Many prominent people praised state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia's decision to oust Carl Paladino from the Buffalo School Board, but not always for the reasons Elia cited.
Elia's decision was based on Paladino, in January 2017, publicly discussing confidential information from an October 2016 executive session of the board.
But many of the people who lauded the decision instead referred to racist comments Paladino made in December about former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
"Buffalo is a better place today because Carl Paladino no longer has any power or authority over the lives of tens of thousands of children of color in the Buffalo Public Schools," the Buffalo chapter of Showing up for Racial Justice, which has staged a series of anti-Paladino protests, said in a statement. "He has never been fit to serve and Commissioner Elia's decision makes that very clear. Paladino will no longer terrorize the board majority or embarrass the parents, teachers, and community members with his outdated mentality and retrograde positions."
Similarly, Mayor Byron W. Brown as well as his opponents in the upcoming mayoral primary – City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder and Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant – spoke of Paladino's ouster in terms of his December comments. That is when Paladino suggested Barack Obama contract mad cow disease and that Michelle Obama go to Zimbabwe and live with a gorilla.
"As I said last December, when I urged Carl Paladino to resign from the School Board, clearly the process of healing and bringing people together needs to begin," Brown said Thursday in response to Elia's ruling. "That is even more clear today, so I am satisfied that this decision was made, and I am hopeful that we can now begin that process more completely."
"Ever since Carl Paladino made his despicable remarks, his presence on the School board became an unwelcome distraction," Schroeder said.
"His absence from the board will guarantee that our children will no longer be represented by a racist bigot who has such little respect for common courtesy and decency for all people regardless of ethnicity or race," Grant added.
School Board President Barbara Seals-Nevergold, who was among the board members who filed the charges against Paladino, talked about Paladino's ouster Thursday in terms of Elia's ruling, which cited comments Paladino made in an Artvoice article detailing conversations from a closed-door executive session of the School Board.
"To have a member willfully violate confidentiality does not do the school district any good," Nevergold said.
Nevergold expressed hope that the School Board will operate more smoothly with Paladino off the board.
"We are looking forward to moving forward without distraction," she said. "Our hope is we do not have continued disruption."
Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, agreed.
"I would have been surprised had she not removed him," he said. "He definitely violated the board bylaws and also the law. But in addition to him being removed because he violated state law, he had no business being on the board. With him gone it's a better thing for our students and our community."
School Board members Patricia A. Pierce and Larry Quinn, Paladino's only supporters on the nine-member board, disagreed with Elia's ruling.
"I'm surprised," Pierce said. "I didn't think that the offense with regard to the executive session breach was significant enough to warrant removal. Much of what he talked about, it was long after it occurred in executive session, and the contract had already been settled. It's not as if he went against a gag order that affected the negotiation or the ability to settle the contract. He spoke in January and the contract had been settled in October. Once a contract is settled, it's public knowledge. It's of public interest. It's public money."
"With the Board of Regents having become so political and dominated by NYSUT (New York State United Teachers), I wouldn't expect any other decision," Quinn said. "It would have required MaryEllen Elia to be one of the most courageous people I know, and she's not. She's a politician in so many ways."
Quinn and Pierce also said they think most people who support Elia's ruling think it was based on Paladino's comments about the Obamas rather than the executive session ruling.
"People conflate the Obama comments with this, and that had nothing to do with this," Quinn said. "He got kicked off because he talked about a contract that will cost almost a billion dollars, and how that contract was negotiated. He didn't do it while negotiations were going on. He didn't quote other board members. He simply explained to his constituents what went on when we spent close to $1 billion."
Pierce and Quinn repeated their condemnation of Paladino's comments about the Obamas, but both said Paladino brought important strengths to the board.
"Carl's business acumen is phenomenal," Pierce said. "He understands contracts, the law, business. He brought that business acumen to the table along with his passion. Carl is a fighter for the underdog. He cares about children in this city. He wants every single child to receive a quality education."
"Carl challenges the status quo," Quinn said, adding that Paladino's presence helped the school district make important strides in recent years.
Nevergold was asked if Paladino brought anything positive to the board.
"It would take a while to reflect on that and respond," she said.