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Thursday, May 1, 2008

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Council condemns Paladino’s remarks about James Williams

Critique of superintendent called ‘racially divisive’

Updated: 04/30/08 8:37 AM

Carl P. Paladino says he’s not apologizing.

Common Council members, in a 5-4 vote Tuesday, condemned as “racially divisive” recent remarks by developer Carl P. Paladino, who said Buffalo’s school superintendent was hired because he’s black.

Some Council members also said Paladino owes Superintendent James A. Williams an apology.

“I think this individual really needs to be run out of Buffalo,” said Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, who said Paladino’s frequent “rampages” and “inflammatory” remarks negate much of the good of his development projects.

Paladino responded that he has no intention of apologizing to Williams. He said he knows that some members of the search committee involved in the recruitment of a superintendent were upset that race was the key factor.

“I said the truth. The truth hurts,” Paladino said. “He is a total failure.”

As for the harsh criticism he faced from some Council members, Paladino offered this suggestion: “These people should go see a psychiatrist.”

Williams’ office did not return calls seeking comment, but five of Buffalo’s nine lawmakers have rebuked Paladino for comments he made Thursday at a Niagara Frontier Industry Education Council breakfast. Business leaders, educators and students attended the Cheektowaga forum.

Davis said it was unconscionable that Paladino made the comments in front of children — youngsters who should be taught that hard work, not handouts, get people ahead in life. “The message that was sent there to these kids was absolutely horrendous,” Davis said.

Paladino said he has since apologized to the children — but only because they probably didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. He said he will not apologize to Williams, contending that he and the School Board are mismanaging the district.

“I don’t like incompetent people,” Paladino said, alleging that hundreds of millions of dollars are being squandered on what he views as a substandard education for city children.

At the very least, Davis said, Paladino should resign from Buffalo Place and Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps, or be ousted from the not-for-profit entities’ boards.

But Davis and Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith also want the state to consider passing a law that would ban people who engage in “racially offensive” conduct from obtaining public leases or contracts. The state rents office space in some of Paladino’s buildings. Most Council members were uncomfortable with this clause. They sent it to committee for further debate.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. questioned the constitutionality of such a rule, a concern that was echoed by Council President David A. Franczyk. Speech can be “stupid, offensive or wrong” and still be protected by the First Amendment, Franczyk said.

Government would be “treading on dangerous waters” if it tried to punish people who said offensive things, said Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto.

Council members voting in favor of the bill condemning Paladino’s remarks were Davis; bill co-sponsor Smith; Lo- Curto; Richard A. Fontana, Lovejoy District; and Bonnie E. Russell, University. Voting against it were Golombek; Franczyk, Fillmore; Michael P. Kearns, South; and David A. Rivera, Niagara.

Some who opposed the bill said they found Paladino’s comments unacceptable. But they want to review transcripts of what he said — if such transcripts exist — and want the entire bill to be discussed in committee.

In other action, lawmakers learned that City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo will audit the Mayor’s Impact Team, after Friday’s revelations that city workers were allegedly caught doing landscaping for a longtime city employee during normal working hours.

William A. Buyers, a former Council member, was suspended for 15 days after WKBW-TV videotaped a crew doing work at his home. Buyers is a seasonal employee who has long wielded influence within the Mayor’s Impact Team.

This isn’t the first time Buyers has been the target of criticism. Peter K. Cutler, Mayor Byron W. Brown’s communications chief, said the administration is aware of a controversy when Buyers worked under a previous administration. He said that there were reports that some city workers might have performed personal tasks for Buyers but that there is no documentation that disciplinary action was taken.

“There is nothing in his personnel file . . . about any suspension or termination,” Cutler said.

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