Political maverick and Buffalo businessman Carl P. Paladino is no fan of President Obama, and he's spreading the word through a car rental company he operates.
The strident views of the onetime candidate for governor may not be surprising to Western New Yorkers, but they didn't sit well with two women who flew into Buffalo recently and rented cars at Thrifty Car Rental. They were surprised and angry to find anti-Obama bumper stickers on the cars, and they took to social media and an online news site to show their displeasure.
The women complained in a story on the Huffington Post that they rented cars at Thrifty Car Rental across from Buffalo Niagara International Airport earlier this month and discovered a white bumper sticker that said "Vote for the AMERICAN," in red and blue letters. The news blog said the women, one from Chicago and one from San Diego, were offended by the "birther movement bumper stickers."
Ellicott Development Co., whose founder and chairman is Paladino, operates Thrifty Car Rental and Dollar Rent a Car at the Buffalo Niagara airport, and Thrifty Car Rental at Rochester International Airport. He said he has not decided whether to remove the bumper stickers from the rental vehicles.
One woman told the Huffington Post that she rented a car Oct. 12 to attend a family wedding in Rochester. The other woman said she rented a car Oct. 13 and 14 when she was in the area to attend her daughter's wedding.
Paladino, who refused to talk to the Huffington Post, said it got the story "upside-down."
"I'm not a birther, I'm an American," he declared. He said he was "fed up" with Obama after the attack and murder of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. He said the president is not telling the truth about what happened and that Obama defies basic American precepts and has weakened the country.
"For that reason, I don't believe he is an American. I don't think he fosters the American ideals," Paladino said. "I could care less where Obama was born. I don't feel he is an American with American values doing the best for America."
Paladino ran on the Republican line against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for governor in 2010 with the support of tea party enthusiasts.
He said there are close to 5,000 cars in the area with the same bumper sticker on them. He declined to reveal how many are on rental cars, saying he would not divulge details about his business. The bumper stickers were nowhere to be seen in a spot check of the agency's parking lot Saturday.
Anna Boottenhoff, manager of corporate communications for Thrifty, said Thrifty Car Rental "does not condone the placement of political materials on our corporate rental cars nor is it associated with any particular political position. The alleged incident involves a licensee of ours, acting as an independent business operation." Boottenhoff added: "We have been assured that the situation has been rectified."
One of the women who rented a car, Stephanie DiBiase of Chicago, sent several Tweets to the national office of Thrifty Car Rental complaining about the bumper sticker. "Thanks for making my car rental political. I will NEVER rent from you again," one of the Tweets said. The company responded, asking where it had been rented.
"There shouldn't have been a bumper sticker on the car," Thrifty responded to her.
She said her boyfriend and her brother noticed the sticker when they were putting things in the trunk and they took it as an expression of the birther movement, which claims that Obama was born outside the United States and is not a U.S. citizen. "We didn't even pull out of the lot before ripping it off," she told The Buffalo News on Saturday.
DiBiase, an independent design consultant, said she was upset about the sticker and concerned people would think she agreed with the sentiment.
"He's entitled to believe that personally," DiBiase said. "I think it's unfortunate for him to use his company to further his political beliefs."
A clerk answering the telephone at Thrifty Car Rental, when asked about the bumper stickers Saturday, said, "Give me a break. No comment. Bye."
Paladino said he put the bumper stickers on the rental cars because he "wanted to make a statement."
"Somebody has to say it," he said. He also said he suggested his employees vote for Gov. Mitt Romney for president, because he believes small businesses have suffered under Obama and there will be no job creation if Obama is re-elected.
I have 500 employees, and I have encouraged them to vote for Romney," he said. "They're free to vote for whoever they want. I don't threaten them. I tell them who I'm endorsing."
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