Three incumbents will return to the Buffalo Board of Education, and three new faces will join them, city voters determined Tuesday.
Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak will retain her seat for another three years, as will Sharon Belton-Cottman in the Ferry District and Jason M. McCarthy in the North District.
Among the new faces on the board will be Carl P. Paladino, who swept his South Buffalo district with 79 percent of the vote. East District candidate Theresa Harris-Tigg took her seat with 72 percent of the vote over write-in incumbent Rosalyn Taylor. In the West District, Erie County control board Chairman James M. Sampson defeated longtime incumbent Ralph Hernandez.
Kapsiak defeated Bryon McIntyre with 59 percent of the vote in the Central District. In the Ferry District, incumbent Belton-Cottman kept her seat with 70 percent of all ballots cast.
North District incumbent McCarthy also retained his seat, with 47 percent of the vote, over challengers Susan Gillick, who had 37 percent, and Wendy Mistretta, who had 15 percent.
People in South Buffalo turned out in droves – relative to past School Board elections, anyway – to cast ballots for Paladino, the former gubernatorial candidate, over challenger Adrian F. Harris.
Across the city as a whole, voter turnout was 70 percent higher than it was for the last School Board election three years ago, according to a Buffalo News analysis. Tuesday, 11,936 people cast ballots, compared with just over 7,000 in the last election.
Voter turnout specifically in South Buffalo was literally 10 times higher this year than it was in the last School Board election three years ago, which was uncontested, and 50 percent higher than in 2007, which featured a four-way race.
More than 3,200 people Tuesday cast ballots in South Buffalo, many of them drawn to the polls to vote for one of Buffalo’s wealthiest men and one of the most outspoken critics of the school district.
“I kind of like Carl Paladino. I think he’s going to change things. That’s what we need, a change,” said Don Ort, a retired city worker who came out to vote at Notre Dame Academy. “I think it’s good to get a shake-up.”
Paladino said he expects his victory to lead to other candidates throwing their hat in the ring in the future.
“I think it’s going to ring around the city that it’s time to face the problems in this town, and our education system is the No. 1 problem right now,” he said.
He said he was stunned by the voter turnout in South Buffalo.
“I went around to every district today; it was overwhelming,” he said. “By 5:30 p.m. today, I was physically exhausted. This was such a unique outpouring because they wanted so much to make a statement that they’ve had enough. And they did, they made their statement.”
As a sitting board member, he said, he intends to go after school district leadership, including Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and her supporters.
“We need a good leader,” he said. “We need someone who understands our system.”
The race in the West District was the closest in the city, with Sampson claiming 54 percent of the vote over Hernandez.
Lifelong West Side resident Mary Spezio said she didn’t want to vote for an incumbent in the West District race.
“We need a change,” she said, “that’s what I think.”
Hernandez said the write-in campaign was responsible for some of the vote gap, but much of the difference comes from people’s faith in Sampson and his ability to do the job.
“I wish him the very best, and I’m prepared to do whatever I need to do to make his transition work and be positive,” he said. “I did the best I could given the circumstances, and we move on.”
He added that he liked Sampson as a candidate when he interviewed for a prior, midterm vacancy on the board.
“I liked him from the very beginning,” Hernandez said. “I have a lot of respect for the man. I think he’ll do a good job.”
Dennis Ward, one of two commissioners with the Erie County Board of Elections, observed Tuesday evening that turnout was obviously higher overall than past years but still low compared with other elections held in November.
While the increase in voters this year is significant, those voting Tuesday represented just over 8 percent of registered voters in the city.
“There’s more activity, there’s no question,” he said.
In the East District, voter turnout was up more than 50 percent from 2010, despite the fact that there was only one candidate on the ballot this year.
Mariyama Ajamu recruited a neighbor to come vote with her Tuesday evening at the Schiller Park Senior Citizens Center on Genesee Street.
“The Buffalo School District is not even close to where it needs to be, so we need a change,” Ajamu said.
She voted for Harris-Tigg, and said she also supported McIntyre, who was running in the Central District.
“They’re not there for their personal interest. They’re there to improve things for the children,” Ajamu said. “They’ve been very active in the community for a long time – and actions speak louder than words.”
Ward noted that turnout was surprisingly high in the North District – 20 percent higher than in 2010 – where three candidates were running for a single open seat.
At Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood Avenue, poll workers nearly ran out of ballots and had to call the Board of Elections for more, Ward said.
In the West District, many of those voting for Hernandez used rubber stamps given to them by Hernandez supporters standing outside polling places.
But even those who stamped Hernandez’s name on their ballots in the write-in box had difficulty with their ballots. Poll workers reported that the voting machines kept initially rejecting ballots because write-in candidates failed to fill in the round circle in the write-in box on the ballots.
Despite his write-in status, Hernandez gave Sampson a run for his money in this year’s election, but apparently not enough to overcome Sampson.
In the Central District, Kapsiak soundly defeated McIntyre, an active parent in the district.
One voter said she admired the fact that Kapsiak was an educator who rose through the ranks. “She’s an incumbent,” said a retired Cary Street resident who was one of only 29 voters at her polling place at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School as of 7 p.m. “I know her, and I think she does a really good job. I really do.”
School Board election results:
Central District: Mary Ruth Kapsiak 59%, Bryon J. McIntyre 35%, Write Ins/Undervotes 5%
East District: Theresa A. Harris-Tigg 72%, Rosalyn L. Taylor 28%
Ferry District: Sharon Belton-Cottman 70%, Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer 30%
North District: Jason M. McCarthy 47%, Susan Gillick 37%, Wendy Mistretta 15%, Write Ins/Undervotes 1%
Park District: Carl P. Paladino 79%, Adrian F. Harris 20%, Write Ins/Undervotes 1%
West District: James M. Sampson 54%, Ralph R. Hernandez 46%
Source: Erie County Board of Elections