BUFFALO, N.Y. – As an elected school board member for the Buffalo Public Schools, Carl Paladino holds significant influence over the operations of one of the state's largest districts.
Beyond his political role, his position also affords him a figurehead status in the education community. Paladino's opinions about education, even if they do not directly apply to the Buffalo Public Schools, are still noteworthy. They are important for public consumption and discussion.
When Paladino makes bigoted comments, as he did last Saturday, it matters. This racist language has consequences for his constituents.
During a rally in Olean against State Senator Cathy Young, Paladino criticized his fellow Republican for betraying the party, using the example of the state's higher education system as a symptom of her incompetence. In video obtained by WGRZ-TV, Paladino told a small group of reporters that the state must "straighten out our college education system so that our kids can go to school."
"Instead of some damn Asians coming in here and going to school. I don't understand that. We can subsidize Asians to come here, and we don't let our own kids get educated. Is that why we formed a state university system? I don't think so."
Within days, Paladino apologized in The Buffalo News for the "coarseness" of his remark (when approached by WGRZ-TV on Wednesday, he refused to answer questions, screamed expletives and stormed away from our camera, as seen in the video below. The next day, when contacted by WGRZ-TV on the phone, he erupted into another profanity-laced tirade and then hung up the phone).
Paladino told the newspaper, however, that he did not mean to single out the Asian student population, but rather had attempted to make a point about how the state university system should not "subsidize" any out-of-state student. According to Paladino's theory, these out-of-state students steal spots from prospective in-state students— "we don't let our own kids get education," he said.
This week, a spokesman for the University at Buffalo sent 2 On Your Side a statement and enrollment figures from 2014 in response to Paladino's comments.
The university's information entirely debunks Paladino's claims.
During the fall of 2014, 28,120 students enrolled at the university. Almost 80 percent of those students came from the state of New York. Eighteen percent, or roughly 5,000 students, came from another country. Fewer than 1,000 students (about three percent) came from another state in U.S.
UB's statement explained that about 99 percent of international students at UB enroll with "non-resident student visas," meaning they pay non-resident tuition and "do not receive discounted tuition." UB is very clear: it does not "subsidize" foreign students, even though Paladino argued in The Buffalo News that any out-of-state student is "subsidized" by the state's taxpayers.
In its statement, the university also explained the importance of attracting international students.
"UB's international students offer immeasurable academic and cultural value to our campuses and local communities, while making a significant economic impact to Western New York," the statement reads, adding that international students added an impact of more than $140 million to the economy in 2013 and supported 1,943 jobs.
Paladino may not oversee any part of the higher education in the SUNY system, but he serves on a local school board in a district with more than 2,000 Asian students. Seven percent of the student population in Buffalo identifies as Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
When Paladino talks about "damn Asians," he's indirectly referring to a lot of the students in his district.
That includes 11-year-old Daisy Holden, who was born in China. She's in fifth grade at Olmsted right now.
Her mother, Mel, adopted her.
"It hurts me for my daughter," Holden said, "but it also hurts me for the rest of the families in this city. To think, that somebody who is on our public school board, feels like he can say these things about people in the community."
Lana Benatovich, the president of the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York, warned about the dangers of limiting opportunities for international students.
"What we believe so deeply, is that people of different ethnic communities who have come to Western New York have enriched us," Benatovich said. "They're not taking away from our community-- they're building our community."
Were Daisy Holden not adopted by an American mother, she could have been one of those students from Asia seeking an opportunity for higher education in this country.
"We should be celebrating it at UB, we should be celebrating it in the Buffalo Public Schools," Holden said. "All around. Every color. Every ethnicity."