Anne Arundel County activists plan to publicly denounce on Monday "a climate of insensitivity and intolerance" that members of the Anne Arundel County Council have fostered, an Annapolis civil rights leader wrote Saturday.
"We have seen racially insensitive comments made by some members of the County Council and now is the time to publicly express our dissatisfaction," wrote Carl O. Snowden, director of the state attorney general's Office of Civil Rights, in an email to activists. He is involved with both the county's NAACP branch and the African American Leadership Forum but was writing in a personal capacity, he said.
Monday's planned protest comes after Councilman Richard B. "Dick" Ladd, the 71-year-old Broadneck Republican, used the word "gooks" to describe enemy combatants during the Vietnam War, in which he served. Ladd spoke during a County Council meeting Thursday. Reached by phone Saturday, Ladd declined to comment.
The protest also comes days before a deadline for the council, which is now all-white and all-male, to fill a position vacated by former Councilman Daryl D. Jones, the second African-American member of the council. He began a five-month federal prison term last month for failing to file tax returns.
It was during a voting session to determine the new council member that Ladd used the term "gooks."
The two contenders for the empty seat are 70-year-old former state Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Ferndale, who is white, and 31-year-old Marine reservist Peter I. Smith of Severn, who is black.
The six current councilmen are deadlocked on whom to choose: Democrats Jamie Benoit of Crownsville and Chris Trumbauer of Annapolis and Republican Jerry Walker of Gambrills voted for Smith, while Ladd, Republican John J. Grasso of Glen Burnie and Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican, voted for Wagner.
The protest on President's Day, Snowden said, is also intended to encourage the councilmen to re-evaluate their choice of replacement for Jones.
"Members will also call on the County Council to break the deadlock and appoint a member to the County Council," Snowden wrote. "This is the first time in almost 50 years that the County Council is [poised] to be an all-white-male County Council."
"The county's changing and, with that, attitudes must change accordingly," Snowden said by phone Saturday.
Smith, reached by phone Saturday evening, said he was not involved with the protest and was exasperated to hear that racial politics might be entering into the contest for the empty seat.
"The qualities, character and resume of each candidate should speak for itself," Smith said.
Monday's press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.
Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the Anne Arundel County NAACP, said that the organization was not involved with Monday's planned protest. Wagner could not be reached for comment.