D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's top liaison to the Hispanic community yesterday demanded an apology from Ward 6 school board member John E. Warren for what the liaison characterized as racist public remarks aimed at Washington's Hispanic community.
Willie Vasquez, the director of the Office of Latino Affairs, said that Warren insulted Alberto Gomez during a public hearing on the school budget last week at Ballou High School in Southwest Washington.
Gomez, the vice president of the Council of Hispanic Community Agencies, had just delivered a prepared statement in which he criticized proposed cuts in the school system's adult education program.
According to a transcript of the meeting, when Gomez fininhed speaking, Warren asked, "How long have you been here?" Gomez replied seven years. "I have been here 30 some years and I was born here," Warren continued, "I really have a problem with you even suggesting that our programs and activities ought to be cut or that your priorities should become our priorities."
"The city is 75 percent black," the transcript quotes Warren as saying. "In a democracy, those who vote, in terms of the majority, make the difference, okay?"
Gomez replied, "I also vote."
Warren replied, "Fine. Then when you get enough people together to vote, to put your program in place and fund it, I think you won't have to worry about it," according to the transcript.
Warren said yesterday, "I have no comments on it. The record is there." He urged his critics, including Vasquez, to read the transcript of the meeting before commenting on his remarks.
Board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), who presided over the meeting but was absent from the room during part of the exchange, said of Warren. "They're screaming for his head, I know. [But] it was said in the context many of us feel.
"There is a feeling that aliens just came here when blacks have been here all along. I don't think that that's a racist feeling. It's just pointing out history."
Vasquez requested the apology yesterday in a letter sent to various members of the school board. Vasquez said in an interview that Warren's remarks were "racist in origin. It stinks a little bit. We all pay taxes in the District of Columbia."
"We're hoping to get him to apologize or get him to clean up that statement," Vasquez said. "If he has a personal bias against any group of people, he should keep it personal."
Gomez yesterday called the exchange "a sad experience."
He said that Warren's remark about blacks holding 75 percent majority in Washington carried with it the implication "that writes do not count, that Hispanics do not count. I compare John E. Warren to [former Alabama governor] George Wallace. The only difference is that Mr. Warren is black."