When the Buffalo School Board’s newest members take their seats on July 1st, they are expected to give the School Board presidency to James Sampson, who has the votes of Carl Paladino, Jay McCarthy, Larry Quinn, and Patricia Pierce.
But political observers have their eyes on Dr. Barbara Nevergold, the outgoing President. Dr. Nevergold is the African American community’s leading voice on education issues and has robust political support. Despite press reports championing the election of Quinn and Pierce, it was the black community who voted in record numbers — but was thwarted because so many black candidates split the community’s vote.
Nevergold was recently elected to an at-large 6 year term. During that time, Paladino, McCarthy, and Sampson will all be up for reelection. Sampson, who is elected in the West District, is the most vulnerable. He narrowly defeated Ralph Hernandez by a couple dozen votes, and could only muster himself fewer than 450 votes despite being very well funded. Dr. Nevergold is close to Hernandez.
“If Sampson is able to build a good working relationship with Nevergold, that would go an enormous way in defusing the overtly racialized politics on the school board,” explains a recent school board candidate who asked not to be named. “If Sampson instead aligns himself closely with Paladino, Nevergold could choose to exercise her political muscle — actively leading the Board’s opposition bloc while organizing the black community and building political relationships that oust Sampson in the West District and perhaps even McCarthy in the North District.
As the de facto leader of the black community on education issues — in a majority black school district — she could very well be the most influential member of the school board, despite losing the presidency. If she is well advised and organizes a deliberate strategy, she has the political leverage to either drive or halt the board’s agenda.
Will Sampson reach out? Knowing both Mr. Sampson and Dr. Nevergold, I find that they have a very similar temperament: experienced expertise, learned and calm, strong communicators, deliberately deep thinkers, and willing to receive feedback. I am inclined to think that these two people could form the backbone of a governing coalition on the School Board that moves the district forward quickly.
But the political observer in me knows that a governing bloc that elevates Mr. Paladino on the right, could alienate others on the left — who could be far more valuable political allies to Mr. Sampson.