BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has been connected to the presidential vacancy at Buffalo State University for months, with many speculating Brown could leave his record fifth term early for the top job at his alma mater.

“My focus remains on leading the City of Buffalo day in and day out and to continue the progress we started in 2006,” Brown said last week in his latest statement on the matter, though he has never completely shot down the rumors when asked. “From time to time, my family and I discuss the future and the possibilities that may exist. I certainly have a great fondness for my alma mater but as I’ve said my top priority at this time is making sure our City continues to grow and move forward.”

According to Buffalo State’s presidential search website, the top five candidates will be invited to campus to meet with a range of constituent groups, local leaders, and the Buffalo State Council sometime in late September or early October. Once those meetings are complete, the Buffalo State Council will recommend three finalists to the SUNY chancellor for further consideration. The school says it will reveal the names of the candidates invited to campus 48 hours before each visit.

If Brown is selected for the job and decides to move on to the post-political phase of his career, New York’s second-largest city would have its first change in leadership in nearly two decades. Who would take over as mayor?

The transfer of power is laid out in Buffalo’s city charter.

Next in line to be mayor

Article 4, Section 5 of Buffalo’s charter specifically addresses a mayoral vacancy.

Should the mayor resign, the president of the Buffalo Common Council inherits the mayor’s powers and duties and becomes acting mayor until the Board of Elections conducts a special election to serve the remainder of the term.

In the case of a vacancy in the office of mayor caused by the mayor’s resignation, removal, death or permanent inability to discharge the powers and duties of the office of mayor, such powers and duties shall devolve upon the president of the common council who shall fill the vacancy in the office of the mayor until the first day of January following the next general election at which a mayor may, pursuant to law, be elected for the balance of the term. Upon commencement of the term of office of the mayor so elected, the president of the common council then acting as mayor, shall complete the term of his or her office, if any remains.

Buffalo Charter, Article 4-5

The current Common Council president is Darius Pridgen, a well-connected community leader and senior pastor at True Bethel Baptist Church who has represented the Ellicott District since 2011.

However, Pridgen announced in January that he will not seek re-election. If Brown were to leave office in the next few months, Pridgen would become acting mayor through the end of the year, but his term expires Dec. 31.

If Brown were to resign in 2024 — or if Pridgen’s term ended while he was serving as acting mayor — the person in line to become acting mayor would be whomever is selected as the next Common Council president.

How the Common Council president is selected

The process for selecting the Common Council president is described in Article 3 of the city charter.

While council members serve four-year terms, members elect a new president every two years. The vote is held at their organizational meeting on Jan. 2 of every even-numbered year.

That means the nine members of the Common Council will lobby each other and campaign amongst themselves to secure votes for president — and they have likely already started maneuvering. They could offer support for other members’ campaign platforms, help with committee appointments, or support for projects in other members’ districts. Members may vote for themselves.

Finding the permanent replacement

If Brown were to resign, the Common Council president’s hold on the position would only be temporary. The Board of Elections would conduct a formal election to fill the seat, likely taking place on the date of the next November general election. The winner would take office on Jan. 1 of the following year and serve the rest of Brown’s term, which runs through 2025.

The requirements to be on the ballot for the special election would be typical: Candidates would need to collect signatures, earn a party nomination through the primary process, and of course, meet the city’s residency requirement. An additional wrinkle is that if Brown were to resign too close to a November election — likely any time after April — the parties could be asked to nominate their own candidate for the special election in lieu of a primary election.

Hectic timeline

An additional reason political observers have focused on Brown’s connection to the Buffalo State job is the hectic timeline his resignation could create. The domino effect of Brown leaving office early would set up frenzied political cycle in a city that has only had three mayors since 1978.

If Brown were to leave City Hall for the Buffalo State job in January, for example, it could set up the following change of power:

  • January 2024: Newly elected Common Council president becomes acting mayor
  • November 2024: Election held to serve the remainder of Brown’s term
  • January 2025: Winner of election takes office to serve Brown’s final year
  • November 2025: Election held for next four-year mayoral term
  • January 2026: Winner of general election takes office for term that runs through 2029

Extrapolating out political scenarios to the end of the decade may feel remote, but the sequence of events could unfold quickly if Brown decides to turn his sights to the future.

“I get approached about other jobs all the time,” Brown said when asked about the Buffalo State vacancy in a June sit-down interview with News 4. “But I am focused on being mayor.”

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Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as the Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook, Twitter and Threads. See more of his work here.