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Newsletter's Obama illustration denounced

Leader of GOP club denies racist intent in use of stereotypes.

October 17, 2008|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

A Republican women's club in San Bernardino County sent out a recent newsletter with a photo of Barack Obama surrounded by fried chicken, watermelon and ribs, sparking widespread outrage and rebuke from GOP leaders and Democrats.

The illustration shows the Democratic presidential candidate's head atop a donkey's body on a bogus $10 bill referred to as "Obama Bucks." Inscribed on the money are the words "United States Food Stamps" surrounded by stereotypical African American food.

The October newsletter went out to about 200 members of the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated, based in Upland.

"I apologize to anyone who was offended because that was not my intent," said club President Diane Fedele. "It was poor judgment on my part. It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of Obama's statement that he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

The caption reads: "Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on ????? Food Stamps, what else!"

Fedele said the mailer merely parodied the statements Obama made during a debate last summer and wasn't racist.

"If I was racist, I would have looked at it through racist eyes," she said. "I am not racist, which is why it probably didn't register."

Club member Kristina Sandoval agreed.

"None of us are racists," she said.

The use of watermelon, ribs and fried chicken was innocent, she said.

"Everyone eats those foods, it's not a racial thing."

That's not how club member Acquanetta Warren -- a Fontana city councilwoman and an African American -- saw it.

"My daughter who is 16 was standing over my shoulder when I opened the e-mail, and her mouth dropped wide open," Warren said. "I actually turned the screen away and sent her to her room so she wouldn't see. I don't want to talk to anyone; I want a written apology so the public knows that this is not right and this is not representative of the way Republicans think."

She's known Fedele a long time and is shocked by the newsletter.

"When she didn't see a problem with this, I knew something was wrong," said Warren, who is also vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party for the Inland Empire. "This is an isolated, crazy thing. Our chairman is outraged. We just don't do this."

Indeed, Fedele drew a sharp reprimand from Ron Nehring, California Republican Party chairman.

"Any material that invokes issues related to race is absolutely unacceptable, tarnishes our party, diminishes the hard work of the tens of thousands of volunteers who are working hard every day for our candidates, and must be condemned," he said in a statement Thursday. "This material I've seen inspires nothing but divisiveness and hostility and has absolutely no place in this election, or any public discourse."

His statement also referred to an image on the Sacramento County GOP website this week showing Obama in a turban beside Osama bin Laden with the words: "The difference between Osama and Obama is just a little B.S." The site also exhorted members to "Waterboard Barack Obama."

"I called the chairman and said, 'You need to take that off your website,' and he took it off," said Hector Barajas, spokesman for the state GOP.

Fedele and the others at the Chaffey Community Republican club are volunteers and can't be fired. Aside from politics, they also do volunteer and charity work throughout the community.

Gary Ovitt, a county supervisor and chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party, is scheduled to meet with Fedele on Monday to discuss the incident.

"He is disgusted and appalled by it, and he believes it is blatantly racist and offensive no matter what the intent was," said Burt Southard, Ovitt's spokesman. "These are individual clubs. This one in particular may be one of the largest in the state and is one of the most active."

A spokesman for the Obama campaign in California, Gabriel Sanchez, declined to comment.

State Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) represents the area, and his wife, a Latina, is a member of the club.

"I thought it was unacceptable and a failed attempt at humor," Dutton said. "My wife isn't taking it personally because she knows the people involved. I called Diane and talked to her and told her it was inappropriate. She is a sweet lady without a mean bone in her body. But we all have to be more sensitive."

Democrats weren't as charitable.

"I think it's sad and unbelievable that they can't see how offensive this is," said Carol Robb, head of the San Bernardino County Democratic Party. "People are losing their homes, we are in financial chaos and the best they can do is a caricature of Obama on a donkey's body and food stamps. How out of touch with the 21st century can you get?"

--

david.kelly@latimes.com

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