Toward the end of the campaign, I sometimes pondered that I could write a book on the experience- on the good, the bad, and the crazy. For the most part, it was positive and gratifying, but, it no doubt became stressful and bizarre at times and impacted life and relationships in such a multidimensional way. When people, no matter who they are, turn on you or launch personal attacks and spew false information about you and people you are close to, it affects you. When people close to you begin to wonder why and some begin to question your intentions, it affects you. So, I’d like to take some time reflecting on a few aspects of my campaign, in particular, my involvement with the Erie County Democratic Party (ECDC) and Labor.
Let me first be clear, I have never been told what I can or cannot do by any elected official, Democratic Party leader, or leaders in Labor, including when I sought their endorsement. On a few occasions, both as a candidate and prior to being a candidate, I was approached with a quid pro quo from some individuals, which I found insulting and outright rejected. This, however, never came from any leaders or organizations who supported my campaign.
The claim that one is beholden to endorsements and those who endorse you is ill-disposed malarkey. I am, first and foremost, beholden to my wife and my kids, followed by the kids and families across Buffalo and their public education. I believe my actions and work speak to this. If there is anyone affiliated with my campaign who someone wants to claim that I’m beholden to, make it the two BPS mothers who led my campaign, whose values represent mine, and who are truly invested in public education in Buffalo. As they did throughout my campaign, Whitney Crispell (Campaign Manager) and Rachel Dominguez (Chief Strategist) will keep me honest and accountable as I begin serving on the Board of Education. Don’t believe me, spend some time with them.
In 2002, I became actively involved in the anti-war movement and twice traveled to Washington, DC for large anti-war demonstrations. In 2008, I became actively involved in politics when I was inspired by the campaign of former President Barack Obama. I volunteered for his campaign, locally, and my wife and I traveled to Ohio, a swing state, to knock on doors for his campaign. Shortly after this, I petitioned, ran, and lost to become an Erie County Democratic Committee Member with an interest to become involved in positive change, locally.
In 2010, I ran a hastily and unsuccessful campaign for the North District seat on the BOE, upon the encouragement of others. For this campaign, I did most of the ballot petitioning myself, personally obtaining 500 of my signatures. I learned a tremendous amount and realize now how unprepared I would’ve been to serve had I won. Shortly after this, I was appointed to fill a vacancy as a Democratic Committee Member and I have remained a Committee Member, since then, now serving my election district, Delaware 4. I have knocked on doors, made phone calls, carried candidate petitions, worked polls on election night for candidates (my first being Board of Education member John Licata in 2009), and attended various events and meetings related to local politics, again, with an interest to make our community better by positively changing policies and systems that guide us.
In 2013, as a new parent with a child entering pre-kindergarten, I co-founded the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization, which I have served as Co-Chair for over five years. This experience has its own story, but it no doubt best prepared me to be a candidate and to serve on the Board of Education. Let me make one thing clear though- my friends and I who have led BPTO have done so as volunteers. None of us have received a dime for our time and work in BPTO.
When I decided to run again for an At-Large seat, I knew that I needed to organize early and build a coalition to be successful. I began my first meetings and phone calls in May of 2018 and my first campaign meeting with Whitney and Rachel occurred in August of 2018. Our campaign committee formed and met in October of 2018 and we officially launched the campaign on October 16, 2018. We worked collaboratively and consistently from October 2019 through the election in May 2019, thinking not just about the election itself, but also about building community engagement all the while.
Since 2008, I have been a proud Democrat. I’ve built relationships and earned the support that I received from local Democrats. I personally reached out to and met with elected officials and leaders to support my campaign. I attended various ECDC endorsement meetings to introduce myself and meet prime voters. Many leaders chose to support me because they valued and supported the work that I had done as a parent leader over the past five years.
I’ve learned over the years that building relationships and coalitions are critical to influence and compel real change. As a parent, as an educator, and as a soon to be BOE Member, it is a priority of mine to have relationships with leaders in the State and Erie County Legislature and on the Common Council to systemically understand and address the needs of our students, families, and schools.
This does not mean that my support for the Democratic Party- its leaders and elected officials- is absolute. There is much that I am uneasy about in the Democratic Party, locally and nationally, and I get the frustration from some that it is a challenge to break up or break into the “establishment”, especially as a new face on the scene. However, the many local Democrats and Committee Members, who I know, are committed people volunteering much of their time with intentions of doing what’s best for our communities, working people, and the most vulnerable. So, some attacks and tactics against the leaders of the “establishment” and its processes are often a slight on these hard-working and committed volunteers. Furthermore, if your cause against the “establishment”, your “progressive” alternative, means aligning yourself with Carl Paladino, Larry Quinn, Peter Reese, & their few friends, then your cause is equivocal, dishonest, and not truly progressive. My advice to some well-intentioned people- stop letting your frustration and aspirations for something different be exploited by those or something that doesn’t really represent your values and what’s best for our communities.
I am a proud union member of the Kenmore Teacher’s Association and New York State United Teachers. I value the importance of unions in representing the collective workforce, fighting for decent wages and benefits, and protecting the integrity of one’s profession. I also believe, as President of WNY ALF Richard Lipsitz states in his book, Life in the Teamsters: “Labor’s Own Road”, that unions have a responsibility to be engaged in politics and social justice movements.
I am not ashamed of being a union member or being supported by Labor, especially when Larry Quinn is leading the charge of criticism and mischaracterizations. My work as a parent leader over the past five years demonstrates that I believe in the best for all of our children, regardless of zip code, race, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, primary language, religion/spiritual beliefs, and economic status. My work speaks for itself.
Some unions are far from perfect and rightfully deserve criticism at times. But, again, if your alternative, your counter to unions, is/was to align with Paladino, Quinn, & the white males of the Buffalo News Editorial Board, then your cause is also dishonest, equivocal, and something other than what’s best for all of our children.
BOE Member Elect