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Byron Brown is unraveling right before our very eyes

The political self-destruction of Byron Brown gained momentum this weekend.

And continued this morning (see updates below).

First there was the mayor's refusal to respond to questions posed last week by Brian Meyer while reporting his block-buster story in which three sources told The News that police, after apprehending Leonard Stokes two years ago on suspicion of using a stolen handicapped parking permit, were ordered to release him after a highly unusual trip to the mayor's office.

Brown, when asked if the allegations were true, instead offered a no-comment.

"I will say to you I have no comment on your story."

Which a lot of people read as an admission of guilt. The mayor followed up the next day by saying the accusations are politically motivated.

"This is clearly politically motivated. The timing is very questionable."

Yeah, maybe, but are the accusations true?

Brown continued to stonewall.

"This was two years ago," Brown repeated. "What we're trying to do is get all the facts."

What's the mayor going to do, interview himself?

I had my own suspicions as to what the "fact finding" might involve - perhaps trying to smoke out the police officers who the mayor suspects of spilling the beans -- and Niagara Common Council Member David Rivera accused Brown of doing just that at a press conference Sunday.

Rivera said he's been told by a source in the department that Joel Daniels, a prominent defense attorney, has started calling officers involved in Stokes' apprehension in an effort to question them. Rivera said Daniels has represented that he's acting on behalf of the mayor. The Councilman, a retired cop himself, said the very act of having Daniels call officers amounts to "a form of intimidation."

Calls to Daniels and Peter Cutler, the mayor's spokesman, brought strenuous denials that the mayor has "retained" Daniels.

But Daniels then gave a string of curious "no comments," when asked whether he was acting in a less-formal capacity and if he had started contacting officers.

As I report in Monday's News:

  "I'm not going to comment on whether I've made inquiries," he said.

   Is he working for the mayor in a capacity short of being formally retained?

   "I can't discuss that, can't comment on that," he said.

 Cutler, meanwhile, confirmed that the administration has started "fact finding" in the   Stokes matter, but declined to comment when asked for details.

   "I'm not going to go into detail. I don't think it's relevant," Cutler said.

Daniels issued his "no comments" after I had spoken to Cutler, so I called the mayor's spokesman back for further clarification. It was the administration's opportunity to dampen the speculation that arose from Daniel's comments. Let's face it, the string of "no comments" coming from a media savvy guy like Daniels can be easily construed as meaning "something is up, but I can't tell you the details." 

Cutler failed to return the phone call. I deal with Cutler a lot and consider his failure to return the call telling.

I'm not sure what they teach politicians and their flak at Damage Control 101, but I'm pretty sure it's not to issue "no comments" that are likely to be interpreted by many in the public as a confirmation of guilt.

And I'm pretty sure that they also don't teach the pols to ensure that the negative front-page story on Sunday is followed up by another negative front-page story on Monday by either (1) hiring a lawyer to smoke out the supposed rat finks or (2) have the attorney issue a string of no comments that only fuel speculation.

Brown and company just may have done what Mickey Kearns has failed miserably at: make a contest out of the Sept. 15 Democratic primary for mayor.

Brown had been considered a lock and remains a favorite. But the string of stories revealing the administration's misdeeds and missteps -- coupled with the mayor's pattern of responses that involve one part "I didn't know," one part "no comment," and one part "all my critics are politically motivated" -- have made a bad situation worse.

What little polling I'm aware of suggests that while Brown is leading, Kearns is gaining ground. Moreover, the polls supposedly show there are a lot of undecided voters and I can't image the news of the past month is going to win Brown many converts.

There are legitimate concerns as to whether Kearns would be a good mayor - lots of people think he's been a lousy candidate - but I sense that a growing number of voters are more unhappy about what they know about Brown than are uneasy about what they don't know about Kearns.

Whether that translates into an upset on primary day remains to be seen. I still think it's unlikely. But I no longer think it's inconceivable.

Update, Tuesday, 12:10 p.m. -- Brown got emotional in exchange with reporters this morning, said, among other things, that he's though talking about the matter. Brian Meyer has this story, which includes an audio clip of the exchange. 

Update, Tuesday, 12;50 p.m. -- The Buffalo Pundit has weighed in, as well, and his post includes a video clip of the Rivera's  press conference on Sunday.




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