Austin Harig signed himself out of school after his Participation in Government class Tuesday morning and walked a few blocks down to the Erie County Board of Elections to find out whether he would achieve a come-from-behind victory for a seat on the Buffalo School Board.
Incumbent Carl P. Paladino beat back the 18-year-old challenger for the Park District seat in an election so close that the absentee ballots had to be counted Tuesday before officially declaring Paladino the winner.
Paladino was ahead by just 107 votes when the polls closed May 3, with 161 absentee ballots still to be counted. The teenager held out hope for a last-minute upset, but Paladino actually increased his lead to 132 votes in the final count.
Despite the victory, Paladino’s future on the School Board has been cloudy.
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Gallery: Buffalo School Board as of July 1
The day after the election, the first-term incumbent said he was weighing his options now that he will go from being a member of a 5-4 majority to part of a 6-3 minority.
Paladino, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2010, has indicated that he would not complete a full second term if he again plans to run for governor in 2018.
The incumbent was not at the Board of Elections for the ballot count Tuesday, and when contacted by The Buffalo News for comment, Paladino responded in a text message that was critical of Harig and of the Buffalo Teachers Federation for supporting an “irresponsible adolescent” for such a critical position crucial to the future of the city.
Paladino called on the union to explain “how that helps 34,000 kids held prisoner in a dysfunctional, incompetent and corrupt school system get out of the cycle of poverty,” but he said nothing about his future on the board.
His challenger garnered a huge amount of attention in one of the most interesting races of the season, not just because of his age, but because he took on Paladino, the powerful businessman who not only has run for governor, but serves as honorary state co-chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Harig, a senior at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, was propelled at the polls by backing from the teachers union and the AFL-CIO, as well as the fact that Paladino has been such a polarizing figure in the community and during his time on the board. On Tuesday, Harig also backed away from any threats to sue Paladino.
Paladino previously remarked to supporters that the teenager was recently suspended from school for being late and absent while running for office.
Harig fired back, contending that this was a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which bans school officials from releasing information about a student without the student’s consent.
The student had threatened to file a lawsuit against Paladino but said he has reconsidered because he doesn’t want to drag the district into it. However, Harig said, he is still deciding whether to pursue some kind of formal reprimand against the School Board member for his comments.
When asked whether he would get into trouble for being out of school Tuesday to attend the ballot counting, Harig said that because of his status of being emancipated from his parents, he was able to sign himself out of school during a study hall.
Harig walked to the Board of Elections on West Eagle Street, viewed the ballot counting and held court in front of the television cameras one more time before he walked back to Hutch-Tech in time for lunch.