On Thursday night, the school board for Buffalo Public Schools sent a clear and scathing message to one of its own: resign or we will find a way to force you off our council. The member in question is upstate real estate developer, former Republican candidate for Governor of New York, co-chair of Donald Trump’s New York state campaign, and all around dumpster fire of vulgarity and bigotry, Carl Paladino. Mr. Paladino earned national attention and scorn when he was asked to reply to a Buffalo weekly about his wishes for the upcoming year. In a fashion familiar to those who have observed his public antics over the years, Mr. Paladino wished for the death of President Obama from mad cow disease contracted by bestiality. He further wished for the death of White House adviser Valerie Jarrett by beheading after conviction for treason. He piled on with a hope that the First Lady “return to being a male” and that she would “return” to Africa to live with a gorilla.
Condemnation of his remarks were swift and pretty much total. While Donald Trump has not yet spoken on the issue, the Trump transition team issued a rebuke calling Paladino’s words “absolutely reprehensible,” and his own son took to the family company’s Facebook page to distance the business from his father’s words. The Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents announced a blistering rejection of Paladino’s bigotry on Twitter:
Further denunciations came from sitting Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mr. Paladino’s alma mater, St. Bonaventure University, and parent groups in Buffalo while official calls for his removal from the school board grew.
In his typical fashion, Mr. Paladino defied his detractors, insisting he was not racist and that his remarks were a form of “deprecating humor.” On his own Facebook page, he insisted that his comments had “nothing to do with race,” and proceeded to go on a lengthy rant about his alleged grievances against the Obamas, including numerous accusations that source from fake news and debunked rumors from the dredges of the Internet…or from emails forwarded by your racist uncle (Ms. Jarrett is an American by birth, Mr. Paladino). He also casually referred to the President as a “lazy ass” and signed off by saying “tough luck if you don’t like my answer.”
Considering the long history of dehumanizing African Americans by comparing them to gorillas and the body shaming African American women endure, Mr. Paladino’s comments were blatantly racist. However, to be fair – his comments were not merely racist. They were also obscene, misogynist, homophobic, and immoral. None of this is that much of a surprise. During his catastrophic run for governor in 2010, Mr. Paladino’s personal email habits became public and let’s just say what he offered to Artvoice is in line with his penchant for racist and sexually obscene material. What was not expected was a revised statement as the controversy deepened where Mr. Paladino said that he had not intended to make those “wishes” public, apologized to the “minority community,” and characterized his words as “inappropriate under any circumstance.” Not that his statement admitting to having made a “mistake” was anything resembling adequate contrition, but the mere fact that a man who has made his public life about never backing down on any horrendous thing he utters felt the need to revise his sentiments in any way shape or fashion is significant. In flailing about to keep his school board seat, Mr. Paladino had to do the one thing he loathes the most: admit an error.
Of course, Mr. Paladino’s potential problems as a member of the Buffalo school board are not limited to his mouth. He openly admits that he makes money in the charter school sector, a sector that he can promote from his seat on the board. Interestingly, neither of the state’s most vocal proponents for expanding charter schools and who claim school choice as a civil rights issue have said boo about Mr. Paladino to the public. Don’t take my word for it – check out “StudentsFirstNY” and “Families for Excellent Schools” on Twitter, and then click through to their web pages and look for a single press release or mention of the fact that a school board seat in Buffalo where charter schools enroll about 1 in 4 students is held by a vehement racist. Not a word in condemnation.
Mr. Paladino’s dire situation was made abundantly clear by School Board President, Barbara Seals Nevergood who said before the Thursday vote, “Words matter, Mr. Paladino….The impact on children of color, especially African-American children is incalculable…..They would like me to tell you, ‘You’re fired.'” Board members argued that Mr. Paladino had broken a trust with parents, especially with minority parents, when he could not express his dislike for the Obama administration in anything resembling respectful words. If he fails to resign, the next step is that the board will seek legal means to end his tenure.
This result is entirely correct for numerous reasons. Mr. Paladino’s ability to make dispassionate decisions has long been in question because of his business interests in the charter sector. He seems incapable of expressing his personal views in a manner that remotely assists the board in seeking the best interests for all children. And despite his frequent avowals to the contrary, his words are those of a racist. While Americans have a Constitutional right to repugnant views, certain positions in society demand a character that is free from those views – and member of a school board is one such position. Within that office, Mr. Paladino is responsible for making choices and policies that directly impact the lives and opportunities of 1000s of children. Their parents and guardians are entitled to know that the people endowed with that authority are free from systemic bigotry. How else can they trust that the board will only consider what is best for them and their children? How can they happily send their children to schools governed, at least in part, by a man who thinks racist humor is personally acceptable? These are people who have entrusted their children to public schools, and their faith in that system is vital to its success.
Mr. Paladino cannot regain the trust needed to serve the families of Buffalo. He must go.