This month’s last school board meeting was a major win for Carl Paladino, achieving passage of two major policy resolutions and reaffirmation of the board’s support of neighborhood schools — the cornerstone objective of the reform coalition.
On establishing a boarding school for homeless students, Superintendent Kriner Cash joined with Paladino to support the initiative. Cash noted that he created a similar public boarding school while in Memphis. One attendee says that Cash “nearly reprimanded the minority bloc for their opposition, which he exposed as political nonsense without even meaning to do so.”
Paladino also advanced a resolution that would have the school board takeover an investigation into LP Ciminelli’s massive $1.3 billion decade-long school reconstruction project. Paladino and fellow board member Larry Quinn have exposed that $400 million has been unaccounted for — at a time when Lou Ciminelli is being scrutinized by Preet Bharara.
The US Attorney’s probe is looking at several suspect “Buffalo Billion” contracts in which Ciminelli is profiting handsomely. Those contracts are at the center of corruption investigations targeting the sitting Governor Andrew Cuomo. Some members of the minority voting bloc have been criticized for being close to Ciminelli and offering lax oversight of the massive “fixed price” contract.
Another resolution that directed the Superintendent to transition the district to a neighborhood school model was introduced but a vote was not taken. That resolution had already passed months ago; but the majority voting bloc did verbally reaffirm their support of the policy, which is the centerpiece of their reform agenda.
If Paladino is successful — and increasingly, it looks like he will be — it would mark a profound inflection point in the history of this city. Observers from across the political spectrum agree that neighborhood schools will reverse the city’s 54 year population decline. The region’s suburban sprawl is attributed, in large part, to the busing policies of the 1970’s, when middle class white families fled to the suburbs, fearing the hostile race relations of the day.
Supporters of neighborhood schools argue that it is unconscionable that some students are forced to sit on a bus for three hours a day “because it makes a liberal judge feel good about himself.” They say that there is no replacing the impact of a neighborhood school — allowing for after school programs, team sports, and parental involvement.
“Neighborhood schools should be considered a civil right for every child,” says one Paladino supporter. “It should be considered a civil right for the parent, too.”
Real estate experts understand the influence of good schools on investment and homeownership. Experts say that once neighborhood schools are restored, home sales are expected to grow quickly as more families pursue urbane, walkable, diverse, and dynamic living environments.
Analysts predict that over the next decade average home prices in the Elmwood Village and North Buffalo will double; while some areas of the Westside are likely to triple. If neighborhood schools are implemented, that growth would be quicker and property values would appreciate citywide — deep into the Eastside and South Buffalo.
Paladino, misunderstood but undeterred
Carl Paladino is perhaps Buffalo’s most misunderstood civic leader. The distance between his intentions and how he is perceived by the public couldn’t be any greater. One of the city’s most prolific developers and monied personalities, many have questioned why he would devote such an enormous amount of his personal time to the school board.
Those closest to him say that he is motivated by altruism and a desire to turn his city around.
“Carl is a son of Buffalo. He knows how difficult it is to make something of yourself in a depressed city like this,” a supporter explains. “This is Carl turning around to reach down the ladder to help others climb up. He still sees himself as a kid from the East side.”
Paladino is the proud patriarch of a tight-nit Italian family. With deep roots in East Lovejoy and South Buffalo, he was able to build a real estate empire that has helped breath life into a deeply downtrodden, divided, and declining city. His hard nosed work ethic overcame the struggles of those enormous economic obstacles to pull himself and his family up by the proverbial bootstraps.
That he made it — and that he made it here — is an unlikely ode to the power of fortitude, perseverance, and drive. His is a story of the American dream — an example of the system working, and what can happen at the confluence of opportunity and will. It’s a story ripe for a screenplay.
To understand Paladino, one must understand the rough and tumble Buffalo that shaped him. Those of a certain age understand the crassness of this city during its industrial heyday — where the center of civic life was the neighborhood tavern, where alcohol was a way of life, and where everyone rooted for the mafia. The decades that followed were hardened by the collapse of the inner city, decades of hemorrhaging job losses, a brutal psychology of defeatism, and a petty and pervasively corrupt political culture.
One can understand the root of Paladino’s cynicisms and the perspective — some would call it wisdom — that he’s cultivated over a long career.
Those who are close to him say that Paladino’s service on the school board is motivated by a desire to share the values that made him successful. But his intentions have been besmirched in the local media with allegations of conflicts of interest and fears of privatization.
In the last eight months or so, well funded union organizers masquerading as “parent activists” have orchestrated a calculated and relentless smear of the developer. Those union operatives are members of and backed by Phil Rumore’s Buffalo Teachers’ Federation, and funded by his operative Mike Deely, the regional director of the New York State Union of Teachers. They operate as the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization (BPTO), and have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the union.
Some are raising questions about how these teachers have the time to attend every board and committee meeting, spending hours regurgitating the same statements they did the previous week. Many minority parents who attend the meetings have become disgusted by these teachers’ behavior, claiming that it’s a tactic designed to hijack the meetings and sabotage the reform majority.
Those efforts and a number of misconstrued public comments have diminished Paladino’s favorability numbers. Still, with a loyal base of supporters, he is relentlessly pushing the reform agenda that got him and his majority voting bloc elected.