HAMILTON: Clara Dunn makes Black History in Board of Education Selection

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By: Ken Hamilton

Good argument can be made that there isn’t much black history yet to be made; after all, we have National Football League games where one black quarterback is in the same stadium playing against another black quarterback, and no one pays it too much attention anymore. But like the sun breaking through the cloud-crowded sky on even a warm summery day, it is still refreshing to see – if only for a short time – black history being made in Niagara Falls.

It’s been done with the Niagara Falls Board of Education selecting Clara Dunn to fill the seat vacated by the victory of out-going board member Robert Restaino as Mayor of Niagara Falls. This marks the first time in the history of the city that there are 3, count them, three black members (Kevin Dobbs, Earl Bass, and now Dunn) of the nine-member board; and I’d venture to say only the 1st time in the last century since when civil rights activist Bloneva Bond was there that a black woman served.

Dunn’s service on the board may be short-lived though, as she has to run in the upcoming May election to keep her seat. One of several scenarios may play out as a result:

 ·         If Dunn wins one of the two seats now occupied by the expiring terms of long-time board members drycleaner Russell Petrozzi and Reverend Kevin Dobbs, then she and the other top-2 candidate will win 5-year terms on the board, and the 3rd place person will fill out what would then be the last year (2020-2021) of former board member, now-mayor, Restaino.

·         If Petrozzi and/or Dobbs decide not to run again, and Dunn comes in at the 3rd position, then she, or whoever else does, may fill out the remaining one-year term of former board member, now-mayor, Restaino; while the top-2 either remain or replace Petrozzi and/or Dobbs.

·         Similarly, if Petrozzi and/or Dobbs decide not to run again, and Dunn comes in at the 3rd position, then she, or whoever else does, may forego possibly filling out the remaining term of former board member, now-mayor, Restaino and, if the board opts to do so, though no board member with whom I spoke is absolutely sure, may win the maybe created 3rd five-year term that was created by the new mayor’s absence.  

·         If Dunn is outdone by 3 other candidates, then the clouds will close and the sky will again darken on a short-lived point in history – if no other black person fills the race-void that can be created if in addition to a Dunn loss and Dobbs decides not to run for reelection.

But should any of this make a difference to the quality of education when it comes to the city’s growing numbers of non-white students in the school system. One has to ask the question if it did so in the past. After all, Reverend Martin Luther King extolled the virtue of content of character over color of skin.

 So then, how was Dunn “selected” rather than “elected” to the board?

 Of the board members with whom I have spoken, the present current members of the board agreed that it would be fitting to again have a woman on the board – especially a woman of color.

 However, if we look at the diversity of the last race’s election results, the Polish-named Paul Kudela’s 799 votes and the Italian Nick Vilardo‘s 748 carried them to victory. Therefore, white Barbara Rodgers’ 647 logically would have been the next choice of the voters. Rodgers would have been followed by Bruce Brundidge’s 562, Vincent Orsi’s 547 and then Dunn’s 535 votes. Michael Gawel trailed the race at 157.  None of the other candidates were asked about their interest in filling the seat; however.

 To Dunn’s credit, she remained diligent in her educational work and did approach the board and indicate that she had an interest in filling the seat. It might be wise for even non-candidates to follow suit during these rare vacancies.

 While there’s nothing illegal about the backfilling of Restaino with Dunn, sadly, one will have to look at her as an affirmative action selection; and Dunn will have to work her butt off to actually win a seat and prove herself “historically worthy” in improving the quality of education in the city’s schools – especially for the children (to paraphrase former President Barack Obama when he spoke of the death of Floridian teenager Trayvon Martin) that look like they could be her grandchildren.

 But on the other side of town, this is one of those “other side of the rainbow” rare moments that since the 1991 election of African-American basketball coach Andrew “Andy” Walker’s rise and fall from grace – abandoning his city council seat by moving and not resigning, yet still collecting a paycheck – and the advent of the rise of the haphazard City Councilman Charles “Charlie” Walker that since the death of Councilmen Robert Anderson and Ezra Scott, the city has been without black legislative representation, except between the two of the Walker” terms.

 “So then ,what y’all gonna do about it; maybe go out and make some Black History?”


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