Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino tried to knock his opponent out of the May 3 school board election. 18-year-old Hutch Tech student Austin Harig of South Buffalo defended his nominating petitions Thursday morning at an Erie County Board of Election.
“I think it is going to backfire on him because I am a serious candidate," stated Harig.
Harig is taking on the powerful real estate developer for the Park District seat. Harig said he decided to run for the school board because he believes Paladino has caused too much conflict.
But Paladino's campaign manager filed an objection against the teen's petition signatures, saying they're invalid. They are now they are under review by the Board of Elections.
"He tried knocking me off the ballot after not attending the debate. He challenged my own signature on my petition," Harig said.
Harig signed an affidavit indicating it is his own signature. Paladino did not participate in a recent candidate’s debate. Candidates are required to submit 500 signatures, but Harig returned more than 600.
Harig told WBFO News he walked door-to-door in south Buffalo and said he’s going to have a 'big defense' for his signatures at his petition hearing.
“Very prominent people stepped up and said, you know, we’re not going to let him get away with this. We’re going to help you defend your petitions. And so my petitions are being defended. We only need to have about seven defenses, honestly. We’re pretty golden and I think he’s going to be pretty upset when he finds out I’m on the ballot,” said Harig.
Harig said he has repeatedly tried to reach out to Paladino through phone calls and Facebook, but received no response.
Harig is endorsed by the Western New York Labor Federation and NYSUT, but he claims he's not getting any financial support and has a “neutral union agenda.” The teen established a Go Fund Me page that has raised just under $2,000.
Harig will be graduating from Hutch Tech in June. He has not made a final college choice, but tells us he is leaning toward SUNY Buffalo State.
“I want to have a future in law and I might come back to politics. I really love having a life of service. I love people and I love helping people and making them happy," noted Harig.
Harig said he doesn’t live at home, adding "I've had an interesting history." Harig moved out when he was 17 and rents in south Buffalo.
"I come from a family that’s had a hard time, so I just ended up moving up rather early I felt like it would be better for my family if I did that," said Harig.
But Harig explained that his family still supports him emotionally and insists it was his decision to live on his own. Harig also runs his own social media advertising business.
"We do niche advertising in various different categories," explained Harig.
At Thursday’s hearing at the Board of Elections, commissioners ruled that 509 of the more than 600 signatures Harig collected were valid allowing him to appear on the ballot. Harig called Paladino's challenges "bogus."
“Nobody else is going to bring adult behavior to the school board then it is my civic duty to try because I care about these kids and I want to help them and if nobody else will, well then an 18-year-old has to put his life aside for a little bit and kick this guy out," explained Harig. “But I guess a lot of people are scared of him and think he is a big bully, because he is a big bully, but you know I think it is just a bunch of bluster and bravado."
WBFO News reached out to Paladino for comment on this story, but he did not return our call.