This blog has been edited from an earlier version.
One of the best science-fiction films of the 1970’s is the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” starring Donald Sutherland. Sutherland’s character, a city health inspector, starts to notice personality changes in the people around him. When Sutherland drops in on a Chinese couple who own the neighborhood dry cleaning shop, he’s surprised not to hear their usual bickering. The husband leans into Sutherland while his wife stares blankly at the two of them and he whispers, “She’s not my wife.”
Watching the Rochester school board elect its new officers last night was a bit like watching a scene from the film; some board members’ votes were mysterious and hard to explain. While Van White’s election to the board presidency was fairly predictable, the reasons some members gave for supporting Cynthia Elliott as vice president were convoluted and didn’t gel with reality.
Elliott has been a controversial and, at times, divisive figure on the school board. She is frequently confrontational and has found herself at odds with her fellow board members on everything from the direction of the school district to the supervision of superintendents. Elliott also didn't initially have the support of the Democratic Party in her latest re-election bid. She had to wage a primary to get on the ballot.
Yet some board members twisted themselves into pretzels last night, trying to justify their votes.
In nominating Elliott for vice president, Jose Cruz said that although he and Elliott often disagreed, that he respects her passion for helping city students. Outgoing board president Malik Evans said he voted for Elliott because he always knows where he stands with her.
Elliott's challenger for the VP post was Willa Powell, who was nominated by Van White and has consistently been one of White's strongest supporters.
Powell was also supported by board member Mary Adams. Adams said she couldn't support someone for a leadership position who not too long ago advocated for doing away with the school board. (Elliott supported mayoral control during former mayor Bob Duffy's push a few years ago.)
Elliott ended up winning the vice presidency in a 4 to 3 vote.
The loss had to be tough for Powell to take, since she has frequently supported the board members who ended up voting for Elliott last night. Powell's colleagues seemed to have trouble looking Powell in the eye during the meeting.
Powell's loss may be more about her lack of support at City Hall and in some corners of the Democratic Party. She was a critic of Lt. Governor Robert Duffy when he was mayor, and she’s often spoken out against the neo-liberal education reformers who embrace charter schools. On the other hand, Elliott and new mayor Lovely Warren share a benefactor in David Gantt, a state Assembly member and one of the area's most powerful and influential politicians.