Voter interest was highest in South Buffalo’s Park District this morning, where developer and former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino says he’s running to shake up the Buffalo Board of Education.
Poll workers at two South Buffalo locations and an Erie County election commissioner said turnout was higher there than usual for a School Board race, which pits Paladino against political novice Adrian Harris for the Park District seat.
Some North District polling places also appeared to have a boost in turnout, with at least one polling place showing a tenfold increase by early afternoon – from a few dozen to a few hundred, according to polling workers there.
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“The turnout is generally low [across the city], with the Park District seeming a little higher than the norm,” Ralph Mohr, one of Erie County’s two election commissioners, said of the early morning voting.
East Side polling places were very quiet in the early morning.
It remained to be seen whether the light morning turnout in some other districts would pick up through the day and evening, before polls close at 9 p.m., and reverse the abysmally low turnout rate that’s usually in single digits for School Board elections.
There are 13 candidates this year – including three who are mounting write-in campaigns – running for six district seats on the nine-member School Board.
No voters at all showed up to cast a vote in the first two hours in at least two locations on the East Side. It was quiet on Fillmore Avenue, near Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where challenger Theresa Harris-Tigg was hoping to stave off a last-minute write-in campaign being mounted by incumbent Rosalyn Taylor for the East District seat.
At the Broadway Market there also were no voters in the first two hours for the Central District race, where incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak was running for a third term against challenger Bryon McIntyre.
Outside a voting location at Elmwood Avenue and West Ferry Street, Cynthia Hammond said she was casting a vote for North District incumbent Jason McCarthy, who is running in a contentious race against challengers Susan Gillick and Wendy Mistretta.
“I like people who take an issue and do things without a reward, like the dog park. I’m big on physical education, and he pushed for recess in the schools in the younger grades. Those are two critical reasons,” Hammond said.
Hammond said she dismissed the anonymous negative mailers that linked McCarthy and Paladino, and put them straight into the recycling bin. But Hammond said the negative ads could help people take notice of a race that usually draws little interest.
“I like the fact that [it’s been a nasty campaign], to be honest. I think it’s brought a lot of attention to it, and I think that’s very important. We’ve been very lackadaisical, and I have to admit it’s the first time I’ve voted in a School Board election in years, too.”
Michael Pizzuto, who cast a vote for McCarthy for being “his own voice,” said he was angered by the ads for smearing his preferred candidate.
“I think it’s shameful in any election that that would happen, and it’s particularly shameful that it would happen in an election where the end result is what we’re trying to teach our children,” Pizzuto said. “I was 100 percent coming out anyway, but that made me 110 percent.”
Charlene Scott, an elections inspector at the Fillmore location, shook her head at the low turnout.
“It’s always slow for the School Board. A lot of people don’t come out, that’s what it is,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, turnout at Notre Dame Academy and David McKeever American Legion Post 64 on South Park Avenue, in South Buffalo, was doing better than average, with 75 people voting in the first 2 hours and 15 minutes.
“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. “I think it’s good to get a shake-up.”