What to Know
- As recently as August, Paladino falsely claimed Obama was not Christian
- And in 2010, Paladino was criticized after it was revealed he had forwarded to friends racially charged emails that depicted Obama as a pimp
- The Trump transition team called his latest comments "absolutely reprehensible"
A state Education Department hearing got underway Thursday for a one-time candidate for New York governor who publicly insulted former President Barack Obama and his wife and stands accused of disclosing confidential school board business.
Several days of hearings are scheduled in Albany for wealthy developer Carl Paladino to determine whether his public release of information on teacher contract talks should cost him his position on the Buffalo School Board.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is hearing testimony in a petition filed by other school board members seeking Paladino's removal from the fractured body. They say Paladino publicly disclosed information about teacher contract negotiations discussed in closed-door sessions.
Paladino counters in a federal lawsuit that the board's claims are retaliatory for derogatory remarks he made about the Obamas and an attempt to stifle free speech.
School board President Barbara Seals Nevergold testified that Paladino breached a code of conduct when he went public with the information about teacher contract talks.
"When you go into executive session, the information discussed is confidential," Nevergold said.
Paladino, a Republican who was active in President Donald Trump's campaign, said his opponents made the disclosure claims only after being advised that his published statements about the Obamas - including that he hoped the outgoing president would catch mad cow disease and that his wife would live in a cave with a gorilla - were protected free speech and not grounds for removal from the school board.
He also said his disclosures about teacher contract negotiations after they had wrapped up were in the public interest.
"This is all a charade," said Dennis Vacco, a former New York attorney general who is one of the lawyers representing Paladino. Vacco called the effort to remove Paladino "a subterfuge" in retaliation for the controversial businessman's remarks about the Obamas.
The state Education Department hearing on the board's petition is expected to last several days. Elia will issue her decision at a later date.
Paladino was the Republican candidate for governor in 2010. He was elected to the school board in 2013 and re-elected in 2016.
A supporter of charter schools, vouchers and tax credits, he is regularly at odds with the school board majority and the city teachers' union.
The Buffalo Federation of Teachers also called for Paladino's removal following the Obama remarks, which were published in a December issue of Artvoice, a Buffalo newspaper, in response to questions posed to various public figures about what they would like to see in the New Year.
Paladino said his emailed answers were meant for his friends and that he sent them to the newspaper by mistake.