Voter frustration – with the poor performance of the Buffalo Public Schools, the incessant infighting among School Board members and racial tensions on the board – drew nearly two-thirds more people to the polls Tuesday than in the last at-large election.
Voter participation increased most dramatically on the East Side. But in terms of raw numbers, the Delaware District still provided the most votes – nearly one out of every three votes cast citywide, in fact.
Larry Quinn and Patti Bowers Pierce rode to victory with the help of large majorities in the Delaware District and South Buffalo, with each picking up more than 2,000 votes in South Buffalo and Quinn earning nearly 3,000 in the Delaware District.
Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold retained her seat on the board thanks to a strong show of support throughout much of the East Side. She got more votes than any other candidate in the Ellicott, Fillmore, Masten and University districts.
Her biggest tally was in Masten, where she earned more than 1,800 votes – more than half of all the votes cast in that part of the city.
From the University District, which stretches from Lovejoy up to Kenmore Avenue, turnout was up by more than 50 percent from five years ago in the city’s last at-large election, a Buffalo News analysis of election results shows.
“We have a problem. We need to work together to find a solution,” said Rayetta Davidson, a University District resident who has worked in a correctional facility. “Our kids’ education is on the line here. We’ve got a whole lot of people getting locked up because they’re not getting the education they need.”
One of the most common refrains heard from voters: School Board members need to focus on fixing the schools, rather than fighting with one another.
“They need to quit bickering with each other and start thinking about the children,” said Charles A. Young Sr., a Masten District resident who has worked more than 30 years for the state Department of Corrections. “Teachers are underpaid. Classrooms are overcrowded. Give them something to learn for the future, more than worrying about test scores.”
In Lovejoy and Masten, turnout was about twice as high as it was in 2009.
The biggest increase in voter turnout was in the Fillmore District, where 2½ times as many people voted this year compared with five years ago.
The Fillmore District encompasses much of the East Side that lies west of Bailey Avenue, a portion of downtown, and a slice of Allentown.
Claudia Cooper brought her 13-year-old son, DaQuan Steward, a student at the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School, with her when she voted at the Matt Urban Center near Broadway. She votes regularly in November elections, but not in School Board elections.
Tuesday, the need for high-quality schools in Buffalo drew her to the polls.
“To get a good job, kids need an education,” she said.
Voter turnout citywide was 63 percent higher than it was five years ago – but still paltry. Of more than 142,000 eligible voters in Buffalo, only about 19,000 voted – slightly more than 13 percent.
Citywide, Quinn won the most votes, followed by Pierce – both were backed by the local business community, as well as by board member Carl P. Paladino. Quinn and Pierce both said they will vote to fire Superintendent Pamela C. Brown. Both also support an expansion of charter schools, with Quinn going so far as to say it is time to “downsize” the district schools and create more charter schools to accommodate the several thousand students on waiting lists.
Getting the third-most votes was Nevergold, who was supported by the Buffalo Teachers Federation, the state AFL-CIO and several black community leaders. Nevergold has consistently supported Brown the past two years, saying schools have improved graduation rates and attendance and fewer suspensions under Brown’s leadership.
Nevergold received more votes than any other candidate in the Ellicott, Fillmore, Masten and University districts. Some East Side residents said what they described as Paladino’s racism spurred them to get involved in the election. Bessie Milhouse spent the entire day Tuesday handing out fliers for Nevergold in the parking lot of Elim Christian Fellowship, a polling place near Central Park Plaza.
“Carl Paladino doesn’t want blacks on the board,” said Milhouse, who raised her children in the city many years ago. “They need to get Paladino off the board, because he’s prejudiced.”
The city’s racial problems, she added, run much deeper than one School Board member and the effort to fire a superintendent who is black.
“Buffalo is just a prejudiced place. It’s terrible. It’s worse than the South,” said Milhouse, who retired as the associate food service director at Women & Children’s Hospital after working there for 45 years.
The Delaware District historically turns out the most voters in School Board elections, and Tuesday was no different.
Although there are nine Common Council districts – each about equal in population ‑ the Delaware District accounted for nearly one out of every three votes cast Tuesday.
Almost 15,000 votes were cast in the district – compared with slightly more than 8,000 in the Ellicott District, which had the second-highest turnout. That’s up 44 percent from five years ago.
Election inspector Jonathan Mekjean said that when he first saw how many ballot books had been dropped off at his McKinley High School polling place, he laughed.
“When I opened the box and saw the Board of Elections had sent us 600 ballots, I thought the Board of Elections had wasted a lot of paper,” he said.
By the afternoon, however, it was clear the poll workers were going to run out of ballots. The Board of Elections dropped off another 200 blank ballots. By about 7 p.m., about 570 ballots had been cast, and inspectors were getting ready to open the new box.
Quinn and Pierce claimed the top two spots, respectively, in the Delaware District, with incumbent John B. Licata finishing third there.
Quinn and Pierce also finished first and second in the Lovejoy and North districts. In Niagara – the only district where voter turnout dropped this year – Quinn finished first, with Licata second and Rodriguez third.
Pierce finished first in one part of the city: South Buffalo, where she lives.
With more than 2,200 votes for her in South Buffalo, she had about 100 more than Quinn in that district.
Paladino wasn’t on the ballot this year, but he was as much a part of the undercurrent in South Buffalo as he was on the East Side, albeit for different reasons. He gave Pierce more than $20,000 for her campaign, saying he would do whatever it took to secure a majority on the board willing to fire the superintendent.
Many voters in South Buffalo – “Carl Country,” as it was known during Paladino’s run for governor – said they agreed with Paladino’s distrust of the district administration as well as his support for charter schools, both positions shared by Pierce and Quinn.
Tom and Joann Mattingly – who voted for Pierce and Quinn, as well as Bernie Tolbert – said they think Paladino has been a good addition to the board. They applauded his efforts to expose deficiencies in the district.
“He tells it like it is,” said Tom Mattingly, who voted with his wife at St. Thomas Aquinas School on Abbott Road.
Some South Buffalo voters cited some of Brown’s recent missteps – such as hiring two Cabinet-level administrators who turned out to not be properly certified – in talking about what they see as a need to fire the superintendent.
“I’m pretty disgusted with the people in charge,” said Teresa Blake, who cast her ballot at the Dudley Library for Quinn, Pierce and Rodriguez. “I wanted to vote (Brown) out by voting for people who will get rid of her. I hope that doesn’t come out as racist; it’s not a racial thing. At least, I don’t think it is.”
News Staff Reporter Deidre Williams contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org