Lawyer, real estate developer and businessman Carl Paladino is often at the center of controversy.
So at least 50 of the outspoken Paladino supporters showed up on the steps of Buffalo City Hall on Wednesday afternoon for a “Pro-Carl” rally, largely in response to an “Anti-Paladino” rally held last week at the same spot.
On Wednesday, one Paladino supporter after another had a say, calling on his defenders to support the School Board’s reform faction, represented most stridently by Paladino.
“I was sick and tired of hearing all these derogatory remarks about Carl,” said the rally’s co-organizer, Ellie Corcoran.
“Carl is one of the most generous, kind people I have ever met, and it doesn’t matter what color you are,” she said.
What compelled her to organize the rally?
“All of a sudden, I had a brainstorm: Why don’t we have a Pro-Carl Rally and show people in Buffalo how much support Carl really has,” Corcoran said.
Even though she is a Clarence resident, Corcoran said she taught the “No Child Left Behind” program in inner-city Buffalo until 2011.
It wasn’t difficult to get the other organizer, Jul Thompson of Niagara Falls, on board with the idea, either. The two women said they announced the event on Facebook and sent out email notifications. They said Paladino did not even know what they were planning.
“We are gathered here today to help set the record straight,” Thompson said. “Carl Paladino does not sacrifice his extremely valuable time, his expertise and his personal comfort to somehow feed a racist desire to exploit children stuck in the abysmally failing Buffalo Public Schools. He is here to reverse that trend.”
South Buffalonian Neil McCoy dealt with the lone heckler at the rally by reminding him by megaphone that detractors had their say last week.
“I know personally he does a lot for the city. He does a lot for the children, a lot for the schools,” McCoy said. “He’s an all-around great guy.”
Tori Poczkalski said people continually spewing hate and causing division compelled her to attend Wednesday’s rally.
“There’s no need for it. It has to stop. Carl is very passionate about the kids and the school system. He always has been,” said Poczkalski, a mother of four children and a graduate of Buffalo Public Schools.
This was very different from last week’s rally, when Paladino was ridiculed for “racist and adverse” behavior. Demonstrators then called on community leaders and the media to stand up and speak out against Paladino. They accused him of making “perpetual attack” on people who are different than he and anyone who disagrees with him. Speakers called him a significant distraction for the board and some of his actions and comments have only served to exacerbate a racial divide and inequity.
At the “Pro-Carl” rally on Wednesday, some of Paladino’s friends acknowledged that he can sometimes rub people the wrong way, but the media and his detractors focus only on the negative.
“I thought it was imperative that somebody support Carl. Carl is a good guy,” said Ed Williams, a Buffalo resident for most of his life and one of the first Paladino boosters to arrive at the rally.
“He can be abrasive sometimes undoubtedly, but there’s a lot of good things to say about Carl ... I just think Carl gets a bad rep many times,” Williams said. “I’m very fortunate to know Carl, and I’m very glad to be here today.”
Paladino took the podium to a round of applause.
“I think we’re here today not to talk about bigotry and bias and racism. Those are all statements made by dumb people who don’t [have] the intelligence to respond adequately to the issues at hand, so they play the race card,” said Paladino, who added that the “outpouring of support from the African-American community is awesome.”
“They’re people who really want a better education system for their children,” Paladino said. “They recognize the nonsense that goes on with these inadequate leaders who sit at the table with us at these (School Board) meetings.”