KATRINA A. GOGGINS
Associated Press Writer
(AP Photo/the State, Tim Dominick)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A former South Carolina election official apologized Wednesday for his Internet posting that compared a gorilla to an ancestor of first lady Michelle Obama, calling his comments “a flippant remark made without thinking.”
Minutes after the report of a brief gorilla escape from a Columbia zoo Friday, former state Election Commission Chairman Rusty DePass posted on a Facebook page that he was sure “it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors — probably harmless.” The posting then was publicized on a South Carolina politics blog.
The South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a “proper” apology this week.
“It was wrong and foolish, and I deeply regret it and any pain it has produced … All I can do is ask you to forgive me,” DePass said in a prepared statement during an NAACP news conference in Columbia.
It was an about-face to an early defense by DePass who said the comment was a joke about statements the first lady has made about evolution, though he didn’t specify what those were. It also surprised many black leaders who said they’ve seen a rash of racially charged commentary since President Barack Obama’s election, but few apologies — especially face-to-face.
“I’m glad that he chose to come and say what he said today,” state NAACP President Lonnie Randolph said. “If other persons of good faith, good will and good conscience decide that they want to make South Carolina better, this is the way to do it.”
DePass said he’s also resigned from his job as a real estate broker because of the controversy and written a letter of apology to the first lady. A call to her spokesman was not immediately returned Wednesday.
DePass’ comment is the latest involving the Obamas to prompt a resignation and outcry by civil rights leaders.
A California mayor resigned after distributing a picture of watermelons on the White House lawn. Democratic legislators in Tennessee this week demanded that a state employee who works for a Republican lawmaker be fired instead of reprimanded for using a state computer to send a racist e-mail about the president. It showed a portrait or photo of each U.S. president except Obama, who was depicted only as a pair of wide eyes in a black background.
And the NAACP called for a boycott of the New York Post and the firing of the editor and cartoonist after a cartoon that critics said likened President Barack Obama to a dead chimpanzee.
“We’re out fighting bigotry and hatred every day,” Randolph said. “This (DePass’ apology) is the first step in healing. The healing process can begin.”
While black leaders welcomed the apologetic statement by DePass, some black lawmakers in South Carolina pointed to a need to make strides with regard to race relations in state politics and policy. Democrats tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to pass a resolution condemning DePass’ comment.
Calls to some Republican lawmakers who opposed the resolution were not immediately returned Wednesday. House Clerk Charles Reid said he couldn’t recall a time that a resolution condemning someone has been passed.
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