Call it the Paladino factor.
Love him or hate him, outspoken developer and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has done more than any other candidate to raise awareness and raise the stakes in city School Board elections that are otherwise widely ignored by voters.
He is unabashedly doing his part to derail incumbent candidates whom he considers incompetent and ineffective, while downplaying his own major role as a developer of charter schools. He’s also drawing the kind of polarizing attention one would expect from a controversial power broker.
City residents who doubt that need only check their mailboxes. In virtually every contested School Board district, double-sided, glossy, full-color mailers have gone out this week claiming that Paladino promotes racism, pornography and sexual deviancy, and lacks family values.
Though Paladino is only running for the Park District seat, one of several similarly designed anti-Paladino mailers also have gone out in the North, Central and West districts. Each time a different candidate’s name has been substituted at the end of the sentence: “Vote no to Carl Paladino and his crony (insert name).”
The candidate names rotated through this sentence include “cronies” James Sampson, president of the Gateway-Longview child services agency; Bryon McIntyre, a parent and vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council; and incumbent Jason McCarthy, a restaurant manager and dog park founder.
Paladino said all this attention is helping him more than it’s hurting him. “I think this energizes voters,” he said of the mailings. “I think people are going to look at this and say, ‘This is the kind of [stuff] that has to stop.’ ”
The anonymous mailers refer mainly to racist and pornographic emails that Paladino had sent to friends, which became a major issue in his gubernatorial run against Andrew M. Cuomo in 2010.
Paladino has accused the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the New York State United Teachers union of distributing what he calls “malicious and slanderous” mailers. The mailers were sent from a post office in Queens. The Buffalo News found that the postal permit used to mail the ads is held by Atlas Direct Mail of Long Island City.
BTF President Philip Rumore told The News he had heard about the mailers but did not know who sent them.
Mike Deely, regional director for NYSUT, said the statewide union had nothing to do with the mailers. “I didn’t send them out. NYSUT didn’t send them out,” he said. “I don’t know who sent them out, but I’m glad they sent them out. I’m glad someone is making the connections to Carl and the thugs he supports, that he’s bad for education.”
One of the so-called Paladino cronies is McIntyre, who received BTF support when he ran for an at-large seat four years ago. The union gave McIntyre $800 that year, according to disclosure reports.
This year, McIntyre is running for a seat in the Central District against School Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak, a retired Buffalo Public Schools teacher and administrator. The BTF has consistently supported Kapsiak and has given her $500 for this year’s race so far.
West District candidate Sampson called the fliers “shameful” and said he couldn’t believe someone would send out expensive slam pieces for a School Board election. “I received mine yesterday, and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” he said.
North District candidate McCarthy and Central District candidate McIntyre said they are running independent campaigns and that it’s obvious that the teachers unions are going after them.
“Who else would do this? You think any of my opponents could afford this?” McCarthy said. “Let’s not be fools.”
Though Paladino said he’s not in cahoots with other candidates, he doesn’t deny influencing board elections in other ways. He claimed credit Thursday for helping to get incumbent East District board member Rosalyn Taylor thrown off the ballot and aggressively engineering the downfall of veteran West District board member Ralph Hernandez, who has received $1,000 from the BTF.
“I sent people to look at [Hernandez’s] petitions,” Paladino said. “I retained the lawyer to bring the action to get rid of him.”
Hernandez was thrown off the ballot Wednesday for not having enough valid signatures on his petitions. A State Supreme Court justice will decide Tuesday if he will appear on the ballot or be reduced to a write-in campaign.
Paladino is a unique candidate in that he alone has heavy financial stakes in both charter and public schools. That has raised questions about future conflicts of interest if he’s elected.
His Ellicott Development Co. or an affiliate has renovated and leased space to Middle Early College, a district public school at 290 Main St.; Health Sciences Charter School; Tapestry Charter School; and West Buffalo Charter School, whose building at 113 Lafayette St. was renovated at a cost of $3.8 million and opened last August. The annual lease is $203,982.
“When charter schools start up, they have no building or money, and without somebody to give you that capital investment, there would be no way that one would be put up,” said West Charter President Joseph Cozzo. “Mr. Paladino helped us find the building in a location we desired, and he developed the building for us with his own funds that required him to secure loans. We would not be in existence without him.”
Paladino also guaranteed a $12 million loan that allowed Tapestry to move forward five years ago after the school failed to get financing from other banks, said Teo Balbach, chairman of the school’s board.
Paladino said he took the financial risk because he’s a believer in charter schools. He declined to discuss details about his contracts.
“We make a fair profit,” he said. “We build [that] into the operation, and we give them the option to buy any time they want. I’m not interested in the long term in being a landlord of charter schools. If they can come in and relieve me of all that anxiety, I’m happy about that.”
He told The News he will avoid conflicts of interest that could arise from his involvement as a school developer.
“I will recuse myself from anything I have a self-interest in,” said Paladino, who’s also a lawyer. “If somebody wants to do a charter, and I’m part of the approval process, I would not get involved with it.”