It was just like the old days of 2010 last week when the Politics Column sat with former GOP gubernatorial candidate and local firebrand Carl Paladino.
Even Duke the Dog resumed his usual spot under the table in Paladino's Ellicott Square office, gnawing on one of those leather bones the same way his master sinks his teeth into whatever bothers him at the moment.
Paladino never really went away after his quirky campaign for governor in 2010 produced an official pasting by Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Paladino laid low for a while, but he's back as a study in contrasts.
In recent days the real estate developer appeared before the Buffalo Board of Education to threaten a race for School Board and promise to “destroy” his board opponents. He also riled up some by targeting the “black sisterhood” he says rules the system. “Classic Carl” is the technical term longtime Paladino observers use to describe such antics.
Then there's a more subdued Paladino, the one who will sit out the 2013 mayoral race for the first time in many years. That means that while a couple of unknowns (one a Democrat, one a Republican) contemplate challenging incumbent Democrat Byron Brown, a longtime mayoral critic disappears from the scene. A new technical term – “not so classic Carl” – is born.
“I'm not with him; I'm not against him,” Paladino says of Brown.
That's far different from when he attacked the mayor for lacking leadership, or when he once concluded one of his radio commercials with this: “If we really want to fight crime, start with City Hall.”
Paladino says the Brown forces approached him to seek new cooperation with downtown's biggest landlord. He responded by emphasizing that his frequent tirades only seek progress and growth for Buffalo. He also offered suggestions for Brown's allies in Albany: a city manager system in Buffalo, and streamlining its continuing demolition program.
“We've got 5,000 to 10,000 vacant structures in this city,” he said. “You can't start renewing and restoring until you take out the decay.”
If state asbestos removal regulations were relaxed, Paladino said, per house demolition costs would drop from $25,000 or $30,000 to $15,000.
“That's an idea I've given the city,” he said. “They seemed receptive to my idea and receptive to its implementation.”
When a Buffalo Sabres proposal for improving the downtown Webster Block recently beat out Paladino's Ellicott Development, just about everybody expected him to explode. He didn't.
“I spent $100,000 bidding on the Webster Block. I lost. Fine. I'll live with it,” he said. “The Sabres project will be good. It was fairly considered. I'll come up with something else.”
Longtime Paladino watchers suspect a deal. He says no.
“There is no quid pro quo; no advantage to me in seeing these things done,” he said of his suggestions to City Hall. “It's for the good of the community.”
On Nov. 2, 2010, after casting his vote in the 2010 election, Paladino told reporters he would never run for any office ever again – not even a local post. “No more elections,” he said then. “This is it.”
Now, the Buffalo School Board appears to very much lie in his future. “I'm disposed to do it,” he said, adding he expects to make an official announcement this month.
You can bet Paladino will prove a potent force in May, when he will run from the South District. He has money to spend and will motivate committed voters. They will differ from the handful who usually show up for School Board contests.
And, oh yes. South was the only Council district in the city won by Paladino in the 2010 election – by a ratio of exactly 2 to 1.
So it appears Paladino will now occupy a bully pulpit. He will make the headlines and airwaves on a regular basis beginning later this year, while maintaining semi-cordial relations with City Hall.
No matter what you think of him, he's not going away.