Riverside leaders say council candidate’s racist statements are ‘unacceptable’
Riverside leaders Monday condemned racist comments by a candidate for Riverside City Council that include a call to kill Muslims and 6 million people in the United States.
John Dave Denilofs has said the comments, mostly made in Facebook videos leading up to the November 2016 election, don’t reflect his actual opinions. But he has not apologized for them.
He’s one of six candidates on the ballot to represent Ward 7 in an election that will be decided in a mail-in election June 4. Ballots were sent starting Monday, May 6, the same day city officials learned of Denilofs’ comments and called for voters to reject him.
Denilofs argued that anyone who waves a Mexican flag in the United States should be killed, as should Muslims and “the people who made laws where it’s safe for Muslims.”
He refers to “black people on the street” by the N-word and uses a vulgar term for women.
And he said Donald Trump should declare martial law and kill 6 million people. That’s the same as the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Denilofs, who said he he’s not racist and wanted to drive people to the Facebook page he ran, stood by that Monday.
“Of course what I said was inappropriate,” he said in a Facebook comment, “but I was pushing Freedom of Speech which is becoming not allowed for Conservatives.”
Councilman Steve Adams, who’s not running for re-election, represents the ward in the southwest corner of the city and said the comments offend the ward, city and country.
“Any comments like that are unacceptable from anybody, regardless of where you’re from in the United States,” Adams said. “Ward 7 happens to be the most diverse ward in the city of Riverside and very proud of that. We have every religion, every race. It’s a great ward, a true melting pot of what America is all about. For a candidate or anyone to say that, that’s not the American way.”
Adams, who supports Steven Hemenway in the Ward 7 election, said he wouldn’t ask Denilofs to withdraw from the race.
“I can only imagine that people, once they recognize what he said, will vote for someone else,” Adams said. “Part of America is to let the people have the choice. Just because he makes ridiculous statements, that’s part of his right. I would not ask him to step out.”
Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El in Riverside said it was irresponsible for the city’s elected leaders to do anything but vocally oppose Denilofs.
“As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I am appalled at these comments,” Singer said. “Whether or not they were meant seriously or they were just an attempt to get more likes, the real issue is that words have consequences. You can’t just throw these things around. It is going to provoke real damage.”
And by saying it’s up to the voter, officials are normalizing rhetoric that should be beyond the pale, she said.
“That’s just unconscionable to have someone like that representing people in the city,” she said.
If Denilofs is elected, Singer said, she will move.
The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called out the remarks against Muslims as well as those against other groups.
“While it is not surprising, it is unfortunate to see an equal-opportunity bigot running for public office,” CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said in a written statement. “At a time when the current trend of normalizing hate speech has emboldened bigots in their speech, as well as in their actions, the last thing Riverside needs is a bigot setting the vision and goals of the city from the City Council dais. I hope the voters will send a clear message that bigotry and intolerance have no place in Ward 7.”
Ward 4 Councilman Chuck Conder said Denilofs should publicly apologize and remove himself from consideration. If Denilofs were elected, Conder said he would consult the city charter’s list of requirements for a council member and try to have voters recall him.
“I could not serve at the dais that’s going to be used by someone with those kind of thoughts,” said Conder, a retired Air Force officer. “My military honor would not allow me to.”
Ward 3 Councilman Mike Soubirous said he opposed racism but wondered aloud about what speech was unacceptable.
“It’s a balance between freedom of speech and what people consider hate speech,” Soubirous said.
If Denilofs were elected, Soubirous said he would hold his breath in anticipation of a racist remark, but he would have to work with him.
“If the voters voted for someone that they knew did this, you’d have to work with them and do what’s best for the majority of the city,” he said.
Mayor Rusty Bailey said there was no room for racism in the city.
“Especially as a representative of the city on the City Council,” Bailey added by text message. “There are no excuses for his words or behavior. I’m glad he is taking responsibility for them.”
Ward 1 Councilman Mike Gardner said it wasn’t surprising that one person in a city of more than 320,000 people had racist views, so he doesn’t think the statements reflect on the city overall.
“Obviously anything that is racist or sexist or improperly said about any group of people is not something fitting for a councilman,” said Gardner, who is also running for re-election. “It really is not for me to tell people how to decide whether to support a candidate or not. On a personal level, I would not support someone who — again I have not seen the comments, but I’m assuming what was reported was accurate — said something improper.”
Ward 5 Councilman Chris Mac Arthur said he trusted the voters in Ward 7 to make the right decision.
“His comments are completely inappropriate,” Mac Arthur said. “I was disgusted by them.”
Ward 2 Councilman Andy Melendrez couldn’t be reached Monday. Ward 6 Councilman Jim Perry, who had jury duty, said he wanted to watch the videos before commenting.