James W. Comerford Jr. will probably be the next Buffalo School Board president, according to another board member who wants the position.
Judith Fisher, who said she has four votes for her candidacy, said that Oscar Smukler will provide the swing vote to give Comerford, who holds a job in the Griffin administration, the presidency.
Mrs. Fisher said that Smukler claims he agreed to support Comerford for board president in order to gain support for Albert Thompson, who was elected schools superintendent June 13.
Comerford denied Friday that he has determined whether to seek the presidency or that there was a deal made to garner Smukler's support.
"It's some more of the political nonsense that goes on from my enemies," said Comerford, who represents the Park District. Comerford made headlines earlier this year for his outspoken views favoring creationism and opposing the teaching of evolution.
Smukler said that no one has yet asked for his vote, which is scheduled to be taken July 2.
"I haven't made up my mind," he said.
"I'm not concerned about the presidency," said Smukler. "It's an over-inflated position. It has prestige, but it has only one vote."
The important thing to him, Smukler said, is that Thompson was elected last week as schools superintendent.
"Anything else isn't important," he said.
Mrs. Fisher and parent leaders allege that he made a deal to get Thompson elected.
"He informed me that he was supporting Mr. Comerford because Mr. Comerford has supported Mr. Thompson for superintendent," said Mrs. Fisher. "He told me he had to make a deal."
That would appear to guarantee the presidency to Comerford, who can also depend on the votes of two close friends, with whom he campaigned for the board last year. They are At Large Member David B. Kelly, the current president, who is deputy Erie County clerk; and At Large Member John C. Doyle, Mayor Griffin's youth director.
If Comerford wants to be president, Kelly said, he will back him. Doyle could not be reached to comment.
Dr. Barbara Nevergold, co-chairwoman of the Concerned Parents for Quality Education, said Smukler told her that to secure Thompson's election he became a backer of Comerford for the presidency.
"Oscar definitely gave me the impression he was pivotal in putting together this agreement," said Dr. Nevergold. "I don't approve of deal-making and I think there are other parts of the deal that we will see coming out in bits and pieces in the next few weeks or months."
The allegations of a deal have activated the leaders of another parent group. Dr. Alison DesForges, co-chair person of United Parents, said that the group this weekend plan to distribute 1,000 pamphlets throughout Smukler's North District. The pamphlet states that Comerford "stands for program cuts, patronage appointments, ending the desegregation case, censoring books."
"We in the North District oppose these stands and we oppose Comerford for board president," the handout says. "We want Mr. Oscar Smukler to know what his constituents want before he votes on this important question.
Comerford called the idea of a deal ridiculous, a slur by persons opposed to him and the mayor and an insult to both him and Smukler.
"I did discuss it briefly with Oscar," said Comerford. "He approached me."
But Comerford denied that his talk with Smukler involved how votes would be cast.
"I haven't made my mind up," said Comerford. "I don't know if I have five votes. I've thought about it, sure. I think some of my friends are pushing me to run."
Comerford added that it would be stupid to trade a six-year contract for the superintendency for a single one-year term as board president.
Mrs. Fisher, who was president in 1987-1988, identified her supporters as Victor Turchiarelli, West District; Betty Blackman, Ferry District, and Mozella E. Richardson, Central District. The three often voted together in the past in support of the late Superintendent Eugene T. Reville.
Turchiarelli, who received help during the election from the Griffin bloc members, voted frequently with them at the start of his term a year ago. He split with the bloc when high-paying school posts went to James M. Kane, a friend of Comerford, and Brian Hayden, a campaign worker for Doyle.
Comerford presumably would have the support of East District member Frank J. Jager, who was elected with the help of Mayor Griffin's clubs and regularly votes with the Griffin bloc.
During the year, Smukler voted with each of the two blocs that have formed on the board. Turchiarelli said that he offered his support to Mrs. Fisher because she, along with him, tried to rescind appointments of the two executives who were discovered after their appointments to be close to Comerford and Doyle.
Turchiarelli, the only board member with children now in public school, said he supports Mrs. Fisher because she puts children first.
"We cannot allow the schools to become a political dumping ground," said Turchiarelli. "Oscar will be the tilt vote."
Jager said he has not thought much about the upcoming election. A retired teacher, he was elected with the help of Griffin's political clubs and regularly votes with the bloc. His wife is a longtime civil service employee in the Public Works Department, currently headed by James Comerford's brother, David.
Comerford this year headed the Building and Grounds Committee where all work and contracts involving the schools initially are considered. Like the mayor, he sends his children to parochial schools.
During the past year, however, Comerford was critical of parochial as well as public schools for teaching the theory of evolution. He expressed his own belief in the creation as described in the Bible. He also criticized school libraries for including books that mentioned teen-age pregnancy and parenthood. Comerford also compared Planned Parenthood to "a Nazi death camp."