SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach and mayoral candidate Alderman Van Johnson spoke Friday afternoon about a recent controversial meeting.
Wednesday, organizers didn’t allow cameras, and only allowed black members of the media to come inside and take notes.
The community meeting at the Bolton Street Baptist Church has received national and international attention. That’s something both Alderman Johnson acknowledged in his statement, and Mayor DeLoach mentioned in the statement he prepared in response.
Alderman Johnson was invited to Wednesday’s meeting to speak to members of the African American community. It’s his participation that has led to backlash here and abroad, because of the stipulation set by meeting organizers that “black media only” could go in. Johnson said he never meant to offend anyone, but knows he did, and apologized for that. He assumed responsibility for making the decision to go in, and said while taking questions afterward what he should have done differently.
“In retrospect, I regret going to the meeting and not insisting that all of you come into the meeting. That’s where I believe my fault was. I had an opportunity, as you were standing out there, talking to you about the sidewalk and how it was a public sidewalk. I should’ve said “come on in with me,” and said to the folks there, we have to do better, and here’s an opportunity to do better. They are here. They represent the eyes and ears of the people. Let them in," Alderman Johnson said. “On this single occasion, I did not perform as I always have. I seek never to offend anyone, but I know in this case, I did offend, and today I apologize for my actions in this instance. For certain, I know if the shoe were on the other foot and this event was held that excluded others folks, I would be one of the first ones to be outraged about this.”
Mayor Eddie DeLoach watched Alderman Johnson’s statement and had this to say in part:
“For all of those that have called, emailed, and text my office from all walks of life, I want to assure you this is not who we are in Savannah. We will continue to be open to everyone, and I will not sacrifice my principles for political gain."
Three state lawmakers from our area - Representative Al Williams of Hinesville, Representative Carl Gilliard of Garden City, and Representative Craig Gordon of Savannah - are all astonished after Wednesday’s meeting. From the State Capitol in Atlanta, they showed that not only do they not condone this divisive behavior, but they will not tolerate it.
“All of my early life was in the Civil Rights Movement. I have become an enemy of any kind of discrimination,” Rep. Williams said.
The poster promoting the community meeting states it was organized by Pastor Clarence Williams and the Trigon group. It was called to pick ONE African-American mayoral candidate to support, but it was another poster that sparked outrage. The poster denying all non-black press members access to the meeting.
“It upsets us. That’s not the way to do it. It will not be tolerated in a city like Savannah, Georgia. It requires cooperation from blacks and whites to elect anybody in that city.”
Along with state leaders, local leaders share their disappointment with this divisive meeting and those who attended.
“It then took him two days to apologize for his poor judgement. Since then, this has become a national embarrassment," Mayor DeLoach said.
Regina Thomas was the other candidate asked to speak at the community meeting Wednesday night. She declined to do so, calling it polarizing and premature.