NEW YORK • New York builder Carl Paladino, a one-time Republican candidate for governor of the state and political ally of President-elect Donald Trump, has come under fire for racially offensive comments about President Barack Obama and the First Lady, who Mr Paladino said should be "let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe".
Mr Paladino's comments in the weekly Buffalo newspaper Artvoice were in response to an open-ended feature in which local figures were asked about their hopes for 2017.
"Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford," said Mr Paladino, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010, making an apparent reference to the Hereford cattle breed.
He said he hoped the disease killed the US President.
Asked what he most wanted to see "go away" in the new year, Mr Paladino - who has a reputation in New York political and business circles for speaking in an unfiltered manner reminiscent of Mr Trump's - answered, "Michelle Obama".
"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," Mr Paladino said.
Condemnation of the remarks was swift on social media and among elected officials around the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who defeated Mr Paladino in 2010, called the comments "racist, ugly and reprehensible".
The President-elect did not personally step to the defence of Mr Paladino, who served as a New York co-chairman of his election campaign and describes himself as a personal friend of Mr Trump.
Mr Paladino, in an interview with The New York Times, said he was "not politically correct", though he disputed the notion that his comments were racist.
Asked why he wanted to see Mrs Obama live with a gorilla in Africa, he paused for a long time, then said: "What's wrong with that?"