School & District Management

Buffalo School Board Calls for Carl Paladino to Resign Over Racist Comments

By Denisa R. Superville — December 29, 2016 5 min read
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The Buffalo school board voted 6-2 on Thursday to oust Carl Paladino from the city’s school board, giving him 24 hours to resign before it petitions the state’s education commissioner to remove him.

Paladino, who served as co-chair of President-elect Donald Trump’s New York campaign, is in hot water over racist comments published in the Artvoice, a Buffalo weekly, in which he said his wishes for 2017 included President Barack Obama dying from mad cow disease and for First Lady Michelle Obama to “return to being a male” and set “loose” in Zimbabwe.

Board members who supported the resolution said Paladino’s comments were the latest in a string of offenses that include bullying board members. One board member said the impact of Paladino’s words on students, particularly African-American students, was incalculable.

Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold said she had heard from people all over the country who were incredulous that a sitting school board member would say the things that Paladino confirmed to the paper were his responses.

“They would like me to tell you ‘you’re fired,’ ” Nevergold said. “But those are not my words, so I am asking you to do the right thing, and resign.”

“Words matter, Mr. Paladino,” she said.

Paladino’s statements were roundly condemned, and petitions calling for him to resign his seat on the school board quickly gained steam.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New York state teachers union, which represents educators and healthcare professionals, were among the prominent groups that are calling for State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove Paladino from his position.

Paladino has been on the school board since 2013, and he has said that he has no plans to quit. He said he intended to send the responses to his friends and not the newspaper.

He did not attend the meeting.

The commissioner can remove school board members in New York for willful misconduct or neglect of duty, but they can only be removed after a formal petition is filed with the state and a hearing is held, according to the New York Daily News.

The state education agency said that it was closely monitoring the actions of the Buffalo school board and other groups.

“Once we receive an application for removal, we will review it as quickly as possible,” a spokeswoman, Emily DeSantis, said. “We will continue to review all of our options.”

The special school board meeting came after a morning rally in Buffalo calling on Paladino to resign.

Thursday’s resolution, introduced by board member Hope Jay, called Paladino’s comments “unambiguously racist, morally repugnant, flagrantly disrespectful, inflammatory and inexcusable.”

An earlier version read, in part:

“These unambiguously racist, morally repugnant, flagrantly disrespectful, inflammatory and inexcusable comments by Mr. Paladino have garnered both local, national, and international attention that reflects 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; And,

Whereas, Mr. Paladino’s behavior has irrevocably impacted the work of the Buffalo Board of Education by negatively impacting the Buffalo City School District in its goal of safeguarding the rights of all students in promoting a safe and healthy environment in which students are treated respectfully, by everyone, And, the inalienable right, guaranteed by the New York State Constitution and the Dignity for All Students Act, afforded to the children of the City of Buffalo to be provided an education free of discrimination and harassment; And,

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Buffalo Board of Education demands that Mr. Paladino immediately resign within 24 hours from his position with the Board. In the event that Mr. Paladino declines to resign within 24 hours, the Board resolves that it shall retain outside legal counsel to file a 306 Petition with NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to pursue Mr. Paladino’s removal from the Buffalo Board of Education. Recommendations for outside counsel shall be made by the General Counsel.”

Jay received loud applause and a standing ovation when she read the part of resolution demanding Paladino’s resignation. According to the resolution, more than 70 percent of the district’s students and families are people of color, immigrants, or other minorities.

Patricia Pierce, one of the two board members who voted against the resolution, said Paladino should be given the opportunity to apologize and learn from his mistake. The absence of her name from the resolution did not mean that she approved of Paladino comments, Pierce said.

With the country and the world watching what happens in Buffalo, the city should take a page from Charleston, S.C., where some family members of the victims of Dylann Roof’s massacre of black churchgoers showed forgiveness, she said.

“I suggest that we take this opportunity to show the entire country that we are city of good neighbors and that we are about forgiveness,” said Pierce, who said she was a friend of Paladino’s.

She was loudly interrupted by attendees.

She called on Paladino to step up, apologize, and learn, along with the community, that “we must live, work, and play together,” and “that all of us matter to each other.”

But board member Paulette Woods said that if a Buffalo public school student had said what Paladino said—such as wishing the president dead and questioning someone’s gender—that student would be suspended.

“Lawmakers should not be lawbreakers,” Woods said.

In a statement to The New York Times, Paladino said that the school board’s vote was “certainly not an illustration of a profile in courage or leadership.”

Similarly, he told the Buffalo News that the efforts by local politicians, including members of the school board, county executive, and city council, were politically-motivated.

“I will fight to the end to continue to expose the corruption,” he said.

Image: Carl Paladino speaks to members of the media at Trump Tower, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in New York.

--Andrew Harnik/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.