Poor Carl Paladino. He was outmaneuvered on hiring a new Buffalo school superintendent, and he can’t stand it. He confuses principle, wanted in all public officials, with obnoxiousness, which is useful to none.
His penchant for poor judgment was on display again this week in an email in which he either insulted or demeaned the state education commissioner, the new Buffalo school superintendent and the president of the School Board. And why? Because their ideas are different from his.
The problem isn’t that they are necessarily right and Paladino necessarily wrong. Public entities need people who are willing to stand up for their beliefs, even when they are outnumbered. That could have been one of Paladino’s greatest assets, if only he had any ability to control his vituperative tongue.
Disagreement doesn’t have to be offensive. But it does in Paladinoland, as he showed in the email about Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Buffalo School Superintendent Kriner Cash and, evidently, School Board President James Sampson. Here’s what he wrote in the email, originally to a supporter that he later forwarded to others:
“He [Cash] was brought to us by a rookie Commissioner of Education and rammed up our … by a pathetic and treacherous liberal equivocator [apparently Sampson] who has trouble tying his shoes in the morning …”
Then, referring to – and threatening – Cash, he wrote, “He can either do the right thing, surround himself with the right people and shine nationally, or mess with me and be fitted for his career-ending casket.”
To summarize: Do what Paladino says, and the nation will salute; have his own ideas, and it’s cemetery time. Only in Paladinoland – or maybe Trump Tower – is that kind of invective interpreted as normal or acceptable.
The truly sad part of this is that Paladino has done some good things for the school district. He has infused in it a commitment to real reform. He has attracted other like-minded members to the board, including Larry Quinn. He has made a difference.
But he sabotages himself and the district with ugly language and ugly behavior. He calls that a refusal to bow to political correctness, but that’s a cop-out. Paladino demonstrates a lack of civility that effective public life requires, at least most of the time. So, like Donald Trump, he puts lipstick on the pig and rudeness becomes noble.
He sometimes seems to understand when he’s gone too far, but only after the fact. Case in point: A day after his email diatribe went public, he offered Cash his good wishes, though about as tersely as possible: “By the way,” he said, “I wish him well. I want him to do good.”
Paladino can truly serve the public if he learns to advance his agenda in a more civil manner.
If that is to happen, it will be at least in part because his supporters let him know that it’s needed. They need to tell him that the emperor has no clothes.
Neither Paladino nor any other board member needs always – or ever, for that matter – to agree with the others. Indeed, his criticism of the failure to include performance standards in Cash’s contract was spot on. (Those standards are supposed to be determined soon.) He also makes a defensible criticism of the length of the contract and the salary it offers.
Disagreement is to be expected, but compromise and civility are the keys to the kingdom. And therein lies the problem. Not only does Paladino shun the kind of compromises that make democracy possible, but he registers his disagreements with something that sounds like raw hatred.
We don’t know if Paladino’s performance is sufficiently outrageous for Elia to consider removing him from office, but a petition is pending, filed by members of the School Board’s minority bloc, whom Paladino delights in insulting. Those members have done little good for the school district, but about Paladino, they have a point. Elia should watch closely.