School & District Management

School Board Member Stands Firm After Offensive Remarks About Obamas

By Denisa R. Superville — December 28, 2016 3 min read
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Carl Paladino, a Buffalo school board member who also served as the co-chair of President-elect Donald Trump’s New York campaign, said he does not plan to quit the school board even though comments he made about President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have led to calls for his resignation.

Paladino is facing scrutiny over comments he made to a Buffalo weekly, the Artvoice, in response to a questionnaire. He said that his wishes for 2017 include President Obama dying from mad cow disease and that First Lady Michelle Obama would “return to being a male,” and “let loose” in Zimbabwe.

The Buffalo school board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Thursday “to discuss board member conduct,” according to the Associated Press. Paladino has been on the board since 2013.

Paladino’s comments were roundly criticized, including by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who defeated Paladino in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has also asked New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove Paladino from the Buffalo school board.

In a letter to Elia, Janai Nelson, the associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the statements “unambiguously racist, barbaric, unpatriotic, and wholly inappropriate for a person responsible for the educational direction of any school district, much less a school district as diverse as Buffalo’s.” She also wrote that Paladino’s comments were the latest in a series of “misogynistic” and “abominable” statements he has made.

The New York Daily News reportsthat New York state law allows the commissioner to remove a school board member as a result of willful misconduct or neglect of duty. And that can be done only after a formal application and hearing, the paper said.

On Wednesday, New York State United Teachers, which represent educators and health care professionals, asked Elia to remove Paladino from the school board.

“We stand with parents and concerned citizens across New York State in calling upon the state education commissioner to immediately remove Carl Paladino from the Buffalo school board,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said in a statement from the union. “His racist rants are despicable. He is unfit to hold a position of responsibility affecting students and their well-being. As educators, we are dedicated to ensuring our students learn in classrooms and on campuses where the values of respect and civility are paramount. We condemn this disgusting, racist behavior and call for Carl Paladino’s removal.”

In a statement on Tuesday, which WBEN posted on its website in full, Paladino apologized to the minority community and said that what he had written was inappropriate.

His comments, he said, were only intended to be sent to friends and not to the Artvoice.

But he said that he won’t resign his position.

“No, I’m not leaving the school board, not when it’s time to help implement the real choice elements of Trump’s plan for education reform,” the statement read.

“I’ve spent years dedicated to the mission to defeat the thought that the liberal progressive elitist establishment can continue to hold our minority children captive in the cycle of poverty simply to provide their voting base. I don’t intend to yield to the fanatics among my adversaries. I certainly am not a racist.”

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

--Andrew Harnik/AP

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