A divided Santa Ana City Council voted Tuesday to censure Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez for her public comparison of downtown property owner Irving Chase, who is Jewish, to Adolf Hitler.
Three of Alvarez’s colleagues — David Benavides, Carlos Bustammante and Michele Martinez — sought the more severe punishment of stripping Alvarez of her mayor pro tem title. Alvarez was the deciding vote in the 4-3 decision to simply condemn her remarks.
The vote came after a long and contentious night in which public speakers supported and railed against Alvarez, who has been a center of controversy since she uttered the comments at the City Council’s Aug. 24 meeting.
Jewish leaders and others, including Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Barbaro, had sharply condemned Alvarez’s remarks before the meeting. She came under more fire after an apology was perceived as insincere and after she said she would not apologize personally to the Chase family.
Many supporters, who saw Alvarez as their champion, carried baskets of fruit and flowers to the dais in appreciation of Alvarez’s strong position against a special property tax that has polarized downtown. Some downtown property owners say they receive no benefit from the tax, which funds the promotional organization Downtown Inc. They complain they are being pushed out by those like Chase who favor trendy restaurants and bars.
“Sometimes people are crucified for doing the right thing,” said Fina Chaves, owner of a downtown parking lot. “She [Alvarez] is trying to do the right thing for us. Please do not destroy us along with her.”
Other Alvarez supporters and a council member were critical of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that called on Alvarez to resign, for not also condemning the perceived gentrification in the downtown.
“ADL, you’re a bunch of hypocrites, that’s all I can tell you,” said longtime activist and downtown merchant Sam Romero. “Come and join us on this side, because this side has been hammered for years.”
Many Alvarez detractors also attended the meeting, some wearing white to protest Alvarez and what they said was a history of bullying at the dais.
Chad Barker, a city resident who said he wasn’t politically active and doesn’t usually attend such meetings, said he was “completely appalled” by Alvarez’s comments. He and many others asked Alvarez to resign.
“Your apology was horrendously fake and completely insincere,” Barker said.
Some on the all-Latino City Council recounted a history of racism they experienced while growing up. They said that while they don’t condone Alvarez’s remarks, they see racism every day in the comments section of the Orange County Register’s website.
“Whenever there’s an article in the OC Register, look at the comments section,” said Councilman Vincent Sarmiento. “They talk about Latinos as inferiors, undesirables, wetbacks. Its unfortunate to see organizations here today [that] weren’t there to condemn those speeches.”
Sarmiento said there was a larger problem of racism in the county that had to be addressed, and he proposed a countywide town hall meeting to discuss the issue.
Alvarez said that she has taken many steps to rectify the damage her comments caused, including meeting with rabbis and Rep. Loretta Sanchez. She said she has asked for a mediator to offer the Chase family a personal apology.
She still insisted, however, that her comments were not anti-Semitic.
“I invite you to watch the tape,” Alvarez said. “They are not anti-Semitic comments. But I understand I hurt people with them, and I do apologize.”
Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled the name of Fina Chaves. We regret the error.
— ADAM ELMAHREK