The recent at-large school board elections — in which Larry Quinn, Patricia Pierce, and Dr. Barbara Nevergold each secured a 6-year term — saw an impressive above average turnout. Surprisingly, the increased turnout largely came from the Eastside of Buffalo.
But the black vote was split by 8 minority candidates vying for school board seats, including Bernie Tolbert, whose impressive resume as the former head of the FBI’s Buffalo field office and as the executive in charge of security for the NBA, had made him a Mayoral primary contender last September.
When polling indicated that Eastside turnout would be high — in light of Carl Paladino’s race baiting tendencies — it looked like Nevergold, Tolbert and Sergio Rodriguez would prevail.
Democrats close to Supreme Court Justice Catherine Panapinto and State Senate candidate Mark Panapinto acted quickly. They hastily entered Sam Davis, an African American attorney who works with the Panapinto law firm, into the school board race with the intent of further splitting the black vote. Surprising to even the Panapintos, Davis’ background as a criminal defense attorney for minority youth resonated strongly in the black community — and he secured more votes than any other black candidate aside from Dr. Nevergold.
Some have attributed the surprising strength of Davis’ candidacy to the political operative Katrinna Martin, who quickly organized a phone banking operation of 6 former Egriu staffers and managed it out of the Panapinto law firm’s conference room.
Other Democrats involved in school board machinations ensured that several Italian candidates would run, so that the Italian community’s vote would be similarly split. They also attempted to do the same with the Latino vote, but former candidate Ralph Hernandez’s petitions were invalidated before he could appear on a ballot.
In the end, the powers that be orchestrated a classic identity politics, divide-and-conquer strategy.
Many presumed that Tolbert’s name recognition and stature as a Mayoral contender would ensure him a seat on the Board. Now, political observers and operative wonder that Tolbert’s next political move will be. He has long been considered a threat to Congressman Brian Higgins, whose district includes Buffalo and it’s first ring suburbs.