Rights official calls McWatt attitude racist

Rights official calls McWatt attitude racist

By LINDA KOHL

Staff  Writer

The vice chairman of the St. Paul Human Rights Commission has accused former chairman Arthur McWatt of showing a “racist attitude” when McWatt resigned recently.

Gordon Clauson, the vice chairman, sent copies of a letter to McWatt to Mayor George Latimer, members of the City Council, and members of the Human Rights Commission. The letter chides McWatt for the reasons he cited in his resignation letter to Latimer.

McWatt, who is black, resigned after Latimer announced that Johannes Huyen was his choice to become director of the St. Paul Human Rights Department. Huyen, the acting director for the department, is Vietnamese. The department formerly had been headed by Donald Lewis, a black man who retired in April.

In his letter of resignation, McWatt accused Latimer of a “disregard for the contributions in past struggles of St. Paul’s black citizens.” He said the reason for his resignation was that Robert Elcan, a qualified black candidate who received the most votes from the Human Rights Commission, was passed over in favor of Huyen.

Then process for selecting a new human rights director had been marked by bitter wrangling between blacks and women on the Human Rights Commission. Each group had proffered its own candidate for the post. The three finalists chosen by the commission included Elcan, a black, Ragnhild, a woman, and Huyen.

Clauson criticized McWatt’s reasons for resigning. “I am sorry to see that you have not learned (that) human rights are not based on color or ethnic background. You should have learned to be color blind in your position as chairperson of the Human Rights Commission.”

He concluded by saying, “I am sorry you showed such a racist attitude in your (resignation) letter — one that only a black could do the job.”

Huyen’s appointment will be considered Thursday by the St. Paul City Council. President Ron Maddox has said he will not vote for Huyen because he thinks a woman ought to head the department. Councilman Bill Wilson, a black, said last week that he thinks Elcan is better qualified for the job. Two other council members — Leonard Levine and George McMahon — said they have questions about Huyen, but stopped short of saying they will not vote to approve his appointment.

Huyen is a former college professor who has worked in the St. Paul Human Rights Department for six years.

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