Koreans seek Schaefer apology

Leaders will meet tomorrow with comptroller

July 17, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS | MELISSA HARRIS,SUN REPORTER

Leaders of Maryland's Korean community said yesterday that they will tell Comptroller William Donald Schaefer that he owes them an apology and should undergo sensitivity training.

David Han, president of the Korean Society of Maryland, said at a news conference in Wheaton yesterday that he and other local Korean leaders will make these suggestions during a meeting with Schaefer scheduled for tomorrow at the comptroller's office in Annapolis.

Their concern follows Schaefer's recent comments about North Korean missile tests and Koreans in America learning English as a second language.

"The purpose of the meeting is to have a conversation," Laslo Boyd, a senior consultant to the Schaefer campaign, said yesterday. "I'm not predicting anything specific about it, but I'm quite confident it will be a positive meeting and have an outcome that everyone feels good about."

At a meeting of the state public works board this month, during which the panel took up a contract to provide English as a Second Language testing in state schools, Schaefer wanted to know whether the program would benefit Korean students.

"Korea's another one, all of a sudden they're our friends, too, shooting missiles at us," Schaefer said. He also warned that someday "we'll pay" for opening U.S. borders. "I get so irritated that we just open up the borders, let everybody in, educate them," he said.

Schaefer's comments particularly stung Korean leaders, some of whom criticized him yesterday, because he seemed to be lumping South Korea, the birthplace of most Korean-Americans, with North Korea, where the missile testing was orchestrated by dictator Kim Jong Il.

Boyd said Schaefer, who traveled to South Korea as governor, "clearly understands the difference" between the two countries, and anything said to the contrary was "misspeaking."

"He was making a point about the costs to state and local governments that get incurred as a result of the absence of an effective federal immigration policy," Boyd said. "That really was the only point he was trying to make. He clearly believes that education is valuable. He wasn't objecting to educating immigrants. He was raising questions about who ought to pay for it."

Han, the president of the Korean Society who contacted Schaefer's office, was among the most restrained of the more than a dozen speakers at the news conference, including one of Schaefer's opponents in the Democratic primary, Peter Franchot.

Schaefer's other opponent in the primary, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, could not attend because she said that she learned of the event yesterday and had a full campaign calendar. Schaefer was not invited.

"We're going to take one thing at a time and start with asking for an apology," Han said. "Considering his long service record and the fact that many of us are longtime supporters of his, we want to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him explain himself. If we get a negative response or no cooperation, I would expect voter-registration drives and that we would do our best not to elect him."

Members of the Hispanic, Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and black communities, as well as the president of the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women, attended the event at the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity. They held white signs with "We are America," "Let's make a difference Sept. 12" and "No sexual harassment" printed in black.

The message from most speakers, including members of Schaefer's own party, was that his remarks about Koreans were the latest in a series of incidents that they could no longer tolerate - a reference to Schaefer telling a young female staffer "to walk again" to ogle her from behind and his complaints about a McDonald's worker's poor English.

"The sad thing is we're not sure that he's through," said Isiah "Ike" Leggett, a Democratic candidate for Montgomery County executive, as he stood at the podium beside his opponent in the primary, Steven A. Silverman, who challenged immigrants to give Schaefer lessons in "geography," "sensitivity" and "politics" on Sept. 12, the date of the primary.

"I'd like to believe Schaefer's comments were unintended," said Peter Pyen, 67, of Silver Spring, national president of the League of Korean Americans, USA. "If that's the case, he should not hesitate to issue an apology and an expression of regret and show us that he's not really against immigrants."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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