ALBANY, N.Y. — Former New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino is facing backlash on social media for a racist remark about first lady Michelle Obama published Thursday in a Buffalo alt-weekly publication.
Paladino, who was honorary co-chair of President-elect Donald Trump’s New York campaign, was one of a few dozen prominent Buffalo figures surveyed by Artvoice for an end-of-the-year feature on their hopes for 2017.
In response to a question about who should “go away,” Paladino suggested the first lady should “return to being a male” and move to an African cave.
“I’d like (Michelle Obama) to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla,” Paladino responded, according to Artvoice.
A Buffalo developer and member of the city’s school board, Paladino won a 2010 Republican primary for governor, defeating ex-U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio by running a campaign that lambasted political correctness.
Paladino’s remarks drew near-immediate backlash from officials and many social-media users in western New York, some of whom called on him to give up his school board seat.
Instead, Paladino doubled down, claiming the remarks were meant to be humorous and had “nothing to do with race” despite the references to the African country and Michelle Obama, an African-American.
His lengthy, 527-word statement referred to President Barack Obama as a “lazy ass president” while criticizing him for everything from his handling of the Syrian conflict to his treatment of the military to his opposition to Trump’s presidential campaign.
“And yes, it’s about a little deprecating humor which America lost for a long time,” Paladino said of his Artvoice response. “Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don’t like my answer.”
Paladino’s Artvoice remarks also targeted President Obama, with Paladino saying he hopes the president contracts mad cow disease by having a relationship with cattle.
“He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to (Obama adviser) Valerie Jarret (sic), who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihadi cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her,” Paladino said in response, according to the alt-weekly.
(2 of 2) The statements are so incredulous. If they were made by him there can be no room in our civil discourse for such hate and anger.
— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) December 23, 2016
The Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization held a news conference Friday calling on Paladino to step down from the Buffalo school board, while Democratic officials and organizations ranging from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the Monroe County (New York) Democratic Committee condemned his remarks.
Cuomo, who defeated Paladino in the 2010 general election, called Paladino’s remarks “racist, ugly and reprehensible.”
“His remarks do not reflect the sentiments or opinions of any real New Yorker and he has embarrassed the good people of the state with his latest hate-filled rage,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Paladino was one of three honorary co-chairs for Trump’s New York campaign, introducing the candidate at campaign rallies across the state ahead of New York’s April primary.
He has remained in contact with Trump’s transition team, becoming part of the parade of potential job-seekers who traveled to Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with the president-elect earlier this month.
In a statement, Trump’s transition team criticized Paladino’s remarks.
“Carl’s comments are absolutely reprehensible, and they serve no place in our public discourse,” the statement read.
Paladino also has said he is considering another run for governor in 2018.
In a tweet, Erie County (New York) Executive Mark Poloncarz’ called the remarks attributed to Paladino “so incredulous.”
“If they were made by him there can be no room in our civil discourse for such hate and anger,” wrote Poloncarz, a Democrat.