BUFFALO - The three men at the podium didn't place nice on Tuesday.
In the third mayoral debate, Democratic incumbent Byron Brown spent a considerable amount of time and energy fighting off verbal jabs from Democrat Bernie Tolbert and Republican Sergio Rodriguez, both of whom continued their aggressive campaigns as heavy underdogs in both the polls and campaign-finance department.
WEB EXTRA: You can watch a portion of the debate in the video player above.
Brown set the tone early by uttering the word "progress" four times in his opening statement, but his challengers used the rest of the evening to dispute his initiatives in Buffalo and blast him for leading a city they say has rampant crime, poverty and a broken public school system.
Rodriguez made his criticism personal.
"I attribute the success of the Waterfront to Mayor Higgins," he said, pausing. "Or, rather, Congressman Higgins."
Of course, Rodriguez was referencing President Barack Obama's gaffe during his visit to the University at Buffalo on Thursday, in which he accidentally mixed up Brown and Congressman Brian Higgins's respective political roles. Rodriguez, who will await the winner of the Democratic primary (set for Sept. 10) in the general election in November, seemed particularly aggressive, often straying from his script to crack jokes and keep the mood informal. At one point, after Brown offered a short response to a question, he asked the moderator if he could use the extra allotted time for himself.
That's not to say that Tolbert didn't go on the offensive himself, though. On the issue of crime, Tolbert said Brown's administration has its "head in the sand."
He also took issue with a panelist's assertion that his campaign has lacked energy. Tolbert's television ads have heavily criticized Brown's handling of the city, and he also used Obama's gaffe in a recent ad.
"My mother accuses me of being married to the city, and she says, 'you ought to think about a divorce or taking some time off'," Tolbert said. "As your mayor, you won't find anybody more energetic everyday."
That husband-wife analogy elicited a quick one-liner from Brown.
"Well, if Mr. Tolbert has been married to the city, he's sure been an absentee husband. Because before he came back to Buffalo to run for mayor, I haven't seen him anywhere doing anything."
Earlier on Tuesday, Rodriguez unveiled a 12-point plan to stop crime in the city and refutes the mayor's claims that crime has dropped during his tenure. Both he and Tolbert mentioned the FBI's classification of Buffalo as the country's 11th-most dangerous city in the United States.
Rodriguez also continued to tout statistics that he said showed an increase in gun-related homicides and shootings.
"I have heard so many figures from Mr. Rodriguez that are all wrong, I'm glad he's not a math teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools," Brown said. "The kids wouldn't be learning very much."
Speaking of schools, Rodriguez once again said he would seek full control of the Buffalo Public School system if elected mayor, mirroring the situation in New York City with Michael Bloomberg. Tolbert said he wouldn't push for full control, but he still criticized Brown for not having enough involvement in the district, which is independent of the mayor's office.
"Unlike the current administration, I'm not afraid to step up and be a leader and face the fact that nothing's more important in our city right now than the future and education of our children," Tolbert said.
Make sure to watch Channel 2 News at Six on Wednesday. Investigative Post Editor Jim Heaney will put the candidate's claims to the truth test. Heaney was in the audience at Tuesday's debate and will let you know what was factual and what was not in a special report, Wednesday at six.