By Robert J. McCarthy
A few observations from a panelist in Tuesday's mayoral debate at Channel 17 studios:
-- Neither challenger -- Republican Sergio Rodriguez nor Democrat Bernie Tolbert -- scored the "direct hit" on incumbent Byron W. Brown. Both are trailing badly in the polls, but neither offered any startling revelation or made a sensational accusation that might set a new course for the race.
-- Tuesday's debate was especially important. It occurred before the next Buffalo News/Channel 2 poll, allowing the next set of respondents to be as familiar with the trio of candidates as possible. And it likely had most widespread exposure of any of the debates.
-- Brown remained consistent in his stand on the state's new gun control law -- the NY SAFE Act. The News reported in February that the mayor refused to take a position on two key provisions -- a ban on assault weapons and a limit on bullets in an ammo clip. Despite repeated questions, he again avoided answering during the Tuesday faceoff.
-- Rodriguez may have gained the most. He demonstrated a knowledge of facts and figures, and generated the most "buzz" from the session. The question now is will he move up in the polls in a city with a 7-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage.
-- When Tolbert was questioned about criticism over a lack of "passion" in his campaign, he stepped up to the plate with one of the most passionate defenses of his love for Buffalo during the campaign.
-- Brown may have elicited a fair amount of sympathy in a discussion about crime, and how it is he -- and only he -- who shows up crime scenes and funerals.
-- None of the candidates showed any support for extending Metro Rail, despite the key role the subway is expected to play in servicing the expanded Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Though other government funding sources may be available, none of three men who might lead the city for the next four years seems interested in supplying dollars from Buffalo.