Heading into the final hours before Tuesday’s Buffalo School Board elections, Carl P. Paladino had spent more than $25,000 of his own money to convince South Buffalo voters to choose him, the latest campaign finance filings show.
Jason M. McCarthy had raised more than $22,000 through the end of last week to try to retain his North District seat. The sums are part of a combined $70,000 that candidates have spent so far vying for positions that pay $5,000 a year.
But that collective amount is eclipsed by the money being spent by one group – widely believed to be the state teachers union – that is flooding mailboxes across the city with expensive, full-color smear ads trying to link various candidates to Paladino. In addition, the group sending the mailers is doing so illegally, far exceeding state spending limits.
The regional director of New York State United Teachers does not deny sending the ads, which have been distributed through a postal permit in Queens that is owned by a direct-mail company there.
Whoever is sending the glossy smear fliers has, by many accounts, succeeded in confusing voters. In addition, the group has violated state law that limits spending that is not authorized by candidates to $25 per candidate.
By the time the elections are over, whoever is sending the ads will likely have spent more than $100,000 – far more than any other money being spent on this year’s battle to determine control of the Board of Education.
Michael K. Deely, NYSUT regional director, initially told The Buffalo News that he was not responsible for the ads and had no idea who was sending them.
“I didn’t send them. NYSUT didn’t send them out,” he said in late April. “I don’t know who sent them out, but I’m glad they sent them out.”
A week later, Deely declined to deny that NYSUT had sent them.
“You should know after the election,” he said last week.
Deely did not respond to a request seeking comment for this article.
The postal permit in Queens has been used in previous elections by Service Employees International and other unions.
Fliers sowing confusion
Whoever is sending the mailers has sown confusion in the run-up to the elections.
“They are linking me to something that has nothing to do with me,” Bryon J. McIntyre, who is running for a seat representing part of the East Side and Allentown, said of the smear fliers linking him to Paladino. “That guy is running in another district. Whether he gets in or not has nothing to do with me.”
Candidates benefiting from the ads say that even they do not know who is sending the ads – but even some of them believe that the teachers union is responsible.
“I think it’s coming from NYSUT,” said Ralph R. Hernandez, who is waging a write-in campaign to retain his seat representing the West Side.
“It’s very expensive stuff. It’s not me, and I’m not doing it. But I’m very grateful for it. I hope they don’t send me an invoice, because I didn’t authorize any of it.”
Hernandez noted he was not consulted about any of the content in the ads. He said he does not condone the smear ads but does appreciate the positive ads promoting him that have been sent by the same entity behind the anti-Paladino ads.
Hernandez raised $1,800 for his campaign as of about a month ago – more than half of it from the Buffalo Teachers Federation, a NYSUT affiliate – and then stopped trying to raise any more money since early April.
“I haven’t been soliciting any money,” he said. “The people I know don’t have any money. My whole focus is on doing the door-to-door thing, trying to do it as economically as I can.”
Financial data not filed
Hernandez isn’t the only union-supported candidate benefiting from the ads who appears to have all but abandoned any fundraising of their own well before any of the ads started to appear in mailboxes.
Adrian F. Harris, who is running against Paladino, raised less than $500 as of early April and hasn’t raised any money since.
Sharon Belton-Cottman, the Ferry District incumbent, also stopped raising money. Her situation, though, is somewhat different. She is the only candidate on the ballot and thought she was running unopposed until recently, when a quiet write-in effort to unseat her by electing the Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer surfaced.
In a somewhat similar situation, East District incumbent Rosalyn L. Taylor was knocked off the ballot a couple of weeks ago, when hundreds of signatures on her nominating petitions were deemed invalid. SUNY Buffalo State Assistant Professor Theresa Harris-Tigg appeared to be the certain victor – until Taylor decided in the final few days of the race that she would, in fact, launch a write-in campaign to retain her seat.
It’s not clear how much money has been raised by some of the other candidates. That’s because many have not filed the required disclosure forms.
Mary Ruth Kapsiak, the Central District incumbent, missed Thursday’s deadline for the final finance report and had not filed by 3:30 p.m. Friday. Contacted by email this weekend, she said she had filed her report in City Hall on Friday. Asked to provide a copy of it to The News, she said she was too busy campaigning to do so.
Likewise, there was no financial disclosure in City Hall on Friday for Harris-Tigg, who is not supported by the union. She did not respond to requests for a copy of her report over the weekend.
McIntyre also had not filed a report but said he had not raised more than $500, which is the threshold over which candidates must detail their donations.
James M. Sampson, who is running against Hernandez, had raised more than $12,500 by the end of last week – including $2,500 from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, apparently the only large donation the group has made so far.
Susan L. Gillick, a union-backed candidate, had raised $7,190 of her own as of last week. Wendy S. Mistretta, who is running against Gillick and McCarthy in the North District, reported $1,060 in donations.
‘It’s all dirty politics’
One version of the ads being sent from the Queens postal permit features a picture of Park District candidate Paladino next to a picture of one of the candidates in another district who is not backed by the union. An arrow points to Paladino, saying, “This guy is the zero-experience, race-baiting, pornography-loving millionaire who wants to take over Buffalo schools.” Another arrow points to the other candidate and says, “And this guy thinks that’s just great.”
McIntyre, running in the Central District, was one of the candidates depicted in those ads. He said he was aghast when he saw them.
“How could anybody perceive me as a racist?” said McIntyre, who is African-American. “It’s just horrible.”
Some of the ads also call Paladino a “serial pornographer,” a term that refers to someone who creates pornography. While Paladino has admitted forwarding pornographic emails, he has not been accused of creating pornography.
A number of the ads refer to Sampson, McCarthy and McIntyre as Paladino’s “cronies.” None of the three has taken money from Paladino, according to disclosures they have filed. All three say they take offense to being characterized as a crony of his.
“It’s all dirty politics,” said McCarthy, much of whose funding came from businesspeople, Democratic officials and charter school supporters.
Three years ago, McCarthy was one of the beneficiaries of a similar situation, when Democrats for Education Reform spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads in the race without even talking to candidates. Mailers flooded voters’ homes then, McCarthy acknowledges, but they were not attack ads. Now, he says, he’s doing all he can to combat the anonymous ads seeking to smear him.
“I ran out of the $23,000 I raised, so I had to go out and raise more,” he said. “This is insane for a School Board race.”
The union-backed candidates benefiting from the anti-Paladino ads, as well as those targeted by them, agree on one thing: The ads have confused voters.
There are six seats open on the board, each representing a specific geographic area in the city. Paladino, for instance, is running for a seat representing South Buffalo. But because Paladino’s picture appears on ads sent to voters throughout much of the city, many voters think he is running citywide.
“I talked to one guy who’s convinced Carl Paladino is running in the West District,” said Sampson, who is running against Hernandez there. “It’s really confusing people.
“My guess is the opposition is of the belief that the more they get people muddled, the better.”