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Does education really matter most in the Buffalo mayor's race?

So, according to the Siena College poll commissioned by the Buffalo News and WGRZ, education ranked first as the "single most important" issue in voters' decisions of who to vote for in the Democratic mayoral primary between incumbent Mayor Byron Brown and challenger Bernie Tolbert.

But is it really?

Here are the actual poll results:

Q: What issue would say is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT in your decision of who to vote for in the Democratic Mayoral Primary?

  • 29% Education
  • 24% Economic development
  • 20% Jobs
  • 19% Crime
  • 4% Other
  • 2% City taxes

The same poll shows 63 percent of surveyed voters voting for Brown, and only 30 percent voting for Tolbert. On the surface, this might naturally suggest that more voters believe Brown is a key person of influence when it comes to turning around the troubled Buffalo city school district.

But the truth is, during Brown's time as mayor, he has routinely distanced himself from the many serious issues facing Buffalo City Schools. That's no secret. Even Gov. Cuomo last week paraphrased Brown's comments that "I have nothing to do with the schools."

Brown has, in an election year, paid for the hiring of two district attendance teachers and found $400,000 to reinstate cut school music programs for one year. He's also been a big supporter of Say Yes to Education. But in terms of overall city leadership, Brown has attached himself to issues of economic development far more than educational ones. It's no surprise that his Democratic and Republican challengers have chosen to exploit this fact in their own campaign platforms. 

This is explained when looking at a further breakdown the poll numbers. Supporters of Brown list economic develop as the top priority (28%), followed by education as the second priority (24%). Meanwhile, supporters of Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert list education as the top priority (35%) and crime as the second priority (15%). Economic development rates third for Tolbert supporters (16%).

The poll tells us that a majority of voters like Mayor Brown, and a significant number of voters believe education is the biggest issue facing the city. But if Brown hasn't been a front runner on education issues, clearly, most voters aren't holding that against him when other signs of economic development are positive ones.

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | [email protected]


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | [email protected]


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | [email protected]


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | [email protected]

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