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Council Assails Member for Simpson Letter : Politics: Laguna Niguel panel condemns colleague's public statement criticizing the verdicts but stops short of censuring him. Residents who have labeled him a racist seek recall.

November 01, 1995|FRANK MESSINA and RENE LYNCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA NIGUEL — The City Council has condemned a controversial letter criticizing the O.J. Simpson verdicts but decided not to censure its author, Councilman Eddie Rose.

The action late Monday came in response to the furor that erupted a month ago after Rose sent local newspapers a letter on city stationery that critics have labeled as racist.

Rose was also served with recall papers Monday night by a small group of residents angered by his actions.

"This is not about freedom of speech. This is an issue of abuse of government privilege," Mayor Mark Goodman said.

Rose "has no authority to incite the public," Goodman added, calling the letter a "hate-filled manuscript."

The meeting was originally called to consider censuring Rose. But the council backed away from that action, choosing instead to condemn the letter and leave censure to the community.

Rose, despite apologizing for any pain the letter might have caused, continued to defend it and criticize jurors in the Simpson case. He also complained about people who heckled him as he spoke and compared himself to former Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, proclaiming: "I'm not politically correct, and I'm proud of it.

"Obviously, some people had their minds made up like the [Simpson] jurors did before they filled out the questionnaire," Rose said, calling Monday night's meeting a "lynch party."

The controversy was sparked by a two-page letter on city stationery criticizing the not-guilty verdicts in the Simpson case.

In it, he assailed the jury, saying it had ignored evidence and allowed a "brother" to go free. He referred to Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.'s "slick, jive-talkin' rhetoric" and accused the media of idolizing "these semiliterate athletes, who, were it not for their prowess in running a football or dunking a basketball, would probably be out pimping or dealing drugs on some street corner."

The councilman, who is white, has denied that his opinions were racist, saying his message was simply that "the bottom line is there are two systems of justice--one for the rich and one for the rest of us."

About 150 people attended Monday's meeting, including about two dozen African Americans. Three sheriff's deputies were on hand, and one was forced to intercede during a nose-to-nose confrontation outside the council chambers between a recall proponent and a Rose supporter.

More than 45 people took turns at the podium, most of them denouncing Rose and calling for his censure, recall or resignation. Rose sat impassively in his council seat, shuffling papers as several residents castigated him.

"I voted for you, Mr. Rose, and you caused me tremendous shame to know I've made such a mistake," said Ricardo MacKenzie, an African American from Laguna Niguel. "Be generous to us. Quit this council."

Kay Lindahl, a member of the city's Alliance for Spiritual Guidance, formed to smooth rifts between religious and racial groups, said: "When I read that letter, my heart wept. It truly saddened my soul to see this coming from a city leader."

But a few spoke out to complain that the proceedings were politically motivated or a waste of taxpayer funds. While a few supported Rose's right to free speech, only one person sided firmly with his letter.

"Councilman Rose articulates empirical fact," said Laguna Niguel resident Jim Tarvin, who was loudly booed by the audience. "Simpson is guilty."

Rose said he believed he was writing in support of the family of Nicole Brown Simpson, who lived in what was once Laguna Niguel.

In a 25-minute statement Monday night, Rose denied he was in any way racist, condemning former Los Angeles Police Department police Detective Mark Fuhrman, a central figure in the Simpson trial, and calling Los Angeles County prosecutor Christopher A. Darden a "wonderful black man" who "rose above his environment."

Rose said there was no ordinance prohibiting the writing of personal material on city stationery. In response, the council Monday instructed city staff to define the use of city letterhead and suggest penalties for misuse.

Among those who called on Rose to resign was Cheryl Alpert, who is leading a recall effort against him. When Rose ignored her, refusing to even look at her, Alpert strode to the council dais and dropped the recall papers in front of him.

"Your racist comments were ridiculous," Alpert said. "We will pursue this [recall] and we will continue to pursue this until you are gone, Eddie Rose."

Rose has seven days to file a response to the recall petition. When the petition is returned to recall supporters, they have 120 days to collect 6,180 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

Rose was involved in another controversy over racial issues in January when he voted against observing Martin Luther King Day, saying the civil rights leader was influenced by communists.

* ITO RULES ON SIMPSON ITEMS: O.J. Simpson must wait two weeks to get his personal property back, Judge Ito rules. B3

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