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School Board candidate’s job offer stirs speculation

Adrian F. Harris was all set to file petitions Tuesday to run against Carl P. Paladino for the South District seat on the Buffalo School Board.

That was until Mayor Byron W. Brown personally offered Harris a job Friday as a recreational aide.

That job would occupy Harris from 2 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, preventing him from attending School Board meetings. Harris said he’s now reconsidering whether to run for the seat being vacated by incumbent Louis Petrucci.

Was the job offer the result of an alliance that appears to have been formed between the mayor and Paladino?

Harris said he’s heard people suggest that, but he doesn’t believe it.

Still, Harris said, the timing “was just really weird."

After getting high scores on a civil service exam and then interviewing for the position with the parks department in October, he didn’t hear anything for six months – until he received a call Wednesday saying the mayor wanted to speak to him Friday about the parks job.

“Anybody who I’ve talked to thinks it’s curious, and when you tie things together in this conspiracy-driven world, that’s going to happen," Harris said. “But I try to stay above it, and I’m a true believer in karma and that things happen for a reason.”

Also, he said, “that’s government; it runs at a snail’s pace.”

The mayor spoke with him for about five minutes, Harris said, and never said a word about the School Board race. The job will pay in the range of the “mid-30s,” Harris said.

Michael DeGeorge, Brown’s spokesman, said nothing improper or out of the ordinary occurred.

“As a policy, we don’t discuss personnel issues, but the mayor meets with all levels of employees, and this was nothing out of the norm. This has nothing to do with the School Board election,” DeGeorge said.

A former member of the mayor’s administration who asked not to be named said Brown in his early years personally interviewed candidates even for “low-level positions” but couldn’t say what the current situation has been.

Harris now works as a teaching assistant in Lancaster High School, and he said he may still decide to keep his current job.

Harris interviewed with Buffalo city officials for a similar civil service position 14 years ago but felt he didn’t get it because of “politics.” Steven Stepniak, commissioner of public works, parks and streets, was responsible for nominating Harris for that job, leaving the final decision to the mayor.

Paladino, Harris’ would-be opponent, has promised to help throw out incumbents, pressure union president Philip Rumore to resign, and convert underperforming public schools to charter schools. And he has criticized and derisively characterized female black administrators and school board members as “the sisterhood.”

Brown and Paladino – once bitter enemies – seem to have buried the hatchet. In late February, the mayor supported Paladino’s Ellicott Development Company bid to construct the Carlo, a 14-story building with a hotel, office space, apartments, restaurants and parking ramp near the entrance of the Erie Basin Marina.

Brown’s support came shortly after he selected Sabres owner Terry Pegula over Paladino to develop a large parcel near First Niagara Center.

Paladino has said he won’t take a stand in this year’s mayoral race, and he hugged the mayor publicly at the developer’s Ellicott Square Christmas party in December.

That’s a far cry from when Paladino said in a radio commercial that “if we really want to fight crime, start with City Hall.”

Harris discounted the possibility of the mayor holding a hidden agenda.

“I just think it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for the mayor to call me in and talk when everything is light on a Friday. I consider it an honor, sort of. He’s the mayor of the city.”

Harris added: “I have heard Mayor Brown likes to have his finger on everything.”