I've said this before, but for all the problems revolving around New York Gov. David Paterson and his decision to bow out of the race, one thing remains clear: Democrats are nonetheless the clear favorites to retain the governorship. He hasn't announced his candidacy yet, nor has he even shared his vision for the Empire State, but let's face it, Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney general, is going to win in November.
That hasn't kept the Republicans from engaging in an all-out battle for their own nomination. For the longest time, the sole GOP candidate was former Rep. Rick Lazio, already anointed by the Conservative Party. Then, last month, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a conservative Democrat, switched parties so he could run, and was promptly backed by Republican leaders, including state chair Ed Cox.
And then there's Carl Paladino. The wealthy Buffalo developer, who supports gun rights and opposes abortion and the recently-passed health care bill, has pledged to spend $10 million of his own money on his campaign, hinting that if he doesn't win the GOP nomination he will form an independent/Tea Party vehicle for getting on the ballot in the fall. His "Paladino For the People" Web site is filled with references to Howard Beale's memorable rant from the 1976 movie "Network": "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
But to what end? Even before the latest controversy — and I'll get to that in a minute — there have been things in his past that he'd rather not be reminded of, including his support for Democratic candidates, such as Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, before he became a Republican. But for some, it's much more than that: the style, the bombast, the politically incorrect persona that he thrives on. The New York Daily News' Bill Hammond completely dismisses Paladino, saying that if he "wants New Yorkers to take him seriously as a candidate for governor, he should stop acting like such a clown":
All the money in the world won't buy him back his credibility if he keeps up the cartoonish bombast. ...
He does understand that "Network" was satire, right? The whole point of that 1976 classic was to skewer demagogues who go for cheap popularity by whipping up fear and anger. The character who screamed those words, Howard Beale, was a washed-up TV anchor in the throes of a mental breakdown.
Yet Paladino is coopting the deranged outburst as his trademark tagline. He repeats it in practically every speech, and sometimes gets the audience to chant it with him - just like Howard Beale. ...
He claims not to be a politician, but he certainly qualifies in the hypocrisy department. ...
Paladino's campaign Web site included Gov. Paterson as an example of Albany corruption because he admitted being unfaithful to his wife and using drugs in the past. Then it comes out Paladino, who's married, fathered a now-10-year-old daughter with an employee of his real estate development firm. ...
There had also been a back-and-forth with several black lawmakers from Buffalo over whether or not Paladino made "racially offensive comments" in public, a characterization he strongly denies.
But then came the revelation this week by the WNYmedia blog that he forwarded e-mails to his friends, e-mails widely and accurately described as racist and sexist. Just to name a few: A video clip of African tribesmen dancing in a village, entitled "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal." A photograph of President and Mrs. Obama Photoshopped as a 1970s-era pimp and prostitute. Other e-mails included references to the "N" word, as well as photos and videos of women performing sexual acts, and yes, even one video clip of bestiality. WNY said it all:
We don’t pass judgment on what people want to send around to their friends.
Carl Paladino, private citizen, can send around all the bestiality videos he wants. Carl Paladino the politician cannot. A person can’t send viciously racist emails or graphic hardcore pornographic videos and then claim to be the Tea Party Christian values candidate. These don’t reflect values. They reflect sexual excitement, sexual perversion, and racial animus.
Even Paladino's response, to one of those persons upset upon receiving the forwarded e-mails, was as bizarre an apology as I've ever seen (quoted in part):
I apologize to you and everyone if that is offensive. to me its just humor. i'm not a racist and have never related obamas color to my political distaste for him. ... i'm not sensitive to ethnic humor. dago, spic, polack whatever we hear the humor everyday. i think the oversensitivity to black/white is wrong and in itself demeaning.
The Buffalo News' Donn Esmonde appeared dumbstruck:
Somebody needs to call Guinness World Records. I think Carl Paladino just broke the mark for quickest political self-destruction.
Paladino’s campaign for governor is barely a week old. Yet the speed and intensity of his self-immolation borders on unbelievable. The raw-edged Buffalo developer’s political debut is all but over before it barely began. ...
Paladino has spent the bulk of the last week explaining and apologizing. That is not a campaign; it is a confessional. With a string of bleeps and blunders, Paladino has saved the major party attack machines the trouble of painting him as “the crazy guy from Buffalo.”
In fairness, he is hardly the first guy to e-mail video of a naked hottie to his buds. But it is worse than that. If this sort of “humor” landed in most people’s in-boxes, they would hit the delete button and rush to the restroom to wash their hands. From the n-word to bestiality, it is so out of bounds that it calls into question the judgment of anyone who would pass it along. Even horses were offended. The only consolation for Paladino is that stallions do not constitute a voting bloc.
Maybe you can get away with that stuff as a private citizen. But there is a big difference between Citizen Carl and Candidate Carl. Before you think about running for office, you might want to check the closet for racially degrading e-mails and out-of-wedlock offspring. It might save everybody a lot of time and trouble.
Esmonde closes by saying the whole episode is "too bad":
Paladino’s populist outrage resonates far beyond its “tea party” core. Albany’s odious three-man rule is shaped by public-sector unions and other major campaign donors. The consequent high cost of government and soaring taxes is killing jobs and depopulating upstate. As you may have heard, folks are angry and do not want to take it anymore.
Paladino’s attack-dog candidacy— however slim its chance of success— seemed at first like Everyman’s revenge on a state government that abuses its citizens. At the very least, it promised to be entertaining. Until, that is, the messenger got in the way of the message.
Nonetheless, Paladino told an Albany radio program on Tuesday that he's staying in the race, promising that he "will not pull out for any controversy." And, according to an account by the Daily News' Kenneth Lovett, he blamed Cuomo (D) and Cox (R) of "using his latest gaffes to and push him out of the race":
Paladino said his foes would rather talk about the e-mails than address the issues of spending, taxes, debt and jobs.
"That's why they're trying to get rid of me at this early point," he said. "They want to see me go."
Or, as Paladino said on his Twitter page, "The Liberal elite are hysterical; they are panicking because they know we're coming."
I think he's already come and gone.