BUFFALO NY - As the saying goes, you can prove anything with statistics except the truth.
And at the first Buffalo mayoral debate at The Buffalo News auditorium on Wednesday, the three candidates certainly threw out a lot of statistics. Incumbent Democrat Byron Brown, Democratic challenger Bernie Tolbert and Republican challenger Sergio Rodriguez spit facts left and right about education, graduation rates, unemployment, jobs, downtown development and the economy.
They also talked about crime. A lot. The candidates made opposite claims about crime rates, and in a way, they were all correct, depending on the context in which they presented the statistics. Rodriguez said homicide rates have increased in the city of Buffalo. FBI stats show from 2011 to 2012, homicides did indeed increase from 36 to 48.
Brown said homicide rates have decreased in the city of Buffalo. The city has recorded 25 homicides in 2013 so far, and according to a city spokesperson, that number stood at 27 at this point in 2012. Brown later said that crime has dropped overall since 2005. Tolbert couldn't believe that statement, and he later said that if you walk the streets and talk to the people of Buffalo, "they're not seeing it."
So who's right?
You can listen to the challengers:
"For the administration to claim that crime has gone down... maybe dog-napping has gone down," Rodriguez said during the debate, "But shootings and homicides are up! They're up!"
And you can listen to the Mayor:
"We're going to provide you all with the accurate statistics so you have them," Brown said after the debate. "So in the future, you don't have to listen to this nonsense."
Instead of relying on campaign rhetoric, you can instead look at the real numbers. When Rodriguez makes the blanket claim that "homicides are up" in Buffalo, he's ignoring statistics from previous years. When Brown says that "homicides are down," he's also ignoring the stats from 2011 to 2012.
Here's a look at the amount of homicides during each year since 2006, according to the city's website:
2012: 49 (FBI statistics show 48)
2013: 25, through Aug. 14
As you can see, the numbers are all over the place, and although homicides increased in 2012 - the last report from the FBI - there were still fewer in Buffalo than in 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2006.
The candidates debated several other issues besides homicide rates, of course. They spent the first few minutes of the debate arguing about education and how to improve the city's graduation rates, even though the mayor has no control over the school district. If elected, Rodriguez said he would be in favor of the mayor running the Buffalo Public Schools. Tolbert also called for more mayoral involvement in the schools, while Brown said he remained committed to partnering with the Board of Education on education matters.
On the topic of jobs and unemployment, Rodriguez cited statistics claiming there were more people out of jobs now than when Brown took office. Brown noted that he took office before the global recession, and that jobless numbers have increased across the country.
In a humorous moment, all three candidates agreed for the need to explore a downtown facility for the Buffalo Bills.
"Whoever said we couldn't agree on anything?!" Rodriguez said.
Of course, they eventually went back to disagreeing. During closing statements, the challengers once again criticized Brown's handling of Buffalo, just as they have in their recent ad campaigns.
"This is a city in trouble," Tolbert said.