Mayor in upstate N.Y. quits over racial slur

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 22, 2010

COBLESKILL, N.Y. (AP) — The mayor of an upstate New York village resigned Tuesday because he was secretly recorded using a racial slur that mocked President Obama’s campaign slogan.

Mark Nadeau told a meeting filled with protesters that he was not a racist and was stepping down as Cobleskill mayor because the controversy was hurting his family. He also apologized for saying anything that stirred up hostility.

‘‘My family is number one,’’ Nadeau said. ‘‘Anybody who knows me knows I am not a racist.’’

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The small college and farming community near Albany has been in turmoil since the town of Cobleskill highway superintendent released an audio recording earlier this month. Nadeau, a white Republican, can be heard on the recording using the slur in a sarcastic play on the Obama slogan ‘‘Change.’’ Another town official, a white Democrat, can be heard using the slur to deride Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Protesters gathered in front of the fire department before the meeting, some carrying signs that read ‘‘Simply, morally, ethically wrong’’ and ‘‘Free Speech Does Not Justify Hate Speech.’’

The audience applauded when Nadeau quit.

‘‘I commend him for doing the right thing for Cobleskill. He recognized the magnitude of his actions,’’ said Dave Keenan, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Cobleskill. The group was formed in response to the slurs.

Bill VanHandel, who said he’s been a friend of Nadeau for 13 years, said Nadeau was wrong to use the slur but should be forgiven.

‘‘I have never, ever heard Mark Nadeau say anything racial to me. Now we know he made a mistake. He’s apologized,’’ VanHandel said. ‘‘Everybody is down on Mark, but they don’t stop to think that they’ve made mistakes or said racial slurs or racial thoughts.’’

Effie Bennett Powe, a teacher in Cobleskill who is black, told the meeting her parents were sharecroppers who raised her on the ‘‘sticks and stones’’ adage. But she said the men were wrong.

‘‘All words have meaning and words hurt. Words hurt badly,’’ she said. ‘‘Hurtful words cause psychological pain, fear, sometimes deep self-loathing, internal pain that may never go away.’’

Cobleskill Highway Superintendent Thomas Fissell, who is white, hasn’t explained why he recorded or released the audio of conversations in his office with Nadeau and Cobleskill Town Supervisor Thomas Murray.

He has been accused of engaging in political dirty tricks, but his son, Brenner Fissell, said Tuesday it was courageous of his father to expose the slurs.

There have been calls for Murray to resign. He wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting and a phone message left for him Wednesday wasn’t immediately returned.