By all accounts, Thursday night’s council forum in Marysville, Mich., was supposed to be about moving the city forward.
Discussion ranged from new housing projects to enhancing parks and recreation in the small community 50 miles north of Detroit, where five candidates are lobbying to fill three council seats in November, the Port Huron Times Herald reported. When the forum’s moderator raised a question about boosting the city’s diversity — more than 95 percent of its 10,000 or so residents are white, according to 2010 Census data — candidate Jean Cramer’s response confounded her peers.
“Keep Marysville a white community as much as possible,” she replied.
Cramer moved to Marysville within the past decade and is considered a newcomer to politics, according to the newspaper. She did not return an email requesting comment Friday evening, but reportedly expanded on her contentious statement when approached after the forum.
A “husband and wife need to be the same race. Same thing with kids. That’s how it’s been from the beginning of, how can I say, when God created the heaven and the earth,” she told the Times Herald. “He created Adam and Eve at the same time. But as far as me being against blacks, no, I’m not.”
Immigrants and other foreign-born residents have provided steady economic growth in Michigan, which has faced years of population decline, according to a 2017 report from Global Detroit, a nonprofit that seeks to bring international talent to the region. In the 15 years leading up to the report, Michigan’s immigrant population grew nearly 25 percent. In contrast, the population of native-born residents in the state decreased by 1.5 percent.
At Thursday’s forum, council members and candidates characterized Marysville as welcoming. They moved quickly to condemn Cramer’s remark.
“Just checking the calendar and making sure it’s still 2019,” Mike Deising, another candidate for a council spot, replied Thursday night. Paul Wessel, an incumbent councilman, added that anyone should be allowed to live in the city, the Times Herald reported.
Perhaps the most poignant response came from the city’s Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Hayman, who said she took Cramer’s response to heart.
“I don’t even know that I can talk yet, I’m so upset and shocked. My father was a hundred percent Syrian, and they owned the Lynwood Bar,” she said. “It was a grocery store at that time. So basically, what you’ve said is that my father and his family had no business to be in this community.”
But according to the Times Herald, Cramer had a response for Hayman, too — “What Kathy Hayman doesn’t know is that her family is in the wrong,” the candidate said later.
Thursday’s forum recalls a similar May controversy in the Jackson County, Ga., community of Hoschton. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Mayor Theresa Kenerly allegedly withdrew the application of Keith Henry, a finalist for city administrator, “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.”
“She proceeded to tell me that the candidate was real good, but he was black and we don’t have a big black population and she just didn’t think Hoschton was ready,” a councilwoman wrote of Kenerly in a document obtained by the publication. The situation was made more complicated by a longtime councilman, Jim Cleveland, who defended the mayor and said, unprompted, that interracial marriage makes his “blood boil.”
“I’m a Christian and my Christian beliefs are you don’t do interracial marriage. That’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way I believe,” Cleveland said, according to the AJC. “I have black friends, I hired black people. But when it comes to all this stuff you see on TV, when you see blacks and whites together, it makes my blood boil because that’s just not the way a Christian is supposed to live.”
In Michigan, Marysville Mayor Daniel Damman told the Times Herald that Cramer’s comments were vile and “jaw-dropping.”
“Mrs. Cramer’s disturbing and disgusting ideology is flatly rejected by me, our entire City Council, all of city administration, and our employees,” he said in a statement to the outlet. “The only positive result from this clear expression of overt and unapologetic racism is that this candidate’s views were put on display before our voters go the polls in November.”