Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown gave a talk about his career in politics to a class at Canisius College on Tuesday.
Mayor Brown was invited by Dr. Shyam Sriram to Canisius to speak before his class, PSC 236: “Campaigning.” Brown is the third elected official to speak in Sriram’s class, the other two speakers being New York State Assemblyman Nader Sayegh (D-Yonkers) and Assemblyman Jon Rivera (D-Buffalo). Brown spoke and took questions for just over half an hour.
Brown opened by speaking of his beginnings. He was born in New York City before he went to Buffalo State College and majored in journalism and political science. In college, he got an internship in the City Council president’s office, and soon after college he was hired there as the City Council President’s executive secretary.
Brown soon after ran for office in the county legislature, when he said he was “attacked by one side, attacked by the other side and called ‘one of those young Turks, trying to come in and move out older, established elected officials.’” He lost the race by 164 votes. Brown then recounted his runs a few years later for City Council, and he reviewed his becoming the first Black man outside of New York City to be elected to the state senate. After that, he ran for mayor and won.
Brown also talked about his nationally followed run for a fifth term as mayor after he lost the 2021 Democratic primary to India Walton. “I won’t say that I underestimated my opponent,” Brown said, “but I felt like my opponent was completely inexperienced and unqualified for the position and would be a setback for the community. I thought the community would realize that.” Brown went on to run as a write-in candidate and won the election.
He then took time to answer questions. He was first asked for his views on mayoral term limits. The fifth-term mayor responded that he does not believe in term limits. “I think term limits should be decided by voters at the ballot box. And I think that if someone who’s doing well in the office, making a difference in the community, they should still be able to serve if they’re capable of serving.”
Next, Brown was asked about his inspirations for running for public office. Brown worked for Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns, the most successful Black presidential candidate up to that point, and cited those campaigns as inspirations. Brown continued, “But I think more than an inspirational figure, what drove me to run for office were the conditions that I was seeing in the community.”
Brown was also asked about and talked about the Tops shooting from May and the Black Lives Matter protests a few years ago. He talked about his efforts for police reform, but also discussed the problems he has encountered because of police unions, arguing that state — not city — policies give police unions power that makes reform difficult. He also discussed how his life has changed since the shooting, explaining that he knew three of the victims in the shooting personally. Also, since then, he has been invited to the White House multiple times and has gotten recognized throughout the country.
Dr. Sriram expects to have more speakers who have experience in politics to speak to his class throughout the rest of the semester.