Carl Paladino's Carefully Crazy Act

How many nuts win multimillion-dollar state leases?

When Eliot Spitzer succeeded Pataki, Paladino gave him some $12,000. And in December 2008, when it looked like David Paterson might be governor for a while, Paladino was moved to give him $6,000. The kindest thing Paladino has said recently about Paterson is that he's "a drug addict."

In another tell-tale sign of lucidity, Paladino rarely makes donations in his own name. Why would you when the state's wide-open campaign finance laws allow you to spread your donations out among innocuous-sounding corporations? Paladino's gifts arrive in the campaign equivalent of plain brown envelopes, from companies named the "1093 Group," the "JP Group," and "Michigan/Seneca," among many others. This kind of thing has long been denounced by good-government groups and sourpuss editorial writers as part of the "pay-to-play" culture plaguing politics. Paladino couldn't care less. Like any smart radical, he has learned how to game the system.

Paladino proved this again last fall when he launched a barrage of radio ads against Buffalo's current mayor, Byron Brown, who was up for re-election. He accused Brown, the city's first African-American executive, of handing out subsidies to developers other than Paladino. He also claimed that the mayor is doling out stolen handicapped parking stickers—the first time this charge has been leveled outside of a Carl Hiaasen novel.

"Hellooo, it's me again—Carl Paladino," his first ad began. He then launched into a breakneck spiel, sounding like a breathless beatnik poet reading blank verse. One phrase that jumped out was a prediction that a top Brown aide would "soon be frolicking in a prison shower."

The ad went up on the airwaves on September 8, 2009. Paladino was clearly pleased with himself. That morning, he sat down at his computer and e-mailed 50 close friends a video of a naked woman managing to couple with a horse. "Easy, steady big fella . . ." was the caption. The e-mail was one of several similarly salacious or racist messages he sent to friends that were released last spring by a local news website, WNYmedia.net. A lesser politician might have apologized. Paladino just shrugged. Anyone insulted shouldn't vote for him, he said, proving again how well he understands his times: A touch of insanity is a political asset.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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