With so many wild and wacky election races going on around the USA, you can be forgiven for pretty much missing out on the Carl "Saddle Up the" Paladino story in New York. The wealthy Buffalo businessman came out of nowhere, riding his Tea Party steed to win the GOP primary a few weeks ago to oppose Andrew Cuomo for governor. A laughingstock for much of his race, he is now being taken more seriously thanks to the usual Palin endorsement and polls momentarily showing him closing the gap (although few know much about him).
So it was good to see Bob Herbert devote his New York Times column today to Paladino, informing or reminding readers about the outrageous racist, sexist and/or porno pictures and jokes he forwarded to many. Paladino later explained it was all in fun and merely an example of poor judgment (a rather mild example from Carl of the gangsta First Couple above). See the Herbert column for a few disgusting examples. And no, the woman with the horse in one of Paladino's photos was not Meghan McCain on the cover of her recent book.
I love Herbert's opening: "Is the Republican candidate for governor of New York a racist, sexist, pornography-loving creep? Or are there other, more benign, explanations for the stomach-turning e-mails distributed by Carl Paladino?"
Another Paladino claim to fame: He must be one of the first major candidates to openly campaign with a daughter from what he acknowledges was an "extramarital affair" with an employee (he kept the existence of the kid from his wife for nearly a decade).
Anyway, I have to also thank the Times for reminding me yesterday, in its Paladino profile, that we once went to college together. The name had seemed familiar, but until this confirmation I couldn't quite place him. Now a few memories have come back. A little research turns up some other details. Apparently he is best known on campus for erecting the statue of my former classmate (and basketball Hall of Famer) Bob Lanier outside the sports center.
The college was St. Bonaventure University, about sixty miles southeast of Buffalo, meaning it's eighty miles from my hometown of Niagara Falls. Unlike Paladino, I was not Catholic, but I had another excuse for going there: it had a decent journalism school—not so common back then—and I was intent on being a newspaper reporter, plus it was pretty much what my family could afford (NYU? Syracuse? Columbia? Forget it). As it happens, I overlapped with future Pulitzer winners Charles Hanley and John Hanchette, and came before Dan Barry by a bit. Also: Neil Cavuto (ouch).
Paladino was a couple of years ahead of me, but it was a small school, and I knew him then as a close-cropped ROTC activist, organizing the annual military ball and, as I recall, drilling with the Pershing Rifles, who practiced out back of my dorm and presented the flag at some of our college b-ball games (we made the NCAA twice, when that still meant something, and went to the Final Four in 1970). Or perhaps Paladino just hung out with the Rifles. Those guys, and their buddies, were a gung-ho anachronism in the late-1960s antiwar era, which even conservative St. Bonaventure did not escape.
All of the male students had to take ROTC for two years, and during my stint it's possible that Paladino, as a senior (and committed to the Army upon graduation), ordered me around himself at our 3 p.m. Friday drills.
The senior ROTC cadets were among the most right-wing on campus, and while I don't recall this, it wouldn't surprise me if Paladino was among the large group that heckled, bullied or even physically threatened some of us lefty "freaks" when we daringly held sit-ins to protest the canceling of an Allen Ginsberg reading and then the banning of SDS from campus. In that Times profile he admits he was, in any case, in the anti-"hippie" camp back then.
What I can say for sure is this: like so many gung-ho types, Paladino took his ROTC money and commitment to serve and… took a pass for three years, getting a deferment to go to law school at Syracuse in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam escalation, not joining up for his tour until 1971, when withdrawals were well underway. He did not go off to war, spending less than a year on active duty—yet has bragged about his military record and compared his campaign to the exploits of Gen. George Patton.
I've checked out some of the coverage of Paladino in my old campus paper, the BV, and quotes from faculty and administrators—somewhat muted by the fact the candidate has donated great sums of money to the school and served as a trustee. Here's one good quote from a student, junior Ryan McDonald: "I think he is a nut, a complete and total nut. He is crazy. I would never vote for him even if he paid me, which he probably would."
One of my friends who was in Paladino's class of '68 says he hardly spoke to him during the four years there. But I see that one of the brainier b-ballers from back then, later a college coach, Jimmy "Sats" Satalin was among those who received the racist e-mails, and asked Paladino: "What would Bob think?" Apparently Carl did not send them to his buddy Lanier.
Paladino accused Satalin of lacking "a sense of humor."
UPDATE: Email to me from Paladino spokesman MIchael Caputo on October 6: "You are clearly a douche bag." Plus, friends, classmates firmly dispute Paladino's claims of helping end student takeover and hostage taking at Syracuse in 1970. "An urban legend in Carl's mind."
Greg Mitchell has written nine books, and a new "classic" edition of his The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor and the Birth of Media Politics, winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize, will be published this month by PoliPoint Press