Alvarez Apology Not Enough For Jewish Leaders

Saturday, August 27, 2011 | Santa Ana City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez has apologized several times for comparing downtown property owner Irving Chase, who is Jewish, to Adolf Hitler at Wednesday's council meeting. But Jewish leaders say she has yet to show that she truly understands the impact of her statements.

Alvarez, the leaders said, has much more work to do before their confidence in her ability to serve the public — both as councilwoman and deputy district attorney — is restored.

"She [Alvarez] needs to meet with the Chases, if they're willing to meet with her. She has to meet with a couple of local rabbis. There's a lot that she could do that she hasn't done," said Kevin O'Grady, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Said Shalom Elcott, president of the Jewish Federation & Family Services Orange County: "Her apology was not even close" to being enough.

Alvarez made her comments during a highly charged discussion of the special property tax that funds Downtown Inc. — the organization that promotes, secures and cleans up the downtown core. She criticized Downtown Inc. for renting an office from the Chases, saying that it was like renting from Hitler.

She made statements regarding a perceived plot by the Chases and Downtown Inc. to bankrupt Latino merchants, insinuations that Jewish leaders say reinforce centuries-old anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Alvarez told a Voice of OC reporter Thursday that she had spoken in the heat of the moment. However, she told the OC Register's Andrew Galvin Friday that she would not make a personal apology to Irving Chase.

O'Grady stated that given the anti-Semitic nature of her comments, he does not believe that Alvarez can prosecute a Jewish defendant without prejudice.

In a press release, quoted verbatim, Grady asserted: "Your [Alvarez's] statements also call into question your ability to serve as a Deputy District Attorney for the City of Orange County. Your conduct raises doubts about your judgment and your ability to enforce California's laws fairly."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York City, said in an interview: "Her [Alvarez's] behavior leaves a question in the public's mind — as to her objectivity."

Susan Kang-Schroeder, chief of staff to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, would not comment specifically about whether Alvarez's job — handling cases involving juvenile sex offenders — is in jeopardy. But she said that the office did not "share her comments" and that prosecutors must remain unbiased.

"Every prosecutor will be held to that standard," Schroeder said.

O'Grady said he doubts Alvarez's assertion that her comments came in the heat of the moment.

"If you watch the video tape, she's talking about a conversation she had earlier with Downtown Inc. She said, why are you in that building, and then she said that Hitler comment," O'Grady said.

Despite the condemnation from Jewish leaders, Alvarez's City Council colleagues have shown no indication that they will take action against her.

Councilman David Benavides said he would wait to see how she handles the situation.

Councilman Vince Sarmiento said he also wanted to wait, saying that taking action could be dangerous because "it unwinds the will of the people."

"I'm also very glad to know that Claudia did do the right thing and make a public apology and retract public comments she made," Sarmiento said. "I think that's a good first step."

Sarmiento also said the controversy presents a good opportunity to have a dialogue about discrimination in the community and the impact of inflammatory statements.

"I think this is an opportunity where we can sit down and talk about relations having to do with different community groups," Sarmiento said.

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