Carl Paladino is fast becoming a larger problem than he is an asset for the Buffalo School District. He says he is not a racist, only that he isn’t politically correct, which he portrays as a virtue.
But how anyone labels him isn’t really the point. The documented fact is that his conduct betrays a raw insensitivity to anyone who isn’t white. And in a school district where only 22 percent of the student population is white, that’s a killer.
The most recent explosion occurred Saturday at a political rally in Olean. Referring to “damn Asians” and other “foreigners,” Paladino criticized what he said was the practice of many foreign students to declare residency after their first year at the University at Buffalo so they become eligible for the tuition break given to local residents.
But the problem, beyond his taunting of Asians, is that his allegation is false. As UB noted in response to Paladino, 99.2 percent of the school’s international students attend on nonresident visas and cannot declare residency. The university also noted in its statement that UB’s 5,000 international students do not displace those from New York. So what was the point?
On Monday, he said he was only trying to observe that out-of-state students, regardless of their birthplace, are benefitting from New York’s publicly subsidized university system at a high cost to taxpayers. But it’s a strange way to make that point and, frankly, it doesn’t hold up. Indeed, his comments feed the sense that he derives psychic benefit in demonizing people who look different from him. That’s called racism.
Paladino, himself, has fed the idea that he is racist, in part through the kinds of emails that he has found to be amusing. Many were overtly racist; he defended them as just funny.
But this is a problem that goes beyond the comments he makes about other people. As a high-profile member of the Buffalo School Board, his comments inevitably become a reflection on the district. They will cause others to draw conclusions about the district’s leadership and, in that, cannot help but affect its ability to offer the best possible education to Buffalo students.
Indeed, the comments come at a particularly inopportune time, as the district seeks to attract a highly qualified superintendent. Paladino’s penchant for race-baiting is anything but attractive.
He at least has the good sense to apologize. As the story spread from the Olean Times Herald to social media, he acknowledged his insensitivity. “I apologize to all Asians for the coarseness of my remark and selecting them as my example,” he said. “That wasn’t the point I was trying to make.”
Other community leaders took the opportunity to make note of the value that immigrants and foreign residents bring to the area.
“We should be having a whole other dialogue about how this population is critical to our economic development,” said Eva M. Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo. “If you don’t have a community that is welcoming, you can’t make your other economic development strategies work.”
But that’s not Paladino’s style. His interest in improving the school district seems real, but he harbors a dark view of others and shows no ability to control what comes out of his mouth or his email server.
Paladino dresses that up as a refusal to be politically correct: He’ll say what needs to be said. But that’s a facile justification for what is simply a destructive lack of judgment, and that cannot help but hurt the school district he serves and the city where he lives.