The reconfigured Buffalo Board of Education, with Carl Paladino’s election to the Park District, strikes a personal chord with me. Whether that chord is sweet music or a sour note I continue to evaluate 30 years after my attempt to get elected to that seat.
In 1983, I was a civil servant working for the Department of Human Resources for the City of Buffalo. In the autumn of the previous year, I had decided I could serve my community by running for the Park District seat.
I kept the decision private, I thought. But as a native South Buffalonian, I knew there were no secrets, especially in the world of politics.
Strolling down Cumberland Avenue one sunny fall day, John “Scanoots” Scanlon greeted me in front of his house with the words, “I hear you want to run for the School Board. I think it’s a good idea. So does the mayor.” My heart took a little jump in my throat. What I naively saw as a noble cause in service to my community was now the talk of political strategy.
The Griffin machine shifted into gear. If the same people who signed my nominating petitions had voted for me, I would have won by a landslide. My buttons read: “Seil, To Meet The Challenge.”
When appearing before teachers and school parent groups, I asserted my independence. When someone reported my spirit of independence to the mayor, it didn’t go very well. After a pep talk from Mayor Jimmy Griffin, who prized perceived loyalty above all else, he left no doubt that he expected me to toe the line. “Remember when you get elected, I put you in there!”
“Mayor,” I responded, “I have to be honest and do what’s right.”
The mayor assured me in the most colorful of language that he was honest and he would tell me what was right. Then he patted me on the back for all my hard work and the great campaign we were running. If I don’t win this election, I thought, it might be OK.
Fate and the voters made their decision on May 3, 1983, and Sue Cannan was the victor. She was a lovely woman with a background in education and an appreciation for champagne, a bottle of which my campaign manager, Jack Reid, and I brought to her headquarters to congratulate her on Election Night.
Out $4,000 of my own money (a fortune to me), having been the recipient of various rude comments and gestures from teachers (some of whose children I had taught in religious education), and having the former political writer for The News, George Borrelli, dub me “Griffin’s candidate,” I learned the hard way that I was pretty thin-skinned.
In October, I submitted my application for the priesthood in the Diocese of Buffalo. In January 1984, I entered the program for priestly formation and in 1989 was ordained by the late Bishop Edward D. Head.
Working for the city during the Griffin era, running for the board and losing by 270 votes, and being part of a political machine still helps me in identifying the pitfalls and the blessings of everyday life.
Where have those 30 years gone? I sometimes wonder where I’d be now were it not for that “lost” election. Probably retired. Maybe with a lot of South Buffalonians who winter in Florida.
But I’m a priest. And whether I make it to heaven or not, I know that Buffalo will be my point of departure.
The Rev. Paul D. Seil is pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Orchard Park and host of the television program “Our Daily Bread.”