Riemer stumbles over Tea Party racism claim in Montgomery debate
Democrat Hans Riemer stumbled into a gaffe in the final moments of a debate Wednesday night among candidates seeking the four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council.
Earlier in the Rockville debate, Republican candidate Mark D. Fennel, membership director for the Washington-based group Citizens Against Government Waste, said he considers himself a Tea Party activist.
In his closing remarks, Riemer said the audience had heard something important.
"Think about that for a moment. What would it be like to have a Tea Party candidate on the Montgomery County Council?" Riemer said. Then Riemer added: "The Tea Party is associated with racism."
That prompted loud howls and boos from the crowd of 30, which included conservative activists. When a moderator said the audience should "keep it respectful," retired public school teacher Carolyn Darne yelled out from the crowd: "Respect? He just called us racist."
When it was Fennel's turn to speak, he calmly challenged Riemer, asking "Were you referring to me as a racist?"
"I don't think so," Fennel continued. "My spouse is from Honduras. My son is half Honduran. I hope you're not referring to me as a racist, especially considering that she's half African-American as well, and half Hispanic."
"And I wasn't, I wasn't," Riemer said.
Then Fennel went back to talking about county budget problems.
After the debate, Riemer said he reiterated to Fennel directly that he wasn't "casting any aspersions on him or anybody else personally" with the comment about racism.
Darne, a registered Republican who said she has attended Tea Party functions, was still fuming.
"He was calling us racist," she said. "They think they can pick up some minority votes by trotting out that term. We're just not going to take it anymore."
Riemer pointed to a report released by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People earlier Wednesday.
NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in the foreword that while "the majority of Tea Party supporters are sincere, principled people of good will," the study found "links between certain Tea Party factions and acknowledged racist hate groups in the United States."
| October 20, 2010; 10:18 PM ET
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