COLUMBUS, Miss. — A white city council member running against a black challenger says he stands by a campaign letter he sent to voters, urging them to “maintain the current racial makeup of the council.”
Republican Charlie Box, who’s seeking his third term, confirmed to The Commercial Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2rnQ85Z ) that he mailed the letter last week to as many as 700 of his supporters.
The newspaper reports that Box is one of two white members of the Columbus City Council. The other is Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin. Both are Republicans.
Box wrote that the June 6 election presents a “rare opportunity” to maintain the council’s 4-2 racial makeup. He added that “we may even be able to move it to 3-3 for the first time in recent history.”
Box told the newspaper he doesn’t believe the letter is racist, and said he doesn’t understand how anyone could find it offensive.
“Why is it wrong for a city councilman to talk about diversity?” Box said. “How many times have you seen that the council voted along racial lines? And we do.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the letter, but maybe I’m way off base,” he added. “… I’ve run a good campaign, and I stand by the letter. I’m not a racial person. I don’t have a racial bone in my body.”
The Dispatch obtained a screen shot of Box’s letter from an anonymous source via text message Monday night.
Box summarily dismissed the notion the “we” he calls upon in his letter refers to whites, insisting instead the campaign piece is geared specifically to Republicans. He admitted, however, most of those Republicans are white, adding “I’m a realist.”
“I’d be happy for the racial makeup to stay at 4-2, and I say that (in the letter),” Box said. “But would it have been better for me to say Republican or Democrat? Because we (also) have an opportunity to keep it 4-2 Democrat or a 3-3 split (of Democrats and Republicans).
Mark Ward, a former Columbus assistant fire chief who is running as a Republican challenger for the Ward 5 seat, is the only other white candidate in the council race. There is a black candidate running in each ward, including Box’s opponent, Democrat Charlotte Verdell, who he will face in the June 6 general election.
“I don’t know why anyone would make a big deal of this,” he added. “Not a single supporter of mine would be offended by this because they know me and they know my heart. There’s nothing here for them to be offended by.”
Verdell said her candidacy was neither about race nor party.
“I believe in doing the right things for the right causes and because I have a heart for this great city,” she said in a text message. “I don’t see this as a political party race. I see an opportunity to serve all people in the best ways possible.”
Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com