UPDATED 5:18 p.m.
A group of Hispanic leaders from Kansas City today called on Gov. Matt Blunt to fire his chief of staff, Ed Martin, over what they say is a racist comment Martin made at a recent meeting of the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
“For the governor’s chief of staff, speaking on behalf of Gov. Blunt, to say that in the workforce, where there is 'Mexican' looking people they are likely illegal, is an outrage,” Rita Valenciano, president of the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations, said in a statement. “For it to be a publicly stated stance of the governor of Missouri’s office is one of the most racist and profiling statements arguably in Missouri history.
“Therefore, we are calling on Gov. Blunt to terminate Mr. Martin immediately and issue an apology to all the Hispanic-Americans across Missouri for having such a mentality of profiling. This type of xenophobic mentality and stated language in 2007 should not be tolerated by our government leaders, especially the governor of Missouri.”
Various Hispanic organizations and individuals joined in a press conference building in downtown Kansas City today to call for Martin's firing.
The comment occurred at an Aug. 17 meeting of the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which awards state tax credits to housing developers who qualify. At the meeting, Martin was referring to a recent case of a housing development in O'Fallon where local officials suspect illegal labor may have been used.
(UPDATE from the AP: Commission members were questioning an attorney for developer Pete Hennessey, whose company has been accused by O'Fallon city officials of hiring a subcontractor using illegal immigrants for a taxpayer-subsidized housing project. Hennessey has denied the assertion.
Hennessey's attorney was saying that an electronic means of verifying the workers' legal status wasn't available at the time, when Martin cut him and chastised him for trying to debate the availability of the computer program.)
According to transcripts of the meeting, Martin, addressing the attorney of a developer, said, “I'll tell you what's available, is every frigging developer can figure out who is illegal, and when he says — like he told them — there's a bunch of Mexicans out there, I guess some of them are probably not legal.”
Martin was not immediately available for comment, but Jessica Robinson, a spokeswoman for Blunt, said Martin's comments were aimed at paraphrasing what a developer previously had said.
The comments so angered Jim Torres, the legislative liaison and secretary for the commission who witnessed the incident, that he sent Blunt a letter protesting Martin's comments and then later resigned.
Torres said Martin gave a “table-thumping tirade” in which he made the comments. Torres took those remarks as a slight against Mexicans.
“I am extremely proud of my Mexican heritage, culture and especially my family and I will not let anyone demean or degrade it, least of all Mr. Martin,” Torres said in a letter to Blunt.In a letter to the head of the housing commission responding to Torres' resignation, Martin said he found Torres’ comments “both unprofessional and inappropriate.”
Martin said his comments during the meeting were meant to convey the idea that too many developers and contractors are ignoring the law when it comes to illegal workers.
“My comment was specific to the situation in O’Fallon, Missouri, where illegal workers from Mexico were at issue,” Martin said in his letter. “I was paraphrasing what I had been told there and acknowledge I could have been clearer. I certainly meant no harm to Jim or anyone else.”