School Board Election in Buffalo Swings to Union-Backed Candidates

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Buffalo, New York School Board elections took place on Tuesday, with the number of voters was nearly as large as the number who voted in 2013. The unofficial number of ballots cast was 13,119.

But when measured against the 13,159 voters in 2013 and the 7,175 in 2010, which were the last two years that district seats were contested, the continuing interest will no doubt benefit Buffalo schools, according to Sandra Tan of The Buffalo News.

Election inspectors and political observers predicted that the voter turnout would be less than in the high-profile 2013 races. But it became apparent that candidates that had union backing seemed to have more manpower, drive, and money than incumbents on the board and their allied candidates.

It seemed that those without the support of the union were more frenzied and confused than those candidates who were challenging them. As it turned out, two of the three “majority-bloc incumbents” lost their seats.

A businessman and supporter of Donald Trump, Carl Paladino, seemed to have won his re-election to the Buffalo School Board, receiving more votes than his opponent – a high school student.

However, Paladino’s slim lead did not include 140 absentee ballots received by the Board of Elections. The businessman has received attention as one of the most active allies of presidential candidate Donald Trump in New York. He is the co-chairman of Trump’s campaign in the state.

Paladino ran as the Republican nominee for governor of New York in 2010, but on Tuesday, 69-year-old Paladino was only roughly 100 votes away from losing his position on the school board to 18-year-old student Austin Harig, writes Ken Sturtz for the Syracuse Media Group.

The Associated Press reports that Harig believed that Paladino’s “no-holds-barred” stance is hurtful to schools. Harig added that the dysfunction of the board’s members has ended in too many lawsuits which use district money for legal fees. Those dollars, he says, would be better spent on schools. When the voting was counted, Paladino squeaked by Harig and will remain on the board.

Paladino joined the board in 2013 and became one of the new voting majority who were in support of charter and community schools.

But the winds of change are blowing in Buffalo, and the final result of the Tuesday elections ended the current majority. The board’s majority is now made up of members who are backed by the union.

The Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) unseated two members of the board and took three of the other seats that were available. Sharon Belton-Cottman is a current board member and also is backed by the teachers union.

The results of the election were indicative of dissatisfaction on the part of many of the voters who turned out to change the direction of the district.

“Community can take a stand against money, against greed, against power,” said Jennifer L. Mecozzi, who handily ousted School Board President James P. Sampson from his seat representing the West District. “We got our own power.”

The most important changes by the board will likely be the manner in which the board negotiates with BTF, which happens to be operating under a contract that expired ten years ago, report The Buffalo News’ Tiffany Lankes, Deidre Williams, and Jay Rey.