'Racism' at a candidate forum in Rochester? You be the judge.
Update: Rochester Area Builders Executive Director John Eischen has issued an apology for inappropriate comments made at Tuesday's 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."
Below is the original report.
Council member Michael Wojcik is calling on the Rochester Area Builders association to publicly apologize for providing a platform for "racist comments" at its candidate forum on Tuesday night.
"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," Wojcik wrote on his blog after the event. The forum was open to media, but not the general public. "What an embarrassment to our community that this can happen at a candidate forum."
Wojck also criticized John Eischen, the association's executive director, and Jerry Williams, the debate moderator, for not denouncing the joke.
"The RAB has a reputation as a 'good old boys' club and these comments do nothing to eliminate that stigma ... I am a city council member that stands to represent the very people that they can have a laugh at."
Late Tuesday, Williams took to social media to respond to Wojcik's post:
"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."
Wojcik admitted on his blog that he entered the room as an outsider ("This is not usually the most friendly group I go in front of," he wrote). He is also known for his progressive positions and the occasional hyperbole.
We thought it was worth checking in with someone who was also in the room to get their reaction. The person spoke to us on the condition of anonymity.
"The joke was dumb but not as racist as others I've heard," the individual told me. "It was really more about [Donald] Trump." The joke involved the Republican nominee, the Olympics and Mexican pole vaulters. Ironically, it was actually introduced to the mainstream conversation by one of Trump's opponents, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson.
"Honestly it's not really racism," my source told me. "It's just stupid. I'm not sure there were even any Mexican pole vaulters. It's a pretty specialized event."
Here are some additional comments from council president Randy Staver:
So was the joke racist? Perhaps, but not necessarily given its origins. Inappropriate for a debate on our city's future? I would say so. Does Mexico even have an Olympic poll vaulting team? Not since 2008.
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In response to this column, local writer and coffee proprietor Abe Sauer offered the following comments that I felt were worth republishing:
"Whether or not Mexico has a pole vaulting team is not the metric for judging the joke. That misses the point. When Gary Johnson first told the joke it was as a slam of Trump, his direct opponent in the presidential race. When the joke was regurgitated at this forum it was without context it mocks Trump but also Mexicans. People should Be more upset about the fact that a business group got a closed door private candidate debate than about a dumb two month old joke."
(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)