James M. Sampson has some big decisions to make this weekend about his future on the Buffalo School Board:
Should he go to court to try to restore signatures on his petition so he can stay on the ballot for the May 3 election?
Or should he wage a write-in campaign for the West District seat?
Or, should he call it quits?
The School Board president will talk with family and friends over the weekend before making a decision. Erie County Board of Elections commissioners said his petition fell 31 valid signatures short of the necessary 500 to stay on the ballot and face a challenge from Jennifer L. Mecozzi. He can go to State Supreme Court to challenge the commissioners’ decision, which he is now considering.
Sampson said three elements will factor into his decision:
• Evaluating his accomplishments over the past three years on the board.
• Weighing the barbs thrown his way by both majority and minority bloc members.
• And, perhaps most importantly, factoring in the death of his wife, who battled cancer before she died in December.
“It’s been, personally for me and my family, a difficult couple of years, and we have to ask ourselves, do we have the commitment and energy to engage in this kind of ongoing conflict and debate?” Sampson said.
Sampson was part of the five-member board majority bloc that was intended to usher in a new era for the district with an aggressive reform agenda.
The 5-4 majority bloc in 2014 issued a vision of its agenda that included expanding high-performing charter schools, expanding criterion school capacity, providing high-demand career and technical education and bringing back neighborhood schools.
But the majority bloc did not succeed in making the sweeping changes or dramatic progress it laid out, citing a lack of leadership in the district’s administration and its own failure to more swiftly push for the most important reforms.
Majority bloc members also faced pushback on their plans for more charter schools in the city. Now, many believe the majority fell short of its own reform goals.
Sampson has been a moderating voice and occasional swing vote on the fractured School Board, but it also has been a lonely job as president. He has been a target of both factions on the board.
He took heat from Carl P. Paladino and Larry Quinn for refusing to support Kevin Eberle as school superintendent. Paladino even tried to get Sampson unseated as the board president.
Sampson said he had no intention of resigning as president.
Members of the minority bloc also have criticized him for his alliance with the majority. On various occasions, Sharon Belton-Cottman, Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Barbara Seals Nevergold and Theresa Harris-Tigg have complained bitterly that the majority bloc members excluded them and blocked their agendas.
The women also were livid over the way Rashondra M. Martin was fired as general counsel, to make way for Edward A. Betz. Belton-Cottman, Kapsiak and Seals Nevergold said the dismissal seemed like “punitive action” against Martin, who had filed a civil rights complaint against Paladino.
While Sampson weighs his future on the board, other candidates are being challenged in State Supreme Court and will have their days in court next week.
Colleen E. Russell, who is challenging incumbent Theresa Harris-Tigg for a seat from the East District, is scheduled to appear in court Monday.
Harris-Tigg’s husband, Robert, has accused Russell of lying about where she lives, saying she does not reside in the Lovejoy area.
The case originally was scheduled for Friday but the judge had a trial that day and rescheduled it for Monday, Russell said.
Another member of the majority bloc, Jason M. McCarthy, also is up for re-election. Election commissioners determined McCarthy had enough valid signatures on his petition to stay on the ballot, but it’s not a done deal yet.
McCarthy, who is being challenged by Hope R. Jay for the North District seat, will appear in court Tuesday to answer voter fraud charges brought against him by Jeffrey Leichtnam, who is represented by attorney Tim Lovallo. Leichtnam is challenging the validity of witness statements for McCarthy’s petitions.