A rally on the steps of City Hall sparked a war of words Tuesday between the organizers and the intended target: Buffalo School Board Member Carl Paladino.
It was billed as an “Anti-Paladino” event. On one side, the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization and a coalition of other local groups lashed out at Paladino for what they called “racist and adverse” behavior.
“None of it should be tolerated anymore. Paladino should not be trusted to make decisions for BPS. He is unfit to serve on the Buffalo Board of Education,” said Larry Scott, co-chairman of the organization.
In response, Paladino called the event a “hatchet job” against him because he is seen as a threat to the Buffalo Teachers Federation and its president, Philip Rumore.
“Isn’t it interesting that BPTO, an organization with an exclusively white leadership group who regularly attacks the DPCC and their African American leaders and constituents, and who recently supported an all white slate of candidates for the BTF election which serves a predominantly African American student population, is accusing me of being racist,” Paladino said in response.
“For the record we have black parents on our Executive Board,” Scott stated in a rebuttal. “One spoke yesterday.”
Paladino also charged that the BPTO:
“advocates only for the BTF leaders and Board of Education minority members’ parasitic activist friends and family.”
Scott also rebutted that statement: “BPTO never backed any candidates for the BTF election. This claim contradicts his first claim that we are aligned with Rumore.”
Rumore said his contact with the parent-teacher organization has been limited to brief conversations with Scott at School Board meetings and other rallies. Scott said his organization is not funded by the BTF and has no connection with Rumore.
“BTF has made no financial contributions to the BPTO, nor have I been at any Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization meetings,” Rumore said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He did not attend the rally.
None of the speakers at Tuesday’s demonstration called for Paladino’s outright removal from the board or a nullification of his vote for a permanent superintendent. Rather, they called upon community leaders at various levels to stand up and speak out against Paladino.
They said he makes “perpetual attacks” on people who are different than him and anyone who disagrees with him. Speakers said Paladino is a significant distraction for the board and some of his actions and comments have only served to exacerbate racial divide and inequity. They referenced the Public Accountability Initiative that has documented alleged bigoted comments Paladino has made over the years about African-Americans, Muslims, women and the LGBT community. And some of the speakers also pointed to Paladino’s comments last month at a political rally in Olean about “damn Asians” and other “foreigners” attending the University at Buffalo on discounted tuition.
But if Tuesday’s speakers had issues with Paladino’s comments and behaviors over the past couple of years, why the call for action now?
“It probably needed to be done a long time ago, but we are here now,” said Kristen Mendoza, a founding member of the organization, who is also a parent and teacher in the district. “Let’s keep this movement moving forward.”
Scott, who described himself as a “white father of two white children” has one child enrolled in city schools and one who is not yet of school age. He said a lot of Paladino’s viewpoints are not favorable to children of color, and it’s high time he is outed for it by people in power.
“It would be helpful if some board members and other elected public officials, community leaders, religious leaders even the media would speak out against some of Carl’s behavior,” Scott said. “There are people in positions of authority and leadership that could have an influence – starting with board members – in, at the least, minimizing the impact of Carl’s actions and comments.”
Other speakers also accused Paladino of being racially insensitive.
“Mr. Paladino, shame on you for being a merchant of intolerance,” said Richard Lipsitz, president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.
Franchelle Hart, the executive director of Open Buffalo, a citywide movement for social and economic justice, said some people advised her against speaking at the rally because Paladino might add her to what he calls the “sisterhood.” It’s a term he has used to describe the African-American females on the School Board.
“If being in the black sisterhood means standing up here as a competent, educated black woman fighting for the education and the future of our children, then you can invite me into the sisterhood,” Hart said to the group of about 50 supporters who attended the event.
Other groups represented at Tuesday’s rally were the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, PUSH Buffalo, Partnership for the Public Good and Concerned Clergy Coalition.