BUFFALO, N.Y. ― The Buffalo Board of Education voted 6-2 Thursday to issue a stunning ultimatum to Carl Paladino, one of their own members who has been under national fire for his racially charged comments about the Obamas: Resign within 24 hours, or the board will petition the state to remove you.
Paladino was Donald Trump’s New York campaign co-chair and currently sits on the nine-member Buffalo school board. In recent days, he’s faced intense criticism for his answers to a local newspaper’s questionnaire about what he would like to see happen in 2017. Paladino said he’d like President Barack Obama to die from mad cow disease and called first lady Michelle Obama a man who should go live with gorillas.
Buffalonians sick of Paladino making their city look bad mobilized Thursday, first for a protest downtown in Niagara Square and later at a special school board meeting at city hall.
The board met to consider a fiery resolution that said if Paladino did not resign within 24 hours, they would petition New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove him. Elia has so far declined to weigh in on the controversy.
The resolution, introduced by board member Hope Jay, called Paladino’s remarks about the Obamas “unambiguously racist, morally repugnant, flagrantly disrespectful, inflammatory and inexcusable.” It also said they reflected negatively on “the Buffalo Board of Education, the City of Buffalo and its leadership and its citizens, the State of New York, and every decent human being in America and abroad who has been shocked and offended by his words.”
When Jay read her resolution Thursday at the school board’s special session, the crowd gave her an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Only two board members ― Patti Pierce and Larry Quinn, who are considered Paladino allies ― did not support the resolution. They said they would like to see Paladino apologize to the students of the district rather than resign.
Pierce said she hoped the people in Buffalo could show Paladino some forgiveness for his comments and “take a page out of the horrific massacre that happened in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine innocent people in a house of worship were slain by a hateful, hate-filled man.”
The comparison drew gasps from the audience and was too much for one woman, who left shouting that it was offensive to use the murdered African-American congregation members in this situation.
“Although I do think he has a racial filter from time to time, I don’t know that it’s that much different from many people on this board,” Quinn said. The school board is majority black.
He also recounted a moment of racial understanding he had when he was younger, telling a story about the black woman his father hired to look after him when his mother was ill.
The protest Thursday morning drew several hundred people outside city hall, despite cold, slushy weather.
“He’s like a test case,” said Ellie Dorritie, 74. “If we let him stay, if we give him a pass, if we even give him a week ― it’s like a green light for all the rest of the slime to come out of the sewer. And because we have the Trump administration coming up ― all of that garbage, flowing all around it ― it means that we’re going to give Trump a chance to do that. We’ve had Carl Paladino’s filth for so many years. It’s got to end now.”
Trump was on the minds of many people at the protest.
Josh Gordon, 31, came with his two kids, one of whom is set to begin school next year. He said he hasn’t really been very involved in local politics but after this most recent election, he’s going to start doing more.
“I would like somebody to hear that this isn’t OK,” Gordon said. “I want [my son] to go into a school system where the sort of people who say the sort of shit that Carl Paladino says ― I don’t want that in my city. … I know that I’m pretty fed up with this kind of stuff, and the election of Trump, Paladino’s support of Trump, has motivated me to do a little more than I’ve been doing.”
Paladino’s comments have drawn widespread criticism, including from his own son, who called them “disrespectful.”
“Carl’s comments are absolutely reprehensible, and they serve no place in our public discourse,” added a Trump campaign spokeswoman.
Paladino tried to issue a form of an apology this week, saying he never intended to hurt the “minority community,” is “certainly” not a racist and actually meant to send the responses to friends ― not to the publication Artvoice.
He has also indicated he won’t step down. In a statement released Thursday, he called the board’s resolution calling for his resignation “certainly not an illustration of a profile in courage or leadership” and said it was retaliation for his attempts to uncover corruption within their ranks. He added he would “fight to the end to continue to expose the corruption.”
But Paladino has been losing local support. This week, the Buffalo Common Council voted unanimously to call for Paladino’s resignation, with one of his longtime supporters joining the other members. Thousands of people have signed petitions urging Elia to remove Paladino, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sent her a letter this week asking her to do the same.
Larry Scott, co-chair of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization, told The Huffington Post this week that he was in the process of filing an official complaint with Elia about Paladino.
If Paladino doesn’t immediately resign, getting rid of him could be a slow process. The Buffalo News explained that he would have the right to appeal the Buffalo board’s decision to Elia. The whole process could take six to eight months.
A handful of board members have been thrown out in recent years for misconduct ― but it was their behavior, not their words, that landed them in trouble, making the Paladino case unusual. The school board’s resolution argued that Paladino violates the New York Constitution and the Dignity for all Students Act, which gives children the right to “an education free of discrimination and harassment.”
When Paladino ran for New York governor in 2010, he came under fire for sending emails to associates that included references to bestiality and offensive characterizations of Obama. In one email labeled “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal,” there was a video clip of African tribesmen dancing around.
Local activists are launching an anti-Paladino website this weekend and on Jan. 5 will be marching to Paladino’s house to protest.
Want more updates from Amanda Terkel? Sign up for her newsletter, Piping Hot Truth, here.