Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown leads the state’s second-largest city at a peculiar time in Erie County politics. A member of Congress just left, and there are even rumors about his own desire to change jobs. Brown made it clear that he has no plans to end his term as mayor early, especially as he looks to provide the city with more support from the state. That being said, he did look at pursuing a run for Congress and was rumored to be interested in the presidency at Buffalo State University.
Brown took office in 2006 and has become the longest-serving mayor in Buffalo’s history, winning five unprecedented terms in the process, the most recent of which relied on a write-in campaign. In that time, he has combated several financial crises, weather emergencies and public tragedies.
He was in Albany on Feb. 6, along with four other mayors from upstate New York, requesting an increase in funding in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities. Advocating for Buffalo, he also took issue with some of their agreements with Erie County relating to tourism and local sales taxes.
Brown spoke with City & State after his testimony at a joint budget hearing on Tin Cup Day to share his thoughts on local politics, what his city needs and his future job prospects. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What were the main requests that you had in your budget testimony and to what degree do you think lawmakers understand what you and the rest of the upstate mayors need?
My main ask was for an increase in AIM funding, (which is) state aid to municipalities. There hasn’t been an increase since 2012. Everything that’s going up – every cost that municipalities have, whether it’s gasoline, electricity, pension costs, health care costs – everything is going up. AIM funding, state aid, is critical to us balancing our budgets and providing the services that residents need more.
Do you think state lawmakers understood that?
I think the lawmakers that were here today in the Senate and the Assembly were very receptive. They asked a lot of questions. They seemed very responsive to the “Big Five” mayors. It wasn’t just me, the mayor of Buffalo, testifying, but it was also the mayor of Albany, the mayor of Yonkers, the mayor of Syracuse and the mayor of Rochester all together saying the same thing and that is we need an increase in state aid.
How do you think it has gotten to this point?
I don’t know what the reason is that it has stayed at that level for so long. It has been too long. Estimates are if it had followed the rate of inflation, it would be a 32% increase, so the time to increase AIM funding is now. We don’t want to wait another year; we can’t afford to wait another year. Our communities need this revenue sharing from the state right now. and it needs to be predictable going forward.
What is your take on this news of Rep. Brian Higgins leaving Congress?
Congressman Higgins has served well. He expressed his frustration with how difficult things are in Congress now. The far left and the far right, the extremes just not working together, and he made the decision that he would retire from Congress.
Where do you see the direction of that seat going?
I think a special election is targeted sometime in April. I want to see the special election take place so that a new congressional representative can be elected to be in place to represent our community.
If you don't mind talking about your own future, there have been rumors that you might be leaving for the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.
I’m focused on being mayor of the city of Buffalo. My term doesn’t end until Dec. 31, 2025. That’s my full focus. Gosh, that’s why I’m here today in Albany, fighting for more resources to come to the city of Buffalo.