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Attorney would use troubled background to reach kids early

Defense attorney Samuel P. Davis can relate uniquely to some of Buffalo’s most troubled and challenged schoolchildren.

At around age 15, the Chicago native began running away from home, “mostly out of rebellion,” he said. He got arrested several times for assault but was never convicted. He got kicked out of high school in his sophomore year.

But good mentors and teachers helped him find his way, Davis said. They influenced him and convinced him he could do better.

These days, many of his clients are Buffalo students, and he said he is in a position to make a difference early – just like someone did for him.

“I run into brilliant kids, who have only been exposed to the ills of urban living. Once you realize the brilliance there ... if you can grab them early enough, you can mold them into ... citizens,” said Davis, who is running for one of the three at-large seats in the May 6 School Board election.

“Once you recognize that brilliance, you let them know you see them the way they are,” he added.

One of his key platform goals is to bridge the “cultural disconnect” in the classroom between students and teachers. Urban children, for instance, face certain challenges that can prevent them from achieving academically, such as personal hygiene issues and wondering if they have enough food to eat. It is hard to focus and learn if you’re hungry, he said.

In order to close a projected $12.6 million deficit in the district’s 2014-15 budget, Davis would look at how much waste is in the spending plan.

“We must look at monies being spent on agencies/consultants outside of the district and find ways to keep those monies within,” he said.

Lobbying the state Education Department in Albany for “our fair share” of resources also is part of his platform, even though he believes that interventions from the state have hurt district students.

He is in favor of extending the school year by at least four weeks. However, he does not think city taxpayers should contribute more money to the district’s schools.

Davis, 40, has had his own criminal defense practice for the past six years, and he also works “of counsel” with the Dolce Panepinto law firm.

School Board member Florence Johnson, who has served for more than 20 years, has been “grooming” him for the past few months to take her place, he said. She is not seeking re-election to her at-large seat.

“She sent me to different symposiums” at SUNY Buffalo State “to learn more about education. She had me come to certain board meetings to learn more about the board,” he said.

His top platform priorities also include improving access to district resources for all teachers, and engaging teachers and students in their own schools to highlight the needs of failing students.

Davis was a substitute teacher at Seneca Vocational High School for about two years until 2004. He also was a full-time sub in Brooklyn for about 2½ years beginning in 1997.

Teaching runs in his family. His mother is a retired special-education teacher, and his stepfather is a retired physical-education teacher. His father was a substitute teacher, and his stepmother still teaches grade school. His late brother also was a teacher in Chicago, and his fiance, Celeste Wheelock, was a teacher in Houston before she moved to Buffalo in 2008.

Wheelock and Davis, who moved to Buffalo in 1999 to attend law school at the University at Buffalo, have a 5-year-old daughter at School 81.

Davis, who said he decided to run because of a “sense of concern for kids in the district,” has received endorsements from Grassroots and Citizen Action.

His law background has allowed him to make friends in high places. As a former counsel to the State Senate, Davis worked for Mayor Byron W. Brown and Antoine M. Thompson when they were state legislators. And while Davis was in law school, he was a legislative intern for Crystal Peoples Stokes when she was an Erie County legislator.

“I made friends along the way,” Davis said.