ew York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino arrives at the New York State Conservative Party meeting in Colonie, N.Y., Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. Paladino received the Conservative Party backing in his run against Democrat Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
New York Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino said he's "unequivocally" in favor of gay rights except for same-sex marriage today, but stood by comments he made about homosexuality and also questioned Democrat Andrew Cuomo's fathering for bringing his daughters to a Gay Pride Parade.
Paladino's defense - made in a string of TV and radio interviews and repeated as he was mobbed by reporters at the Columbus Day Parade up Fifth Avenue - came a day after he used remarks prepared by others on the topic as he paid a visit to Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Brooklyn, and made national news with his comments.
"I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t," he had told a small group of rabbis Sunday as reporters' cameras whirred.
He also faulted the "example" Cuomo set by marching in a Gay Pride Parade, but added that he did not want reporters to "misquote" him by suggesting he wanted to bring harm to gays, and that his motto is "live and let live." Another line in the prepared text, given to reporters ahead of time, referred to "dysfunctional homosexuals," but Paladino chose not to say it and later disavowed it.
Still, his comments met with criticism from national gay rights groups to Rudy Giuliani to Mayor Bloomberg, as well as other statewide Republican candidates.
Paladino today strongly rejected suggestions that he was showing homophobia, but he stood by his statements.
He told Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" that Gay Pride Parades feature men in "speedos" who are "grinding" against each other, and he faulted Cuomo for having marched with his three daughters in the parade earlier this year.
“I don’t think it’s proper for them to go there and watch a couple of grown men grind against each other," he said. "I don’t think that’s proper. I think it’s disgusting.”
On the parade route, Paladino was more explicit when asked about Cuomo and his kids at the parade, saying, "think he’s already displayed his lack of interest maybe in being a good father."
At another point, he said, "Any father who would take his children to such things is not really thinking of the fatherly perspective and is more interested in politics." He said that he was "unequivocally" in favor of gay rights, except for same-sex marriage, and said his position stems from his Catholic faith.
Cuomo called the comments "reckless" and "divisive," and said Paladino wasn't someone whose parenting advice he was seeking.
He also questioned the timing, coming after a weekend in which there were national reports about a gay-bashing incident involving nine thugs who allegedly beat three men in the Bronx. There was also the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly webcast an encounter the 18-year-old had with an older man.
"I think the comments Mr. Paladino made were reckless,” Cuomo said, as reporters surrounded him at the Columbus Day Parade, where he spoke a few blocks north of where Paladino set up camp. "I think they were divisive. They were reckless in light of the recent violence we’ve had. They were divisive.”
He added, “They were the worst cynical politics trying to pit people against one another, trying to pit groups against one another... it doesn’t work. It is repugnant to the concept of what New York is."
And he bluntly rebuked Paladino's comments about his parenting: "He's probably the last person' [I'd] take advice from on how to raise my daughters."
The flap was the latest media storm over a comment from the Buffalo developer and proud non-politician in which he spent a day on the campaign trail explaining something he'd said - or, in this case, things he did and did not say. And it had the Republican nominee talking about a social issue as opposed to the economy, the message most GOPers nationally are focusing on this cycle.
Most significantly, the issue seemed poised to prompt gay voters - who have had issues with Cuomo in part due to his silence during a fight on a gay marriage bill last year - to head to the polls to spite Paladino.
On Sunday, squired by Rabbi Yehuda Levin - who is strongly anti-gay rights and anti-abortion and is known for having backed Pat Buchanan 14 years ago - Paladino appeared at a string of meetings with Orthodox Jewish rabbis, none of them heads of the major sects in the borough.
Paladino read from remarks that his campaign manager said were crafted by the Jewish leaders he was meeting with, which Levin claimed partial authorship of. Paladino's team has been trying to rebuff criticism from Cuomo and other Democrats that he's anti-Semitic for criticism he's made of the Orthodox Jewish Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver.
But the event turned into another national story related to Paladino.
In interview after interview today, he stood by his remarks - but he faulted reporters for attributing the "dysfunctional homosexual" line to him and suggested that people were following Cuomo's playbook. Both he and his campaign manager, Michael Caputo, said it was unfair to ascribe a line someone else wrote to the nominee when he never actually said it.
He said that he had gay employees and a gay nephew who's working on his campaign, and that he was sensitive to the discrimination they face, and angrily rejected the word "homophobe." He said he didn't think that young children in school should be taught about homosexuality, and that it's confusing to them, and said he was unsure on the question of whether being gay was a choice.
The criticism he faced rolled throughout the day.
"At a time when the state and nation are facing massive deficits, irresponsible overspending, job-killing taxes and an ongoing war of terrorism against us, all candidates should be focused on solutions to our problems and not the personal lives of our fellow citizens," Rudy Giuliani said in a statement to POLITICO. "He should recognize his remarks were highly offensive and he should apologize for them."
Attorney General nominee Dan Donovan and state Comptroller nominee Harry Wilson, both GOP candidates, also disavowed the remarks.
“By his own words, Carl Paladino has made himself the poster boy for the kind of divisive leadership that makes young LGBT people question their self-worth and gives license to those who use violence to advance their hate,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Carl Paladino is either homophobic or stunningly tone deaf to the needs of the community – two qualities New Yorkers don’t want in a Governor.”
Several state Senate Republican hopefuls put out statements distancing themselves, highlighting the nervousness that GOPers in the state have about the impact Paladino's remarks could hold on turnout in the downballot races.
State Republican chairman Ed Cox demurred, saying that Paladino was able to speak for himself.
Despite the controversy, Paladino seemed to be enjoying himself along the Fifth Avenue parade route, where he got more cheers than boos. There were occasional hecklers, including one hoisting a sign calling him a "homophobe."
He took questions but faulted the press for focusing too much on the issue, and suggested people were reprinting what Cuomo wanted to see.