Council rebukes Tam, leaves him at post
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City Councilman Rod Tam will not be removed as chairman of the Council Zoning Committee for using an ethnic slur during a meeting last month.
The City Council rebuked Tam yesterday in a resolution that says it "expresses its profound disappointment" in Tam using the offensive term "wetbacks" when referring to undocumented workers from Mexico.
Despite pleas from some members of the Hispanic community, Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall said Tam will not be replaced as chairman of the Zoning Committee.
Tam apologized again yesterday for using the derogatory term.
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The City Council admonished Councilman Rod Tam yesterday for using an ethnic slur during a meeting last month that drew outrage from Hawaii's relatively quiet Hispanic community, including calls to have him removed as chairman of a powerful committee.
Many from Hawaii's Hispanic community bashed Councilman Rod Tam after he used the term "wetbacks" during a council meeting.
The nine members of the Council, including Tam, agreed that it was inappropriate for him to use the term "wetbacks" when referring to undocumented workers from Mexico.
Tam, who issued an apology Monday after media inquiries, expressed regret at yesterday's Council meeting, reiterating statements that he did not know the meaning of the derogatory word.
"I am saddened that I used that term," Tam said. "I agree with the sanction. I will not use that terminology again. I will spell it out in terms of illegal aliens."
Some members of the Hispanic community who attended the meeting said the Council's formal rebuke of Tam's comments is the first step, and they want to meet with Tam to ensure he is more culturally sensitive in the future.
Alex Garcia, a detective with the Honolulu Police Department who is part Hispanic, said the City Council needs to show it will not condone Tam's behavior by removing him as chairman of the Zoning Committee.
"Is the City Council going to condone his remarks by maintaining him as the chairman of the Zoning Committee? I think that's inappropriate," Garcia said.
Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall said she will not remove Tam as Zoning Committee chairman. Marshall criticized the media for not writing about the remark earlier, which occurred in a May 13 Zoning Committee meeting.
In the May 13 meeting discussing plans for the future University of Hawaii-West Oahu campus, Tam said he did not want undocumented immigrants working on the development.
"We don't want any, uh, wetbacks, basically," Tam said. "We've been receiving (reports about) developers or contractors been bringing in wetbacks from New Mexico. Uh, Mexico."
Marshall said it was an unfortunate incident, but she does not believe Tam knew the that the term is offensive.
"There's nothing in his action or his words that was targeting anyone in the room. His concern was a concern brought to him by the unions," Marshall told reporters yesterday.
Councilman Charles Djou said he will still fight for Tam's removal, pointing out that several politicians in the United States have been removed from their post after uttering slurs. Tam is not up for re-election this year. However, he has said he will run for lieutenant governor in 2010.
"I think that the appropriate close to this would be his removal as zoning chair," said Djou, a former Zoning Committee chairman who has had a contentious relationship with Tam. "Does Rod Tam think he should be held to a different standards than the other politicians?"
Marie Villa, president of the Latin Business Hawaii (Hispanic Chamber of Commerce) and editor of Hawaii Hispanic News, said it is clear Tam does understand racial sensitivity after listening to him speak yesterday about his time spent in Fresno, Calif.
"They called me Chicano," Tam said, referring to a term used to describe Mexican Americans. "I said, 'What's a Chicano? I don't know what that is.' I told them I was Chinese American, but once I said I'm from Hawaii, open arms came out, basically."