Schaefer refuses to issue apology

Comptroller meets with Korean leaders

July 19, 2006|By JENNIFER SKALKA | JENNIFER SKALKA,SUN REPORTER

Korean-American leaders emerged from a private meeting with Comptroller William Donald Schaefer yesterday saying they were disappointed he did not apologize for recent comments about their homeland.

"The comptroller keeps repeating that he meant to say North Korea, but as you know, North Koreans, communists, were never friends of this country or this state or Comptroller Schaefer," said David Han, president of the Korean Society of Maryland. "To us, that sounded much like [an] excuse."

Schaefer rankled local Korean-Americans this month when, during a meeting of the Board of Public Works, he criticized a proposed program to test the effectiveness of English as a Second Language instruction in Maryland public schools.

Raising questions about the program, Schaefer - a Democrat who has angered immigrants in the past by insisting they should speak English - veered into remarks about a recent test missile launch by North Korea.

"Korea's another one, all of a sudden they're our friends, too, shooting missiles at us," Schaefer said during the board meeting.

Most of this country's Korean immigrants are from South Korea.

Schaefer also cautioned at the meeting that "we'll pay" for opening borders. "I get so irritated that we just open up the borders, let everybody in, educate them," he said.

Korean-American leaders asked for an apology from the comptroller and requested yesterday's private meeting.

Though they were unsatisfied with the outcome, representatives from the Korean groups said they wanted to leave room to work things out in the future and would be willing to meet with him again.

Sandy Kwon, a student at Northwest High School in Germantown who took language courses and attended yesterday's session at the comptroller's office, said she felt "nothing was really accomplished" during the private hourlong meeting in the comptroller's Annapolis office.

"I do appreciate everything he's done for Maryland and stuff, but I feel he was slightly offensive and maybe it's just time [for him] to kind of rest and go," she said.

Schaefer, a former governor and Baltimore mayor, told reporters afterward that he has always been a friend to South Koreans.

He said he was willing to meet with the leaders again but that he felt his remarks were misunderstood.

"I don't have to apologize," he said. "I won't apologize for anything. All I said was somebody was sending missiles. I happened to not say north or south. Any dummy would know where they came from."

Schaefer, 84, is running for re-election this year, and faces a primary challenge from Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat. A Sun poll being released today shows Schaefer with 31 percent of the vote among likely primary voters, with 22 percent backing Owens and 11 percent for Franchot. More than a third of likely primary voters are undecided.

Political observers say some of Schaefer's recent comments - including the missile remarks - are harming his political prospects and his legacy.

In the past few months, his comments about women and immigrants have sparked national and even international coverage. During a Board of Public Works meeting in February, he told a young female aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to "walk again" and gawked at her backside as she left the room. The incident was caught on videotape and replayed repeatedly on cable news.

Korean leaders sidestepped questions about whether they would rally their community to vote against Schaefer. But Chung Pak, chairman of the League of Korean Americans in Maryland, also questioned "whether he's up to the job."

"He's treating us as if we're a bunch of foreigners," Pak said.

Schaefer blamed The Sun for reporting his comments, saying "this is a mountain out of a molehill started by a newspaper that's dying."

"The Sun goes down in the west," Schaefer said. "And I'm so glad to see it go down in the west. Rather than the south."

Franchot issued a statement yesterday criticizing Schaefer for not apologizing to the Korean community.

"I commend leaders of the Korean community for having the courage to stand up against these inflammatory remarks, and I call on Comptroller Schaefer to use the power of his office to unite all Marylanders rather than divide them," Franchot said.

Schaefer told reporters that he would not debate Owens and Franchot.

"They can go debate themselves until their heads fall off," Schaefer said.jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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