Buffalo in the ’90s: Councilman Byron Brown faces a primary challenge

By Steve Cichon

This series of photos dates back to 1997, when Masten District Common Council Member Byron Brown was facing a primary to return to his seat two years after defeating 18-year incumbent David Collins for the job.

Buffalo News archives

The freshman lawmaker was among those who faced heat from constituents after voting for the highly controversial garbage fee which Mayor Anthony Masiello made a part of the year’s budget, but in endorsing Brown over two community activists in the Democratic primary, The News called him an “intelligent, ambitious, hard-working representative” and said he “seems to overflow with effective ideas and actions to improve life in Masten and bring hope to its citizens.”

“Brown, the live wire, clearly deserves another term,” concluded that 1997 Democratic primary endorsement. He ran unopposed in the general election, and was elected to three terms on Buffalo’s Common Council.

In 2000, Brown became the first African-American State Senator elected outside of New York City, as he defeated incumbent Al Coppola in the Democratic primary and then the general election.


As Masiello sought re-election in 1997, Brown was mentioned as a possible candidate for the job during the next mayoral election in 2001. Brown himself did little to dissuade that thinking, disagreeing with the notion that Masiello’s re-election was tantamount to a mandate from the voters.

“People think the city is moving in the right direction,” Brown said speaking of Masiello’s leadership, “but they want to see more.”

Masiello won re-election again 2001, but when he announced his retirement before the next mayoral cycle, State Senator Byron W. Brown was elected Buffalo’s 62nd mayor in 2005.

The year these photos were taken, the then-councilmember also made the list of Western New York’s most beautiful people.

In the 1997 “Buffalo” magazine story “Turning Heads- The Most Beautiful People in Western New York,” Brown was listed with the likes of Michael Peca.

Look up the word “smooth” in the dictionary. Byron Brown’s picture might be there.

 Brown, 38, a Common Council member since January 1996, exudes confidence and serenity. He’s unflappable. Or at least he remembers when he used to be that way.

 “I’m a lot less serene in this job,” says Brown. “I can’t sleep through the night, which never happened before. The job is so awesome. There is so much to do.”

 Brown is another person who says the real beauty in the family is his spouse. “Wherever we go, people always notice my wife, Michelle, and mention how attractive she is,” he says.

 Still, Brown believes looking the part helps establish the right attitude. “If I’m playing basketball, I want to have the right equipment,” he says. “If I’m in an office, I want to look professional and poised.”


What it looked like Wednesday: The Apollo Theatre, 1941

By Steve Cichon

With much fanfare, the Apollo — featuring cornice carved ceilings, an art nouveau lobby, a rich red rug, and soft, velvet-covered seats opened to the public in April, 1941.

Buffalo News archives

The Basil family operated it like all its theaters, as a neighborhood moviehouse, with special attention to what kids might want to spend their Saturday afternoons watching.

Through most of the theater’s heyday, its Jefferson Avenue address put it at the center of the commercial hub of Buffalo’s black community. Since the mid-’90s, the theater has served as a central location upon which to bring hope to the surrounding community.

The Apollo closed as a theater in the early ’70s and then operated as a church before being seized by the city in the ’80s. By 1995, it had been boarded up and mostly abandoned.

Masten District Councilmember Byron Brown helped lead discussions inside City Hall to make the theater’s renovation part of a plan to bring new life to Jefferson Avenue.

In 1998, plans were unveiled for $3 million worth of city funded renovations to turn the landmark into a telecommunications hub for the city. Aside from city television facilities, the building also became home to a small business resource center.