'I Won't Apologize' for Korea Remarks, Schaefer Says

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer refused to apologize to a group of Korean Americans who met with him yesterday to discuss remarks he had made linking South Korean immigrants to a recent missile firing in communist North Korea.

During a private meeting with the delegation, the 84-year-old official declined to sign a letter of contrition prepared by his chief of staff and bickered with a community leader.

Emerging from his office afterward, flanked by staff members smiling stiffly, Schaefer said that he has always been a friend to Korean immigrants and that his much-publicized remarks were misinterpreted. "I don't have to apologize. I won't apologize. If it was something that I really felt in my heart I had to apologize," he said, "then I would have apologized to them a long time ago."

Schaefer said the meeting had been derailed by an organizer he deemed overzealous, David Han, president of the Korean Society of Maryland. "That little fellow is trying to make a big deal," Schaefer said. He later called Han "a zero."

Han is 5 feet 10 inches tall.

Han declined to comment on Schaefer's remarks and tried to put the best face on the hour of failed diplomacy. He credited the comptroller's "long, outstanding service" to the Korean Society and said, "I still want to give him the benefit of the doubt."

But others said they had heard enough from Schaefer.

"If he doesn't feel an apology is needed, then something is wrong," said Chung Pak, chairman of the League of Korean Americans of Maryland, speaking before a bank of television cameras. "He's treating us as if we were a bunch of foreigners."

The meeting came two days after a coalition of Asian, Latino, black and women's groups called for the comptroller's ouster. Schaefer, a former governor and mayor of Baltimore, is facing two opponents in September's Democratic primary, and polls have shown that many Democrats are ready to replace him.

Schaefer's blunt, sometimes outrageous remarks have provided fodder for his critics and campaign foes. The meeting yesterday was prompted by Schaefer's comments at the July 5 meeting of the Board of Public Works, which included a discussion of a $2.4 million contract to create a proficiency test for Maryland students who take English language classes.

Schaefer launched into what sounded like a sarcastic rant at the July 5 meeting:

"Oh, we don't worry about any of those things like money. Or illegals crossing the border. That's nothing. That's just a given. Oh, come on. Korea is another one. All of the sudden, they're our friends, too, shooting missiles at us."

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