So many axioms come to mind as Carl Paladino, with a history of what could charitably be called racial insensitivity, launches his bid for a School Board seat in the heavily troubled – and heavily minority – Buffalo Public Schools.
The 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee known for stirring things up and getting things done also is known for other things: Forwarding racist emails using the N-word. Proposing that unused prisons be converted into a kind of re-education camp for welfare recipients. Derisively referring to black female board members and administrators as “the sisterhood.” Telling an audience, including students, that an African-American superintendent was hired only because he was black.
The attitude behind such comments raises a dilemma for black candidates for the School Board, one of whom has acknowledged talking with Paladino. It also raises a dilemma for voters and education activists frustrated with the schools and desperate for a change catalyst, but who have to decide if and how closely to align with someone with that kind of racial baggage.
One guideline might be the maxim “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” If the enemy is a calcified school bureaucracy that has produced a graduation rate around 50 percent, more failing schools than exceptional ones and eroding public confidence, the outspoken developer credited with getting local Thruway tolls removed is your friend.
If the enemy is a Buffalo Teachers Federation that resists almost any rational effort to turn around the district, even at the risk of forfeiting state funds, Paladino is your friend.
If the enemy is complacency in the face of failure and incrementalism where revolution is needed, Paladino is your friend.
Of course, it doesn’t mean he has to be a BFF. There’s another axiom that blacks love to cite that might be invoked in judging Paladino on an issue-by-issue basis: No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.
But that raises the question of whether a man who has said the things Paladino has said can really have at heart the interests of a student body that’s 77 percent minority.
“That’s a good question. I think it’s a fair question to ask,” said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “I think it’s a fair question to factor into our decision.”
But Radford makes clear that his bottom line is the parents’ seven-point agenda and which candidates will support it to ensure that all students are prepared to take advantage of Say Yes to Education’s promise of a free college education for all qualified graduates.
“We need to be focused on solutions, and we can’t get caught up in the sensationalism of people’s emails,” he said, adding that if historically paltry turnout is increased as a result of the attention that Paladino brings to the May ballot, “that’s a good thing.”
Still, there’s the issue of principle and racial self-respect, and the question of how much you overlook in pursuit of a higher good.
That brings to mind another axiom that African-Americans will have to ponder if Paladino wins the Park District seat and they have to decide how closely to embrace him in pursuit of needed change:
“If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”