Longtime community and business leader Larry Quinn is considering a run for the Buffalo School Board, saying he believes that he can help the notoriously dysfunctional board become more effective.
Quinn said several people in the community have approached him, suggesting he run.
That includes developer and sitting School Board member Carl Paladino, who has vowed to support candidates who might help him secure a majority on the board and who acknowledged that he approached Quinn about running.
“I asked him if he would like to run,” Paladino said. “I think Larry’s a well-respected person in Buffalo. He’s a super intelligent guy. From a community perspective, he’s been engaged his entire career. He’s got a tremendous knowledge from both a business perspective and a civic perspective of what goes on in the city.”
Paladino is one of the severest critics of the Buffalo Public Schools, and particularly of Superintendent Pamela C. Brown. He has repeatedly called for her resignation and in September led an effort to oust her. Brown ultimately kept her position with a narrow 5-4 vote from the board.
Paladino’s criticism of the school district’s performance, however, does not sit well with some board members, who say he disrupts the district’s ability to function and focus on students.
“It’s just been a struggle,” said Sharon Belton-Cottman, who often goes head-to-head with Paladino during board meetings. “Anyone who wants to align themselves to Carl Paladino and his tactics, you have to wonder what their motive is. Because it’s not about the children.”
But Paladino support during an election also does not guarantee any allegiance to Paladino’s agenda. Many of Paladino’s resolutions at board meetings fail to even gain a second from fellow board members who were considered his allies in the last election, and his proposals therefore never make it to the table for discussion.
Quinn is the first potential candidate Paladino recruited to come forward, and he declined to weigh in about the superintendent.
Paladino declined to say who else he has spoken to, saying he will leave it up to those candidates to announce when they are ready.
For Quinn, who said he will likely make a decision in the next few days, a run for the School Board would be the next chapter in a long career of public and private service to the city.
Quinn started his public career as the director of development under former Mayor James D. Griffin, a position he assumed when he was 24 years old. During his time on the job, he spearheaded some of the area’s biggest economic development projects, including the Hauptman-Woodward Institute and Marine Midland Arena, now First Niagara Center. He later went on to become a part owner of the Buffalo Sabres with then-owner Tom Golisano.
Quinn said a run for the School Board would be a matter of public service, not politics. “I think that the situation in our schools is near disastrous,” he said. “It’s dysfunctional. They meet every two weeks. They argue about stupid things. There’s just nothing functional about it.”
“I have a lot of experience in fixing dysfunctional organizations,” Quinn added.
News of Quinn’s interest was welcomed by other high-profile members of the community, who lauded his experience working in the public and private sectors.
“He’s very passionate about this community,” said Robert Gioia, director of the Oishei Foundation. “That is a significant criteria for any seat of this public nature, and I think it’s pretty clear to the entire community that the education system is a priority.”
Board member James Sampson, who sometimes aligns himself with Paladino, said he had met with Quinn to talk about issues in the district after hearing about his possible candidacy.
“He obviously knows the community and has a good sense of organization and business,” Sampson said. “I think he does appreciate the importance of the board functioning by governing and leading, rather than micromanaging.”
Quinn said he feels the only way to make the board more efficient is to change its makeup.
Although School Board elections are nonpartisan, Quinn, a Democrat, said he has “friends in both parties” who could potentially support him.
“I’ve been really blessed,” he said. “I have the time and the ability. For me, it’s a question of public service. I’m just looking at it as, ‘Can I help out and make this board operate the right way?’ ”
Quinn would join a growing list of candidates who are vying for the three at-large seats on the School Board in the May election.
That includes incumbents Barbara Seals Nevergold and John Licata, along with Wendy Mistretta, Stephon Wright, Adrian Harris and former mayoral candidates Bernard Tolbert and Sergio Rodriguez.