In March of this year, we were first introduced to a little-known Buffalo real estate millionaire named Carl Paladino. He had just thrown his hat into the gubernatorial ring, and started his campaign by making a ridiculously hyperbolic comparison between Obamacare and 9/11. It was hard to imagine that this guy would last to the primary, let alone win the Republican nomination. Less than eight months later, we watched as he clutched a baseball bat in defeat, and vowed to return like a phoenix reborn. Carl, we hardly knew ye.
Let's go back to March: a pattern emerged quickly about Carl. He would say something highly controversial (the 9/11 remark), and then try to re-contextualize it, all the while skirting the line between apologizing and not backing down, despite criticism from all sides. He was a Tea Party candidate who didn't even have the support of many of the Tea Party leaders around the city. He maintained he was misunderstood and unfairly maligned, while others said he was a kook who was completely unfit for office.
The more we learned about Carl, the more fascinating his obliviousness to his gaffes seemed. He claimed to have no filter, but did he have no handlers? Was there no end to the copious controversies he was able to conjure, whether from his emailing habits or his ghost written stump speeches? Through and through, Carl remained decisively Carl. He admitted he had a love child with a former mistress. He thought it was funny to forward bestiality porn. He called Gov. Paterson a drug addict. He sent a man in a duck costume to stalk Andrew Cuomo. He said he wanted to house the poor in jails and teach them about personal hygiene. He badmouthed parts of NYC, and mailed stinky campaign brochures. Was this another politician, or a used car salesman trying to one-up himself with wacky attention-grabbing antics?
Against all the odds, he won the nomination. His mad-as-hell rhetoric struck a chord with Republicans in the state; compared to vanilla candidates such as Rick Lazio, Paladino's dynamic personality seemed practically seductive. He was emboldened by the victory; his speeches became angrier, and he used a baseball bat as his prime metaphor for his governing style. His photoshopping skills became transcendent. Then the press turned their attention toward his love child, and Carl ended up in a near-fight with Post reporter Fred Dicker, which was captured on video. Everything seemed to spiral out of control after that; throwaway comments about Andrew Cuomo's prowess left him looking childish and petty. He finally paid some attention to campaigning in NYC, and ended up staking the heart of his campaign with his comments about homosexuality.
By the time of the first and only gubernatorial debate, he was insignificant, ignored by the other, better rehearsed candidates, his controversial persona revealed as smoke-and-mirrors. Cuomo waltzed into the Governor's office, and was aided by Carl's foot-in-mouth disease. As Cuomo put it shortly before the election, "The more they talk, the better we look. You could not make this stuff up.” Paladino swore this would be his only political campaign, because as he puts it, "he's not a great campaigner." The Post certainly hopes he's gone for good, since they think he tainted other Republicans in the state: "Paladino was pounded like a railroad spike, losing by 30 points on a day that Republicans were making historic gains elsewhere in America. Fair to say he earned that loss. He came out swinging -- or, rather, slandering and smearing, especially Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Rarely did he take an opportunity to make a policy point, nor did he ever miss one to issue an insult."
Carl refused to participate in a post-mortem news conference, his act of contrition. Maybe this just follows his pattern of behavior throughout the campaign. Perhaps he was as baffled by his concession speech, in which he said, "make no mistake: you have not heard the last of Carl Paladino," as everyone else was. “He watched video of his concession speech last night and figured there’s nothing more to say,” said campaign manager Michael Caputo. Might Carl run again for Mayor of Buffalo, or become a political pundit? There's something to be said for a man who was unafraid to speak his convictions, despite how mangled and misguided they came across. But public life never suited Carl. So let's hope if he does come back, it'll be as the editor of Hustler. As Larry Flynt put it, he does seem to have a "skilled eye for unusual views and acrobatics."