NEW YORK — Carl Paladino, a western New York builder, one-time Republican candidate for governor of New York and political ally of President-elect Donald Trump, came under fire Friday for racially offensive comments about President Barack Obama and the first lady, who Paladino said should be “let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe.”
Paladino’s comments were published in Artvoice, a weekly Buffalo newspaper. They came in response to an open-ended feature in which local figures were asked about their hopes for 2017.
“Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford,” said Paladino, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010, making an apparent reference to the Hereford cattle breed. He said he hoped the disease killed the president.
Asked what he most wanted to see “go away” in the new year, Paladino — who has a reputation in New York political and business circles for speaking in an unfiltered manner reminiscent of Trump’s — answered, “Michelle Obama.”
“I’d like her 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,” he said.
Condemnation of the remarks was swift on social media and among elected officials around the state. The local county executive called for Paladino to immediately resign his post on the Buffalo school board.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who defeated Paladino in 2010, called the comments “racist, ugly and reprehensible.” He said in a statement that Paladino had a “long history” of making similar comments and that he had “embarrassed the good people of the state with his latest hate-filled rage.”
Trump did not personally step to the defense of Paladino, who served as a New York co-chairman of the president-elect’s campaign and describes himself as a personal friend of Trump. “Carl’s comments are absolutely reprehensible, and they serve no place in our public discourse,” Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman for Trump, said.
Paladino conducted several media interviews, framing his comments about the Obamas as “old-style humor” in an interview with a Buffalo television news station and as an effort to draw attention to the president’s “transgressions” in a telephone interview with The New York Times.
“I did it to wake people up; I did it to get people’s attention,” he said in the telephone interview. He pointed to a page-long statement, published after the comments were made, in which he outlined his grievances with the Obama administration. “He couldn’t care less about the people” he said of the president in the statement.
In an interview with The Buffalo News, he berated editors there for focusing on what he had said.
“Tell that Rod Watson I made that comment just for him,” Paladino told the newspaper, in what the paper said was a reference to an editor and columnist for The News who is black.
Paladino, in the interview with The Times, said he was “not politically correct,” though he disputed the notion that his comments were racist. Asked why he wanted to see the first lady live with a gorilla in Africa, he paused for a long time, then said: “What’s wrong with that?”
An email and phone call to Artvoice were not immediately returned.
Paladino was not the only respondent to the Buffalo paper’s survey to infuse their hopes for the coming year with politics, though most kept clearer of controversy, offering wishes for world peace and for the disappearance of such things as high taxes and State Route 198.