not particularly accomplished or well known citywide, though he is a product of the West Side’s headquarters-aligned Democrat political machine that dominated city politics under the rule of former Mayor Anthony Masiello.
State Senator Chris Jacobs will have a considerable amount of influence in the narrowly divided chamber, but the Mayor’s office comes with a much larger and more influential bully pulpit. He is a popular, approachable figure with supporters on both sides of Main Street — which is particularly notable for a Republican.
School Board Member Carl Paladino is a folk hero of sorts in South Buffalo and many see his role at the genesis of the Trump campaign as a victory that has largely vindicated the developer’s brashness. He would perform strongly in South Buffalo.
Preservationist Terry Robinson of Preservation Buffalo Niagara and a member of the City’s Preservation Board, is an obvious contender for the Democratic Party nomination for Mayor of Buffalo next year. But Robinson, a Democratic Party stalwart and city planning activist who has boldly called for the restoration of the Humboldt Parkway in recent years, may more likely become the next Democratic Party nominee for Erie County Clerk.
Former Senator Alfred T. Coppola is a revered figure among Buffalonians of a certain age, especially among his North Buffalo and Elmwood Village constituency, which he represented on the Common Council for 17 years. He is known as a maverick and self-styled outsider.
Former Housing Commissioner Joe Mascia wants Mayor Byron W. Brown to reinstate former Police Officer Cariole Horne. If Brown doesn’t reinstate Officer Horne by January 1st, Mascia is threatening to run for Mayor and promises to use his local notoriety to “make this an issue that doesn’t go away.”