Saturday, August 11, 2012 | 4:56pm
A Tale of Local Politics
How one city came together to fight hate speech
Sterling Heights Michigan is the third largest city in Michigan; a growing and diverse community; and the home base for yours truly (Malcolm).
In recent years, I’ve been hooked on local politics. Like all crazy, sheltered loners, I look forward to watching the Zoning Board of Appeals (for people who want to build fences or add an extra sign to their business), the Ordinance Board of Appeals (where people get cited for not cutting their grass), and of course: the Sterling Heights City Council.
In the past week, an incident occurred in my city that simultaneously showed everything that is wrong and everything that is right with local politics.
The bad: the events themselves. The good: how the city and people reacted to them.
Here’s what happened…
Our most recently elected member of the City Council is a man named Paul Smith. Prior to being elected, Smith was known as one of the ‘regular’s’, who would show up to every meeting and speak on nearly every subject. Like many people who show up (probably myself included), he was a little kooky.
But, as local politics nearly always works in small and mid-sized town… power goes to the person who shows up. After years of showing up (and as a reaction to a tax increase), Smith ran for City Council, and on 11/8/2011 was elected to his first term with roughly 9000 votes in a city of 125,000.
His time on the board has, until now, been difficult. Known for attacking business owners when they attempt to get tax abatements, and giving voice to a travelling band of crazies (who roam from town to town complaining that the new computerized electric meters cause cancers and allow the government to spy on its citizens), Smiths tenure on the City Council has been a form of comic relief since he took his seat.
However, this past Monday that all changed. Three years ago, Smith attended a local tea party rally. This was before he was elected, so the video (link HERE) from this rally remained anonymously buried on you tube until it surfaced this past Monday.
In the video, Smith is seen carrying signs that contain the following:
… President Obama’s head cut off on top of a spear, with the caption ‘he changed America into Uganda”
… (Michigan former) Governor Jennifer Granholm hanging from a noose
… and a sign showing Nancy Pelosi, saying that she loves ‘wetbacks’ and ‘fags’
To give you an idea of how outrageous these signs were, other members of the tea party were accusing Smith of being a democrat plant, put there to make the tea party look bad. (like a punch line: how bad do you have to be to be shunned by the tea party)
Worse even still (as if this could get worse), Smith (when confronted by local TV station WDIV) (link HERE) made matters worse by doing the following:
… tried to shift blame by asking who leaked the video
… when asked about having Obama’s head on a ‘knife’, said ‘no, that’s not a knife, it’s a spear’, accusing the President of treason and saying ‘that’s what you do with traitors’
… defended Adolph Hitler (in comparison to President Obama)
As bad as this all is, there IS a lot of good that has come out of this story. The reaction of both the city and the Citizens of Sterling Heights stand as a shining example of how a diverse community can come together (strongly and rapidly) to attack hate speech.
Less than 24 hours after the story leaked, the City of Sterling Heights issued the following statement (published on their web site and given to the news media)
STERLING HEIGHTS — The City of Sterling Heights has worked diligently over the course of the past 45 years to build a community of inclusiveness. This effort has enriched Sterling Heights and contributed to the city being recognized as a community that is welcoming and tolerant for people from all over the world and all walks of life. Sterling Heights has also built a reputation for being a safe place, where residents are protected from the violence that is now all too prevalent in our society.
It is in this context that the City of Sterling Heights must strongly disavow the personal viewpoints expressed by Mr. Smith on the signage displayed in the YouTube video and his attempted defense of the disturbing content.
It is regrettable that such images and the intolerant and violent viewpoints that they espouse are brought forth in the public discourse. It is the city’s hope that those who are exposed to these images judge them as the personal opinion of one man. Otherwise, the dedication of the many in Sterling Heights who have put forth the time and effort to foster a culture of acceptance will have been paid a great disservice.
In addition, within 48 hours of the story breaking, the Sterling Heights city council drafted and passed a motion requesting Paul Smith to resign. At the meeting, a long line of citizens stood up and voiced their opposition to hate speech and Smith, and in defense of the diversity of our city.
A link to the meeting (showing the motion and the citizen comments) can be found HERE. Once at this link, click on “Index Point #4” to jump to the point where this topic starts.
A few things worth noting on this video…
… At time mark 1:09:20, please note the comments by Smith’s wife (who raises crazy to a new level)
… Extra Bonus: see if you can identify Malcolm during the citizen comments (it really shouldn’t be hard for those of you who have read my posts and comments over the years)
Prior to the meeting, the US Secret Service was seen entering the building to interview Smith about his visual threats to the President. The local media was also onhand to witness the meeting.
Where Do We Go From Here
Even though the resolution passed, Smith does not automatically lose his seat. Under the city charter, there are two ways to remove an official: by the Governor of the state, or by a recall election. Smith refuses to resign, so both are in the works.
I’ll keep you informed of any updates.