The co-chair of Donald Trump’s New York state presidential campaign has denied that comments he made about Michelle Obama “being a male” who should be “let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe” to live “in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla” were racist. Carl Paladino, a 70-year-old entrepreneur who ran for New York governor in 2010, made the inflammatory comments to Artvoice, an alternative paper in Buffalo. In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo condemned what he said were Paladino’s “racist, ugly, reprehensible remarks about the president and first lady”. Paladino visited Trump Tower earlier this month, telling the Buffalo News he spent an hour with the president-elect. Among key figures he met were the vice-president-elect Mike Pence, chief of staff nominee Reince Priebus, senior counsel nominee Stephen Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and nominated national security adviser Michael Flynn. “It was a wide-ranging conversation about all the people across the state who were on my team,” the newspaper reported Paladino as saying. “We talked about New Yorkers who might have a role, how we might structure appointments and who would get input. I think I will have an ongoing ability to make recommendations.”
Artvoice included Paladino among a number of people asked what they wanted to see happen in 2017. “[Barack] Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Her[e]ford,” he said. “He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to [senior Obama adviser] Valerie Jarret[t], who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady [sic] cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.” About Michelle Obama, he said: “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”
Cuomo said Paladino had a “long history of racist and incendiary comments” and most New Yorkers knew not to take him seriously, as “his erratic behavior defies any rational analysis and he has no credibility”. But, the governor added, “his words are still jarring”. Amidst furious condemnation on social media and in the press, Paladino released an open letter in which he said his comments to Artvoice had “nothing to do with race”. “That’s the typical stance of the press when they can’t otherwise defend the acts of the person being attacked,” he wrote, accusing the first lady of having hated America before her husband won office in 2008. He also accused Barack Obama of being “a yellow-belied coward who left thousands to die in Syria”. Paladino confirmed to the Buffalo News that he made the original comments. “Of course I did,” he said on Friday morning. “Tell them all to go fuck themselves.” During the presidential campaign, Paladino described Trump supporters as people frustrated with government who “want the raccoons out of the basement”. He later spoke of ridding the US of “the Washington elite monsters”. At a political rally in 2015, he spoke about “damn Asians” and other “foreigners” attending university in Buffalo. This week, Paladino was criticized for introducing a resolution to mandate all Buffalo public schools display a picture of Trump. In his condemnation of Paladino’s remarks, Governor Cuomo said his latest outburst did not reflect “the sentiments or opinions of any real New Yorker”. “He has embarrassed the good people of the state with his latest hate-filled rage,” Cuomo said.