The First and Second Districts of the Erie County Legislature — comprising a vast swath of the City of Buffalo — are shaping up to be highly contested campaigns with strong, well-known competitors emerging from across the city. Those races are likely to generate a higher turnout among inner city voters, which political observers predict will help boost the insurgent Mayoral campaign of Legislator Betty Jean Grant.
Grant’s recent announcement that she intends to challenge Mayor Byron W. Brown in this year’s Democratic Primary has rocked the political establishment. It has also opened up a County Legislature seat that spans neighborhoods with long traditions of activism
Grant is a formidable political force who has won sweeping landslide victories in the district despite well funded smear campaigns organized by the likes of G. Steven Pigeon and Maurice Garner themselves. She is, perhaps, the most potent political force on the East Side of Buffalo — and vastly more popular among Black voters than the Mayor.
At least three candidates have already announced their intention to run for the second district seat: Murray Holman, the president of Stop the Violence Coalition; Duncan Kirkwood, a charter school lobbyist; and Charlie Fisher, a longtime community organizer.
All three contenders hail from the City’s Masten and University neighborhoods. Voter turnout is considerably stronger in those neighborhoods, where the African American community is well organized, than the West Side, where sizable refugee and student populations don’t vote.
It’s unclear if a candidate will emerge from the Elmwood Village, an area known for it’s robust population of activists. In a four-way race, it’s certainly possible to find enough votes in the densely populated and politically astute neighborhood to win the district.
It’s thought that Kirkwood, who enjoys the monied support of charter school parents, will perform strongly in the Elmwood Village.
Fisher, who mishandled community relations with Solar City and who failed to reach a community benefit agreement with the firm, is widely seen as an “attention seeker” and “control freak.” Many observers doubt that he will be able to overcome burnt relationships and people that he wronged in the past.
Holman is widely popular and the most well known of the three contenders, given his leadership of Stop the Violence, a non-profit that works to prevent youth violence with a citywide network of parent volunteers whose high visibility presence deters violence.
In the First District, the contest is just as fierce.
Sam Herbert, a well known activist, has announced his intention to challenge incumbent Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams. Miller-Williams does not have a high level of visibility in the district, and is seen as having accomplished very little. Her willingness to caucus with Republicans in the past has made her wildly unpopular among East Side voters.
Former Commissioner Joe Mascia is considering the contest, and may enter the race later this month. The popular tenant elected housing commissioner has a base of supporters in the diverse district, and a large constituency of housing authority residents.
A longtime critic of the Mayor, a Mascia candidacy would likely attract considerable media attention that increases voter turnout across the district. His tone with the Mayor may make it easier for Mayoral candidates to take stronger, more critical positions.