The anonymous group or groups trying to influence the Buffalo School Board election may be creating a new low in the coarseness of local politics, but at least one observer is predicting the efforts could produce a backlash.
Although no one has taken responsibility for the pricey mailers that continue targeting select candidates ahead of Tuesday’s elections, speculation remains rife that one or more well-funded unions are behind them.
And the state teachers union – which previously denied any involvement – now won’t deny it is sending them.
“You should know after the election,” said Mike Deely, regional director of the New York State United Teachers union, which claims 600,000 members statewide.
The mailers attack candidates opposed by the Buffalo Teachers Federation and endorse some they support. They’re all printed and sent out by Atlas Direct Mail, which owns the postal permit number that appears on the back.
“The pieces that are being mailed are some of the ugliest I’ve ever seen,” said Peter Reese, a local attorney versed in election law and election law finance. “What concerns me is, if you create an environment that is so reviling and so disgusting, and so expensive, who are we going to get to run?
“I’m also wondering if there will be a backlash.”
Atlas Direct has printed mailings in the past on behalf of unions, including the Service Employees International Union, but this particular client remains a mystery. An executive for the Long Island-based company, citing privacy concerns, refused to reveal the client’s identity and isn’t obligated to under election law.
Deely, of NYSUT, twice declined to say whether the union was involved with the mailers, backing away from a previous statement when he said that NYSUT “didn’t send them out.”
“I don’t really want to speak about the mailers until after the election,” Deely said.
Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Union, said the union “didn’t send them out, produce them, approve them or pay for them.”
When asked if the union played no role at all in the mailers going out, Rumore said, “I didn’t say that,” before adding, “I don’t know what that means. Did we know something was going out? Yes.”
The negative mailers all use candidate Carl Paladino as a whipping boy, mostly raising issues that first flared during his 2010 gubernatorial race.
They refer to emails he forwarded, described as pornographic and racist.
But instead of being sent to homes in the Park District, where Paladino is running, they’ve been mailed to voters in other district races in a bid to link Paladino with candidates the mailers are targeting for defeat.
The ads have particularly targeted Jason McCarthy, an incumbent running in the North District, and Bryon McIntyre an African-American seeking to oust incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak in the Central District, claiming they agree with race-baiting and pornography attributed to Paladino in their joint bid to “take over Buffalo schools.”
West District candidate James Sampson, who is running against incumbent Ralph Hernandez, has also been targeted in some of the mailers.
A major, local direct mail company that has handled numerous political mailers for clients throughout the Northeast estimated the cost of these mailers at roughly 33.3 cents per piece, or more than $13,000 per mailing. That 33.3 cents figure includes the printing, mailing services and New York City postage but excludes the additional design fees and markups an agency would charge.
Multiply that figure by the six different mailers that have been received by many voters so far, and the figure pushes the $80,000 mark. That’s assuming that the mailers target roughly 40,000 “prime voters” – residents with a track record of voting in local elections – in the contested school districts.
Positive, pro-candidate mailers with the same postal permit number have been sent in support of Kapsiak and Susan Gillick, who along with Wendy Mistretta is running against McCarthy. Neither Gillick nor Kapsiak said they knew who was behind them.
Gillick said the negative mailings trashing Paladino and McCarthy were “not helpful to me, not at all.” When asked if she would prefer that the mailers in support of her would stop, she said, “I don’t have an opinion on that.”
Kapsiak said she had no way to find out who anonymously put the mailer out on her behalf and didn’t want to discuss the negative ads being sent against her opponent.
“I am not going to comment on something someone else is doing,” Kapsiak said.
McCarthy said his door-to-door campaigning has shown him that the negative ads are working.
“They’re just dirty, they’re so low,” he said. “But people actually believe this stuff, and that’s the unfortunate part. You would believe I’m trying to take over the school district?”
It also hurts on a personal level, he said.
“My wife was very upset by the first one. My daughter is too young to read them, but imagine if I had an 8-year-old who could read that I was associated with someone they claim is a pornographer or into bestiality, which they can’t even spell correctly.”
Paladino – who has generated his share of criticism in the past for what many perceive to be insensitive remarks – also said the mailers had taken a personal toll.
“They haven’t mailed it into South Buffalo, and to this day no kid has brought one to school to show my daughter what they’re writing about me, and I thank God about it,” Paladino said.
“As much as these school union people say they’re not involved, I haven’t seen any of them denounce it.”
However, Rumore said he did take exception to one of the charges leveled against Paladino – that of being an adulterer.
“I would never condone anything like that. I wouldn’t say I liked everything else, but I thought that was unacceptable. You don’t bring people’s family into this stuff, but I don’t have any control over that.”
News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org