Really? Racism at a candidate forum?

Edit: See the apology from the Rochester Area Builders Association below. As far as I am concerned end of story…

My pledge to the people of Rochester is to act with integrity and courage. I participated in 2 candidate discussions one was very good (Jane Belau) and the other left a bad taste in my mouth.

I did accept the invitation from the Rochester Area Builders to come sit on a candidate panel. This is not usually the most friendly group I go in front of, but I always accept their invitations and have developed some friends there. However starting the event off with the stench of racism is not something that I have any patience for. While I was tempted to walk out of the room and event, I decided to instead stay and make a point.

I sat in disbelief as a member of the RAB got up and told an anti-Mexican joke to the laughter of some in the crowd and the jaw dropping amazement of others. What an embarrassment to our community that this can happen at a candidate forum. Compounding my disbelief was the passing glance that the executive director made after the comment. I was further stunned that as the event began, the moderator (Jerry Williams, who I have great respect for) again pretended as if this hadn’t happened.

I changed my open remarks, I talked about how I have always been an outsider, I talked about my commitment to smart growth, I gave a little bit of my biography. Then I mentioned that I was also the person that will say things that are unpopular. I then proceed to explain that anti-Mexican jokes are not OK in our community. And I assure you the joke was as dumb as the sentiment it reflected. I explained that the RAB has a reputation as a “good old boys” club and these comments do nothing to eliminate that stigma. I stated that I am a city council member that stands to represent the very people that they can have a laugh at. I also explained that it is not OK for organization staff or the moderator to just glance over these comments. At the conclusion of my remarks, you could have heard a pin drop. As I looked around the room I was also happy to see some people nodding in agreement, but many more in stunned silence. And still not a comment from the RAB staff or moderator or other candidates. Very disappointing…

And then the forum continued, some people gave pandering answers to loaded questions, others spoke more honestly. My opponent, and Mark Bilderback did well. My positions on issues were different from my opponents on neighborhoods, CUDE, Historic Preservation, Parkland Dedication, and Developer Subsidies. I would venture to say that his answers were more popular than mine in every instance. PJ Day lost me after he said that neighborhoods had too much power and had to be reigned in, and added he wanted to see money flowing back to help maintain his tri-plex apartment.

If civility means ignoring racism, count me out. At this point I am calling on the Rochester Area Builders Association to publicly apologize for providing a platform for the racist comments to be made and to apologize for failing to address or speak out against those same racist comments in any meaningful way.

I am ashamed for having been there. After my panel I decided to leave despite the event continuing.

City Council Candidates:

Thank you for your participation in the Rochester Area Builder’s candidate forum and listening to concerns of our members. We look forward to further discussion leading up to the election on November 8th.

Below is the Rochester Area Builder’s official response from Executive Director John Eischen in regards to concerns that were raised during last night’s candidate forum.

At last night’s Membership meeting, an individual from the audience told a joke that was offensive to members and others in attendance. I would like to apologize for any offense that the joke may have caused. We are and will continue to be an inclusive and welcoming association and we do not condone racism or discrimination in any form.


John Eischen, Executive Director, Rochester Area Builders, Inc.

and from Jerry Williams:

I’m sorry this happened, Michael, and apologize for not saying something. Actually, at the time, I sensed it was more of an anti-Trump story than a racist one, thus my lack of a comment. Either way, the remark was inappropriate.

One comment

  1. Our community needs to practice acceptance, not just tolerance. I don’t tolerate racism in our community, and I will help promote love and acceptance of all people whenever I can. I admit that I have in the past laughed at inappropriate jokes, but have grown and found that laughing at myself in apps best. Only Norwegian jokes for me now.

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