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Editorial: End of distracting Paladino case may finally be in sight

It’s still more than two months away, but at least the controversy surrounding Carl Paladino’s membership on the Buffalo School Board is moving toward some resolution. It can’t happen soon enough.

New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has scheduled an in-person, public hearing for June 22. The issue is Paladino’s fitness for service on the School Board, and it began with his revolting, racially drenched comments on former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama. It also includes his release of information that was discussed in an executive session. The latter is, so far, the sole issue in the June hearing.

We have reservations about removing an elected official for anything other than criminal activity, but it’s fair to say that Paladino is the principal author of his own miseries. He says he is the victim of an illegal conspiracy to force him off the board, but that’s spin.

In a December piece in Artvoice, the alternative weekly newspaper in Buffalo, Paladino wrote that he wished Michelle Obama would “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.” He fantasized that the outgoing president would catch mad cow disease after being caught “having relations” with a Hereford.

He later revealed details of an executive session in which the board discussed the effort to produce a new contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation. That enraged some board members, who find it easier to conduct public business in secret. But in doing so, he gave his opponents an issue more substantive than his vile comments about the Obamas and long-running feud with opponents on the board.

In total, four petitions have been filed with Elia to remove Paladino from the School Board, while board meetings have regularly been punctuated with protests about Paladino. It’s undoubtedly true that some of those efforts have been driven by teachers unions which, for other reasons, would like to see Paladino removed from the board, and perhaps not to the benefit of quality, affordable public education.

Nevertheless, they wouldn’t have this opportunity but for the fact Paladino is a loose cannon, with no apparent ability to temper his own intolerant tendencies. This is the man who also acknowledged forwarding racist emails he found to be funny and who referred to the “damn Asians” attending the University at Buffalo.

Under pressure, Paladino eventually apologized for his comments on the Obamas, whom he insisted were “totally responsible for the hurt and suffering of so many others,” though he didn’t bother to explain how.

It’s hard to feel sorry for Paladino, a man who can’t understand it when large swaths of the public decide they don’t want to deal with him anymore.

That doesn’t mean he should be removed from the board, though. As intolerable as his conduct sometimes is, the rhythms of democracy also demand great respect. Voters, not state officials, should be able to choose who represents them.

But it is important to move ahead on this matter. It has already been four months since Paladino erupted and two more remain until the hearing. That’s a half-year, creating additional stress on a School Board that is already notable for its chronic dysfunction and on a school district that is desperate for some sense of possibility.

It would be best if the June 22 hearing could consolidate the issues from all four petitions. That would help to put this episode aside more quickly and allow the board, if it chooses, to turn to that other matter of educating Buffalo’s children.

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