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Council members, mayor speak out about Guillory

February 03, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS and BRIAN SHAPPELL

gregs@herald-mail.com
shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Rev. LeRoy J. Guillory said this week he could not organize an African-American heritage parade in Hagerstown due to "domestic terrorism and the threat of violence by the Ku Klux Klan." The city's mayor, council and a former mayor refuted his claims Wednesday.

Guillory, who is black, spoke before the mayor and City Council four times between Oct. 26, 2004, and Tuesday, each time raising questions of racial discrimination against African Americans.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner was publicly critical of Guillory's claims during a City Council work session Tuesday, but made his comments after Guillory left the meeting. Other officials did not comment directly on what Guillory said or speak to him at the meeting.

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City officials on Wednesday said they did not regret not confronting Guillory about his claims of racism before this week. They said that while efforts to confront racism in the community should continue, those efforts won't be based on anything Guillory has said.

Some said their concerns about his credibility were raised by a story published in Tuesday's Herald-Mail, which said Guillory had been incarcerated on felony charges and that addresses provided by Guillory to city officials were commercial mail receiving agencies, or mail drops, rather than offices.

Guillory said Wednesday evening that "attacks" by the council and The Herald-Mail do not change the fact that there are no black public officials or department managers in Hagerstown or the county government.

Mayor William M. Breichner said he met Guillory in August before the city's celebration of baseball great Willie Mays' return to the city, 54 years after Mays was forced to stay in an all-black Hagerstown hotel away from his white teammates.

Breichner said that Guillory raised the issue of racial discrimination with him back then. In a December meeting, Guillory took aim at Breichner during a comment period, and Breichner did not respond.

"I didn't know what he was talking about. ... I was puzzled," Breichner said. "I think it was important not to overreact to him."

Breichner said he has appointed blacks to community boards, and the city has responded to the needs of the city's black community in various ways, including having a camera system installed in the Jonathan Street neighborhood, a step police have said has reduced drug-related crime.

"We have tried very hard to work with different cultures here," Breichner said. "This guy was ... looking for ways to create an event in this community that would stir racial dissent. I don't think he accomplished his goal."

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said he regretted not having said anything to Guillory about his claims of racism. But he said he believed Guillory was able to get more time before the council than others would have because race is a sensitive issue.

"He knows we'll sit back and take a beating and give him the benefit of the doubt," Hendershot said.

Council members Penny M. Nigh and Kristin B. Aleshire said they had no regrets about not taking Guillory to task, but agreed that his portrayal of the city is false.

"The only minority group ... that has basically come into the council has been the Afro-American representatives, and I think that they're treated fairly," Nigh said.

"He has his ideas and opinions. ... and I think they're wrong," Aleshire said.

Former Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II appeared at two public events organized by Guillory in December. Bruchey has said he attended because he was invited.

Bruchey said Guillory never raised concerns about racism with him, and he did not know of Guillory's claims of racism in Hagerstown until Tuesday. He disputed Guillory's portrayal of the city.

"During my administration, I never saw any examples of racism, and if there had been, believe me, it would have been addressed. ... The problem's not quite as bad as Reverend Guillory depicts it," he said.

Councilwoman Carol N. Moller was among the city officials who said they did not believe Guillory represented the city's black community.

"I think it's a one-man show," Moller said. "All we need to do is have him go back to California."

Guillory said he does not believe the council members know what the black community believes, and said they have not talked to members of the black community about him.

"I find it difficult to believe the African-American community is concerned with what a white, racist committee thinks," he said.

Metzner said his comments Tuesday were prompted by a series of things, including The Herald-Mail story, and Guillory's explanation that Klan threats were keeping him from holding an African-American heritage parade.

"After reading the newspaper article the other day, the reverend has no credibility in this community ... Until Tuesday, I had no reason to believe that Reverend Guillory, or Mr. Guillory, wasn't who he purported to be," Metzner said.

Metzner also said, "Martin Luther King, and the dead men in Mississippi, and the people that marched in Selma, Ala., ... they were fearful for their life, but equality was more important to them than fear ... If they would have taken the position that Mr. Guillory took ... we wouldn't be where we are today."

Guillory responded to Metzner's comment, saying "I am not Martin Luther King. This is not Selma, Ala. If you hit the Rev. Guillory, he'll hit you back. This is 2005."

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